The Way I Am
My parents divorced in 1980. In 1989 my dad remarried.
He was 36. She was 22. It was an uneasy feeling meeting this woman. To this day she tells people she didn’t like me, even then, because “he acts better than me.” I was 10.
She was pregnant, of course. That’s why they were getting married. I had my first sibling at 11. That summer, I stayed with them in Detroit. She became pregnant again soon after.
She smoked while my sister was a baby and as she was pregnant with my brother. I remember telling her that it was bad for kids to be around smoke as their lungs were still forming — even mine. She told me she was “better left alone.”
One time after we picked up my dad from the plastic toy factory he worked at, we stopped outside a building in South Detroit. My stepmom got out and grabbed my sister out the car while still in her car seat. My dad got out and then they all walked into the building. My dad said “We will just be in here for a minute. Stay right here.”
It had dark windows. It must’ve been a bar. So I sat.
Almost an hour goes by and I am still sitting alone in the car. I got out and walked in.
Everyone was smoking and drinking. My “parents” were already one sheet to the wind. My sister, 12 months old, was sitting on the table in her car seat.
I was pissed. I asked why they left me out there in the car while they were in there having fun.
Then she smiled. She was missing a tooth at the time.
She let out a big puff of smoke and said “Well…sometimes you are better off alone.”
After the age of 5 I hardly ever saw my dad save for a couple of summers. After the age of 15 I hardly ever talked to him.
By the time I was 24 I had been in the Navy for 3 years. I was overseas for the second time in my life, off fighting an illegal war. I don’t even think my father or her knew I left the country.
I returned to the US and had been back for a couple of months. I got a phone call from my real mother. She told me that unfortunately my father had died. He had been dead for a few months now.
I said thank god. I thought she was going to tell me something bad happened to my grandma.
My father and stepmother had become heroin addicts — him for the second time. My father overdosed and she abandoned her two children to try and avoid conviction in a drug related death. We later found out he was also smoking crack.
Eventually she was caught and arrested. In the meantime, her children ended up with their mother’s parents to avoid foster care.
I went to see the kids. I barely knew them. Their parents didn’t like me. My sister had a hard time talking to me. I was a bigger, stronger version of my father and that scared her. I wondered why?
I later found out that my father suspected that she wasn’t even his real child and that his wife had cheated on him and he was now being tricked into raising her. As a result he used to beat and choke her. No wonder she was scared of me. I looked like that asshole on steroids.
His wife was later was released from jail. She was “reformed” now. We talked on the phone once.
She still told me that it was my family’s fault for her ending up the way she did. We “never supported her or her children enough.” She took no responsibility. Not even for abandoning her own children.
I never liked her but I tried to maintain a good face for the kids as she re-entered their lives. But they really knew how I felt.
My brother grew up to become a Marine. For a lot of poor kids, getting out of Detroit meant going to Iraq. My sister later died of complications from drugs by age 23.
My stepmother’s kidney began to fail as a result of her previous drug use. She was on dialysis and one way for her to live longer would be if someone with her same blood type could donate her a kidney. There were two people in the family with Type O+ blood.
My brother called me from Japan where he was stationed.
“You and I are the only two who have Type O+ blood. Since I am in the Marines, I am not allowed to donate my kidney. She might die if something doesn’t happen.”
She wouldn’t even ask for my kidney herself. She tried to use her kid. Now I have to tell my half-brother that, when given the choice of will I let his mom die or not, I would in fact let his mom die.
Then I thought about being left out in that car. Her toothless fucking smile.
“You can tell her that….well…..sometimes you are better off alone.”