I am sitting at a table, at my dad’s birthday party, and I’m playing with my salad while Charlie is attempting to digest a very chewy steak. Ellen had picked a good venue. The walls are covered in frescoes, the lights are dim, there’s a large floor to dance on, and the food, aside from the steak, is very tasty. My husband, my brother, his date, and I are the only people here under the age of 45. As I look around the restaurant, I see about 25 couples who have hair die and make up to conceal old age, dancing and having a good time. The most surprising fact about my dad’s merry guests is that several of them are his friends from the hospital. Growing up, the only people who came to our house, were our grandparents.
When I was young, and my dad would scream at me, his face filled with rage, I always assumed that the reason he never had people over, is that nobody liked him enough to be his friend. As I got older, I realized an adult could be perfectly pleasant with his peers, while still screaming at his kids any chance he got. So I decided that the reason our house was always void of guests, was because my dad didn’t enjoy social functions. After all, most of my friends’ parents had stopped having friends long ago. Something about marriage and kids kills friendships, or at least puts them on the back burner. Except for the occasional dinner with Claire, even Charlie an I never had anyone over. However, regardless of the reason my parents never entertained guests, I always assumed it was my dad’s idea. My mom always seemed like a small bumper sticker, and my dad seemed like the loud truck that carried her during their marriage. I never thought of my mom as making any important decisions, but now I wonder if it was at my mom’s insistence to hide from the world, that my dad gave up his social life.
My wondering eyes fall on my brother,who is standing next to the bar, and I watch him whisper something into his date’s ear and walk into the hallway. Assuming he probably went to the bathroom, I tell charlie, whose mouth is still full of steak, that I need to freshen up, and my husband nods his head and gives me half a wave.
Once I’m in the hall, I wait for Mark to leave the bathroom, feeling a little awkward at this bizarre situation. Once Mark finally walks out, his eyes show surprise and annoyance at seeing me.
“Ann,” he says, and stops as if unsure of what to say next.
“Listen Mark,” I say, “I have been investigating Mom’s life. I’m not going to go into all the details, but I found out she didn’t have foster or adoptive parents. She had a normal family.”
“Of course she didn’t grow up with foster parents, Annabelle,” Mark says angrily.
“You knew? Did Mom tell you? Or Dad, or maybe Grand…..”
“No one told me anything. It was so obvious. Even if Mom had a hard life, as Grandma liked to imply, surely she would have had at least a few decent moments. A good foster mom, a best friend, a fun afternoon with a puppy! It was as if Mom had no childhood; as is she was born on the day she married Dad. Of course everyone was lying to us. Something about Mom’s family had to be hidden, or maybe she had to to be hidden from them, either way she was definitely not some orphan kid from an after school special who who sang it’s A Hard Knock Life. It was so obvious; how could you not see it? I thought accountants were supposed to be smart! Next year I’m going to do the taxes myself.”
“Don’t you want to know why she kept her life a secret from us.”
“No I don’t. If both our parents were this adamant about us not knowing the truth, it means it was something awful.”
Marie’s voice resonates in my head, “you are not going to find out that you are the rightful heir to the throne of England.”
“Besides,” Mark continues, “What good would this information be to you now. Mom is dead.”
“I need to know why she acted the way she did. I need to make sure I don’t become like her.”
Mark scoffs, “You act exactly like Dad. Mom would have been smart enough to let the past sleep.”
It was one of the few times Mark has ever said anything kind about Mom. I start to smile, but before my smile reaches my eyes, Mark says, “I know I can’t tell you to stop. You are too dumb and stubborn to listen to me. Always were. However, whatever information you find out about Mom, keep it to yourself. I don’t want to know!”
He shakes his head at me one more time, and then he walks back into the dining and dancing room, presumably to join his date. I stare at his back as he walks further and further away from me, and I wonder how could he not want to know. How could he not be curious. But then I remember Amy Miller, and how I did not want to know the truth.
Shortly after my mom died, I decided to call Amy. At one point in our lives we were best friends, and I felt a strong desire to rekindle our relationship. I picked up the phone to call her parents, a number I still knew by heart, so that I could get Amy’s contact information. However, a mind numbing fear stopped me.
It wasn’t that I was afraid Amy would refuse to talk to me. In fact, a small part of me hoped she would. After all, when Amy needed me the most, instead of showing her kindness, or at the very least anger and disapproval, I had been indifferent. With every part of my body, I had shown her I didn’t care. I deserved her silence. I was also not afraid that Amy would still have issues, but that she would still want to be my friend. College classes and dorm life had taught me quite a bit about psychosis, and I was willing to lend her a sympathetic ear; something I had not been able to do in my teens.
My fear ran much deeper. I was afraid, that in the years I had blissfully ignored Amy’s existence, she had killed herself. When someone close to you commits suicide, everyone always tells you it wasn’t your fault, and that you could not have prevented it. However, those platitudes would not ease the guilt I would feel if Amy was dead. So I would stare at the phone, and sometimes even touch the dial pad, but I would never call the number that my fingers had dialed millions of times. Eventually I stopped staring at the phone, because I realized I didn’t want to know if Amy had died. I had no desire to know the truth.