Category Archives: Family

Baa Baa Black Sheep

Black Sheep
Out to dinner with a friend a few weeks ago, she gloomily confided in me that she was the “black sheep” of her family. Her sorrowful declaration raised the hair on my arms and gave me the chilly willies for two reasons:

1. She is beautiful, successful, generous, compassionate, considerate, well-grounded, strong, selfless, and a loving and nurturing mother and wife. The type of woman that anyone would aspire to be.

2. Over the years, I’ve heard this expression more often than I would like to admit. And worse, I’ve heard it used to refer to me. Many times. So many times, that I developed “Black Sheep Syndrome,” if there is such a thing.

So the two of us bitterly asked each other what I have been asking myself for close to fifty years:

Why and how does a child become the black sheep of their family?

When I got home from dinner that night, I looked up the Baa Baa Black Sheep nursery rhyme. Baa Baa Black Sheep is an English poem, dating back to sometime around 1731. But very little is actually known about its origins. While I found several interpretations of the words, there was little to no evidence to support any of them.

I also found several variations of the rhyme, although the one that I prefer is the Mother Goose Melody published sometime in 1765. This version is usually sung to the tune of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and the “Alphabet Song.” The last couplet is printed as “But none for the little boy who cries in the lane,” as opposed to “One for the little boy who lives down the lane.”

Mother Goose’s Melody:

Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes, marry, have I,
Three bags full;
One for my master,
One for my dame,
But none for the little boy
Who cries in the lane.

A common interpretation is that the rhyme was against medieval English taxes on the wool industry.

But I don’t really understand the black sheep part. It doesn’t take a genius to know that white wool is more desirable in the commercial marketplace because it can be dyed any color. Black sheep in a flock, are useless in terms of wool production as it is impossible to dye its fleece. A fleece with even a few black fibers is considered less than desirable.

So if the wool from a black sheep is impossible to dye, rendering it useless, and undesirable, it would be unsaleable, thus no need to tax it at all.

Whatever the reason the rhyme depicts black instead of white, it’s obvious that the undesirable and uselessness of the black sheep is what gives us the term “the black sheep of the family.”

And okay, I can see a sheep farmer who makes a living from wool, considering the black sheep a wastrel. But a family?

Black sheep is a phrase used to describe a pariah, a reject, and a ne’er-do-well, especially within a family unit. Someone who is ostracized and treated differently from the rest. A distasteful outcast, who just doesn’t belong.

Nothing for the little boy who cries in the lane.

Yes, I’m called the black sheep in my family. And I’m finally proud of it.

There I said it. And the best realization and revelation for me, is that I actually do feel pride.

And here is my take on the whole “black sheep” defamation:

The black sheep don’t get picked randomly or by accident. The black sheep are sensitive, unhappy, vulnerable, and usually the outspoken child. The one who refuses to stay silent and just can’t and won’t pretend to be one big happy family.

The designated black sheep is made to carry the hidden blame and shame of relatives who refuse to acknowledge their own flaws and weaknesses.

Toxic and dysfunctional family members tend to project their own jealousies and sense of inferiority onto the shunned and disfavored black sheep.

And even if the black sheep eventually leaves (or is thrown out of) the familial flock, it doesn’t end there. The hated black sheep is more than likely still considered the cause and reason for the family’s difficulties and unhappiness, no matter how much time has passed.

Because the family’s need to place blame and project shame onto the black sheep is the only way, they can live with themselves.
Black Sheep Nursery Photo Cropped

 

Two Hearts and a Yin Yang

Rosh Hashana Card 1995

In 1995, I received the Rosh Hashanah card above, from my then seven-year-old daughter Ariel.

It was the first card she ever gave to me. And she sent it via the post office, stamp and all. I was impressed.

The Rosh Hashanah card arrived on September 25, which coincided with my late grandmother’s birthday. So it had even more significance for me.

When I opened it, there were two hearts—one purple and one red. Connecting the two hearts was a red and purple blob.

“The little purple heart is me,” Ariel said proudly. “And the big red heart is my brother.” (Her brother and my first born, was eleven years old at the time.)

“And the yin yang in the middle is you, Mommy.”

I was the yin yang?

To fully comprehend the significance of being the yin yang, I looked it up in the dictionary.

