Longings From the Past

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Balls

“Mr. Evans? Mal Evans?”

The young woman on my doorstep looked at me expectantly. She was familiar, in a slightly unsettling way. Something about her eyes, her stance, the shoebox she was carrying; she was like a dream almost forgotten, one that left a cloud over the rest of the day upon waking.

“No one’s called me Mal in quite some time.”

The woman– not much more than a girl, really– was too beautiful to be easily forgotten, for sure. Not a student of mine. Someone from campus? Maybe, but I didn’t think so. Too old to be one of the kids’ friends. Too young to be one of Sue’s coworkers. And none of that felt right. She was from somewhere else in the past.

“I’m sorry, sir. But…” The lid came off the box, and a rush of memories overcame me. “That was the name on all the letters you wrote to my mother.”

My heart pounded. “Julia. You’re… Julia and Trevor’s…” I swallowed. “You’re their daughter.”

“Yes, sir. Luisa White.” She held out her hand, and I took it.

I absentmindedly muttered, “After her abuela.”

Her face brightened, a broad smile appearing on it. Julia’s smile. Julia’s deep, dark eyes. She was tall like her father, just a little shorter than me, but not lanky like him; she’d gotten her mother’s curves, too. Her skin was a lovely café au lait color, a midpoint between Trevor and Julia.

“That’s right!”

I nodded, trying to play for time. “I knew that was the name she had planned on, but…” Then questions bubbled to the surface, too fast for her to answer. “Wait, why– I haven’t talked to them in years. Why are you here? How did you find me? Why do you have those?”

Luisa’s mouth opened and closed a couple of times, presumably trying to decide which question to answer first. “I wanted to ask you some questions, sir.”

“David.” Malcolm was my middle name; I hadn’t gone by Mal in over 20 years.

“David. The letters are why I’m here, the– the reason I needed to seek you out. I don’t know how you fit into my parents’ past; I actually don’t know a lot about their past, but I didn’t realize that until recently. And I wanted to find out more. More about them, and– and the man who wrote these letters to my mother.

“As to how, that’s… It took a while. And it was as much luck as anything else that I finally found you. That’s…” She shook her head. “I’m not– I promise, I’m not some kind of crazy stalker. But when I found these in my mom’s belongings, I had so many questions, and I needed answers.”

“Why don’t you just ask her?”

Her face fell. “I can’t.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

She sighed. “Can’t. My parents, they…” Luisa looked into the distance. “There was a fire. And they, um.”

I was surprised at a pain I never believed I’d feel again. I had lost them for a second time. I never thought it would hurt like that, never thought I’d be able to feel that kind of loss for the two of them the way I had before. It was muted, but it was there; that made me, perhaps, sadder than the knowledge that they were gone.

“Oh god. I’m sorry, Luisa.”

She gave me a small, grateful smile. “Thanks. It’s been a couple of years, but…” She shook her head. “Anyways. I can’t ask them. I can’t ask anyone. My grandparents are all gone, mom and dad didn’t have any siblings, and…” She shrugged. “You’re the only person, I think, that can tell me what they didn’t.”

Part of me wanted to tell her everything, answer all of her questions. Part of me wanted to let the past stay buried. Another knew there was a good reason for them to hide things from her, and thought that perhaps I owed it to them; but then another, darker, almost forgotten part snarled that I didn’t owe them a fucking thing. But even if I didn’t, what did I owe to myself?

But then that hopeful look, the one so much like Julia’s, decided for me. “Why don’t you come inside?”

She sat at my kitchen table. “Do you want something to drink? Water? Soda?” I did a quick bit of math. “Beer?”

“Water, please.”

If it hadn’t been late afternoon, I would have opted for the beer, but instead put down a glass of water in front of both of us. We sat and drank for a few moments, until the silence went from uncomfortable to stifling. “Are you really sure you want to know? Or is this just idle curiosity?”

“I need to know at this point. Look, I… I know this is strange. And I know it’s a lot to dump on you all at once. I’m sorry that I just showed up at your house, but I couldn’t find your home number anywhere, and I figured this was– well, it was the kind of thing that should be done in person and not at work.”

