Last Saturday, I planned a little get-together for the remaining members of my family that actually like each other. My only intent was for us to be together on the 20th anniversary of my Pappap’s death, rather than mope around alone, internalizing our sadness. And that’s just the thing—I didn’t WANT to be sat on that day. That’s not what my Pappap would have wanted. My hope was that we could go out to dinner, share stories, and laugh.
My brother Ryan was out of town last weekend, but Corey, our aunt Susie, and her husband Larry were all available. And Henry too. So we met up at Pan Asia for a three hour nostalgia feast. It was everything I hoped the evening would be: tons of laughter and good old-fashioned family bonding. It’s a fucking shame that my mom and aunt Sharon couldn’t be chill enough to join us.
Eventually, the subject of my birth dad Paul came up. His name was pretty much verboten throughout my whole childhood, with my mom only letting tiny informational morsels slip out here and there. I knew these few things for certain: he was a multi-substance abuser, a woman-beater, he died from an accident caused from driving drunk, and I was better off without him in my life. Basically, Paul was a very touchy subject, and you better believe he was my secret weapon during my volatile teenage years when I was looking to get that TKO in screaming matches with my mom and step-dad. I was the motherfucking champion of the last word. Thanks, dad.
(I actually started writing about my dad two years ago and never finished because it was exhausting and made me feel a certain sadness that I didn’t understand.)
Anyway, Susie and I were piggy-backing off each other, filling Corey in about my dad’s death. When we got to the part about the actual car wreck, Corey said, “Oh, so he was drunk-driving then?” At the same time I was saying yes, Susie was saying no. I stopped talking and let her finish.
“That’s the funny thing, the tests came back saying there was no alcohol in his system at all,” Susie said, unknowingly dealing me a Mortal Kombat round house to the gut right there at our corner table in Pan Asia.
“Oh….so drugs?” Corey asked.
“No, he was sober. We were all shocked.” And then to me, Susie asked, “You didn’t know that?”
Um, no. Because for my whole life it was beaten into my head that my dad was drunk-driving and deserved to die. So every time someone would find out that my “real” dad was dead and offer their obligatory apology, I would just shrug it off and say, “Eh, he was drunk-driving, so…”
I know it’s 33 years later, but I can’t help but have that “This changes everything” feeling. But what’s changed, really? I’m not sure. It doesn’t change the fact that he’s still dead, and it doesn’t change the fact that I still don’t know him—but it’s not even about that. It’s about my relationship with my mom and how it proves once again that she has never respected me enough to be honest, like I was never anything more than just a dumb kid to toy with. One more Val grenade to add to the memoirs I’ve been writing in my head since grade school. I don’t think she would ever understand the damage she’s done to me.
I guess I thought I was OK until last Sunday when I totally lost my mind over it. This is part of my history too, not just my mom’s, and who even knows how many other times she’s changed my narrative on me. At the risk of sounding like a petulant bitch, this just isn’t fair. I wish I could sit down with her and have a normal, honest conversation that’s not bloated with delusion and maniacal laughter.
Aside from that, it was a really great evening! And it could have been worse, you know. Susie could have said, “Paul? Paul‘s not your dad!” Hey, nothing would really surprise me at this point!
Secrets, secrets hurt someone.