Two principles, one negative and feminine (yin), and one positive and masculine (yang), whose interaction influences the destinies of creatures and things.

At that moment, I felt terribly important. Almost overwhelmingly so.

In an instant, I forgot about all the tsuris which was eating away at me. I put aside how tired I was, and how defeated I felt.

And the constant drudgery of work, work, work, suddenly became more palatable.

And even my divorce, several years earlier, shattering my dreams and my children’s innocence, seemed almost acceptable at that moment in time.

“I can do this,” I recall saying to my weary self.

Because I was the Yin Yang in my daughter’s life.

The red and purple he/she that conjoined two very special hearts.

My Arduous Journey from Bridgeport to Westport—and What I Never Should Have Worn

The-outcast-cropped

In early 1967, my mother sat me down to inform me that once she remarried in August, we were moving from Bridgeport to Westport Connecticut.  I wasn’t pleased. In June, I was graduating from St. Ambrose Catholic Grammar School in Bridgeport and was planning on attending Notre Dame Girls Catholic High School in the fall.

But my mother’s marriage and relocation plans put the kibosh on my high school aspirations.

I begged her to let me live with my grandmother and attend Notre Dame Girls, but she was convinced that Westport was going to be the best thing that ever happened to me. She sang its praises and was convinced that our lives were going to be forever changed, and in the most incredible ways.  The streets were safe, the residents were famous, and we were soon to live amongst the classy and well bred.

So what? I was popular. I had tons of friends. And I was looking forward to attending Notre Dame Girls with my buds. Who cared about classy?

But plead as I might, the decision was made. We were moving to Westport in August of 1967.

And that’s when fashion became center stage in my life—like it or not.

As someone who wore a school uniform for eight years, fashion was of little importance to me.  Plus, being at the bottom rung of the money ladder, we had bigger fish to fry so to speak.

But my mother was obsessed with finding the right dress for me to wear to her wedding, as well as future fashion plans for how we would present ourselves to the Westport world.

First came the marriage outfit—an orange paisley accordion pleated dress with matchy shoes and purse. I felt like a fruit salad. I was a Bridgeport girl. Paisley wasn’t big in the Bridgeport hood, and neither was orange. But I tried to suck it up and felt extremely self-conscious all wedding day.

The reception took place at Longshore Country Club. This was my first foray into the tony town of Westport. As we drove through the massive trees flanking both sides of the picture perfect rustic road leading to the reception, it painfully dawned on me that I was probably not going to fit in here.

Moving day was scary, and lonely.  Westport was a mere 12.2 miles from Bridgeport on I-95, yet worlds apart. We pulled up to the long driveway on a tranquil, dead end street, to a magnificent house. I couldn’t believe we were actually going to live there.

Having spent my first 14 years sharing a room with my mother, I was ecstatically enjoying my lavender and lace boudoir. And I actually had a piano in my room. I was pinching myself to make sure it was all real.

But it soon became tortuously clear that my rags-to-riches life change was going to be a swirling whirlwind of anxiety, rejection and pain.

Immediately following the wedding, we went to Country Gal in Westport for some bathing suits, cover-ups, bathing caps and sunglasses. My mom was frantically preparing me for my pool debut at Longshore.  There weren’t a lot of swimming opportunities during my Bridgeport years. And I had a near drowning experience as a youngster, so swimming, and any associated attire was not my forte.  So it should have come as no surprise to me, that my pool induction would be an utter and total failure.

What was my mother thinking when she convinced me that I looked tres chic in my bubblegum pink daisy embellished bathing cap and matching one piece daisy patterned suit? And let’s not forget the pair of daisy-shaped sunglasses I wore, to pull the whole ridiculous look together. I was maybe 90 pounds, and a lanky, awkward, pink spectacle.  I observed with intense interest Muffy, Buffy and Stuffy prancing around the pool flirting with Chip, Skip, and Topper.  I jealously witnessed this incredibly gorgeous blonde Adonis they called Oakes, throw Bitsy in the pool. I left the pool that day feeling profoundly ugly, convinced that I would never be part of the in crowd. I hung out at that pompous pool every sunny day for weeks, and those kids never gave me so much as a glance, let alone a chance.