She took a sip. “Before Mom and Dad died, they had told me about how they met, the lives they had before we moved to Miami, all of it. And I know– or at least I think… After the fire, I tried to figure things out for two years, but I never had any luck, and I realize now that at least some of what they told me was a lie.

“These letters were the first clue to that, and they made some escort gaziantep bayanlar old memories click together. Some pictures of the three of you in boxes that I found in storage. The fact that my dad and grandpa fell out and no one would talk to me about why. The way my abuela deflected whenever I had asked about mom and dad’s time before Miami.

“Eventually I gave up; it was just dead end after dead end, and I needed to stop obsessing over it. When the fire happened, I was in my junior year of college, and I took that year off to deal with everything, which led to me clearing out mom’s storage unit, which led to…” She gestured at the shoebox. “And then I went off down the rabbit hole for the rest of that year, trying to find out anything, but no one could give me any answers. So I went back to school, finished up my bachelor’s and applied for a master’s program.”

I nodded slowly. “How did you find your way to me, then?”

Luisa laughed a self-deprecating little chuckle. “Pure dumb luck. I wanted to know more about the university that had accepted me for my M.S. I went to their website, combed through the pages of the various faculty, and…”

“… And found a picture of me.”

She pointed a finger. “Bingo. I, uh, I don’t mean to be flip, but you’ve aged really well. I recognized you almost immediately; I mean, the fact that your middle name was there helped, too.” The lovely young woman smiled sadly and looked down. “Before I found your photo on the college’s website, I honestly… I honestly thought you might be my dad. That, at least, would have made sense. The secrecy, I mean. These letters are… well, they really are something.”

I winced slightly. “You read them?”

“Uh, I skimmed parts, but yeah. You clearly, clearly loved Mom. From the way she was with you in the pictures I found, it was reciprocated. And the dates… They don’t match up with my parents’ stories about their past.”

A deep breath in and out gave me a little time to collect my thoughts. “Why don’t you tell me what you know, or at least what you believe, and then we’ll go from there? I don’t need a blow-by-blow, but, for example, I didn’t know that Trevor and Julia had moved to Miami. So why not a quick synopsis of your past, and theirs, as you understand it?”

“I suppose…” She chewed her lip. “Let’s see. What they told me is that they met in high school in a little town in Texas. They had both moved out there with their parents; my abuela was going to teach Spanish at the high school, and my grandpa had some kind of office job. I was never quite clear. They became friends and then more, eventually moving to Austin to attend UT together.

“Then they had me unexpectedly, married, and moved to Miami, where the rest of her family was. Mom wanted me to grow up around my cousins. Abuela eventually moved back. I was their only child, but they seemed to be a happy couple. They were good parents. Mom was a teacher, Dad was a programmer. There didn’t seem to be any kind of dark secrets or anything.”

She shrugged. “Then I went to school, was doing good, the fire happened and I found out that… well, that at the very least, Mom was in love with someone else for a lot of the time she and my dad were supposedly together. If I did the math right, you started sending her these while you were a senior in high school, and they didn’t stop until near the end of her sophomore year in college. You were engaged. And then, the letters end.”

Luisa scratched the back of her neck. “That wouldn’t be so odd, but there are pictures of the three of you after that time together. I had thought maybe mom broke things off and you left, but that wouldn’t match up with the pictures. You and Mom and Dad all looked thick as thieves in them all the way through their senior year at UT. So it had to be something else, but I couldn’t figure out what.”

She had most of the info, but not enough to put it all together. Luisa clearly loved her folks; maybe it would be better for her if she didn’t figure it out. But I could tell she was going to keep digging.

I looked at the clock on the wall, then nodded to myself. “Alright, I can tell you more about this later, but I have to go pick up my kids from school. Why don’t you come have dinner with us?” My student life hadn’t exactly been a succession of feast days; by the look on her face, the one attempting to balance propriety, the wish to not annoy the person who had the info she wanted, and the desire for something besides ramen and frozen burritos, she was in the same boat.

“I don’t want to impose.”

“I’m offering. It’s not an imposition. Humor me; we could do with some additional company, and maybe they’ll get a kick out of the idea that their old man actually has a past.”

“Your wife won’t mind?”

