Dickhead whirls around from his mid-morning view of busy Crimson Pike traffic from the bay window, obviously just as much in shock as me.
“Why the hell not?” I ask belligerently, forgetting myself, forgetting to whom I’m speaking.
“Piccolo Leighton Granger, don’t you DARE take that tone with me, young lady!” Mom chastises me as soon as the words leave my flapping jaws that apparently are bigger than those of any large-mouth bass I’ve ever caught. “Whatever your feelings, you will NOT speak to me that way, in that tone, in MY house!”
Dumbass. When are you ever going to learn to just shut the fuck up and listen for once?!
I instantly regret my outburst, but really, who can blame me for my reaction?! I didn’t ask for any of this! I especially didn’t ask to be born, and under such fucked up circumstances to boot!
Yes, you did ask for this. You just HAD to know. And THIS is what you get for being so damn nosy.
Now, I have to deal with it. And learn to live with it. Not knowing. Always wondering. And perhaps never understanding.
Be careful what you wish for …
Part of me feels sorry for Mom for what she endured whenever Dad was away on missions and unable to tell her anything beyond a hurried goodbye as he rushed off to locations unknown all over the world. But part of me also blames her for not keeping her legs closed because, hey, she technically cheated on my dad — “trial separation” or not — since they never were “officially” divorced.
Then again, who the fuck am I to sit in judgment of her actions? I have no idea what I’d have done had I been in her shoes, in all honesty. I suppose it really is easier to go all Scarlet Letter righteous when this type of situation involves someone else. But it’s much harder to have an open mind about this than, say, with Dickhead because, hell, this is my mom we’re talking about. It’s a lot to process, but I have to try because I love her and she deserves that much from me. I DO know that none of this is easy for her to relive.
Nor is it for Dad, for that matter.
Especially for Dad.
“I’m sorry, Mom. You know I love you, and I didn’t mean to disrespect you. It’s just a lot for me to take in right now. I guess it’s more a case of ‘be careful what you wish for because you just might get it,’ and I’m just not handling any of this well at all. But I wanted — HAD — to know, so I’ll try my best to suck it up and hear you out.”
My apology seems to placate Mom.
“Because I — WE — wanted a baby so desperately for so long,” she continues, “but we just couldn’t conceive. THAT is why the hell not.”
The gauntlet I clumsily threw at Mom comes back to me, as jagged as the barbed wire fence I fell over trying to outrun a tornado as a 10-year-old, dividing my flesh with its well-weathered rust as it roughly sank into my tender right leg and the bottom of my foot in my desperate sprint to safety, to shelter from the matter-of-fact cruelty of Mother Nature.
I made it, but the twisting scars force me to remember the destruction, the chaos, the loss of human life.
And here I am acting like a fucking spoiled little brat in a snit when it would have been easier for her to hide her indiscretion by disposing of the evidence as easily as a tornado uprooting and dispersing everything that dares to stand in its path.
Yeah, in THAT way.
Arguably THE ULTIMATE SIN. Well, one of the many “ultimate sins.” Told ya, Catholics feel guilty as fuck about everything.
And yet, she did not. She risked everything she had in this world to keep me. Was she really so desperate, or was having an abortion never even an option for her like standing still and letting the tornado whisk me away never was one for me?
In the end, we both wanted me to live.
And my dad, well, he must have wanted me, too. He wouldn’t have raised me as his own, otherwise. Surely, it wasn’t just out of a sense of duty that he decided to go along with Mom. Right?
I hate being uncertain, like a gangly newborn foal trying out its legs for the first time.
“So now you know our deepest, darkest secrets,” Mom finishes, her shoulders drooping as if she’s carrying the weight of the world on them while she stares at the floor.
“That’s not necessarily true,” Dad says. “I suppose it’s time I come clean, too.”
My mom looks up at Dad, a question in her previously unseeing eyes. She quietly extracts her hand from his, waiting for this newest bombshell. Dickhead even raises a brow at Dad’s cryptic admission.
I guess they don’t tell each other everything, after all.
Keeping secrets tend to blow up in our faces at the most inopportune times. I know I’ll have to tell them about Joe at some point.
But it’s not going to be today, that’s for damn sure.
It’ll piss them both right off to find out that Dickhead knows more about me than they do, but I don’t think he’ll go blabbing to them about THAT in this lifetime or any other. Catholic or not, there’s no telling what my dad will do if he ever finds out. There’s also Mom to consider. So I’ll keep it to myself until the time is right. And who knows when that will be?
“I think you’d better start explaining, Bill,” Mom unnecessarily tells Dad.
“I did some, uh, recon on Lester Smith,” he admits, “a long time ago. When Piccolo was younger. Much younger.“
By “recon,” he means reconnaissance. It’s military speak for gathering information about the enemy and his surroundings in hostile territory. I can only imagine the kind of “recon” Dad did on Coach Smith, or the lengths he went to in order to find out everything he could about the man with whom my mom had a one-time affair.
He’s holding back something, though. I can sense it. So can Mom. And especially Dickhead, the seasoned, eagle-eyed newspaperman.
“Spill it,” she orders.
My dad sighs loudly, shuffling his feet as he stands up to pace the room restlessly. It’s the same kind of sigh he usually emits when he doesn’t want to admit he’s wrong even when he knows he’s in the wrong and everyone else knows it.