My back-to-school shopping trip took place in early September at Country Gal, along with every other young girl in town. Main Street was packed with beautiful people, dressed to the nines, browsing, shopping, and chatting with friends who they saw coming in and out of the stores. Everyone knew everyone.

The young girls my age, many of whom I recognized from the Longshore pool, were wearing rainbow colored fabric pumps with chunky heels, that I later found out were “Pappagallo’s.” Their statement shoes matched their flashy floral shift dresses, which my mother whispered to me were Lily Pulitzer’s. The first question that came into my mind as I warily viewed my brightly adorned peers was “Pink goes with green?”

The Westport girls had perfectly flipped hair; many wore eye framing side bangs. Their moms sported beehives and up do hair in elaborate coiled arrangements. They were all picture perfect, and I was beyond intimidated. On the contrary, my frizz ball hair was parted down the middle and pulled straight back into a messy nub.

The clothes my mother chose for me were way out of my league, ridiculously pricey, and nothing I would ever consider wearing. I never saw so many shades of pink, purple, yellow and green all mixed into one extremely busy and ugly tent dress. Thrown into the mix were a few madras, polka dot, paisley, and striped ensembles, accessorized with Emilio Pucci scarves and textured tights.  To complete the wardrobe, my mother splurged on Mary Jane flats, square toed patent leather slip-ons, and kitten heels. As I hid in the Country Gal dressing room to avoid  the it girls, I was praying that my Bedford Jr. High School debut was going to be more successful than my Longshore pool coming out.

My first day of school was a blur—except that I will never forget the giggling girls whispering about my black and white polka dot dress, red tights and red Mary Jane’s. One girl called me the Mod Martian. Unfortunately, the name stuck. So did Theresa the Greaser and Olive Oyl. Suffice it to say, I had a heck of a time making friends. I was finally able to muster up a few misfits, and together we struggled our way through ninth grade.

But that didn’t stop my mother from trying as hard as she could to trend me up. I added go-go boots, jackets with frog buttons and mini dresses designed by Mary Quant and Pierre Cardin to my repertoire. But try as I might, I just couldn’t break through. All those well-bred, rich little girls wouldn’t give me the time of day.

My mother was desperate for me to assimilate, and ultimately signed me up for a program called “Junior Years.” It was a charm school-like ten week course run out of the Westport Women’s Auxiliary Club; or some such name.

It was at Junior Year’s that I realized so much about my young self. I was a quick study: Less was more, I conquered my frizzy hair (thanks to the Girl from Uncurl), and kept all clothing super simple.

The program was sponsored by Cover Girl, and I became an expert at hair management while downplaying my ethnic look, with just the right amount of makeup. I was determined to start Staples High School as a new and improved Teri. I had declared war on myself, and I was going to divide and conquer. To this day, I still call makeup my war paint.

I traded in my floral shifts and Mary Jane’s for cheap Landlubber jeans bought at a local Main Street store called Functional Clothing, and stopped trying to be someone I wasn’t. I also stopped slouching for fear someone would think me too tall, and wore those tight fitting Landlubbers proudly, not giving a damn how skinny I was.

On my first day at Staples High School, not one person from Bedford Jr. High even knew it was me. I had managed to reinvent myself, and it turned my life around.

Happy Birthday Pam 6/2/52 – 5/20/09

Pam

[This blog post is unusually long. But it’s about my cousin Pam (pictured above), who was unforgettably unusual. So in memory of her, please stick with it and I hope you find it worth your time.]

Relaxing on my pergola swing recently, I reveled in the greenery and inhaled the scent of fresh grass and spring air. The trees were sprouting first buds, and everything smelled of new growth. I was peaceful and serene and swayed on the swing, taking in nature and reminiscing. Then melancholy swept over me, and I couldn’t help but recall all the nights I sat on that swing, arms locked with my step-cousin Pam, watching the sunset.

The first time I met Pam, I was thirteen, and she was fourteen. She was strikingly beautiful, and I was skinny, lanky and—awkward. It had been a stressful week leading up to the memorable Sunday that I met Pam back in March of 1966.

My mother had recently gotten engaged. That was her good news. Her bad news was that she and my soon-to-be stepfather had never told his family about me.

