t was after midnight when the telephone rang in my apartment. I thought it was a prank call at first—a practical joke played on me by one of my patients.
“Who is this?” I asked.
“I'm your grandmother. My name is Esther Miller. Your father is Robert Miller, my son.”
“You must have the wrong number,” I told her. “My last name is Welby. My father died a long time ago. I don’t have a grandmother that’s living.”
“She had your name changed when you were little.”
“Who changed my name? I asked with sarcasm in my voice. Of course my thoughts immediately went to my mother.
“So your father couldn’t find you.”
“My father’s dead. He couldn’t have been looking for me.”
“I am afraid that isn’t true. She just kept you from him. Your real name is Portia Miller.”
There was pain in her voice. It cracked when she said the name like she’d been crying. She sounded so sincere and sweet on the phone. Many of my patients are elderly. I know how they sound when they are alone, fending for themselves, as their bodies and minds revert to an infant. They become scared, like a five-year-old abandoned at a baseball game.
“What’s my mother’s name?” I questioned, playing along with her. She may have needed help.
I could hear her getting flustered, “The last time you saw your father was at a Yankee baseball game. It was game three of the 1950 World Series."
That jolted me. I sat up in bed. My mind raced. Nobody else knew about the game. I never told anyone.
“Where are you calling from?”
“I’m in California. Please come dear. There isn’t much time and there’s so much that you need to know about your father before he dies.”
“Before he dies?” I asked shaking my head trying to remove the sleep from my mind. This couldn’t happen to me twice in one lifetime. He’d been dead to me for twenty-five years and even though there were unanswered questions, I’d learned to live with them.
“Just come, Portia. Please. He needs to see you, and I think you need to see him.”
She told me he was at the VA Medical Center in Long Beach, California. I was glad it was an easy place to remember. My hands were shaking so badly I couldn’t have written anything down.
I sat in my bed replaying the phone call in my mind. Could it be true? Was the call a hoax? She knew about the game. Nobody else knew except my mother.
Her voice was bitter when she answered the phone, “Portia, do you know what time it is? This better be important. I have to be up early for work.” She was always the martyr using her job in the factory as an excuse for everything she didn’t want to do.
“It’s good to talk to you too, Mama,” I said, even though it had been at least a month since we last spoke. “I just got the strangest call.”
“What is it, Portia?”
When I told her about the call, the deafening silence on the other end of the phone was her answer. It was true. My father was alive. She’d lied to me all these years.
“Mama, what is going on? Why did you do this to us?” I asked with tears rolling down my face.
She didn’t answer and hung up the phone. I wanted to dial her back, but she’d kept this secret from me for so long she wasn’t going to open up to me now. Instead, I dialed the airlines. The earliest flight wasn’t until the next morning. My mind was moving a mile a minute feeling like I was in a whirlwind out of control.
On my dresser, I kept the World Series ticket in a small wood box. The print had become almost illegible from my fingers touching it over the years. Whenever, I wanted to talk to my father, or feel his presence, I would hold it in my hand. It was a piece of him. Our only connection. I quickly jumped out of my bed and stared at the old stub like it was magical. I felt like I had just won the lottery with my ticket.
My flight from New York was filled with turbulent thoughts and my mind spent. What would I say to him? What would he say to me? Maybe I was too late? I shouldn’t have come? I wasn’t sure this was real or what I would find.
It always seemed like an invisible force guided me here, for this moment—maybe for this end. I felt it growing up. The telephone would ring, or someone would be at the front door, and I hoped it would be him. Someday, we would meet again.
At the hospital, an old woman sat by his bed. Something about her face sparked a memory within me, like a name that sits on the tip of your tongue that can’t be spoken.
She was small and hunched over from age. Her kind, round, face did not have a wrinkle. Her hair was a beautiful silver color, curled in tight loops on her head, as if she had just come from the beauty parlor. She immediately embraced me, holding me close. Her affection startled me. We were strangers, but she acted like we’d known each other all my life.
“I am so glad you came, Portia,” she said with tears in her eyes. We had the same color eyes. They were sapphire blue. I always wondered where my eye color came from. Mama’s eyes were gray and she once had black hair. I was blond and didn’t resemble her at all. Men were drawn to my eyes over the years. I guess you could say they were my best feature on an average looking face.
“I never knew he was alive. Why did my mother lie to me all those years ago?” I asked.
“Maggie had her reasons, I suppose. My son had his, even if I didn’t agree with them. You will get a chance to ask him. He comes in and out of consciousness. All he asks for is you,” she said and paused like she was searching for the right words. “He always loved you, Portia. You need to know that. He had his reasons for what he did. He felt he had to protect you.”
“Protect me from what?”
She stroked his head like he was an infant. It was obvious that he was her son. Her affection for him was a love I’d never experienced. I found myself a little jealous and angry.
If he loved me, he sure had a strange way of showing it. He deserted me. That wasn’t love. What possible reason could he have for this betrayal?
Over the years, I’ve learned to listen first and then ask questions. Being a therapist suited me. Listening to the problems of others was easy. Examining my own head was something I tried to avoid. There were times in the dark hours of the night when I’d wake up and sit in the middle of my bed, clutching my knees, feeling as if my insides were going to explode. I knew the loss, the abandonment, and loneliness of being an only child without a father and a loveless mother. The weak part of me felt betrayed by my parents—by God.
I was okay if I stayed on a straight course with my life. When I ventured off the path I became an emotional wreck, hiding behind an extroverted lie of what I was deep down inside—alone and abandoned. Orphans had it better than me. At least they knew why their parents left. In my case, one disappeared, and the other was never there.
During my teenage years, I discovered that alcohol could dull my pain. It put me into some bad situations. I had an urgent need to be accepted and loved by everybody. I was afraid of being alone and a few shots of liquor would bring down the walls that I had put up around me.
My parents were a convenient excuse for everything bad in my life, until I found myself face-down in the gutter. It forced me to look in the mirror, and I didn’t like the reflection. I was becoming my father—the man who forgot me at a baseball game while drinking in a bar.
There were so many questions I knew would go unanswered. He was a stranger to me. Why was he asking for me now? What could he possibly say?