Have you ever heard the saying, “life is hard, but it’s harder if you’re dumb”?
I firmly disagree. My life would make much more sense if I were too dumb to know any better. The fact that the universe never gave me credit for the things I could be capable of is a little disheartening, but I suppose things could always be worse.
After two decades of searching for answers, I found my biggest clue on the front page of an old black and white copy of a Boonville Herald Newspaper. I was searching old news with my family last names and happened upon this gem. In big letters is my mother’s maiden name followed by, “TO WED”.
“Weird,” I thought. Especially considering the fact she’s only ever been married once, and that was in the year 2000. The man in the photo is very obviously not the dad I grew up with. This man was older than my mother by about 15 years. He was college educated and from out of state. I can’t make out much more than that due to the condition of the photo. A lot of detail was lost when they scanned the papers into the electronic system.
Very clearly though, at the top of the newspaper scan, I can read the edition date.
It was from May of 1990.
Seeing how I was born in December of 1990 and all.
I’ll will be honest with you so that maybe you can understand how something like this feels. When someone close to me gets upset and wants to hurt my feelings, there are very few ways to achieve it. For that reason they will take jabs at how “alone" I am. I've had very, very few "close" relationships. Growing up I can remember a lot of times when my mom would drop me off someplace to chase my dad, and my dad would chase the NY Yankees. My maternal grandparents and my aunt never seemed to mind my being around all the time. I have very few memories of my first “home” and even less of my little sister and I being there at the same time.
Lizzy was born 4 1/2 years after I was. I don’t remember much that changed when she arrived, besides the constant screaming. While she was inside rocking away her ear-aches with our grandmother, I would be outside working with my grandfather. I would remember it this way until I was about 10.
One summer night my mother put my sister and I both in the backseat of her car. Dad ran after her yelling, but I couldn’t make out the words. For some reason my parents splitting up also meant I wasn’t going to stay with my grandparents any more. Adjustments were made and life went on anyways.
There was no family court. When dad called to see if anyone wanted to spend the weekend at his house, I would always go.... Most of the time Lizzy would skip. She was 3 1/2 when the split initially happened, but she would keep this stay away mentality up throughout her entire childhood. She’s 24 now. Dad never said anything bad about mom, and when I asked him details about their relationship that I couldn’t get out of my mom, he’d rarely answer me either. He did slip up once though and I found out that they first met at a local laundry mat. It wasn’t the fairy tale I had hoped for, but it was honest and that was good enough for me.
In middle school science the teacher was teaching us about punnet squares. The Punnett square is a square diagram that is used to predict the genotypes of a particular cross or breeding experiment. It is named after Reginald C. Punnett, who devised the approach. The diagram is used by biologists to determine the probability of an offspring having a particular genotype. It is fairly simple science, and I am an A+ student.
At the end up the week, I bring in my personal punnet square chart filled in with my parents genetic characteristics. Beside each chart I put what genetic traits I actually display out of the possible outcomes my parents could’ve made.
Mrs. Reed tells me I’m at risk of failing the assignment. None of my displayed traits are possible options off of the square of my parents.
All of Lizzy’s are shown though. Blue eyes...freckles...widows peak hairline...can’t roll her tongue..
I have no widows peak, my eyes are green and I can roll my tongue. I also have super double jointed elbows, and knees.
I debate telling Mrs. Reed that she’s obviously dumb and needs to do better research in biology. But, instead chalk it up to a misunderstanding on my part. Maybe I misrepresented things like my parents real eye colors.... I feel idiotic that I don’t even know either of them well enough to know that. I will never say it, but I envy everyone else’s punnet squares. They are all simple and make sense without struggle.
Like everything else in my life, mine is a shit show. What a mess.
I will try to vent to mom about this misunderstanding after school, but at 4pm when I arrive, she’s obviously cracked open a Mic Ultra or two. Instead of asking how school was she told me to sit down at the table so she could tell me how her grandparents died.
“You don’t know how lucky you are right now, but you’re grandparents are going to die too.” I am 12 and the whole situation makes me uncomfortable. I can’t listen to her stories the way my little sister can. Even as a preteen I know people can’t live in perpetual darkness.
When she’s not talking to me about how everyone I ever love will die a painful death, she’s reminding me how often my father isn’t around and the workload he left her with. As I get older; the visits happen less, but still, he never talks bad about her the way she does him.
One Christmas I felt so worried that he was going to die alone that I went and took all of my change to the Boonville family dollar and bought him any house necessities I could afford. Toothbrush holder, soap dispenser, trash can. I know it probably wasn’t anything he wanted, but it’s what he needed and I wanted him to know that I knew that.
Once I’m old enough (about 17), I reconnect with my older half sister. Half sister on my dad’s side. Not my mom’s. She is 10 years my senior. She tells me stories over spinach dip of how my mother stole her dad away from her and her mother when she was young and that the whole town said he left his first family for a woman with a baby that wasn’t even his.
This is news to me and I feel somewhat offended. I’m not sure if that’s what I’m supposed to feel, but there it is. I can’t help what happened between our moms and our dad. I feel badly for hurting her. Even if I was just a fetus at the time. I would make her feel better if it was possible. After we finishing our spinach and dip at Applebee’s I make a mental note to start researching all of these things.
Has anyone ever talked to me truthfully? It doesn’t feel like it.
A few more years will pass before I have the time to work at this.
I am 23 and on the verge of a nasty divorce when I finally find the newspaper article on the computer that I told you about earlier.
Everyone told me to let it be. That what I was chasing, was only in my head. Of course my father was my father. “Are you stupid?”, they’d say.
I took the printed out engagement announcement to my mother first. I calmly asked her if she could explain the person in the photo and the date in the corner. She lit a cigarette quicker than I had ever seen before. She takes a long drag. She opens her mouth. “Get the fuck out of my house!”
With tears in my eyes I watch from my car window as she runs to my step-father. I will find out later that she told him I fabricated the entire engagement story to try and make her drink more. He’s clearly upset with me. If she had been engaged in her past, she definitely would have told her husband about it.
There is nothing here for me.
I do not see dad often but he’s always been more honest than mom, and for that, I appreciate his insight. I call once I’m alone and tell him what I’ve found.
He sounds surprised and asks what my mother told me about it. I explain the episode to him and in return he tells me that, “This was taken care of a long time ago. It’s nothing you should be worrying about now.”
I don’t know how you’re feeling,
But, with replies like this, Houston we have a problem.
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you..