I wrote this a while ago, but hesitated to post it, since it is very different from the sort of thing I usually write. Incidentally, I’ve noticed that when I use first-person point of view, people sometimes think that it’s a true story. So, let me clarify that this is not about me and it is fiction.
I have no father.
It’s not just that my mother is divorced or that he died; I’ve never had a father. She told me that when I asked. Some kids have one, but not you. Oh well.
When I told my Grade 5 teacher this, he joked that I was immaculate. I had to ask my mother what that meant. She didn’t know either, but we found it in a dictionary. It meant perfect. She laughed and said fat chance. Still, I liked the idea of being immaculate. Maybe there was something about having a father that made you less than perfect.
I had had a vague idea of sex since early elementary school, but in Grade 7 the health teacher laid out all the gory details for us, complete with blush-inducing diagrams. I confronted my mother with this newfound knowledge, laying out my case like an adolescent pedagogue. If she didn’t know the meaning of immaculate, she might not know about the sperm and the egg and fallopian tubes and all that. “So, you see, I must have had a father,” I said, in conclusion.
“I can’t explain it to you,” she said, taking a long, uncommonly slow sip from the coffee mug she held in her hands.
“Don’t you remember it?” I asked, still pushing headlong for an explanation. I didn’t know much about sex at that point, but from what I’d heard, it seemed like the sort of thing you’d remember.
“Don’t do this right now,” she said from behind her mug, where she continued her never-ending drink of coffee.
“I just want to know if I have a father or not,” I said, standing up to look at her over her mug. I saw a tear leak out of her right eye and run down her cheek. That sobered me instantly. My mother never cried. Ever. At least I’d never seen it before. I sat back down.
The mood had gotten uncomfortable and I was about to slink away to the TV when she put down her mug and wiped her eye. “I was raped when I was in university,” she said. I had never heard that word spoken by anyone I knew and it was scary to have it suddenly leap into my life, even into the sanctuary of my kitchen. “I didn’t know who it was and they never caught him.”
I didn’t know what to say. My youthful brashness had been sucked out of my body.
“My friends wanted me to get an abortion. They assumed I would. I almost did.”
“Why didn’t you?” I asked quietly. I almost touched myself to make sure I was still real, still alive.
“I was too scared. I was petrified both of getting an abortion and having a baby. I kept putting off the one until the other happened on its own. I was going to give you up for adoption, but when I saw you, I couldn’t.”
“I see.” It was all I could manage. I escaped soon after that to try to numb my thoughts with some electronic entertainment. It didn’t help. It was like dancing along happily, only to find you’ve been dancing on a paper-thin wafer of glass, over a yawning chasm of What Might Have Been. I could be dead now. I would never have known if I was. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it.
It took me four days to work up the courage to ask the question that kept pounding against the inside of my skull. We were washing dishes after supper and suddenly I had to get it out.
“Mom, do you regret having me?”
She looked over at me and fairly attacked me—wet, soapy hands and all—in a crushing hug. “Never,” she said. “Never, never, never. I regret a lot in my life, but not you. You are like a strong tree that grew up out of a pool of poison, untainted by the evil of that night.”
I never forgot those words and they carried me through the inevitable pain and confusion that came with the knowledge of my origins. I may not be immaculate, but untainted is just as good.