I didn’t know if his family even knew that my mother had married once before, but they apparently knew nothing about me. So according to my mom, she was going to have a sit down with his family to break the news. I called it “The Telling” when I wrote about it in my diary that night. I wasn’t privy to The Telling outcome, although I did overhear bits and pieces when my mother spoke about it to my grandmother— and it didn’t sound like it went well at all.

A few days later I was informed that my mom was taking me to meet my soon-to-be step-family for Sunday dinner.  Oh, joy. My diary entry called it “The Meeting.”

[Going back and reading through my ancient journals has been incredibly cathartic, but they have also brought back those deeply recessed feelings of imperfection, inadequacies, and downright fear. Why I continue to torture myself reading through the volumes of my diaries is beyond my comprehension. But I simply can’t stop myself.]

Back to The Meeting.

I was scared to death to meet the step-folks, but I felt better when my grandmother said that she was coming as well. She was always my rock and protector, so I was very relieved, although still a bundle of stress and nerves. In preparation for The Meeting, my mother was running around with a new purpose, buying fancy clothes for the three of us. Since it was a struggle to put food on the table, I thought the clothing purchase was excessive. And then there were the do’s and the don’ts. Do be polite, do be quiet, do be respectful. Don’t embarrass, don’t blab, don’t overshare.

In the days gearing up for Sunday dinner, I prepared myself for being observed, analyzed, and inspected. And based on my nearly perfect eavesdropping skills, according to my mother and grandmother, this turkey was probably not going to win any prizes.

Some soon to be step-family members were not attending the dinner at all, mortified at The Telling, which made the event even more worrisome and dramatic. On the day of The Meeting, I overheard a conversation between my mother and grandmother and picked up the word “awkward” as my mom described me. I immediately ran to my dictionary to look up the definition, while my grandmother responded with “She’ll grow into herself.” Awk·ward  adjective.  In the wrong direction, lacking skill, turned the wrong way, causing or feeling embarrassment or inconvenience.

I ran from the dictionary to the mirror.  My dark, frizzy, out of control wavy hair was pretty awful; even I had to admit.  My nose was big and my skin a little too dark. It seemed doubtful that I was going to “grow into myself.” And most certainly not by Sunday dinner.

The Meeting started out uncomfortably unpleasant, and I was a self-conscious inner mess—until Pam walked up to me and gave me a genuine and honest feel-good hug.  “I have always wanted a girl cousin my age,” she said as she welcomed me into the living room, genuinely excited to meet me. And just like that, The Meeting was behind me. Pam had saved The Meeting day.

From that day on, the two of us were sisters from another mother. I was closer to Pam than anyone else in my new family, or for that matter, anyone else in my old family. And since my mom was an only child, I had no aunts, and no cousins, so I treasured my close relationship with Pam. And to my surprise, so did she.

We spoke on the phone often, had sleepovers at her house, sneaking out to smoke cigarettes, and rendezvous with her guy friends. I always told Pam that her beauty was a huge bonus for me. She was a magnet for all the cute guys, and as her plus one I got to reap the benefits of her good looks. And she also helped to transform my awkward self into a substantive, confident woman. It sounds corny, but she was hugely instrumental in my personal growth. Were it not for Pam, I might still be that gawky, klutzy, meek wallflower.

Thirteen years old, turned into high school graduation and I went away to college while Pam stayed local, so we didn’t see each other very often. But we made sure to keep in touch via letters, cards and phone calls.

She became a clothing buyer for a well-known Connecticut store called Brooks Hirsch—I became a Delta Flight Attendant. Pam got married; I got married. She had kids; I had kids. She lived in Connecticut; I lived in New York. Time, distance, and everyday life made it harder and harder to stay in touch, but we made sure to speak on the phone regularly.

Pam had the perfect life—a gorgeous, loving and successful husband, two beautiful children, a magnificent home, and genuine happiness. Me? I was in the throes of a divorce storm. I respected and looked up to Pam for her advice, her compassion, and her unconditional love for me. And just like when I was thirteen, all I wanted was to be like Pam.

And then came Pam’s storm—one of epic, and incomprehensible proportions. Her son was diagnosed with bone cancer when he was a toddler. She was beyond devastated. There was no consoling her, but I so tried. When I would speak to her on the phone, she was weary, distant, broken. But she would always thank God for her husband.

