It was never a secret. Not at first. But later it became one. His son was born six weeks before our first kiss. We were in a nightclub called Palm Tree. I was drunk on Club Colombia cervezas. And lost count on how many shots of aguardiente I had downed. Heartbroken still from my breakup months prior, I wanted to feel loved again. I wanted to be wanted. And a terrible break up with his son’s mother during her second trimester, left my husband without a girlfriend or son. Lonesome. Wrapped tight with hurt. Now, I can see that. Then, I just saw someone who could love me. And in turn he saw the same.
Late in the winter and throughout the spring last year, life gifted me with a series of lessons. So fast and furious were the lessons, they threatened to knock me down on my face. It’s never the moment of the incident that causes the greatest impact. But the subsequent days that leave you reeling. Like those dreams when you fall into some dark abyss, I found myself falling. But as I fell, I smiled. Nodded my head. Acted as if nothing was wrong. Until finally an angry outburst forced me to face what lurked underneath. My fury, was a lot of hurt.
“What would you say if I told you that you had a brother,” My husband blurted out as soon as Holden walked into our bedroom. She held two bottles of water in her hands, her arms extended towards us. The reason why she came into the room.
My head whipped in his direction. I glared. Minutes before we agreed to tell them soon, but not tonight.
“Funny,” she laughed.
“It’s not a joke,” my husband looked up at her. His tone serious, pleaded with her. To believe him. He was on his stomach on the bed. His hands buried in the dark forest of his hair.
“Is it true?” My daughter wide-eyed. Her eyebrows knit and a smile on her face all at once. Derailed emotions across her face.
Unable to met her eyes I turned to my husband. He hung his head and held it in his hands, as if the weight of a son he never spoke to or spoken of, no longer allowed him to hold his head.
Then, my eyes traveled to the neat piles of folded laundry on the floor by the bed. Pressed against the wall. The neater, the more in control I felt. It was not just my laundry, but my calendar, my apartment, the inbox of my email, closet, classroom, and my dresser drawers. Neatness required. Everything. A scam. No true control. And to think such thing was possible. Well that was foolish.
“It’s true. You have a brother in Colombia,” my husband spoke.
My daughter turned towards me. Her eyes suspicious slits. But the smile still plastered on her face.
“I’ve always known about your father’s other son.” I said, frozen on the bed.
It was mid March of last year. Sunday late evening. My husband just off the phone with his son. This, their first conversation. I sat crossed legged as he spoke. An hour conversation with the mother of his first child, after seventeen years, followed by a thirty minutes with his sixteen year old son. My husband rigid. His hair high. Chest, shirtless, was splotched with red. Both Holden and Ruben watched television in the living room. And in between their laughter at the comedy show on the screen I mouthed questions to my husband to ask his son. Both unsure how to talk to one another, after a lifetime of never speaking. The silence grew loud.
But now as I faced my daughter I wished someone could mouth the words to me like I did, for father and son.
“What do you mean you’ve always known?” Holden’s fists on her hips. Water bottles tossed on my bed. Her hair in a high pony-tail, she somehow looked older than her twelve years, right then.
“I’ve never not known,” I closed my eyes. This was not the way we were suppose to tell her. I needed time to sift through the details, outline the characters, place my plot points. I needed time, to write this story. This was my way. Never told anyone anything right away. A keeper of: half bits, diluted truths, and hazy certainties. If I could rewrite anything and make my truth less, and more of a story. Well then, pain could be avoided.
“So, let me get this straight. You knew I had a brother and never told me?” The smile across Holden’s face became stained with sadness.
“It was not my story to tell,” unable to own my story I looked towards my husband. Lifted the blame my daughter sought and placed it on him.
“Wow! What else have you kept from me?” She lashed out.
“What kind of question is that? Nothing!”
“How many kids do you have?” She fired at me. “Why did you decide to tell me now? Is he coming to New York? Who else knows?” Her voice loud.
“Let me show you a picture,” my husband pulled out his phone. After he swiped a few times, a picture of his son appeared on the screen.
Holden’s anger like an amusement park ride began to take momentum. She grabbed at the phone.
We watched her peer at the screen. Eyes became wide and wider. Her face slid from anger to shock. She dropped the phone on the bed. My mind wandered to when she was young and would go to Music Together classes. They would sit the kids in a circle and play hot potato with an egg shaker. Holden would clap her chubby hands in rhythm to the song. And if hot potato was called, and Holden found herself with the shaker. She would drop it in horror. I’d whisper in her ear, it’s not really hot. Don’t be scared. Was I suppose to tell her then among the toy instruments? That she had a brother in Colombia four years older. A brother, her father never met.
“He looks like you and your brother, right?” I wanted to whisper in her ear like I did long ago. Don’t be scared.
“How old is he?” Holden bit her lip.
“Sixteen, he will be seventeen in August.” My husband looked up. The phone once again in his hand.
“You were married?” She asked. As soon as she spoke the words laughter trailed behind.
“No, not married. We dated,” he pulled at his hair, as if the memories needed to be forced out.
“Haaaa Haha” Holden howled. Her hands on her knees as she bent over hysterical with laughter.