I have a bad feeling in my gut — the same kind you get when you have shit cramps so bad that you think you’re going to explode (or very probably implode) if you don’t find the nearest bathroom, like, RIGHT THIS SECOND — that this show-and-tell session of ours is about to get a whole lot more fucked up than it already is, but I still manage to hold onto the false hope it will not. Barely.
But Dad shoots down my uncharacteristic — and unrealistic — rose-colored glasses kind of false hope with his next words.
“I just wanted to KNOW the kind of man … ” he falters, fumbling for the right words in our, shall we say, “delicate” situation, “he was, who could lead my Meggy astray even though I know with all my heart that she never stopped loving me all that time we were apart. I was jealous, yes, but I somehow felt like less of a man because she turned to him. I know it was only a one-time thing, but I couldn’t let it go until I saw him for myself, found out all I could about him.”
And this is why I stick to the gloom-and-doom outlook on life since, well, Joe.
“I love you, Meggy, and I trust you,” he continues, “but it was something I felt like I NEEDED to do at the time. HAD to do. And even then, it wasn’t enough. So, one night during a weekend-long floral design convention in Bluegrass, I waited until he was alone in the fieldhouse and I tried to engage him peacefully. But he hit me first, honest! That asshole sucker punched me while I was trying to figure out what I wanted to say to him, and how I was going to say it, so I was forced to, uh, subdue him. And then we had a little talk. Let me amend that: HE did all the talking. I just listened.”
Uh huh. And we have several igloos in Louisiana AND Mississippi to sell him if he thinks we’re THAT gullible.
Mom and I share disbelieving looks. And I’m pretty sure I see a hint of humor in Dickhead’s eyes, but then again, it simply may be the sunlight glaring through the bay window playing tricks on mine.
“OK, so maybe I roughed him up a bit first. But only a little.”
I’m sure our definition of “a little” doesn’t match his interpretation. I glance at Mom again and know, with nary a doubt, she’s thinking the same thing.
“He thought I was someone else,” Dad resumes, “so I went along with it to see what he had to say. Apparently, he REALLY got around, if you get my meaning. Had a roving eye for the ladies, that one. He mistook me for some guy named Gallant something or other. He’d been calling Lester Smith all hours of the day and night threatening to kill him for knocking up his wife, but I guess your football coach never took him seriously until I showed up that night. He said he was sorry, that he couldn’t seem to help himself when it came to women, even offered me ‘hush’ money. He seemed more worried about his wife finding out than anything else, begged me not to tell her. Said she came from old money, that she’d destroy him if she ever discovered the truth.”
Wait! Did he just say Gallant?! As in possibly Bob Gallant’s father?! It’s not exactly what I’d call a common surname in these parts, so the odds are slim of it being someone else’s! More important, is Bob Coach Smith’s illegitimate son?!
Whatever the case, Dickhead and I have our work cut out for us. And another suspect — or two if you include Coach Smith’s wife — to add to our fast-growing list.
“Did Coach Smith ever say whether this Gallant guy’s wife had a boy or a girl?” I ask excitedly, beating Dickhead to these newest questions my dad unwittingly raises. “Did he ever give you a name, or was she still pregnant? Did he ever say the wife’s name? Did he ever mention where Gallant was from? Or did he finally figure out you weren’t Gallant?”
Talk about a double dose of baby mama and baby daddy drama. I have enough dirt to start writing my own daytime serial. I’ll call it “As the Stomach Churns” as a tribute to the merciless but good-natured teasing I received from two of my male friends regarding the wistfully sappy lovey-dovey poetry I used to write in our Catholic school creative writing class. Hey, even ball-busting tomboys have a soft side. You just have to dig a little deeper to find it.
“No, no, I don’t know, no, no and no,” he fires back, a bit irate. “Why all the interest in Gallant? None of that has anything to do with YOU. Truth is, I never told him who I was and as far as I know, he never found out, either. I never uttered a word to him. He merely jumped to his own conclusions. After all of the sniveling he did, there was no need for me to pursue the whole ordeal any further. Almost felt a little sorry for the guy, to be completely honest with you. Almost.“
He then reveals that his ultimate plan had been to obtain a sample of Coach Smith’s DNA — deoxyribonucleic (pronounced dee-oxy-rye-bow-new-clay-ick) acid — to find out once and for all which of them was my biological father. After it first was developed and used in 1985, Dad admitted he was intrigued by the ability to be able to determine genetic family relationships., as well as the profiling aspect of it used in forensic science to identify individuals via their DNA characteristics.
Fantastic. Dad’s giving us a crash course in DNA science now. Y-A-W-N. Sounds like a bunch of mumbo jumbo to me. I freely admit to being scientifically challenged, but I prefer it that way, thank you very much.
It was only after Coach Smith started spilling his guts that my dad vetoed his own master plan.
“I didn’t want to know anymore, didn’t need to know,” he says. “Piccolo is MY daughter, period, end of story. I went up there feeling like half a man and left whole again because I knew I had a loving family waiting for me back at home. And that was enough for me, has always been enough for me. You are my heart.”
Friggin’ melts mine into a massive puddle when he puts it like that.
He turns his hangdog expression to my mom. The tears she’s spilling are silent, like a softly running tap that keeps the water pipes from freezing during the coldest part of winter.
“Please forgive me, Meggy. I’m sorry for going behind your back like that. It’s been weighing on me all of these years.”
She holds out her arms to him.
Forgiving him as easily as he closes the distance separating them.