After her son’s diagnosis, she was never the same lighthearted and radiant Pam again. How could she be? But she had hope. She had faith in God. She had her beautiful daughter. She had her beautiful son. And most of all, she had her strong, determined husband to comfort her and keep her going.

Until she didn’t. While Pam was in Boston at the Children’s hospital trying to save her baby son, her husband had a massive heart attack and passed away at his office desk. He was in his thirties.

I tried to comfort her, but she was heart shattered and despondent. Who wouldn’t be? And the Pam I knew and loved was gone, replaced by someone else in Pam’s beautiful but broken body.

Her beloved son survived his toddler bout of cancer, but he passed away at age 20 from a recurrence. Pam and I spent countless hours before and after his death, trying to figure out what the hell happened to God.

I am a convert to Judaism, and one of those High Holy Day Jews who go to temple for an hour here and there on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the most reverent and solemn Jewish day of the year.  A day of fasting, praying and reflecting, and known as the Day of Atonement, all prior sins will be forgiven on this somber day. It’s also the day for remembering our lost ones—those who have left this world for another.

In the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, God opens the book of life and begins with the first name in the book, reviewing each name—each life—one by one. Who shall live and who shall die?  That’s the question asked on Yom Kippur. The great book of life lying open and exposed, revealing names—some re-entered into the book of life—some left out. It is of the utmost importance for Jewish people to survive the ten-day period between Rosh Hashanah, which begins the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur.

Why am I telling you this? Because Pam’s son died the week between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Pam accompanied me to temple the year following his death. As a Catholic, she knew nothing about Yom Kippur, the prayers or the service, yet every prayer uttered that day had a haunting significance for her—and me.

“On this day life and death shall be written in the Book of Remembrance…Man was not created but to perish… Love and faith leave their imprints in the hearts of loved ones…All must crumble, in their time be shattered…When the memories of our dear departed spur us on to nobler aspiration, in our hearts they live enshrined forever…Deathless, timeless, living on in others.“

The mood of Yom Kippur is dark, so I suggested to Pam that we leave. But she firmly grabbed hold of my arm and wanted to stay. The prayers were commonplace to me—I had read them hundreds of times, but she was deeply moved, and more mentally and physically present than I had seen her since her son passed. She needed to hear more.

So we participated in the Yizkor service—something I had never done before.  Yizkor is the memorial service for the dead, and together we tearfully read the beautiful passages from the High Holiday Prayer Book.

“Though we are separated, dear mother, in this solemn hour, I call to mind the love and solicitude with which you tended and watched over my childhood, ever mindful of my welfare, and ever anxious for my happiness. Many were the sacrifices that you made to ennoble my heart and instruct my mind.  What I achieved is because of your influence, and what I am, I have become through you…the lessons that you imparted unto me shall ever remain with me. If at times, I have failed in showing you the love and appreciation, which you so worthily deserved, if I have been thoughtless and ungrateful, I ask to be forgiven.  I pray that your spirit inspire me to noble and intelligent living, so that when my days are ended, and I arrive at the Throne of Mercy, I shall be deemed worthy of you, and to be reunited with you in God.  Amen.”

Pam asked me if she could keep my High Holiday Prayer Book, and I gladly gave it to her. Over the next couple of years, she told me that she read those passages often and even shared them with her Grief Recovery Support Group.

Soon after, Pam started complaining of headaches. I told her it was stress. Her headaches turned out to be cancer, and I had no response for her when she sat me down to break the paralyzing news.  She had a year or so to live, and I was hearing her words but mostly concentrating on not screaming. WHY? Why did all this ruinous devastation happen to one beautiful inside-and-out person?

After her diagnosis, we seldom spoke about it. She brushed it off as if it was nothing, and she made it so easy for me to feel comfortable and free of guilt.  She never led on to anyone on the outside that she was terminal. Only her close family knew.

In between her radiation and chemotherapy, I would drive to Connecticut and take her out for dinner and drinks. It was always an out of body experience—me so full of life, and Pam barely hanging on, wearing that wig she despised, but as always, dressed to perfection. The two of us tried so desperately to make sure cancer couldn’t stop Pam from glamming it up and having an enjoyable night out with me. And we desperately tried to recreate the old days—before her son passed. But those days were over.

Pam held her head high the entire time she was sick, and she walked with dignity until the end.