She could see, almost immediately, that she’d stepped on a landmine, but it was old enough that there was no explosion. “Sue is.. I’m afraid eskort bayan gaziantep she’s no longer with us. She was an ER doctor. The PPE protocols weren’t great early in the pandemic, and, well, she had suffered from asthma. They didn’t know how dangerous that could be back then.” I gave her a reassuring smile. “It’s okay. You didn’t know.”

“Still, I’m sorry.”

“Thank you.” Shaking my head, I continued. “Anyways. You would be welcome to come to dinner with us, and afterwards, we can talk a little bit more. Unless you have someplace you need to be?”

Luisa acquiesced, and we clambered into my car. My kids had markedly different reactions to her. Dana, my twelve year old daughter, was mostly uninterested; she was in that tween stage where she was starting to find herself, or at least trying to, and cool indifference was her default mode. Lewis, on the other hand, was fourteen and hormonal, and Luisa was a gorgeous young woman. He hung on her every word.

As we sat in the restaurant and ate, talking about nothing in particular, I was struck by how remarkable Luisa was. I don’t mean her beauty; she was a very intelligent, well-read woman. Her degree was in biochemistry, but she also loved literature, my field.

She was kind, too. My son was smitten with her, and rather than either ignoring him or teasing him, she instead talked with him as though he was a near-peer; not in a way that made him think he had anything like a shot with her, but still enough to make him feel good about himself instead of embarrassed.

As expected, the kids did get a kick out of the idea that dad had a past; I’d never talked with them about it, for similar, if not the same reasons, that Luisa’s parents hadn’t discussed theirs with her. I alluded to my friendship with her parents at dinner, but no more than that.

After we finished and returned home, I sent the kids off to do their homework and get ready for bed. Luisa and I sat on the couch together to talk in semi-private. “They’re great kids.”

“Thank you. I’m very proud of them. They’ve… well, the last few years have been hard, but they’ve really bounced back. Better than I have, probably.” She smiled sympathetically. “Luisa, I want to ask you something.”

“Yes?”

“If there was a secret about my wife that would change how they would look at her, do you think I should tell them? Not now, but maybe when they were in college?”

Luisa’s face revealed that she got what I was saying immediately, but she played along. “I think it would depend. If it’s something that would be good, yes, definitely. Neutral? Maybe. Probably. But bad…” She sighed. “I think it would really depend on how bad it was. But their situation is different from mine.”

“Oh?”

“If this hypothetical secret existed, they don’t have a hint of it yet. I do. I only have half a story, and I can’t believe that the things I’ve imagined are worse than the truth.”

I took a deep breath. “I’m going to say this for now: what I can tell you will change how you view both of your parents. If I only met you and knew that you were their child, if you didn’t have that shoebox full of letters, I would never, ever tell you about it. It will mean that big of a shift in how you look at them. I promise you.”

Luisa looked taken aback. She’d imagined something big, I think, but not as big as what I implied. Before she could speak, I continued, speaking quietly. “You love your parents; I can tell. I’m sure you had your differences with them, like all kids do. But I want you to sleep on this: I can’t believe they would have ever told you about this themselves. If you really need to know, I’ll tell you. But you have got to decide whether it’s an actual need or just curiosity that you’ve let go too far. Because you can’t unring this bell, Luisa.”

She nodded solemnly. “Okay. I hear you. I’ll think about it, really think about it. Um… how should I contact you once I’ve made my decision?” We exchanged cell numbers before she left; I didn’t have to wait long for her to call.

A few days later, we were sitting outside a café near campus. There was a small voice in the back of my head tut-tutting; she was a student and I was a professor, and certain incorrect inferences could be drawn if one was inclined to do so. But she wasn’t my student. I’d never taught her. I could have no direct impact on her school career; there were no ethical rules being violated, even if we were anything more than a simple pair of acquaintances sitting down to talk.

“Thank you for coming, David. I… I thought a lot about what you said. And the truth is, I am worried about what I might learn, but I do need to know. It’s going to gnaw at me until I do.”

I nodded. “Okay. Let’s start at the beginning, then. Your parents told you some half truths and some blatant falsehoods. Yes, your mom and dad met as sophomores in high school when they moved to a little town in Texas. What they left gaziantep bayan eskort out was that I moved there the same year. The three of us bonded over the fact that we were all outsiders; Trev was from New York, Julia was from Miami, and I was from Los Angeles. My mom moved out to be with relatives; my dad had abandoned us, and she needed someplace to stay, so we ended up in this little podunk town.

