We got up and started walking towards the entrance.
I had a lot of questions but I couldn’t think of a way to vocalize any of them. In the car, I opened the book to the first picture of Jay I was able to find. I opened the mirror in the car. Now that I thought about it, while I’d inherited most of my looks from my mother I did look like him somewhat around the eyes. Tara was his spitting image, though. I sighed, still not knowing what to say. There were many times growing up where I felt isolated because I’d never known my father. Larry, my stepfather from when I was born until I was fourteen, had tried his best. He was also a successful musician, one half of the Arlin duo with his sister Darlene, so he was often absent. Eventually, it became too much. Mom had always told me their split had been amicable, and I still saw him every so often. I’d hated him as a teenager but had grown more respect for him over the years. And I realized that he’d been good for Mom too.
“Did Larry know?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “He was one of the first people I told.”
I realized that nothing would have stopped them from trying to pass Larry off as my real father, but they’d at least told me the truth from the beginning, even if it hadn’t been all of it.
The rest of the drive was silent. Mom mentioned we’d see Debbie and Tara again at Fourth of July fireworks, and I was dying to talk to her. I tried to think if there was anything else I’d heard about Jay before but I didn’t think there was. I kept thinking about the son from his first marriage. Adam. Unlike me, he always would have known who his dad was. Even had memories with him. I wasn’t sure if that was better or worse than just finding out about everything now.
“I was nineteen,” Mom began once we had our ice cream. “I wanted to take a year off from university. It was a different time, you know? We were a lot more trusting. And I was just very taken by him. I’d left really good friends behind in Liverpool and I felt very alone in the States in those days. And the girls, they were so nice to me from the beginning. The media likes to say that Alex and I didn’t get along, but we did.”
I nodded. Mom often told me how hard the move from England had been for her and she often felt lost alone when she was in high school and into college.
“I’m not sure what else to tell you. Only that it happened.”
“Didn’t anything seem off to you?”
“Not at first. I’d just, never felt loved like that before.”
I imagined my mother at nineteen. Feeling probably a lot like I did now, living in her apartment, going to school. Missing England, feeling alone in the world. And then, a handsome older man was interested in her. He told her that she mattered. That she was loved. Maybe I understood it more than I thought. “What was he like?”
“When he wanted to, he could make you feel like you were the most beautiful person in the world. He made you feel seen. Noticed.”
“So what happened?”
Mom took a deep breath. “I saw him for who he was.”
I took a deep breath and began to cry. Mom pulled me close and told me that it was all right.
“It’s okay,” she said.
My ice cream had half melted by the time I calmed down. We didn’t talk much for the rest of the night, only about the Fourth of July fireworks that we were planning to attend.
Once we were at home and I had gotten ready for bed, I continued reading the book and I couldn’t put it down. There was a lot about Alexandra Altman, who the writer had interviewed in prison in 1972. “In Altman that day I saw a young woman who had craved love badly. Her transformation happened slowly, and no one was around to tell her that she did not have to give him all of her power.” I swallowed, seeing a picture of her. The same blonde that was on the cover. Smiling and happy. Little did she know.
There were a few chapters about Jay’s past, mostly about being born to a teenage single mother and then later meeting his wife and moving to Montana with her. Growing up, I’d spent some time, but not a lot, imagining what my father would have been like. The book mentioned his love of the culture of Ancient Greece and Rome, and its philosophers in particular. From the time I was very young I’d had an unusual obsession with its gods and goddesses and later on, its writing. Had I inherited that from him? Maybe not. A lot of people were interested in that sort of thing. It mentioned that he thought most movies and TV were garbage but that he’d once mentioned his favorite movie was The Wizard of Oz. I wasn’t sure what to make of that.
At some point I fell asleep. The entire next day mostly passed by in a haze. Mom and I didn’t go anywhere or do anything, and I didn’t have much to say to her. There was a lot that I read the night before that was fascinating and terrifying all at the same time. How’d he make them feel special one day only to humiliate them the next. Ply them with acid on an almost nightly basis. I wondered if that was why growing up Mom’s behavior had always seemed a little off. Forgetful, moody, disorganized. I didn’t know much about it but I knew that repeated use could really mess with someone’s brain. I couldn’t blame her for loving him, but it was still a lot to take in. Half of my DNA was from him. I looked at a few of the pictures of him in the book and tried to recognize anything familiar in his face. But all I could do was dissociate. I couldn’t picture this man in my life in any sort of capacity. I could barely even picture him in Mom’s. There was also a picture of her in the book. She was with two other girls. One I could immediately tell was Debbie. The other I didn’t recognize but she had long, honey colored hair. They all had their arms around each other and were laughing. Dressed in loose clothing, their hair long. I wondered what they must have been thinking then.
It was while we were all waiting for fireworks that I finally got a chance to talk to Tara again. Mom and Debbie were busy at the grill and a few of our other family friends ignored us after the customary introductions. Moments before someone had checked the cooler to announce that we were out of beer. We took the opportunity and got their attention to announce we were going to walk across the street to get a six pack.
Once they were out of earshot, I turned to her. “How are you doing?”
Tara gave me a nervous look. “It’s a lot to take in, you know? I think I’m most upset that Mom never told me. Did they think we wouldn’t have been able to handle it?”
“Who knows? We can’t possibly know what they were thinking. I can’t imagine being part of a group like that.”
She took a deep breath. “There was this documentary about it on TV last night,” she said. “In the hotel. Did you see it?”
“I was at the library.”
“Well,” Tara continued. “It’s a pretty good overview of everything. You know, they said his son has been in LA since ‘79. In Glendale, I think.”
“Yeah, I guess. He has a wife and two kids.”
“You know,” I said. “This means he’s our half brother too.”
“You’re not thinking of contacting him?”
“I don’t know,” I said. But in my mind the thought began to brew. I wouldn’t have gone cross country to track him down, but if he was already in LA….
For the rest of the night I wondered.