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.