Author's Note: The cover image used is by Robert Kash. Flicker ID 8438474948 CC BY 2.0, Wikipedia Commons ID 47924803.
October 1998, Celeste Green
I woke up in a private room of the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. There was an undercurrent of antiseptics, a particular smell that would make anyone think of a hospital. The walls were a warm off-white color with pictures on the wall that were supposed to be calming. There were real flowers in a vase on a bedside table and it occurred to me to wonder who had left them here. I didn't think the hospital would make the investment; hospitals were too conscious of the bottom line for expensive frills like fresh cut flowers. They looked like pink and purple sweet peas; they were my mother's favorite so I recognized them. I tried to remember how I'd ended up here but all I had were a collection of jumbled, nonsensical fits and bursts of hazy awareness. I remembered seeing a masked wrestler walk past me and walls that bled yellow but that probably wasn't reality. I had colorful sticky surgical tape on me, keeping different monitors in place. I had to try several times to press the nurse call button, even though it was on the bed with me. As soon as I pressed the button a nurse came quickly and a doctor was paged over the hospital intercom.
"Where's my mom?" I asked, my words slurred.
"How are you feeling?" the doctor asked, instead of answering my question.
"Weird," I told her slowly, staring hard at the sheet that covered me, "My body is taking ten times as long to do what I tell it to do and then it's doing it wrong."
"Doing it wrong how?" she persisted.
"I have a headache and I had trouble trying to press the call button. I'm pretty clumsy but not this clumsy," I explained, then held up my hands so she could see, "My hands are shaky. Where's my mom?"
"Do you remember what happened?" she asked gently.
"I remember Mom woke me up and put me in the car," I told her, "We were going to visit some friends in San Diego. It was early and dark so I went back to sleep."
"You were in a car accident," the doctor told me, "Your mother's car went off of the onramp to the 280 East and hit a utility pole."
"Is my mom in another room?" I asked, suddenly afraid, "Can I see her now?"
"No," the doctor said, "I'm so sorry, sweetie, your mother died in the crash."
"No," I objected, automatically before I stopped talking altogether.
"Your father is here. Would you like to see him?"
No, in my head I said, I don't have a father. It's just me and my mom. She can't be gone. I tried to burn the image of her into my mind so she wouldn't be gone. I could still remember her. If I could still remember her, she wasn't gone.
She was wearing a sundress, singing in the kitchen. The light was good and bright because our kitchen had a lot of windows. Mom had this constant medium tan like warm bronze but her tawny coloring wasn't from the sun. Her hair was wavy and sort of amber, a reddish light brown with honey and gold highlights. She had hazel eyes with a ring of dark green around the edge. Her eyes were round and wide, like a princess, in a heart shaped face. She had high, angular cheekbones. She was slender but she had wide hips.
I thought it all but I said nothing out loud.
The next several days passed in a blur. I felt like a camera when someone had forgotten to hit the record button. I saw and heard everything but it was gone as soon as it happened.
"Celeste?" a man was talking to me, or trying to talk to me. I looked at him, seeing him for the first time.
"Celeste," my doctor spoke to me directly, "Do you understand what's happening?"
"Celeste, I'm Sebastien Alicea. I'm your father," he told me. I had a feeling it wasn't the first time he'd introduced himself. He was wearing a burberry tie and a beige vest. He'd thrown a long, dark brown pea coat over the arm of a chair. He made me think of a forgetful teacher except he seemed muscular and fit with a thick waist. He had blue-green eyes and ruddy skin.
No, I thought, I don't understand. I don't care. I want my mom. My mom is fun and smart and creative. She likes to read. Sometimes she'll ask me if I want to go somewhere I've never been before and we'll just get in the car and go. She likes to drive. When I can't sleep she takes me out where we can see the stars and she teaches me about the constellations. I can tell her anything.
I was crying but I didn't talk to them. I couldn't talk to them. They weren't my mother. I didn't know this man who they said was my father. I only wanted my mother.
I spent a long time in the hospital even after I woke up. I didn't keep track of the time or the date. I didn't care. I woke up to hear a few male voices talking about my mother and me. I listened without moving or opening my eyes.
Sebastian said in a low voice, "I remember her mother, Elizabeth. We went to university together. I knew she dropped out but she never told me she was pregnant. What can you tell me?"
"Her name is Celeste Green," the man from Child Protective Services said, "She was born in 1988 at Menlo Park Birthing Center. Her birthday was September 22 and she just turned ten. We tried to contact her aunt, one Victoria Jenkins in New York. We discovered that the aunt was deceased. The child's uncle, Andrei Jenkins, recently contacted us. He confirmed that Victoria died last year. He said he'd only met Celeste when she was very young and she might not remember him. Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins divorced a few years ago. He has a daughter, Renee, who is a few years older. He volunteered to bring Celeste's cousin to California to see Celeste."
I remembered Uncle Andrei a little but I remembered his daughter, my cousin Renee. Our mothers had been identical twins so I thought of Renee more like a distant half-sister. She took after her father in looks the way I took after my mother. She had a quiet, reserved personality but both Aunt Sissy and Uncle Andrei were quiet people. Aunt Sissy and Renee thought visiting us was like going to live in a musical because we sang all the time.
Sebastian sighed, "I don't know that anything will make this easier for her. Can I get his contact information so I can make arrangements for them to visit?"
"Yes, of course," the man hesitated, "Mr. Jenkins thought that Ms. Green might have made arrangements for him to take her daughter in the event of her death but that was not the case. Ms. Green did not have any end of life arrangements for her daughter. Your name was listed in the medical history and on the application for Celeste's birth certificate but not on the certificate itself. If she had been put up for adoption when she was born you might never have known."
"I'm her father," Sebastian's tone was clipped, "I've spoken with my attorney and I've submitted the voluntary declaration of paternity. I've started paying for her hospital bills. I'm taking custody of her when she is ready to be discharged. Her birth certificate will be updated. If you have any questions or concerns about that you will need to speak with my attorney."
He's used to getting what he wants when he wants something, I thought. He sounds like the sort of person my mother would nod and smile at before she did whatever she had wanted to do anyway. I tried to imagine my mother dating this person but I couldn't picture it.
"I would only ask for a paternity test to be done," the man interjected, "We want what is best for Celeste, of course. We reached out to you because we were unable to find any living relatives such as a grandparent or her aunt. Mr. Jenkins only contacted us yesterday."
"The test has already been done," Sebastian reassured him, "My attorney told me I needed it, in case anyone decides to fight for custody. Elizabeth was able to deprive me of my daughter for a decade because I didn't know. Now that I do, no one else is going to keep me from being her father."
"The test results will be back tomorrow and Celeste will not be ready for discharge before then," the doctor added.
I fell back asleep. I didn't care what they did with me. It didn't matter. I didn't think that anything mattered.