Growing up, excluded from my father’s side of the family, I knew only my environment. I knew who I was according to who I was around. And there were parts of me that never made any sense. My singing, my writing, my quirks, my yearnings. Certain things that came from no one. I was the only child of my mother and father. There are four siblings that share half of me (two from father, two from mother) … but I hungered for someone to explain the whole. Half of me was a mystery.
Now I am no believer in the phrase “Blood is thicker than water.” I know that family is a relative term, and that the members of ones family can change. I have cut many a “blood relative” out of my life for my well-being. It has come with backlash and misunderstanding, but if someone brings me nothing but sorrow, I have the right to disassociate myself from whomever I want. Family is a club; blood has no relevance. I am fulfilled by those that I surround myself with.
I am no longer so severely emotionally tied to the missing family that I did not get a chance to know. Make no mistake, there are times that I feel an ache in my heart for the opportunities that I missed. For the lack of birthday cards or wishes, for the lack of having a relationship with my father, for the few visits I had that left me longing for more, and for the child-self that could not understand that it was no fault of her own; she was not defective, they were. Of course, I still feel for these things … but they no longer consume me the way that they once did. I have a family; I have a little sister and brother that are my home. They more than make up for the brother and sister that I do not have relationships with. I have a step-father that, through years of struggling, has turned out to be a driving force in my life. And a mother that, though at odds half the time & working hard for balance among one another, is cherished. I have grandparents that are angels, and some aunts and uncles that are friends.
And sometimes I think that is enough.
But other times, I know that it is not.
I have learned through acquaintances that my father is dying of cancer. This killer has claimed many members of his family. My aunt died at 25 of uterine cancer that had spread to her colon. My grandfather died from brain cancer. And my father is now in the throws. He is denying treatment due to lack of all hope, and is choosing to die alone. My father; suspected murderer of an unsolved killing, an addict, a known beater of women. A man that by anyone’s standards is trash and worth disposing of. A man that has caused turmoil in my life to no end.
But he is my father.
I remember on my 12th birthday, getting a phone call. A man was on the other end. “Erica?”
“Yes?” I replied, not recognizing the voice.
“I wanted to tell you happy birthday,”
“Don’t you know who this is?”
A pause. “It’s your dad.”
That was the first and only time he had ever told me happy birthday.
I am a very unforgiving person, except with this man. I hold on to the memories such as that phone call, or the time when he put in fake hillbilly teeth and made me laugh for hours. I hold on to these and allow them to overshadow the pain he has caused. He beat my mother, beat my sister, beat my brother. And they all despise him. They all know him and they expect me to know him the same way. But I do not know him. I don’t know what he looks like or what his favorite color is. I do not know his temper or his voice. I only know the memories I have of him. Some of those memories are horrible; some are irreversibly scarred onto my soul. But the ones that make smile are the ones that command my attention.
I learned about his diagnosis in 2011. I locked myself up in my apartment for weeks, not knowing how to handle this information. He did not know that anyone knew, much less me. I called everyone to get their input, but it was my grandmother that said, “You already know, in your heart, what you must do.” I knew that if I reached out to him, there was a 99.9% chance that I would get denied. I knew that putting myself out there, just to have history repeat itself, could devastate me. But I also knew that if I did not try, it might haunt me forever. I did not want to host a blame-game or demand apologies, I just wanted to have him hug me; to look in his eyes and see a need for forgiveness; I just wanted to tell him that even though everyone else in the world may hate him for the things that he has done, I don’t. And I wanted to tell him that as my father, I loved him.
So I emailed my ex step-mother asking for his number, the same woman that had divulged the secret to my brother (on father’s side). She lied to me and told me that she did not have it. I asked my brother for contact information of our grandmother, he never gave it to me. No doubt, she denied the request.
That was almost two full years ago. Of course, I questioned the diagnosis. Was it all a lie? Some fable? There were so many questions that I could not get answered. All I have been able to do is sit for two years with the information that I had.
I want to know where the other half of me comes from. I have heard that my father’s mother was an aspiring writer; I want to sit down and converse with her on that. I have heard that my deceased aunt was a singer. I have heard that I have her nose. I have heard that my father had my sense of humor. I have heard. I have heard. I have heard. I am no longer a child, no longer a victim. I just fucking want to meet for a damn coffee and have a conversation. I want to know about my genealogy. I want to be able to study the family background. I yearn for that. Is it so much to ask for?
But suppose I never get it. Suppose I never get it.
I will have what I have always known; the family that I have always known. I will survive. I will live, as I have. I will still be me and my surroundings will still be the same. But there will always be that little voice inside, that little unfilled hole, that will never get addressed. It will never be acknowledged. And that scares me. That saddens me deeply. I want to be able to understand me through them. I want to get a hold my roots so that I can continue my journey of painting my tree. I want to look in my father’s eyes, just once, before he is gone.
And if I never get that, I fear.