We only talked about her imminent death one time. We both had a little too much to drink one night, and while watching the sunset on my swing, she told me not to worry. She was going to be okay. She was looking forward to seeing her son and husband. She was tired. I cried, and she consoled. Can you imagine? Pam consoled me.  But that was Pam.

Two days before she passed away, I sat at her bedside for a last unfathomable goodbye. I was trying to compose myself and be strong for her. And then my best friend and cousin Pam was gone.

For the next few months, I thought non-stop about Pam and contemplated the meaning of life, the finality of death—and why her. I asked my friends and family for guidance—for answers, but they had no answers for me.

How many times had I picked up the phone to call Pam, to gossip about one thing or another—only to painfully remember it, and clutch the handset close to my heart.

And then life and time took over, and Pam became a beautiful, sad memory.

But as I sat on the swing she loved, with no Pam to lock arms with, I was lonely and mournful, and no closer to the answers I so desperately sought.

Happy 63rd birthday Pam. I pray that in death you finally found the peace and happiness you so deserved in life.

My Elusive Father and the Chance Meeting I Blew

Mario Martini

This has been an extremely difficult and depressing blog to put together.  Mostly because not knowing my father, has created a life-long hole in my heart. I was once told by a close friend, who has been the unfortunate recipient of my non-stop father narratives, that I have a broken wing. I tend to disagree. To me, I have two broken wings.  As far as I’m concerned, as long as I have unresolved father issues, I will never fly free.

While writing and agonizing over my father these past few days, one question kept popping up in my head: How could I possibly share my heartbreaking story about my lost father to the cyber world?

A friend recently assured me that the best story tellers are those who are brave enough to tell their stories. And this is by far the most painful story for me to tell, on so many levels. But here goes.

My father was AWOL. He was absent from his post without, (or perhaps with), official permission (from my mother), but without intending to desert. This is how I choose to describe my elusive father.

On a side note, Mario’s Place, the legendary restaurant and bar in Westport Connecticut, and a mainstay since 1967, served its last meal on Saturday night April 4. Unfortunately, I missed the memo about the last supper, until this past weekend. Another blown opportunity.

Mario’s—as it was known to all, was across the street from the Westport train station, and the place to be, starting around 6 pm every Monday-Friday. Mario’s was frequented by the original Mad Men, their wives, their kids, and pretty much everyone who lived in Westport and beyond.  The “beyond” is the story I want to share with you.

In my twenties, my favorite night was Wednesdays. I would jump off the train after a grueling day at the office, and treat myself to a Mario’s dirty martini with bleu cheese olives—considered by many to be the best martini in Connecticut. Several of my old high school friends had the same idea, and we would all meet there pretty much every hump day for martinis, laughs and some much needed sidekick therapy.

I know you’re asking yourself what Mario’s has to do with my father.

Because he was right there at Mario’s.  And I was so close to living out my father dream.

According to my not-so-long-ago-discovered paternal half siblings and aunts, my elusive father followed me via private detectives my entire life.

At my first meeting with my five half brothers and sisters—and two aunts, they explained to me that “our” father, the man I assumed deserted me, had a “Teri suitcase” full of newspaper clippings, photos, investigative reports, and returned letters and cards he had sent to me over the years.

One of the investigative summaries was about Mario’s—and my Wednesday martini run.

According to my new-found family, I was an urban legend. And this is the story that my father on many occasions, told to my half siblings and aunts, in their words:

