The Shadows of yesterday
(One Family's Crisis)
By Carmen Pena
Reconnecting With my Dad
Life in the United States started off being everything that a twelve-year-old girl could imagine. We were surrounded by a large loving family with aunts, uncles and cousins and including grandmother, relatives that I haven’t seen since I was young. We lived in a nice, decent apartment, and had plenty of food on the table. I even began to attend church again since I decided just a few years earlier that I was going to be a dedicated Christian.
Lynn Massachusetts started out as the answer to a young girl’s prayers. But, as time progressed, and the years passed, it becomes just another Santiago for me and my siblings. Lynn was the city of sin, as Gloria and I use to say, all because the dreams and the hopes began to fade away. Our lives would take a turn for the worse once again because of the bad choices that our mother would make.
The first few years in this new country, I kept in touch with my paternal grandmother, Antonia Dubois who was still living in the Dominican Republic. I wrote her letters telling her how happy I was and how I was doing. We kept in touch because I gave her my mailing address and our new phone number. We didn’t even have a phone while we lived in Santiago. She did not call me on the telephone, but she would send me letters and cards every once in awhile. She and my mother had not spoken to one another since that last big argument. I never knew what it was over or what it was all about, and I didn’t care. I took it upon myself to stay in touch with my Grandmother because she is my father’s mother. She is a part of family tree, a part of my history that I wanted to keep. Every now and then, she would mention my father in a letter and tell me how he is doing. She didn’t give too much information on him, just enough to let me know he was still alive, I guess you can say. I never expected to see, or hear from him ever again, so I appreciated the little tidbits of information my grandmother gave.
Then one day, when I was fourteen-years-old, out of the blue I receive a phone call from my estranged father. I couldn’t believe it. This was the second time in my fourteen years that I actually talked to my dad. Did grandmother have something to do with this? Did she force him to call me, especially since I was getting older? I didn’t want to dwell on the how and the why of it all. All I knew is that I was thrilled when he invited me to come to Rochester NY, for an all expense paid visit during my spring break. That of course was a huge relief for me because mom didn’t have any extra money to be sending me anywhere since she was living month to month on a welfare check. If I had to depend on her to get me to New York to see my dad, I don’t think she would have given me the money even if she had it, because she was still holding a grudge against him for the hell he put her through. But, I wasn’t. This was a new day, a new time, and my father was trying to get back into my life.
When spring break arrived, there I was on another plane trip, but this time, my English was a little better. I greeted the attendants happily because I could understand them and they could understand me. I was filled with excitement because I was going to see my father. As I sat in my seat, my nerves had me on pins and needles; all kinds of thoughts began to run through my mind. What would it be like living with my father for a solid week? Does he really want to get to know me? What is he really like? How come he stayed away so long? Why did he ignore the letters that my mother wrote so long ago? Why did he want to see me now? My mind was swimming in questions as I sat quietly anticipating, just wondering and yes, worrying that maybe this might not be a good idea.
When the plane finally landed, I exited the doorway slowly, being one of the last people to leave the plane. I hesitated nervously with each movement down the steps. I couldn’t believe how nervous I was. It had been six years since we had seen one another; but, as soon as our eyes met, we recognized and knew each other instantly. There my father stood; he was still handsome and bald, and still looking like the movie star that I remembered. This time he was sporting a long black beard, the same color as my hair, which was pulled back into a curly ponytail. I suppose I recognized him because it was like looking in a mirror at me, seeing the same look-alike features that let me know we had a connection. I had forgotten the fact that he was married momentarily. But, there she was too, Marlana, the same woman who also denied to herself years ago that her husband had been unfaithful and had fathered a child. They both looked at me shyly as I approached them, and then my father reached out to embrace me. It was an awkward moment, especially when he introduced me to his two sons and said, “This is your sister, Lorena”. My half brothers looked me over, up and down, from head to toe as if for approval. The older one, Taylour shook my hand and looked very pleased. But, Massin, who was older than me by three months, eyed me as if I was intruding on his territory and he didn’t like it. He made me feel very uncomfortable.
