December 20, 2010

My Kleksography Story

DC's Rorschach Theatre recently solicited via Facebook a call for odd family stories that would then be used as launching pads for a series of short plays that would be written, cast, rehearsed, and produced in a pretty short period, presented under the collective banner "Kleksography: Home For The Holidays," and it ran last weekend.

My story was one that was submitted. I couldn't see it now that I'm Boston-based, but I'm honored to have been selected. Of course, the story was a launching-pad for the playwright's vision, and bore little resemblance to the actual event that inspired it.

So I'd like to share a slightly fuller version of what really happened.

In the summer of 2002, I was visiting my Dad in Kittery ME. I'd temporarily moved out of NYC to take an internship at Lost Nation Theatre in Montpelier VT, and I kept my stuff at his house while I was away (turned out to be five months, the summer internship and the fall Shakespeare show).

I had intended to drive to Montpelier that day, but my car (kept in his driveway for the year or so that I'd been in NYC) was acting up. So while it was in the shop, we made the best of the extra day and had a taco night. Old El Paso taco kit, just like the old days, with our regular filling: shredded cheese, lettuce, pickles, olives, tomatoes and taco sauce. We had sat down for our first round when the phone rang. He sighed heavily, thinking it was likely a telemarketer.

He wound up being on the phone for over an hour, as his tacos grew cold on the plate across from me. I could only hear half of the conversation, and couldn't piece together what was being discussed from context, but I could tell that it was definitely a significant conversation.

For Dad to be on the phone for more than fifteen minutes with me was a rarity - most of our phone conversations when I was in college, or while he was living with Grampa in Florida during his final years, or when I'd left for New York were of the "checking in" variety. Everything OK? Yup. Car running? Yup. How's New York? Fine. Got enough money? Mostly. Okay, don't wanna run up the bill, so I'll letcha go. Love ya, Kiddo. We didn't have really deep conversations.

At the time there was a lot that I was keeping from him; I wasn't out about my sexuality at the time, so we sorta kept to the tip of the iceburg. I was also aware that there was a lot that he kept from me. He almost never talked about his time in Vietnam, his divorce from Mom, etc. We never went deep. So there's a lot about my dad that I didn't know.

So after an hour or so, he sat down across from me again. Sighed heavily. Obviously he was quite emotionally moved. Then he said...

"So, John, did I ever tell you about your big sister?"

(a pregnant pause...)

"Um, nnnnnnno...."

A long explanation followed.

Once upon a time in 1968, there lived the son of a prominent city official. After graduating high school, he tooled around aimlessly in his Corvette, worked some construction jobs, and had a girlfriend. The girlfriend was still in high school, aged 16 or so. One day, girlfriend got pregnant. Parents on both sides raged. Decisions were made. In the days before Roe v Wade, it was decided that the child would be carried to term; it was a girl, and after a week was then put up for adoption. Babydaddy appears to have been given a Hobson's Choice of Vietnam or jail, so he sold his Corvette and enlisted in the army. Babymomma eventually married someone else. Babydaddy served honorably as an MP in the First Division, survived Tet, earned a Purple Heart, and came home. Shortly after, he met and married my mom, and thus begat yours truly.

A few weeks before the phone conversation, Dad attended the funeral of Babymomma's father, seeing her for the first time in years. The subject of their daughter came up. Any news, perchance, of what became of her?

Turns out that it was Babymomma on the phone. And over the course of the hour she informed him that their daughter, who was adopted by a loving family and had a pretty happy life, had nonetheless wanted to know who her biological parents were and had managed to track her down. She lived in Massachusetts on the north shore, had three children, etc.

I had no knowledge whatsoever of her existence. I knew that Dad had a girlfriend named Donna before Vietnam, but never knew about my half-sister. I'd been raised as an only child , although it turns out my mom knew about her too.

Long story short, while I was off in Vermont she contacted my Dad, they met, and once I came back I met her too. She's a sweetheart, and I'm glad to have her in my life. I've met the younger of her three kids (all are mid/late teenagers now), and the oldest is serving alongside his own father in Afghanistan.

It explained a lot about my Dad. I never knew what a burden he carried, but I could appreciate how finding her and establishing a relationship with her gave him a lot of inner peace. And were it not for a worn brakepad, I wouldn't have been present for the revelation.