My Mother raced her red hot 1984 300zx turbo through the apartment complex, parked like a crazy person and yelled, “Your father beat me, stripped me naked and locked me out of the house when I went into labor with you!”
My only and younger sister and I had all the kids at the community swimming pool when this was happening—for all to hear. We stood with gaping jaws as Mom continued ranting, “They wouldn’t even let me take you home! They gave you to Gramma and Grandpa! And I had to go home to him! He’s a worthless piece of shit and you should never want to find him! He doesn’t give a shit about you. And he probably was your Father!”
She fell silent. My sister and I shot each other a look. She got back into her car and sped away.
And with that I understood… she didn’t even know. She had told the lie of my conception for twenty-seven years, she learned to believe it, and I unraveled it.
I was twenty-seven years old, the third child of four, with two kids of my own and a failing marriage to an abuser.
It was my sister who first told me her Father, the same Father of my two older brothers too, wasn’t mine. She casually said everybody knew that. I felt betrayed.
I just wanted to find him to let him know he has grandchildren and, I suppose I wanted him to finally accept me. I was shocked to say the least. Why is it that families keep secrets?
We grew-up without him. The circumstances of his departure when I was around three or four included his getting clocked by my Grandpa. My eldest brother remembers why, but I don’t. I have very few memories of him and all of them are awful.
He chased Mom around the house beating her. He called me names. And there was that Valentine’s day when I was about six.
It was a late, rainy evening and I heard a knock at the door. I answered and a strange looking man in a strange looking trench coat asked for my sister by her full name. I went to get her and upon returning to the door he handed her a large, red heart-shaped box of chocolates. I was yanked out of the way and the door was suddenly slammed shut by my Mother. I asked who the man was, and she said he was my Father as she stormed back to her room. But I didn’t get chocolates and my sister did.
We had a Stepfather for a few years, which didn’t end well for me. I was singled-out again, but this time he was too accepting. Sometimes I still jump when my current husband tries to touch me.
A couple weeks after the pool incident my Mother gave me a letter. It explained that, yes, she’d had an affair while her husband was serving time in jail for armed robbery. She told me the name of the man who was “probably” my Father, but I didn’t believe her. She had written his last name was Marlboro—the same name as the brand of cigarettes she smoked.
I let it go hoping one day I’d know the truth.
It would be decades before I remembered various family calling me a bastard and illegitimate.
Then, when I was thirty-one, Mom died suddenly of a heart attack. I had seen a dead body before, but it hardly prepared me for holding Mom’s cold hand. I’ll never forget her newly dyed auburn hair against her lavender skin, the lifelessness of her eyes, or that she didn’t hold my hand back.
For twenty-seven years I thought her husband was my Father and for twenty-three more I didn’t know who was. I spent countless hours rebuilding my identity but there was always a piece missing.
I finally decided to have my ancestry DNA done to see what nationality I was. I could at least control that much. I only learned what I already knew, I was Irish and Western European and more Irish.
Through the DNA website, an inquisitive and persistent woman contacted me saying she was a paternal first cousin. That’s when everything changed. Within a month I had an entire new family on my Father’s side, but he had been given-up for adoption as a newborn nearly 72 years earlier.
His family was kind and welcoming. They were searching for him and within a year, thanks to unsealed adoption records, we knew his name. And his last name was almost spelled Marlboro. My Mom was telling me the truth.
My new family lives in another country and a long plane ride away. I still haven’t met them in person.
Having a new family and knowing my Father’s name was surreal and amazing, until it became real. They found him. He existed. That last puzzle piece slipped into place.
And all the while he lived only 886 miles away.