It was quiet ride as we left the airport; you cold feel tension in the air. The palms of me hands were sweaty as I sat in the back seat between my two brothers. My father took us to his sister’s house, my Cousin Kelly’s mother, Angelina. As soon as the car pulled up in front of the single, family brick home, in a neighborhood that wasn’t anything like Lynn; his wife Marlana, jumped out of the car and ran up the steps, into the house before the rest of us could get out of the car. Once she was inside, she made the startling announcement to the others who were waiting for my arrival, that I was indeed the splitting image of their brother. During that first week in New York, my father was the perfect image of a father, he was sweet and very loving towards me as if he were trying to erase what had happened. He even begged me to forgive for his neglect and his denial of me. He even went as far as trying to explain how things were and what had happened fourteen years earlier to make him turn his back on his own flesh and blood. But, I didn’t want to hear the details and the negativity towards my mother because she wasn’t there to defend herself, to confirm if everything he was saying was wrong or right, true or false. As far as I was concerned, we were together now and that was all that mattered. I loved him, therefore I forgave him. I was excited to have my dad in my life, even for one week.
That time spent with my dad was a very special time for me. Through our talks and his sincere apology for his past behavior, gave me a father/daughter connection that I thought I would never have. I now felt complete, whole for the first time in my life.
I can’t say that my father’s family felt the same for me, it became apparent that there was some friction that came from his wife and younger son. They weren’t happy that I was there. They probably couldn’t wait for my visit to be over and I was back on the plane and out of their sight. They made my short visit a nightmare. Regardless of the sly little remarks that were upsetting to me, I still understood their feelings towards me. But, I wasn’t there to do them any harm. I wasn’t there to take away anything or anyone. I just wanted to be with my father, and get to know him. That was my God given right as his daughter. Besides, he asked me to come, I didn’t ask him. He called me. So, regardless of how his wife felt, or my half-brother’s feelings, my dad wanted me there, and that’s all that mattered to me. The air was thick with jealousy. You could have cut it with a knife. Yes, Marlana was my stepmother, but there was no kind of fondness towards me. Her blood ran cold as ice where I was concerned. She made me feel like a displaced object that just didn’t belong in her home. I remember her buying me a pink, two-piece out fit once, it was pretty; but, I don’t think she bought it because she wanted to, or from the bottom of her heart. I think my father must have told her to buy me something and she obliged.
Massin treated me like I was a thorn in his side. He never abused me verbally, but, his behavior towards me was like I had a contagious disease, and if he came too close, he would catch something. He made sure he wasn’t beside me when we had our picture taken, and anytime we were in the car together, he would sit so close to the car door as if he was glued to it, just to keep from touching me. We never had much of a conversation. We were as different as night and day. I think he felt threatened by my presence, as if I was going to upset his happy home life, and take something away from him. I felt very uncomfortable around those two. But, my older brother, Taylour, he was completely different. He did not treat me like an intruder, or an unwelcome guest. We had a good relationship. He was sweet and very nice, it even bothered him to see his mother and younger brother treat me like I didn’t belong there. It broke his heart when ever he caught me crying my eyes out because of something that was said or done to me by Marlana or Massin. Taylour made me feel like his sister, we had a real connection. He knew it wasn’t my fault that things were as they were. I was the victim, the result of something that happened years ago. It was Taylour who told me that I couldn’t change the past, no one can do that, but we can make a difference for the future. He just hoped that I would be strong enough to deal with the objective attitudes coming from his mom and brother. Taylour was my rock when I was visiting there. It felt good having an older brother too. He always gave me his shoulders to lean on, after all; it was he who showed me that blood was thicker than water.
I continued to have a relationship with my father after I came back to Massachusetts, but it was a strained relationship compounded by jealousy and despair from a broken hearted wife who didn’t and couldn’t handle the situation. To her, I was just a reminder of the past and what she was facing in her present day nightmare because her husband was no saint. Her knight in shining armor was a fraud.
I visited my father three or four times in the period of six years. My next trip was during Christmas vacation. When I arrived in New York, I found out that the plans were changed. Instead of me staying at my father’s house, I spent most of that vacation at Marlana’s sister’s house; where I was conveniently invited to spend time with her Marlana’s niece, Amanda. I wasn’t suppose to find out that the reason I was over there was because Marlana did not want me in her home. She couldn’t bare my presence in her life. But, I did find out, and I knew my father was in a tough situation, having to choose between a wife and a daughter. He was between a rock and a hard place, trying to find a level of ground to stand on.
