Phone Call to Dad
I sat on the couch, curled up in a little ball, for hours. There was no way to fix this. Johnny would have to know the truth – my son had set wheels in motion that could not be stopped, and I would be the one to pay the price.
Finally I stretched out and slept, still in the clothes I wore home from the Y. Johnny came downstairs at his usual early hour and turned on the coffee maker. I sat up, blinked. My eyes settled on Johnny and I smiled a very small smile. Maybe he would let this go.
“What are you smiling at? Are you ready to talk?”
Apparently he was not going to let this go.
I closed my eyes, shook my head. I heard him open the refrigerator, get the cream out. “Jenn, you know, no matter what it is, you can tell me. I can’t imagine anything that would make me stop loving you. Are you in trouble with money? Drugs? Having an affair? I’m not saying I won’t be mad, but I am saying we can work through it. No matter what it is.”
I felt tears leak from my eyes, run down my face, drip onto my shirt. I tried to speak, but it came out as a whisper. “I’m sorry, Johnny, I just can’t.”
“I hope you can figure it out, Jenn. This is important.”
I nodded. I couldn’t speak.
As soon as Johnny left, I texted my boss and said I had a migraine and I wouldn’t be in. There was no way I could work today. I closed my eyes again and tried to imagine how this was going to go. I could not imagine any good ending. I wanted my mom, my dad, someone to make this better, someone to help me make him understand it wasn’t all my decision, it was what had to happen. I couldn’t risk another breakdown. i couldn’t go through a pregnancy worried that the hormones would throw my delicate balance off.
Wait! I thought. My dad!
I picked up the phone and tapped his picture. “Daddy.” I said when he answered.
“Oh, God, Jennifer, no.”
He thought I was pregnant. That actually could be the only thing that was worse than this.
“No, Dad. I’m not pregnant. But there is a kind of, well, situation. I need your help.”
“Tell me what’s going on.”
I sighed. “It’s…can you just come over?” I asked him, whining a little. It seemed so complicated to go into over the phone. And I needed him to be there with me, physically present. I needed to see his face when I told him so I could figure out how bad this really was. I needed him to tell me it was going to be ok anyway.
“I’m on my way. I’ll see you in 20 minutes. Put on the coffee, dear. This is going to be a long day I think.”
“Thanks Dad.” I got up and started a new pot of coffee, did a little straightening up around the house. I brushed my teeth and hair and folded my blanket.
Hmmm, I didn’t remember getting out a blanket. Had Johnny gotten it for me, covered me up, even though he was so mad he could barely speak to me?
I shook my head. We had to figure this out, dad and I, and make Johnny calm down. This just had to be ok, one way or another.
My dad didn’t even ring the doorbell, he just used his emergency key to let himself in. “Jenn? Jennifer?” he called. I met him as he headed into the kitchen and hugged him, burying my face in his chest. I was a grown woman with a job and a mortgage and a husband and sometimes I still just needed my dad.
“What’s wrong? Come on, pour us a cup, sit down, and tell me what the hell has you in such a state.”
I pulled myself together and did as he asked. I took a deep breath and dove in.
“Someone has been writing me letters for the last 2 years. Once a month, the letter shows up. The return address is Lakewood Drive. The handwriting is definitely male.”
I stopped, waiting for his outrage. None came.
“And, yesterday I was at the gym late and Johnny came home and got the mail before I did. One of the letters was in there. He took it up to our room, put it on my nightstand, and noticed that the drawer wouldn’t shut. He pulled it open and found all the letters – and he freaked out.”
Dad was starting to look concerned.
“He was really drunk and mad by the time I made it home. He said I have 24 hours to tell him what it’s all about, or we will open the letters one by one and read them together. I’m pretty sure they are from…him…my son. And Dad, if they are from him from my – my son, Johnny will know that I lied to him. That we all lied to him.That I AM able to have children, I just refused to…”
Dad stood up and started pacing. This was a very bad sign indeed.
The last time he had paced like this was when I told him I was pregnant.
“Where are the letters now?”
I shook my head. “Johnny has them. He was afraid I would burn them.”
“How do you know that they are from…him?”
I shrugged. “I just assume they are. I mean – the timing is right. He’s in his 20’s now, there is no reason for him not to look for me. And what else could they be? I have no other secrets. There is no other reason for someone to write me letters.”
“Still, maybe it’s something else.”
I was doubtful. And I wanted to just come clean and let the chips fall where they may. As horrible as it was to imagine what my evening would be like, at least this would be over. I just wanted it to be over in a way that I could live with. I wanted Johnny to know the truth and still love me, still want me, still be married to me. I wanted him to understand that I loved him, but that I absolutely could not get pregnant and risk my life for him.
“Dad, what exactly did you tell Johnny before we got married?”
He thought for a minute. “I told him that you had a medical condition that prevented you from having children, and that if he wanted to marry you he needed to be aware that children were not possible.”
“OK, well, that is what I told him, almost word for word. And what’s wrong with me is, in fact, a medical condition.”
“Yes, but you did also have a child that he knows nothing about. A child who is now grown and apparently wants to find you for some reason.”
I chewed my thumbnail, trying to find a way to tell the story without losing my husband. “Dad, could you…”
“No.” He shook his head. “I’ll back you up, I will corroborate anything you want to tell him, but you have to do this on your own.
Of course I did. It wasn’t really fair of me to even ask.
“So, Jenn, what are you going to say? Let’s practice.”
I thought for a few minutes. I paced. I studied my nails, the floor. Eventually I took a deep breath. “Johnny, I told you the truth when I told you, and my parents told you, that I have a medical condition that prevents me from having children. You see, when I am pregnant, my body reacts very badly to the hormones and causes me to go into a deep depression with suicidal ideation, and in fact, a history of a suicide attempt.” I held out my wrists, the scars pale and silvery, almost invisible. Almost, but not quite. If we were in the kitchen, where the light was bright and focused, he would see them. “You see Johnny, we know this because before I met you, I had a baby. I got pregnant and I had the baby when I was 17 and I gave him away. And in the midst of my pregnancy, I attempted to kill myself by slitting my wrists. My father found me and saved me and I promised him that I would never have another baby, that I would never put him through that again – the worry that he would find me, bleeding, again.”
My dad was crying, remembering.
I could only hope that Johnny would cry in his imagining.
“So the letters are from, well, I think they are from, the son that I gave up. I don’t know why he would be writing to me, or how he could have possibly found me. But that’s who I think they are from, and that’s why I couldn’t open them, and that’s why I couldn’t burn them. They are all I have of him, and I don’t want them but I can’t part with them, and I’m sorry.” By now, I was crying too. I was crying for all I had lost, all I had done, all I had lied about and protected us from. I put my head down on the table and for the first time since I found out I was having a baby, I cried for that baby. I cried for the hurt and the loss and the wonderful, terrible beauty of the whole damn horrible thing.
My dad consoled me, his hand rubbing my back. “I’m sorry, Jenn. I am sorry I made you promise me, I’m sorry I made you do it. I should have saved you with no conditions. I should have just…”
I hugged him, my old, grizzled father. “None of this was your fault, dad. We were all doing the best that we could.”
He nodded, and backed away, and wiped his eyes and blew his nose. I went into the powder room and washed my face. When I came back out, he was holding my phone. “Call Johnny. Tell him to come home and get this over with. If I need to move you out of here today, I want to do it before it gets dark.”
My dad, ever practical. He hugged me one last time and told me to let him know what I needed. I nodded, and watched him leave. And I texted my husband.
“I am ready to talk. Can you come home?”
No reply for a few minutes.
Then, finally, “Yes.”