“It wasn’t much to base a friendship off of, but it worked. Trevor was the best friend I’d had to that point by the end of our sophomore year. I knew he was interested in Julia, but I was, too. And Trev, well… he was softspoken and humble, while I was the opposite.” I chuckled. “I had a real ‘rebel without a clue’ thing going on back then, and your mom was drawn in by it.

“She and I started dating junior year. Trev accepted it gracefully and dated around. We all made a pact that we were going to get out of that little shithole together, and we did, going to UT in Austin, like your parents told you.

“The letters were… I wrote them to your mom because one of the few shared interests we had was writing. When we were in high school, we’d swap letters back and forth. In college, UT had a rule at the time that you had to be either living at home or in a dorm for the first two years; I kept writing her letters for that same reason, so we’d have something of each other while we couldn’t be together.

“There are no more letters after her sophomore year because we moved in together then. We were engaged, as you said. And we got married in the summer between our junior and senior terms.”

Luisa’s eyes went wide. “What?!”

I nodded solemnly. “We were married for three years. Your dad was still our friend, of course, but he kind of drifted away during that period. Not entirely, I mean; he was still my best friend, and probably Julia’s too. He was the best man at our wedding. But we were newlyweds, and he was still trying to find someone, and I know he felt like kind of a third wheel.

“When we graduated, we had decisions we needed to make. Julia’s dream was to be a teacher; I had wanted to finish up my masters and then earn a doctorate, but that didn’t seem to be in the cards. I had promised myself I wasn’t going to be like my dad, some bum that didn’t take care of my family. So I took my English B.A. and went to work writing ad copy. I didn’t like the job, but it paid well enough.

“I wrote some good stuff, and my bosses asked me to travel as part of the team that pitched new clients. It meant more money, which was great; Julia and I wanted kids, and we decided that, with her finally getting a stable teaching job and me pulling in more money, we were in a place where she could go off the pill. And she did.”

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “When you said that you thought you might have been my kid, well… to tell the truth, you should have been.”

Her hand went over her mouth. “Mom and D-Dad, they…?”

“I was out of town on business. I don’t think… They told me, and I believed them, that it happened one time and one time only. He had come over to visit, I wasn’t there, and they decided to hang out together, just the two of them, which they hadn’t done in a while. Trevor had broken up with his girlfriend, Julia’s hormones were out of whack from going off the pill, they got drunk and high and…” I shrugged.

There were tears starting to form in Luisa’s eyes. I felt for her, and I knew it was only going to get worse. “Do you want to take a break?” She shook her head violently, ‘No.’

I took a sip of my coffee. I hadn’t told the story in years. I expected it to hurt more, like it used to, but I mostly hurt for Luisa. “They hadn’t planned to tell me. It was a mistake, they regretted it, and they mutually decided that knowing could only hurt me. Julia was… she tried to make up for it when I got home. That’s all I’ll say. Trevor avoided me, and when I did see him, I could tell something was wrong. I’m not sure if they could have kept up the ruse, but then their hands were forced. Julia was pregnant.

“She waited to tell me until after she and Trevor could talk, and they told me together. I didn’t even have an inkling that she was pregnant before I found out about their betrayal. I…” My gaze went to my hands resting on the table. “I’ll be honest, I went berserk. I attacked your dad. But he wouldn’t fight back, just kept his arms up and tried to keep from getting hurt too much. I stopped when he was on the ground, frustrated that he wouldn’t give me the satisfaction of a real fight. Julia just kept screaming for me to stop. I walked out and got as drunk as I’ve ever gotten for… well, for several days.”

Tears were streaming down Luisa’s face now. I could see her trying to form questions, but just continued; she’d know everything soon enough.

“I think Julia had hoped that by telling me this way, by not springing it on me at the end of the pregnancy if it was Trevor’s kid, that I’d forgive her. I… maybe I could have, if the baby… if you had been mine. People make mistakes. I could have accepted that and tried to work through it.” I chuckled ruefully. “Or maybe I couldn’t have; I was so angry at her. And we had, to be fair, only been married three years. But, like I said, I wanted to be the good father my dad hadn’t been, so I’d like to think I could have.

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