My father would look so pitiful when he picked me up for breakfast in the mornings. We would go out to eat for a short period of time, and then he would return me back to Amanda’s. This entire situation was a heavy burden on him; I could tell it, sense it, and see it in his eyes. It hurt him that he couldn’t change the situation because he didn’t know how, or was it because of the other things going on in his life? As it were, my father was digging a hole that was big enough to gobble him up. He put a strain upon everyone, his immediate family, myself, and yes, even the other woman he was involved with.
As you can see, my father didn’t really change over the years. Age did not make him wiser. He was just a womanizer. He was just as he was when he met and played around with my mother, playing with the hearts of these women and at the same time pulling the strings of my heart and souls because I am his flesh and blood, his daughter.
Another strained visit came years later, when my brother Massin was getting married. I was a young adult then, in my early twenty’s. I don’t know why I wanted to be there, considering that Massin and I never had much of a relationship. But, my father told me of the wedding and he wanted me to be there.
The day before I was to leave for New York, I called my father and told him that I would be arriving at the airport at 9pm, the next morning. When I arrived at the airport, for the first time in all my visits, there was no one there to pick me up. I searched my little black phone book that I always carry, and called the Gonzales family who were close friends of my father and Marlana. It wasn’t long before one of their teenage sons, Jared, picked me up and told me that my dad was just too busy to come to the airport. Jared then took me back to their house because no one at my father’s house. This is really when I began to feel the rejection all over again. It was one thing to come all this way to be rejected by a stepmother and her son, but ones own father too, and for the second time. That was a hard pill to have to swallow. I wasn’t even allowed to go to my father’s house to wait for him. No doubt, this was all planned my Marlana. I was a little uncomfortable sitting at the Gonzales’ waiting, so I asked them to take me to Ida’s house who is my father’s niece. I spent most of that dreadful week there as if I was hiding. I missed the wedding and that was my main reason for being there.
My father’s actions demonstrated to me just where I stood in his life. I believed he really cared for me somewhat, at least s much as his wife would allow him.
There were times when I was back in Lynn, when if I didn’t call him, and he hadn’t heard from me in a while, he would call me, showing a bit of care and concern.
How much financial support did I receive from my father? I can count on one hand the amount of money he has given me in my entire life, including the first two trips to New York, which he paid for. It doesn’t add up to five thousand dollars.
My father had a terrible habit of making promises tome that he couldn’t keep. I like to think he always had good intentions even though he failed at his promises. I wonder, did he really try to keep them, or was this just a way of pacifying me, keeping my hopes and dreams alive? He promised me a brand new car when I turned eighteen. He would mail me money that never reached me, and he would always say he is coming to Lynn to visit with me. Well, he actually did keep that promise; he showed up once, the entire time that I lived there. He even went as far as promising to by me some property after I was married, so that my husband and I could build the house of our dreams, which never manifested. Is he just a helpless liar? Does he makes promises like that to my brothers, or is it just me?
When I was twenty-two, my father and his family left New York, and returned to the Dominican Republic, buying a home in Higuey. I went to visit him there after he said he would pay for me to get back home if I could pay for my way there. It was May 14th, when I arrived at the airport. My father had a chauffeur pick me up, but instead of taking me to my father’s house, the chauffeur was told to bring me to my grandmother’s. I was happy to see to see Grandmother Antonia, especially now that I was an adult. But, I was heart broken to find out that my grandfather had passed away and no one bothered to inform me of it. It wasn’t a week, a month, or a few days that this terrible thing happened, it had been several years, and no one said a word to me. I was hurt because I didn’t get to say good-bye to someone whom I loved, and who treated me well, like family.
My father didn’t show up at my grandmothers until the next morning to see me. Wee talked for a short while before he took me to his house to see Marlana; his wife, like always acted like she had a chip on her shoulders in my presence. Little did I know at that time, Marlana was facing the same kind of situation again as she did with my mother, 22 years earlier. This time my father’s new girlfriend was the same age as me and she had a four-year-old son. Marlana’s problem wasn’t me; it was my father…her husband who was the culprit. Woman to woman, I wonder if she will ever realize that?