My mom and I weren't close. She never brought me to the mall like the other girls' moms. We didn't have those corny heart to heart talks, kicking my dad out of the room for "girl time," because my dad wasn't there to kick out.
She took being a single parent hard, and even when she wasn't working at one of her three jobs, she didn't want anything to do with me. She didn't neglect me by any standard, but I could tell even from early on that she was bitter- before I was born, she had potential. Before I was born, she had hope. Before I was born, she had dreams, but then I came along and she lost everything she had worked so hard for. She blamed my father, but without him there, sometimes the blame fell on me.
I begged her to tell me who he was, where he was. Curiosity burned in me every day. When my friends talked about how their dads taught them to ride a bike, or helped them with their math homework, jealousy smoldered through my veins, thicker than blood. Finding out about him became my passion, but my mother wouldn't budge. He was a taboo subject in our house, and any mention of him brought a glare from her that quickly silenced me.
For years, all I had of him was my last name, Donnell. Of course my mom never changed her name, since she never married my dad, but she told me that she wanted me to have my father's last name. This was a long time ago, when I was just three or four, and realized for the first time that most families shared a surname. Some moms had a different name, but then the kids still had the same last name as their fathers. Even at that young age, I could put together the facts, so one day I asked her why I was different, and she had no choice but to answer and confirm my suspicions. After that, though, she never again felt it necessary to inform me about him, no matter how much I begged and pleaded with her.
Only once did I learn more about him, and I remember it exactly. It was more of a hint than anything, and even then my mother didn't tell me on purpose… It was last summer, and since I was 15, I had a job for the first time. It was the night before my first day of work and I couldn't sleep, so I crept across the hallway of our 2-bedroom apartment into her room. I felt like I was a little kid again, scared by a thunderstorm or scary dream, going to seek comfort at a time when she wouldn't shoo me off and make me fend for myself. It reminded me of a time when I was young and dependent and innocent. What I found in her room that night was anything but innocent, though.
She was drinking, straight out of a bottle of Jack, so out of it that she didn't even attempt to hide it from me when I went in, not quite believing my eyes. She beckoned to me, wordlessly asking me to sit next to her. On autopilot, still confused and shocked, I drifted over to her and sat on the bed next to her. She cuddled up to me on the bed, clutching me for comfort. I could smell the whiskey on her breath, and it made me uncomfortable, but I couldn't just leave her there all vulnerable.
So, we switched roles for a while, and I soothed her as she dissolved into broken sobs and later drunken hiccups. Finally, she relaxed into a light sleep and I snuck back out, just as confused as I had been when I first entered, and certainly no closer to sleep. Just as I was tiptoeing out the door, I heard her mumbling. I whirled back around, but she seemed to be sleep talking.
"Rotten bastard." She muttered again, wearing a hostile expression even in sleep and tossing restlessly, and understanding washed over me… she was talking about my father! Albeit while asleep, not to mention highly inebriated, but still! I waited there in silent anticipation for 10 minutes, praying that she would reveal something else, but she relapsed into a peaceful slumber, giving no indication that she had just been in a state of such high distress.
As I lay in bed that night, still frustratingly unable to sleep, a thought dawned on me; that night was almost exactly nine months before my birthday.