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Sunday, February 21, 2010

A 15 year-old's dilemna

When I was 15, my life was as ordinary as anyone's. I was in a middle class family in a smallish town near Houston. I was skinny, had really big hair and was a preppy nerd...just picture it in your mind's eye. :)

There was this girl at school that was 2 years ahead of me that had a blouse that resembled a maternity top. When she would wear it, I would kid with her and say, "When's the baby due?" We would laugh and continue on to class.

One day, I saw my brother's girlfriend (who happened to be the only one of his girlfriends I ever liked) walking down the hall at school. Michelle was wearing a top that looked like a maternity top, too. Being an immature 15-yr old, I walked up to her and said, "When's the baby due?" She had this peculiar look on her face that I'd never seen.

"January," was all she said. ("huh!!!??") I said, "You're kidding, right?"
"uh....yeah, I'm just kidding."

We said quick goodbyes so we could make it to class, and I was left with a weird feeling. Why was she so weird about that? Why did she give me a date? I eventually got distracted and forgot about it until a few days later. A mutual friend of ours, Joanna, came up to my table in the cafeteria during lunch and sat down next to me. She never really gave me the time of day before then (or after, really:) so I wondered what was going on, but looked like she had something to say.

"You know when you asked Michelle when the baby was due and she said 'January'?" I nodded. "Well, she really is pregnant," she said.

"Who's the father?" I asked stupidly. She rolled her eyes.
"Who do you think?"
"Doug?" She nodded.

Instead of being horrified that such a blatant disregard for morals and reputation had been committed on my family and our town, I was more excited then I could remember.

"I'm going to be an uncle at 16 years old!!!" I started thinking "What's it like to be an uncle?" was a paradigm shift for me as a person. I now was going to have the title: UNCLE.

"Most people don't know and I think your parents aren't going to talk to you about it. That's why Michelle asked me to tell you." Thank you, Wet Blanket Woman!

My elation had been replaced with anger and hurt within the microsecond after the words came out of her mouth. Why wouldn't they talk to me about it? What's the big deal? Don't they trust me? My life as I knew it was turned on it's ear again - twice in less than one hour.

The rest of the day was surreal. I wasn't really paying any attention in any of my classes and had a pit in my stomach. There was this disorientation; a slight buzzing in my head - not a headache but just as annoying. I couldn't keep from jumping from "Uncle" to "it's a secret" to "Uncle" to "it's a secret".

I understood how reputations were closely monitored in our small town. It was just small enough that news traveled fast and there was never a shortage of gossips. I'd heard of other girls getting pregnant before and didn't really think much of it. I didn't see why this was a bad thing. I didn't know why my parents wouldn't think that they could talk to me about it, but my parents didn't really talk much about anything "grown up" to us. We never got "the speech" about sex, we never heard about money issues, Dad's work, or other stuff like that. (I later found out it was by design. They wanted us to be able to be kids and have a happy childhood without grown-up worries.)

In my world o'hurt state-of-mind, I decided that I would pretend I didn't know and see how long it took for them to tell me. It wasn't long before Joanna told her mom, who then told my mom that I knew about the pregnancy.

My parents sat me down in their bedroom. I asked why they wouldn't tell me. My mom said they didn't want me to have to deal with this. I said, "I've been dealing with this at school. It's not a big secret, you know!" My dad was on edge with this whole conversation. He told me I was to pretend it wasn't happening and if anyone asked me at school, I was to tell them I didn't know what they were talking about.

"This can't be happening!" I thought. Who are these people I thought were my parents? I was even more disoriented. The regular, every day, normal life I had wasn't possible anymore. I wouldn't ever be the same. Are my parents crazy? How in the hell could this possibly be this bad that my dad would say all this to me and make these requests of me? And my mom is going along with it??

To top it off, my brother was scared out of his gourd. I don't know what conversations he had with my parents, but he was scared. He was having all the feelings that someone would go through when they were a teenager with a pregnant girlfriend. Now, I've never been in those shoes. I've never had to handle that kind of societal stress. I had my own issues to deal with and didn't envy Doug and Michelle.

As time went on and Michelle started showing, there was no question about the rumor. There was a bunch of wispering and then it eventually died off. Probably some other "scandal" happened and was newer and more exciting to gossip about. Michelle and Doug started fighting - about what, I have no idea. Soon I'd heard rumors that Doug was being a jerk to Michelle and her parents were disagreeing with my parents about how things should be handled. I wish I knew more details but I was the bystander, kept out of conversations that would forever shape the outcome.

Doug and Michelle broke up and Michelle started dating a guy named Earnie. He was willing to take care of the baby and wanted to be with Michelle. Doug got into arguments with Earnie and Michelle's parents finally put the proverbial foot down and told Doug to stay away from Michelle.

