The estranged life of a humble musician's daughter
"What was he like, Ma?" It wasn't often that I found the right opportunity to ask her about him. But whenever I did, I was always hesitant. "He... was a musician." My mother always kept her answers short. It hurt her to remember. But she should have known, that it hurt me not to know at all.
I was raised with a complete set of parents. I suppose it was quite a normal childhood. I went to Catholic school and accepted all its teachings. Even when I had doubts, I was reassured that it was part of my growing faith. Because "no man was perfect," I should expect myself to be flawed. I would ask questions anyway. If the god I grew up knowing was perfect, surely he would have an answer to everything. But all my questions did was get me punished with my stepfather's belt.
I met the belt when I played with my food, because it was rude to play with your food, and your parents' hard-earned money. I got whipped when I talked back, because I should always behave myself, and the polite thing to do was to always say yes. Because I was a child, I didn't and shouldn't have assumed I knew any better. The belt kept me in place. Yet somehow, I always found myself facing it head-on more times than necessary. According to Ma, I was a difficult child. But it was all normal, she said. "We do it because we love you." I learned early on that love was very difficult to understand.
According to Dad, I wasted quite a lot of their money. Even though I only asked for simple things. Notebooks, stationery items, pretty colored pens. I wasn't denied these things, even though I cut many of my classes to hide under the Narra trees near our house to write songs and poems. I was never far away, but I knew where to hide so no one would find me. When I arrived home, I'd meet the belt for that too.
The first time I was ever curious about music, I asked my mother if I could sign up for piano lessons. She paid for them. But when recitals came, neither of my parents showed. They were businesspeople. And I wondered if I could somehow play music using a different instrument, so I could bring the music to them. Then they wouldn't have an excuse for not coming to my recitals. I asked for a guitar. They lectured me about it, but still they bought me one. I never took the belt for playing the guitar at home. But I did get yelled at a lot for making too much noise.
I always knew I wasn't my stepfather's own. They never kept it secret from me. And I was always reminded of how thankful I should be. For having someone with no obligation to care for me, but still did. Apart from his entertainment with my constant curiosity for different subjects, there really wasn't much I could do to make him - or my mother - proud of me. I always just... existed. Which was normal, I guess. And because I lived a normal childhood, nothing ever felt out of place. Until I asked my mother what my real father was like.
"Is he still alive?" was the most obvious question I thought I could ask. At eleven years old, I didn't know what other question was more important.
"Do you want to find him?" My mother's voice dimmed and lowered. I could tell I was striking the wrong chord. I shook my head no before thinking any further. "Go find your father then! You want to meet him so bad? When he did nothing for you? Not even buy you a single fucking diaper to shit yourself on?! You want to be with an old drunkard that did nothing but steal from your own mother?!"
I always met the belt for asking them questions about my real father. So I would ask our relatives instead.
"He was a nice man." My grandmother would say when we paid her our monthly visits. My older cousins would agree. "He always sang you lullabies to sleep." They always answered me in hushed voices. It was like a lion sleeping in the family's den of secrets; everyone wanted to talk about it, but they feared being heard.
"His name is Edgar." An aunt once told me in rushed whispers. "And you look just like him, honey. But don't tell your mom I said that."
Such contradictions. I never could make out his character. But if my mother, who had given me everything I ever asked for - even when she didn't want to - hated the man... Surely he wasn't as good as they said he was, right?
In the end, all I could ever make out from my relatives were three things: he was maybe a nice man, he might still be out there... and he was a musician.
I relished in this. Because of all the things I pursued throughout my childhood, it was music that stayed. Somehow, maybe he never left me.
I shrugged the thought away before it consumed me. After all, I had a stepfather. A father who has taken care of me my whole life. Who has loved me, provided for me, and whipped a belt on me whenever I went out of line. How dare I complain.
At sixteen, my mother took on two jobs. Something about my stepfather's business didn't pan out. I never quite knew what kind of business. It was none of mine. At sixteen, I was too old to get hit by the belt, so I never risked asking such stupid questions that would trigger that. Dad stayed at home most of the time while Ma worked day in and out, barely stepping foot in the house unless to sleep or bathe.
At sixteen, I met a boy I really liked, and got punished for it. Only, the belt was tossed aside for a new kind of torture.
My stepfather, the man who gave me everything as a child, was now asking for compensation. Dad didn't like that I was seeing a boy from class. "You're mine, and mine alone." He would say, and then... And then I wished for nothing more but to be lashed by the belt instead.