I stared. And watched my daughter have her first laugh attack. An affliction, though humorous, has plagued me since I was a young child. It’s as simple as this, whenever I feel overwhelmed, usually brought by lots of stress I’m prone to laugh attacks. It’s not just a few seconds of a hearty laugh. No, my laugh attacks can last as short as a handful of minutes and as long as thirty minutes. So, great are my laugh attacks that I’m left gasping for breath. Streams of tears down my face. And those around me who join me with laughter of their own, at first, but soon grow bored. Since the joke, which dropped me to my knees and forced my fist to pound the ground, is no longer funny.
After a few intense acupuncture sessions, which left me with my hands over my mouth as I drowned my laughter. My acupuncturist, Brittany, told me they were an indicator that the body was overwhelmed with emotions. Desperate to release this someway, it chose laughing. Laughter, a menu choice, which I favored second to rage.
Holden unable to gather her wits, continued to laugh.
“What’s so funny?” My son, Ruben, walked into our bedroom.
“We…. we… ha… haaaa…ha!” Holden laughed, unable to catch her breath, unable to string together a few words at a time.
“You have a brother, Ruben,” my husband lifted his head in the direction of our son.
“Look… ha…. haha… his… haaaaaa…. picture,” fat tears rolled down Holden’s face.
My son grabbed the phone and stared at the screen for a long time. He looked at us, as if he searched for a clue, unsure what to make of our stressed face. Ruben then turned towards his sister. And like often done, the youngest copy the older. Laughter erupted.
It was awhile before they both grew weak from laughter. Once quiet, we filled them on the details of their half brother’s existence. And why before tonight their was no contact. How his single mom refused to share her son with his father, unless he married her. And the man, his father, your father, wanted to wait to get married. But still be part of his son’s life. All or nothing, she banished him from their lives. Angry, my husband refused to make peace, even at the cost of his son. Both wrong. Unable to provide for her son after a long recovery from the Zika virus. She was left no choice, but to reach out for help. Contacted my husband’s youngest brother still in Colombia. He called. And a phone conversation was set up.
I doled out these details as if I read them from a short story. Removed. A narrator and not an accomplice.
My husband elaborated with his eyes closed. Shut by shame.
And once we were done. My daughter looked at me for the longest time. Her eyes filled with disappointment, “you went out with a guy who had just broken up with his pregnant girlfriend?”
Silent. I bowed my head down like a repentant. After she left the bedroom, my son behind her, I wanted to shout out. They were broken up before we got together. I didn’t break them up. He never wanted to talk about it. Like always. I remained silent.
The last couple of weeks I have said words and complete sentences, and sometimes full paragraphs I thought I would never say, let a lone say them aloud. But over course of three weeks I have taken note of the words which have spilled out of my mouth. Spoken to my friends, colleagues, and family. Some even to my social media writing friends through messenger.
- I’m ashamed…
- I’m filled with rage…
- It no longer makes me happy when I hear that people are afraid of me. It did. But it no longer does.
- Tired of keeping secrets.
- Done with doling out excuses for myself. Unable to do the same for my friends.
- I no longer bury my nose in a book and pretend shit isn’t happening.
- I’m starting to believe that the universe wants me to tell these stories. The ones I’ve buried alongside my emotions. But like my emotions, my stories have surfaced. Have they both waited for my revolution?
This is essay number twenty. 40,000. That’s the rough estimate of words I’ve written in just the #52essays2017challenge. If you include the chapters of my novel or my short stories, other nonfiction creative proses I’ve written and not shared, as well as my mini short essays on http://hispanecdotes.com. It would be another 40,000. Maybe more. Since January I’ve written a whole fucking lot!
And you can’t do that much of something without a change.
There is power in that. I didn’t know when I began this essay challenge that changed was summoned. To be honest, I began the essay challenge because I loved https://vanessamartir.wordpress.com. The entire year of 2016 I read her essays, one a week. On the rare occasion I didn’t read her essays, I made sure to double up the next week. Her essays, a rope tossed to me week after week. I clung to her essays, certain that her words were meant for me. They must be, spoke what my heart dared not feel. And when she posted her challenge for writers to join her in 2017. I sent a timid: I’d like to do this.. but not sure… Lean in she replied. And I did.
The other day I came across my daughter’s text with a school friend. He asked her if she only had her little brother as a sibling. She texted, No, I have a half-brother in Colombia. Seventeen.
I smiled to myself.
And just yesterday I bought a shirt for my son for an event we would attend the next day. He turned to me and pointed to a cool t-shirt with a sports logo. “We should get that and send that to Colombia, you know for my brother.”
I smiled to myself again.
My children have not stuffed their words and emotions like forbidden secrets. They accepted their half brother. They want to meet him. And wander a loud what they have in common. My son wants to teach him English and play soccer with him. My daughter wants to know how tall he is and if he has snap chat.
No longer a keeper of secrets. I say this: I have a stepson. One I’ve never met. And hope to meet. I was twenty-two when I knew of his existence, and dated his dad. And that’s fucked up. I see that now. Didn’t then. But I know better now. And I’m sorry. But, yea I have a stepson. And no it’s not a secret.