Visiting Mom by Carol Egan
I need to visit my mom again soon. It has been too long. I have been so busy with that book draft that is giving me major headaches. Lately I have had severe writer's block, so it might be a good time to visit Mom.
Mom lives alone in a small apartment above a store in Saint Paul. She seems happy there, but how much longer can she live independently and use those stairs safely? From my home here in Duluth it's just a long enough drive to Saint Paul to make it a chore to go there, and it's easy to put off. Still, I think I do a pretty good job of keeping in touch with Mom, despite what that nosey Meals on Wheels volunteer thinks of me. She thinks she's hiding her thoughts, but I can read faces. She disapproves of me. "Fred just can't find the time" to visit, as Nosey Volunteer puts it. She doesn't know the whole story.
My Seal Chase on Melville Island is a major roadblock in my ability to carry on with normal life. I thought I had it done, but it needs more revisions before I even dare present it to the publisher. I spend more time staring at the keyboard than I care to admit.
Karen complains about my "Hermit Time," too. As if I'm sitting there of my own volition, neglecting her, my job, and all the chores I need to tackle around the house. This book needs my attention if I'm ever going to get it done! As soon as it's done, I can breathe again. Not to mention, if it gets published, I'll get a big raise at work.
Next week I'm on Spring Break, so I plan to go visit my mom. She told me that Nosey Volunteer is on a trip to London, so I'll grab the chance to visit and avoid those disapproving looks. I'm hoping the break from writing will be the rejuvenation I need to come back and work full bore.
How should I tell Mom about Luke? Will she have a heart attack? I almost did, and I'm 30 years younger than Mom! That day I got a phone call from Annette, my old high school girlfriend, just about did me in. At first I thought she was calling about our upcoming high school class reunion. Why would she call me about that, though? I have never attended a reunion and don't intend to start.
Annette and I were both percussionists in the high school marching band. That's how we met. Her first words to me were, "you have shit on your pants." It's a big no-no to get the band uniform dirty. Even sitting down in them is taboo. But she was right. Somehow I had acquired a blob of bird shit on my pants. She helped me clean it off, and the rest, as they say, is history. We started hanging out more and more and became an item for my last two years of high school. I was head over heels in love and thought we would eventually get married. The year I went off to college, and she was still a senior in high school, she broke my heart. We seemed to remain tight at first, but after a while I could tell something was wrong. She broke it off with me in December, just before finals. Uffda! I was reeling. Made it through, but I'm not even sure how. My heart healed over time.... a long time.
I couldn't find it in myself to date again until I finally met Karen during spring semester of our senior year. I majored in anthropology, and she was taking a course where I worked as an assistant to the professor. I was instantly struck with her bright eyes, and her intelligence. She is bubbly and fun to be around, too. She is a great balance to my quiet. She brings the happy out in me. We were married a year after graduate school, and eventually we moved to Duluth where I was offered a professorship at the University of Minnesota, Duluth.
So it was a surprise when Annette called me; I was expecting to hear something about a class reunion. Even that, I wondered, never warranted a phone call before. Why now? Instead I got a bombshell. Luke, she said, was with her and wanted to talk. I had no idea who Luke was. He got on the phone.
"Hi, I'm Luke," he said hesitantly.
"Hi, Luke," I responded, wondering what he needed from me.
"Um, uh, [pause]".
"Can I help you with something?" I asked encouragingly.
"Well, see, Mom, or Annette, tells me that, um, you.... are my dad."
"You're my dad. I was born in July 1993. She never told you about me."
"Wait.. can I talk to Annette?" I pleaded.
Talk about blind sided! I never dreamed I was a dad! How could she have kept this from me?!
Long story short, I learned that when Annette broke up with me in December of my first year in college, she had just learned that she was pregnant. I guess she didn't want to ruin my future or something. So she kept it a BIG FAT SECRET. I was so out of touch with old classmates that no one ever told me Annette had had a kid!
His name is Luke Thomas Benson. Born July 20, 1993. What was I doing on July 20, 1993? Probably going on a seal hunt up in Kili Impini, Melville Island, Northwest Territories. I lived there for three whole summers in a row, in a small Inuit village that is rarely visited by non-natives, learning as much as I could about Inuit language and culture. Somehow they saw something in me and gave me permission to live with them. I went with them on many seal hunts, learned to eat the raw meat that they eat right after a hunt (especially the liver), immersed myself as much as I could into their culture. That's what my book is about, if I can ever get it done.
I'm still a bit in shock. Now I need to break the news to Mom. She's a grandma! She's going to hate the fact that she didn't get to be in Luke's life. He's already 26, and she never knew about him! I hate it, too. I always wanted to be a dad. I wish I could have... well, all of it. It's overwhelming. I can hardly even think about it. My head spins.
Karen … telling her was horrible. She and I tried and tried to have kids but could never manage. She had three miscarriages, but never a successful, full-term pregnancy. We finally just accepted the fact that we wouldn't be parents. She didn't want to consider adoption or any "heroic" measures. We've been pretty happy, but … there has always been that sadness in Karen's heart. A sadness so deep that I can't help heal it. She volunteers at a pre-school and just loves those little kids. It seems to fulfill a need, somewhat, but not totally. My poor, dear Karen.
I had to tell her that I was a father. Her face just about did me in. She crumpled. Part of her is happy, I think, to have a new person in our lives. But mostly she is devastated at being pulled back into those dark days of mourning and grief at what we could never have.
We haven't met Luke yet. I will meet him for the first time when I make my next trip to Saint Paul. This is another reason I have been putting it off, yet at the same time I am eager to go. I am super nervous. I'm quiet and shy. I hope he doesn't find me weird. Some people do (Nosey Volunteer). I want Luke to like me.
Oddly, neither Annette nor Luke have ever sent me a recent photo of Luke. And he's not on Facebook, so I can't look him up. He only sent me this picture of him with his classmates at Saint Paul Science Academy, a charter school he went to from K-12. They were all dressed up alike to compete in a Science Fair at the state level. I guess he was proud of that day, so that's the picture I got, or maybe a part of him wants to rub it in that I wasn't there through all of his childhood. I don't know. He's the second one from the left, back row.
He ended up majoring in chemistry at the University of Minnesota and is now a chemist at 3M. My kid did well for himself! Annette must have done a bang-up job raising him. Well, she was a good person and very smart, too, so I shouldn't be surprised. Her fabulous parents (I had really loved them, too) probably helped her raise Luke. I need to find out all of these details. It's deep. It's scary. It's exhilarating.
Next week I go.. trying to prepare myself. I'll meet Luke. Whew! Then...how am I going to tell Mom?
Remember a while back I found a picture on the ice, and wrote a story about it? Then I wrote a story about a person finding the picture. I named the person in the picture Fred. Later my husband was out on a walk and found a picture, too. He handed it to me and said, "I found a picture of Fred's kid." So this story was born. All of it is fiction, including names, dates, and places. Kili Impini is a fictional village on Melville Island, Northwest Territories. Melville Island is a real island but is uninhabited. Kili Impini is real but is something like a weather data collection spot or an oil exploration area.. something that does not constitute a village.