In January, Justin was born. I couldn't have been more elated! What a cool thing - I'm an uncle now. Without telling anyone, I went to see Michelle and Justin when he was newly born and what a sight he was! He was the most beautiful baby I'd ever seen. I was so moved by this little boy that I couldn't believe it. Here was my nephew - MY nephew. On my way home, I knew what I had to do. My dad had made me promise not to tell my little sisters. I decided to break that promise. When the parents were out of the house, I told them about everything and asked them if they wanted to go see Justin. Of course they did! Diana was 12 and Debbie was 10. So, I got them in the car and headed out for Michelle's house. When I got to the neighborhood, I couldn't remember which house it was. They all looked the same. We didn't have cell phones at the time and I didn't know Michelle's phone number. We drove around that neighborhood for 2 hours and never found the house.

Later, I told Michelle that I tried to bring the girls to see Justin. She told Joanna. Blabber mouth Joanna told her mom, and blabber mouth Sylvia told my mom. One day, my mom and I were sitting on the couch and she was folding clothes. She turned to me and said, "I heard that you took the girls to see Justin." (GULP!) I said, "I did."

"Why did you do that?" She asked.
"Because I didn't want them to hate me like I hate ya'll!" I said. My mom reacted like I'd slapped her. I didn't even know what was coming out of my mouth. I kept going: "I didn't want them to find out down the road that we kept this from them. I wanted them to know. They deserve to know that they're aunts was useless anyway, I couldn't find the house."

"Just so you know, your father forbade me to talk to my friends about it. I can't talk to anyone. I am upset about this, too."

Eventually, Michelle and Earnie got married and he officially adopted Justin.

One day, near Christmas, I remember walking into my mom's bedroom and seeing a big Tonka truck on the floor. I asked if that was for Justin and mom shook her head, yes, and started crying. I'd rarely ever seen her cry and it broke my heart.

"We can't be a part of Justin's life. Michelle's parents told us to butt out and leave them alone. We are to not see him anymore." The overwhelming sadness and disbelief covered over me. That disorientation -the buzzing - was there. What the hell happened? How can they tell us we can't be a part of his life. How could they rip me off of being an uncle? Do they have any idea what this is doing to my mom?

We're good people. We mean well. We honor people's wishes. I guess we felt we owed Michelle and Earnie for the pain and anguish a few of us caused. We kept out of their lives. I always hoped that I would be a part of Justin's life - to watch him grow up, to be some sort of mentor or friend or whatever. What I eventually did was give up. It was too hard to see him at the mall and know that I'm not supposed to talk to them. I just numbed out. I stopped wondering what being an uncle would be like...I gave up. Though I thought about him from time to time, wondering how he was doing. What did he look like? Did he look like us? Was he artistic like us? Was he happy?

My mom would give me updates from time to time. She would see him at the Country Club where he was playing tennis. Michelle would talk with my mom but Justin just knew her as "Mrs. Haynes". It was the best my mom could do. She desperately wanted to be a grandmother to Justin - she always had. So seeing him even as a stranger was better than nothing.

Sixteen years after Justin was born, I was home for Christmas and Mom told me that we were going to meet Justin. Both his grandparents had passed away and the "iron curtain" came down. He walked in our door and I met him. He was a good-looking kid and seemed very polite. It is hard describe all the emotions, feelings that I felt all at the same time. I was as happy as when I first found out I would be an uncle. It was a bit awkward because I didn't know him at all. But, he was back in our lives! All the years I wanted to be a part of his life, all the years of supressing; of wondering. It was the first time I realized what a dummy I was for agreeing to any of it. I was an innocent bystander in all of this. I didn't have to agree to any of it.

Luckily, I got distracted with my family and I put that self-deprecation away. I took our first complete family photo - complete with Mr. Justin. We've never all been together since. We've never taken another one like it. It is very special to me.

Flash forward twelve years. I asked my mom if she'd heard from Justin. Are we going to see him this Christmas? She said no one had heard from him in a while. He didn't return calls. At that exact point in time, I realized that I had given up again. I had been thinking, "He's busy with his own life, he has a family and that's what his attention is on, not some group of loud people that he doesn't know. He has to visit lots of other folks and probably doesn't have time for us."

I realized who I was being and decided that at least I would see him this Christmas. I found him on Facebook and told him I wanted to see him. No obligation. Color me surprised when he responded with, "You are more than welcome to come out to the house when you guys are down. Let me know when and who so we can cook."

Everyone was shocked that I was able to get a response and that he wanted us to come to his house. I got people organized and we went to Justin's house. He fryed a turkey and Crystal, his wife, made bacon-wrapped jalepenos. We had a great time. My grandparents came with and we took 5-generations photos.

I finally think I get my nephew and niece in-law. Very creative, very generous and their hospitality was fantastic. Their two children are cute as great-nephew and neice....whoda thunk it! It feels like they are really part of our family.

Doug has been beating himself up all of Justin's life because of his actions and behavior so long ago. He has never forgiven himself for what he as a teenager put them through. I didn't know that when Earnie adopted Justin, Doug had to sign a piece of paper that said we would stay out of Justin's life. I just found this out this Christmas. My wish is that all can be healed. It's in the past - can't change the past no matter how bitter, sad, upset, resentful or regretful we are. It's just what was; what happened.

I guess the moral to this story is better late than never. I'm sorry I missed out on his childhood - I think we all are. But I'm excited about our relationship with Justin and his beautiful family moving forward.

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