“Read me! Read me!” Micheal dumped several books in my lap and scooted into a spot beside me on the couch. At three years old, reading was a favorite activity. Sorting through the books, he pulled out his current obsession, “The Little Engine That Could.”

“Okay. I’ll read you, but first, I want to tell you another story. This one about your daddy.” I wanted Micheal to know and understand about his father from an early age. I planned to tell the story over and over, increasing the information as he matured. It was important to me that my son grow up with an awareness of the facts of his life. I wanted the truth to seep in slowly as his understanding became more sophisticated, instead unloading it all in a shocking revelation when he was mature enough to grasp all the implications. 

“When I had you,” I began, “the man who was your daddy, your real daddy, didn’t want to have a little boy. He didn’t want to be with us. That made me very sad, so I looked for another man who wanted to be a daddy and wanted to be with us. He is the dad you have now.”

“Read me now?” My son was more interested in the stories contained in  books than the one I was telling.

“Micheal, the dad you have now chose me and you to be his family. We love each other, and we love you. Okay?”

“Okay. Read me now.”

Even though my story was all but ignored, I considered my delivery a success. At least I had begun the dialog. I would revisit the subject every so often until it became something that was taken for granted, just like any fact of life. It was a solid plan. I was long on commitment, but short on execution. I soon became distracted by my own problems, foremost the drugs and the drama that consumed my marriage to Dave. It wasn’t very long before the biological dad, forever out of sight, was out of mind as well. He became a small, insignificant detail in the chaos of our every day, and our every day was hugely chaotic. I lived with Dave off and on for six years, three of those years we were married. Amid the drinking and drugging we moved ten times, twice to other cities in Indiana. One of those moves was motivated by a warrant for Dave’s arrest. Because of our nomadic lifestyle, Micheal attended four different schools by the second grade. “Our” son witnessed numerous domestic battles, including one with extended family. He saw the infidelities, the destruction of property, he heard the abusive language. After the father he knew was finally arrested and sent to prison for selling cocaine, he went with me every Sunday to see him, in the very place he would one day be incarcerated himself. My son’s psyche suffered a thousand cuts in his most formative years, and I was too selfish and foolish to see it.

Compounding the injuries, after a time my intention to inform my son about his father was transformed in my mind to a truth. I began to take for granted Micheal knew what I knew, and that he remembered what I had told him about his father, a man who time would reveal to be my least likely candidate. Looking back on the moment when that candidate finally appeared, it’s hard for me to judge who was more shocked at Micheal’s ignorance on the subject…Micheal, or me.

9 November 2018

I make good on my promise to call the Parole Officer. She is as hard-nosed as most people working for the Department of Corrections. The offender’s family is often treated with a brusque suspicion, and Agent McDonald adheres to this pattern. I’ve made it clear to her that I want to help my son, but I will not help him avoid taking responsibility for his actions. If he violates his parole I will help her capture him if I can. I’ve tried to make her understand if my son is victimizing other people, or putting his own life at risk, I would prefer him in jail.

I give her the few details I know about the stabbing. I tell her he will be in the hospital for at least another day while they determine his kidney is no longer bleeding. I give her the name of the detectives. I give her the number of the phone Micheal is using. I tell her it’s unlikely he will call, but I have given him her number. He has a prepaid phone and his time on it is running out. I tell her when his phone no longer works, I will give him an extra phone I don’t use much. I can locate it, and when I have an address for where he is, I’ll let her know. She asks me to impress upon Micheal how important it is he contact her. I assure her I will and later that day when I visit him I follow through.

In his room, he won’t look at me and he isn’t talking beyond greeting. I remind him about his parole officer, I ask if he has called her. He takes issue with the fact she doesn’t believe his story about the rehab. I don’t say it, but I don’t believe him, either. He was dead-set against it from the outset. To him, it seemed the same thing as being in prison. He might as well be locked up as to be there. Then, a sudden change of mind after months of resistance. Right before release his attitude changed and he became willing to go to treatment. It just didn’t add up.

I don’t answer him, and he says nothing further. We sit together in silence for many minutes. I know he’s angry with me about the things I told the detectives. I try to make small talk but he isn’t having it. I put my hand over his and give it a squeeze. He’s a big, strong man, but in the hospital gown with the IV lines and the stitches and staples, he seems vulnerable. He doesn’t want to talk to me, but apparently, no one but me wants to talk to him. None of his drug buddies have been to see him; they haven’t called. No other family save his daughter has been here. It makes me so sad I begin to weep. I recall some weeks earlier he told me he thinks he really doesn’t want to get clean, deep down. Even though he wants a better life, there’s something inside that just won’t stop. I’m still holding his hand and his face is turned away. He won’t look at me as I’m repeating our conversation, but I can see the tears coming. I tell him he lies to himself. He tells himself he really doesn’t want to stop using. I say the reason he doesn’t choose a better life is because he thinks he doesn’t deserve one.

He still won’t answer, but I see his lower lip begin to tremble. He pulls his hand away from mine and pinches the bridge of his nose in an attempt to stop the tears. When he has his emotions under control, he tells me how he doesn’t think he can get over losing Brandi. He can’t stop thinking about it, he can’t stop being sad. It’s hard for me to answer a forty-one-year old’s teenage angst, but I try to explain the steps to rebuilding a life when you’re broken…stay busy, set a new goal, try a new hobby or revisit an old one, meditate, concentrate on the positive. My advice falls flat.

Before I can tell him how much better his prospects are without Brandi, how he can’t possibly handle her mental illness, or her drug addiction, or her neediness, the surgeon comes in with wonderful news. Micheal’s kidney has stopped bleeding. He can go home.

Home. Just where the hell is that?

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