I wake up in the darkness and numbly slap my hand against the nightstand fumbling for my phone. After searching most of the surface by touch, and knocking over a bottle of water, I remember that I never brought my phone with me. If I want to become aware of my setting, I must get out of bed, so I begrudgingly lift myself up.
When rising from this position, and with muscles not primed for their exertion, I feel lingering soreness in my ankle, even if I am assured by physicians that the bone has adequately healed. In this moment I disagree but keep moving and force my partially conscious brain to recall the phone’s last whereabouts. By the time I reach the living room, I realize I must descend another set of stairs, which will require adding the brightness of a hall light to the downward plod to the storage room. I expect by now the phone will be dead.
As I finish the second flight of stairs, I remember the last communication my phone made with the outside world advised me that Daniel and Niesha were hospital bound. Perhaps they already arrived as I continue to think back to the haze of the afternoon of family chaos and the night of deep slumber from which I am not fully awake. By the time I reach the door to the storage room, I am only slightly alert enough to know there ought to be an update as it is probably waking hours in central Asia.
While there’s enough light from the hallway to enter the room, I recall that I left the space in disarray and I cannot say for certain where in the mayhem I might find my phone. I flip on the light, squint my eyes at its forceful assault on my retinas, and I debate stepping forward to find out what’s happening at the hospital abroad, or waiting to acclimate myself and avoid another broken extremity. I wait and begin swaying to view around the pile of boxes and papers. Once I spy the device, I cannot wait any longer to see the latest.
It’s 1:47. It feels like 1:47, which of course would make it – math fails me – too hard to calculate what time it is in Afghanistan. I swipe to the right to reveal the time clock Daniel added to my quick-view screen after I explained to him that I cannot keep track of time when he is away. It’s just after noon where Daniel is, and I am surprised there are no updates. Maybe he’s been up all night and he’s as groggy as I am. Well, rather than stand here and hypothesize, I reverse my course, flicking light switches and closing doors until I find myself again clutching Daniel’s pillow. I’m tired, but now too awake to just fall back asleep. I text him instead.
So? Any news?
Thinking of you both and loving you.
I hope for a quick response, but nothing, so like every other aspect of his travels, I just have to wait to hear from him.
Now with no task to be completed, I go back to the knowledge of what I learned yesterday, and the overwhelmingness of it rushes back to the front of my mind.
I remember the photo I carried to bed and make a mess of the blankets searching for it in the linens. Finally, I turn on the phone’s flashlight to aid in the search and eventually find it tucked under the edge of the pillows. Once recovered, I leave the light on to view the only photo of me and Tom together. Of course, the fact that it is not my father feels real and I accept that the circumstances are likely all true, even if they are completely different than the truth I knew yesterday when I woke up in this bed.
I turn the light off. My eyes wait to adjust to the darkness by creating a negative image in front of me of the photo I was just viewing. I’m covered in darkness in this room, as well as across my entire history. Even Jason feels unimportant now. I certainly never expected that realization.
I wonder why Grandma and Grandpa didn’t connect me with my father – I mean, uncle – in those years when he was still alive. The comments about the alcohol will undoubtedly pop up the next time I pull a beer from the refrigerator or pour myself a glass of wine at the end of the work day. Maybe alcohol did in my father – no, gawd, my uncle, shit – during his final years. I’ll have to go back and find the cause of death in the paperwork, but if he drank himself to his grave, it will be a long while before I forget that I am related to him and perhaps equally susceptible to its strength in destroying him. The last thing I need to be is the drunk woman in the house with a mother and baby trying to scrape out a new life in Wyoming.
I’m second guessing myself now. Damn it, I wish Daniel were here to help ground me, to talk me off this new ledge, and to just remind me that the family I have now, even if it is only a family of one, is all the family I will ever want or need. Given what I know about my history now, I almost wish I could unlearn every truth I’ve discovered.
I know I’m angry, but I don’t know who makes me more furious: my Mom for being the mess of a parent no child needs, or my Grandparents for hiding behind the truth, or my uncle for not giving a damn when I needed him to give a fuck. I find being angry at my Grandparents might be the hardest truth to accept. They had all those years together as I moved into adulthood to be truthful with me and they never did. I want to be angry at them, but for all those years, they held me up when no one else did.
I ought to close my eyes. I cannot see in our unlit room so why not let myself get the rest I need. My eyes search for images in the blackness, or maybe identity in the bleakness.
I can’t really blame my uncle for throwing in the towel. I actually cannot imagine how much of his life he gave up to help his sister. He never married, and he pretended my Mom was his wife, which must have been awkward and bizarre when around his military cohorts. And I wonder about my brother.
Suddenly, a whole new door opens. What must Tom’s life have been like raising my brother as his son, watching him go off to Vietnam and get killed? What must it have been like when David enlisted and went to Vietnam? I wonder if my brother knew the truth about my uncle when he died. I couldn’t believe the questions swirling in the middle of the night.
What a sense of loss his death must have been to my uncle. Now, three and a half decades later, empathy replaces abandonment. More than ever, I wish he could have been a father figure to me. How must it have felt to be committed to that child, but not able to have a family of his own?
NEXT: Wellness Check – Part 59