In December of 1978, Mike hired a detective to find Teri just after her 25th  birthday. “Bingo. Right around the corner two towns over,” the detective told him. “She gets off the train and goes to Mario’s across the street. She has a drink with her friends and eats dinner there every Wednesday. She usually gets there around seven, seven-thirty.” So Mike pains over the decision. What to do?  Should he go to Mario’s?  Introduce himself?  “Hi, I’m Mike–your father. Nice to meet you,” he recants to my siblings and aunts sadly. It had taken him twenty-five years to get to this point.  And now he didn’t know what to do.  It was close to six o’clock one random Wednesday, and as he gazed at his little girl Georgette in her crib, his answer was clear.  He held Georgette close to him and told her, “daddy needs to do something very important,” grabbed his wallet and drove over to Mario’s.  When he got there at 6:50 the place was packed. He found a seat at the bar, took out his wallet, and ordered a shot of scotch–he needed it badly.  He asked the guy behind the bar to make it colder in the place. He felt hot and nervous. The bartender tried to make small talk but Mike was too distracted to engage. He had a couple more shots and was feeling no pain. Soon Mike heard the train whistle and his heart was pounding out of his chest.  When she walked in, tears welled up in his eyes. “She was tall and thin, and simply beautiful,” he recalled to his family. She walked by and her scent left an aura, which left him weak.  She was practically standing right next to him talking to her friends. It had to be her–she was the spitting image of him.  It was unmistakably Teri, even though the last time he caught an actual glimpse of her, she was around six years old. Mike turned toward her and watched her as she laughed with her friends. She walked up to the bar, and ordered a dirty martini, with extra bleu cheese olives.A martini drinker,” he proudly told my siblings, “a real man’s drink.” She opened up her purse and took out a cigarette–a Marlboro, and asked the bartender if he had a light. Mike looked at her then and said “Here, I have a lighter; let me light it for you.” Mike said it a little too loudly, hoping to beat the bartender to the punch. As he fumbled in his shirt pocket for his lighter, Teri turned to Mike then, and her deep brown eyes met his. They looked straight into each other’s eyes. “Dark Syrian eyes,” he told my siblings. “Just like mine.” She smiled at Mike and said “thank you” as she leaned close in for him to light her cigarette. Her scent drifted softly around him.Beautiful smile, beautiful teeth,” he told my siblings. After Mike lit her cigarette she looked in his eyes once more, thanked him again, and walked to the end of the bar to hang out with her friends. Just like that, she was gone. He was devastated, he told my family. He was stunned–and intimidated. He felt like he had been punched in the gut.  He ordered shot after shot, while trying to drum up the courage to introduce himself—and explain everything. He watched her for another hour.  But he was a chicken—a coward. So he left Mario’s wondering if he would ever see her again. He also left behind his wallet, and never went back for it. He drove the rest of his life without a license. And he never saw Teri again. But he never forgot her face, their encounter, or her scent. 

That was their story. He never saw me again. I had looked straight into my father’s eyes and didn’t even know it was him. He lit my cigarette. As I sat at the table stunned, I was thinking about so many scenarios that could have happened. How I wish he would have put his hand on my shoulder and said “Can I talk to you for a sec?” He told my siblings and aunts that I was a high class girl and he was just a nobody.  He didn’t know me at all. I was just a poor girl from the streets of Bridgeport. Just a nobody in desperate need of a dad.

I thought that was all my newly-found family had to say. Hadn’t they said enough? I was fighting back the tears and wanted to get the hell out of there.

But they weren’t done with their story…Or me.

In or around September of 1991, Mike found out he had stage IV lung cancer. The doctors gave him approximately six months to live.  According to my two aunts, all he wanted was to fulfill his dream of meeting me before he died. He wrote and rewrote his letter to me numerous times. And finally in late 1991, he mailed it to the last known address he had for me. And then he waited and waited for my response. After a couple of months he figured I either wasn’t going to respond, or I never got the letter. He was hoping it was the latter of the two. And then one day, to his surprise, in early March of 1992, a letter arrived from me. He was unsettled and troubled, and it took him two days to open it. The contents of the letter devastated his already fragile state. “Don’t ever contact me again,” I wrote, “I have no interest in ever having a relationship with you.” It was simply signed, “Teri.” He put the letter in the “Teri suitcase” along with all the other data he had accumulated. And he never spoke of me again.     

“Why did you not want to meet your father?” my aunts queried. “His heart and spirit were broken,” they continued.

My father passed away on March 24, 1992.

To be clear, I wrote no such letter.  And it is beyond my comprehension why anyone would be so callous as to write such a cold-blooded letter to my father in my name. But it had been done, and now he was dead.  And worse, he died thinking I wanted nothing to do with him, and he actually believed that I had so cruelly written to him in his hour of death.

Today, as I finally finish up this blog, I’m depressed, and weary.

So to push away the darkness, I’m taking stock of what I have and I’m feeling pretty grateful.

But I sure could use one last dirty martini at Mario’s in my father’s honor.

And the Teri suitcase?  Oh, that went missing years ago.

Teri in 1978