“After we talked a bit about Bea’s latest health drama, and had our usual laugh about how hard it is to be a big sister – her with Mommy and me with you guys, she asked about Daddy. I told her how tough it is for Mommy to deal with a husband who’s slipping further into dementia every day. I told her the four of us were worried this might be Alzheimer’s because it can run in families, especially when it strikes young. I told her we didn’t want to have to consider that our lives might end before we hit sixty; I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around having only twenty more years to look forward to.
“As we often do, Bea and I talked about what a mean, self-centered jerk Daddy has always been. How it was one of the reasons it took so long to diagnose his illness. How we all thought his anger and stubbornness were only a bit more extreme than usual. How it took his walking naked up the railroad tracks in the middle of the day to cut through the denial. I told her I couldn’t bear the thought of ending up like him.
“ ‘Darling, I have something to tell you. I can’t stand to see you worry like this.’ You know her voice – whisky-soaked and purring and full of that happy regret she gets when she’s gearing up to say something she’s not supposed to.
“I know it sounds weird, but I knew what Bea was going to say; like I’d been waiting my entire life for that one moment. Time slowed like it did that summer the car almost went off the cliff. My whole world narrowed to Bea's pale powdered face framed in those elfin silver curls, the sparkle and arch of her eyes, and that bright pink lipstick.
“Then she said, ‘He's not really your father.’
“I think I said something stupid back like, What do you mean?
“I can still hear her answer as clearly as if she’s sitting right here. ‘Your mother was married before she married your daddy, and she and her first husband had you. He left her before you were even born. You deserved to know sooner, but they wouldn't let us tell. Your mom said she’d never speak to us again, we’d never get to see you kids again, if any of us breathed a word.’
“Bea kept saying us and I asked her what she meant. She said, ‘Everyone else in both families knew. Even the cousins. You and the boys were the only ones who weren’t told.’ ”
This was a part of the story I hadn’t shared before, so I stopped, took a deep breath, and searched the faces of my brothers for their reactions.
Frank, jittering with excitement, jumped in before I’d exhaled. “Remember when I found that mistake in Grandpa’s Bible when we were little? Remember when Grandma said someone had written the date wrong and then she changed it? The date wasn’t wrong and Grandma knew! You were born in 1951 and Mommy and Daddy weren’t married until 1953 because she was married to this other guy in 1950.”
Mark, with a look of stunned concern on his face, shook his head and said, “Leave it to Bea to find a way to tell the secret. I still remember when she told me about your daughter, which none of us boys knew about either.”
And Geoff, laughing like this was the funniest story he’d ever heard, said to his bossy big sister, “Since you’re really only a half, does that mean we only have to listen to you half the time now”
photo from Flickr