I never called him Dad after that.
It was at twenty-six when I couldn't bear it any longer. The bruises have become harder to cover. I reeked of torture, and wondered how Ma never noticed. For years, I thought keeping quiet was my own way of protecting Ma. Because my stepfather said if I opened my mouth, I would wreck the family. But the shame and disgust over the years had broken me to the point I couldn't stand straight anymore, or meet anyone in the eye. I had to pull myself together. Ma and I had to escape. I thought of no other alternative. Ma and I had to learn how to live without him. This had to end now.
"... How could you?" were words I never expected Ma to say next. Somehow, this was... my fault.
I remember being grabbed by the hair and tossed out the front door like a mistake. And for the first time in my life, I saw the home I grew up in for what it truly was. My sealed lips never dared to spell it out while I lived there. Because admitting the truth would make it more real. And if it wasn't real, I could at least pretend I didn't see it. But now I did.
My mother always knew. And she did nothing to help me.
At thirty, I married the love of my life. We lived simply and had mundane hobbies. We took in two cats left at our doorway and they became our children. He sang to me, as he did when he was still pursuing me. He always had a lovely baritone voice. The kind you wondered why he never did music professionally. He would laugh it off whenever I suggested it. He thinks "my laugh is like a happy song," and hugged me when we fought over the smallest things. I sometimes still expect him to throw a slap across my face during our arguments, like how my stepfather would my mother. He never did. But my jaw still clenched when he reached for my face. He would hold me in his arms and I would melt into a puddle of questions. Why was his love so different? So... simple?
In the kitchen, I prepared dinner. My husband kept himself entertained by plugging a song to sing on our karaoke machine. When the first notes started playing, I nearly chopped off a finger.
You fill up my senses
Like a night in the forest...
My legs trembled under me as I scrambled for pieces of a memory I didn't know I owned.
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain...
My heart raced. My head dizzied. I stormed out of the kitchen and into the bedroom, pounding on the laptop keyboard for clues maybe a few searches could find for me. To my disbelief, it didn't take time at all.
"What happened?! You okay?" My husband stormed into the room after me. "You dropped a plate, Ma, are you okay?"
"I found him," I tell more to myself.
"What was that?"
I found him... My father...
I stood across the street, staring at a rusted red gate with my hands clasped around the straps of my purse. "I need to do this alone," I told my husband the night before. Beyond it was an open front door where an old man emerged and seated himself on a plastic armchair. He lit a cigarette and took a drag. As he pulled his head back to blow out smoke, I saw his face.
Or... I saw mine.
High cheekbones and big rabbit teeth. Broad shoulders on a lanky old man that made him look cartoonish. And more like me.
I walked up to the house, slowly but steadily, until he too, could see me through the thin bars of the front gate. He stood from his chair, old age not allowing him to stand too straight. With a quizzical brow, he mouthed a question. A name.
"Mimi?" I shook my head no as my hands found their way to grab the gate's bars. I felt my face turn hot and tears roll down my cheeks. I shook my head. "No, I... I'm Mimi's... My name is..."
"Oh my god! Annie!" He nearly tripped as he ran to the gate, fumbling on the handle to get it open. His lips tremble at the sight of me, and we both suddenly didn't know what to do with our hands. I reached mine out, and he took it. And I felt at home.
This was a particularly hard story to write, as it is based on my own. My biological father, Edgar, and I are connected over the internet, as I found him online. We call each other regularly, and I have since discovered so many similarities between us. I also learned that he is a sweet old man, who was denied access to me and my sister early on in our childhood. People were paid to be quiet, and some were threatened. No one could help my father as he grieved the loss of his daughters in 1994. Until I finally reached out to find him, he said the only memory he had of me and my sister, only existed in his head. He had no photographs of us. Those were taken too.
Through him I discovered truths about my life that were deeply buried in my subconscious. The manipulation of truth over the past three decades have been painfully brought to light. But I discovered that through it all, the only thing that ever mattered was I am finally reunited with my father, who never stopped loving me, and never stopped thinking about me. And all I wish for is one day to be physically reunited with him, to the man who sang me to sleep at night. The man who stood no chance in his fight against another who had wealth and influence. The musician, whose only strength is his life lived in dignity and humility.
I love you, Papa. I'm so glad I found you after thirty years.
About the author
Hi there! It's been nine painfully uncreative years since I dabbled with writing again.I paid for Vocal plus because I figured that would give me a push to publish more stories. Wish me luck! <3
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