I really got a sense of how much my mother needed me when I was married and when I decided to meet my biological father for the first time at age twenty-one. She cried both times. I think she felt very alone, felt like a victim, felt like she was little, not worth much. Maybe this was because of my dad’s sarcasm. I’ve always called him dad, but technically he’s a step-father. Ever since I met my biological father, I don’t know who to call dad anymore. Growing up no one in my family called each other step-this or half-that, but our family couldn’t have been more mixed. Both my parents had first marriages and kids from those marriages; then they had more kids when they married each other. But I wasn’t really aware of this. I really don’t know how to describe this feeling that I have as I see myself as a youth. It was like a veil of naivety, like I was autistic or stupid. Yet, when I look at my former self, he completely denies it. He claims that he wasn’t naive, that he knew all along that all these things were happening. But I don’t see how I could have known all these things and not felt about it then like I do now. I must have thought it was normal that my parents yell at each other, slam doors and leave the house with threats of divorce, that my brothers hated each other, that us siblings for some reason were suspicious of getting too close to each other, that we regarded each other with uneasiness, that we would scream bloody murder and bash the walls with broomsticks when we disagreed.

“Uh, excuse me, Past Self, do you mind talking for a moment?”

“Which me are you?”

“An older one.”

“Oh, what’s up?”

“Does your step father pay any attention to you?”

“What?”

“It’s just a question.”

“Yes, he does. And why are you calling him a ‘step-father?’”

“No he didn’t.”

“So this whole time dad hates me?”

“He didn’t hate you; he just didn’t pay attention to you. And don’t call him dad.”

“You’re lying.”

“Think about it. He never came to any of your sports games. He never even encouraged you to play sports. You don’t know it, but in a few years your half-brothers will be in all sorts of things. They’ll be playing soccer and basketball and all sorts of things.”

“But don’t you remember the pictures of you playing tee-ball, and remember you played basketball as well? And remember the soccer game where the only goal the team scored was on its own goalie. Are you sure you’re not taking the blame of your own inadequacies and placing it on him.”

“He’s going to disown you when you move out. He’s just waiting to get rid of you. He’s been waiting to get rid of you ever since he married your mom. We haven’t talked since we took a walk around the block after I got married. He said, ‘When you’re ready to love me, I’m ready to love you.’”

“No, he would never disown me. He’s my dad.”

“He’s not your dad. Eric is.”

“Who’s Eric?”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Up until I made my mother cry those two times, I thought my parents were perfect, had no problems with them. Even though my dad fought with my sister intensely, emotional abused my mother, practically ignored me growing up, and disowned me when I was grown up, I thought they were the best people in the world. I didn’t start to recognize these issues for what they were, what they meant, until much later, as if my experiences had a particularly long germination period. My sister sprouted understanding before the experience even hit the grey matter of her mind, in full bloom as it was flying through her nervous system toward the brain. The hard thing is that I can’t remember hardly anything, which both makes it hard to explain my past and becomes an explanation in and of itself.

The straw that broke my naivety was a story I recently heard from my mother-in-law, who became best friends with my mother when they were neighbors. My step father would make fun of my mother, after they married, whenever she would spend time with me as an infant, singing to me, breastfeeding me and comforting me when I was crying, while he would spend lots of time with his daughter from his first marriage. My mother shared this story with my mother-in-law. I think it might have been a message in a bottle.

It dawned on my that my step-sister always went back and forth between her mother and father, spending a year with us, and then a year with her mom, and she would go back and forth, less frequently to our place until she eventually stopped coming over. My sister and I never even knew our father. All we knew was what we were told about him. I didn’t even see a photo of him until I was sixteen, then again I don’t think I ever saw a photo of him. It didn’t even dawn on me that I had a father until I was twelve. It wasn’t until my dad blew up one day, the day, I think, that he fractured my sister’s arm by shoving her door open, that he said to my mother, “It’s either her or me, Melanie. Either she goes or I do,” and then he slammed the front door and was gone the rest of the night. So, my mom chose him, and they sent my sister, my only full-blooded relation to Arizona. It wasn’t until then, over-hearing my parents talking about my aunt taking Whitney to see her birth father, that I realized I had a father.

“Why are you so hell-bent on hating your parents? Don’t you remember all the good they did for you?”

“Yeah. I guess I’m just catching up with other people that hated their parents when they were teenagers. I never hated them when I was you. I thought they were perfect.”

“I don’t think they are perfect.”

“Yes you do. That’s how I remember you.”

“No, they are just people. Dad really does like you. Remember? He would wrestle with you.”

“No, I would wrestle with him, and he would just laugh.”

“And he would take you to Waffle House on Saturdays. Come on. He loves you.”

“Loves me?”

“Yeah.”

“Then try to explain to me why he doesn’t love me now.”

“He does love me now.”

“He does love you, sure, but then I decided to meet Eric, and he flipped, gave me a love ultimatum that I, I guess, failed. He said he wasn’t going to compete being my dad.”

“That doesn’t make sense. Why wouldn’t he want you to meet him?”

“That’s what I don’t understand. Does he expect me to go the rest of my life and never meet him?”

“So, I’m going to meet Eric one day?”

“Yes. And he loves you.”

“No he doesn’t. He disowned me.”

“You don’t get it. He didn’t disown you.”

“Yes he did. How come he never called, never sent birthday cards, never said hello?”

“I’ll tell you when you’re older.”

“Very funny.”

When I inquired about my biological father, my mother told me all the dirty details: the time that he strained himself so much looking through the bathroom window at my naked mother that he got a hernia, the time that he was hooked on meth or crack or some sort of drugs and battered my mother into the closet, the time that his brother shot himself in the head because he was so depressed, the time that he sexually abused my sister as a baby. As a twelve year old it had an effect on me, and in those teenage years I struggled with my self-image, my own demons, wondering if cocaine could be carried by his sperm that I germinated from, wondering how many of his impulses for drugs and sex were in me, wondering if my own depression would end like his brother’s.

When I picked up the phone and called my sister, when she told me to just call him myself, when I did and he said that he loved me, when he paid to fly my wife and me out to his house, when we got to his house, when I grilled him about all those stories, when he showed me official documents from both a psychologist and a doctor stating that my sister was never sexually abused, when he said he didn’t remember the hernia but he remembered the drugs, when he said that part of the reason his brother killed himself was from the grief of losing my sister and I, when he said he was sorry, when he said that Solomon asked him if he should cut the child in half and he said no, my eyes shattered and, I didn’t know what was true or what was love.

“You holding up alright under those demons?”

“Demons?”

“Depression, addiction, etc.”

“Oh . . . you don’t have them anymore?”

“They’re better.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“What happened?”

“Dad. Mom.”

“You mean Eric?”

“Yeah.”“They get back together?”

“Sort of.”

“How?”

“Mom stops hating him.”

“And Eric stops hating her?”

“He did that ages ago.”

“Ages?”

“You’ll pick that up in Australia.”

“Australia?”

“Now, I’m giving a little too much away.”

“What about the girl around the corner.”

“Sorry, you’ll have to figure that one out.”