Okay, I have succumbed to the urge to tell life stories in my blog. Will I still give unsolicited advice about parenting? Probably. Here is my first submission to a Story Circle feature called “True Words.” I hope you enjoy it. -K.
The phone rang, somehow weaving itself into the dream I was having. My husband leapt up and grabbed the phone and then said, “It’s for you, honey.”
I rolled over and glanced at my clock through sleep- hazed, stigmatic eyes and made out a blurry 2:35.
“It’s for you. Someone named D___.”
I reached for the phone, desperately trying to think what friend named D__ would be calling me after two in the morning.
“Hello, this is Kali’,” I mumbled into the phone.
“Look, I’m so sorry to call this late. I just realized how late it is, but this is your cousin, D__, and I need your help.”
Her voice and name brought back a little flood of memories from my childhood. D__was the cousin closest to my age out of the four children my mother’s sister had. Her name was D__, too, and so we called them “Auntie D__” and “Little D__.” Little D__ and I were often thrown together in the course of the ten years or so that my family lived in Blaine, Washington and she and I were so similar in appearance that many people thought we were twins. Our only difference for a time was that her eyes were green and mine were brown.
Puberty came early for D___, and she developed an imposing bust line, but stopped growing at about 5’ 2” as I did just the opposite. The family joke became that, “Kali’ & D___ look just alike…except for D__’s green eyes!” Yes, laughs for hours ensued from that one, I thought wryly.
“Hi, D__, how are you? I haven’t talked to you for years! What’s up?” I asked.
There was a long pause and then she said, “I have cancer and I need a bone marrow transplant.”
“Oh my God,” I said. “What can I do to help? Could I donate? What blood type are you?”
“Are you in the registry? I am AB negative,” she said.
“Yes, I think I am listed, but my blood type is so common; O positive, that I have never been contacted to donate or anything.”
“Oh,” she said, and I could hear the despair in her voice. Then she cleared her throat and said, “Well, then I have something really weird to ask you.” I waited.
“Could your father have been my father, too?”
I was stunned and had no idea what to say. Finally I said, “Why would you ask? What makes you think that?”
“Your father dated my mother before he married your mother,” she said quietly, “I was just hoping that maybe your father or a family member of your Dad’s might be a match for me. I really don’t have much time.”
I knew that my father had dated my aunt before he married Mom. I think my grandmother had let that small nugget slip in one of our long talks as I grew up. I never knew my father until I was fifteen and he mistakenly thought my mother was giving my custody away. She was actually giving my guardianship to my manager so that I could sing in night clubs as an under-age performer, but that is another story.
I didn’t know the precise chronology of my parent’s courtship, but I did know that Mom was seventeen when she got married and had to have her parent’s permission.
“Gosh, I really don’t know,” I said, “but I could ask my Mom for you and call you back in the morning. I don’t understand though, why wouldn’t you ask your mother for a donation, or your brother M__?
“Mom won’t even get tested and it turns out that the guy I thought was my father…wasn’t. The blood types prove it. So he isn’t a match, either and since M__ and I don’t share both parents, he doesn’t match! I am so screwed.”
“Oh D__, I am so sorry. Have you asked Auntie D__who your father was? I mean, wouldn’t she know?”
“Yeah, I called her. She said that they were living near a Naval Base at the time, and she really couldn’t be sure who it might have been.”
I felt nauseated. I knew from childhood experience that Auntie D__ was probably the closest thing to a narcissistic personality or sociopath that I had ever met, but this was cruelty of the worst kind. I remembered people saying I looked so much like her when I was growing up, and it always made me angry and afraid that someday I might grow up to be a cold, but charming child abuser like her. The resemblance between us even kept me from thinking about having children until much later in life. I read a description somewhere that captured her perfectly… “She was a force of gravity, warping all that came into her orbit.”
I didn’t know what to say to comfort my cousin who had been raised by this “black hole” of a woman and was still suffering the consequences.
“So you think we might be half-sisters, instead of cousins?” I asked.
“Maybe,” she said. “After all, we were practically clones when we were little.”
“…except for your green eyes,” we exclaimed in unison! She laughed and so did I. I think we both needed a little comic relief.
I promised to call my mother in the morning and when I did, she was as shocked by the news and appalled by Auntie D__’s behavior as I was.
“I’m so sorry, Kali,” she said, “But the timing isn’t right at all. He couldn’t have been her father. I wish now that he was, but he just wasn’t.” She told me to have Little D__call her if she wanted to. “Any time, day or night,” she said.
I was now faced with the difficult task of calling D__and ripping one more piece of hope out from under her. I dreaded it, but saw no way to soften the blow. I picked up the phone and dialed.
“Hello? Is this you, Kali’?” she asked, breathlessly.
“Yes, it’s me and I am so sorry,” I said, “Mom says my father couldn’t have been your father. The timing wasn’t right. She is so sorry and says you can call her any time you want. She would love to hear from you.”
There was a long silence on the line, and then D__ told me the story of being diagnosed with breast cancer about a year before. During the diagnostic procedures for that cancer, they did a full body scan and discovered what would really kill her. She had cancer of the colon as well.
D__was only in her early forties at the time and desperate to extend whatever time she had left for the sake of her two children and her husband. A bone marrow transplant was her only hope for that gift of time.
D__ and I talked again a few months later, when an angel of a woman in Louisiana had been found to be a match and had agreed to donate. She was so excited!
“You won’t believe it, Kali’, but this is the third time this lady has donated! I think she is a saint,” she said.
We hung up after that call and I was left with such a sense of gratitude for the kindness of strangers, and although I had always talked about donating my body after death, I got online and registered my wishes officially that very day.
D__ passed a few years ago at the ripe old age of only fifty. She eked about six precious years out of her treatments and the gift that Louisiana saint gave her. Her obituary was short and sweet and left me wishing I could have written one for her, but ours was not a close relationship and I didn’t know her family at all. In her black and white obituary photograph, she looked just like me.
I had no idea then that my aunt’s indiscretions and personality defects would lead to another dramatic event in my life in years to come…but then, that is another story.
©2011 Kali’ P. R.