“Your father is dead,” my mother’s voice said dryly over the phone. “Huh? What father?” I sat up straight, my heart picking up speed.
“Your biological. He passed away a few days ago.” Her tone was calm and casual. I didn’t say anything. I think I was in shock.
“Nicole, you there?” she asked.
“Yeah, I’m here,” I said as I clutched the phone tight and processed that the man I never got to call father was no longer walking this earth. “How do you know?”
“I read it today in the obituary section of the paper. His funeral is Saturday.”
“Really?” I asked, knowing it was true, because after retiring from the post office my mother read that column every day, right after checking her horoscope. Every once in a while she ran across a death notice for someone she knew.
“Well, I have to go. I just thought you should know. I’m going out and Ernest got overtime.”
“Okay, I’ll call you when I’m on my way home from work,” I said as I slumped in my chair, dazed. I loved my mother to death, but why would she think it was a good idea to call me in the middle of my workday and give me that kind of news? She was acting like it was no big deal to tell me that my father is dead. Especially under the circumstances. The circumstance being, I had seen my father only once in my life, back when I was thirteen, and that was fifteen years ago.
I never missed having a father until I was in the second grade. I remember my best friend Tia’s father coming up to our school and bringing cake, ice cream, and balloons to our classroom for his only daughter’s birthday. Tia came back to school on Monday bragging about how she had the best dad in the world. Then this other girl named Felicia joined in and started talking about her father and all the fun they had together. That’s when it clicked. Where was my dad? But worse than that— who was my dad? I didn’t even know his name. I suddenly realized I had never heard his name and didn’t have a clue what he looked like. He was completely absent from my life. I had no pictures, and no memories. I couldn’t even recognize him if he walked past me on the street. For years I asked my mom who was my dad, and why wasn’t he a part of my life, and she would never answer me. One time she told me he was in the army and the next time in the navy. Then she told me he got killed in Vietnam. I believed her until I found out that the war ended before I was born.
When I was thirteen, I begged her to tell me who my father was, like so many times before. She usually would tell me to leave her alone and get the fuck out her face. But this time I didn’t leave her alone, because I had to get an answer. I was working her nerves. And just so I would get out her face she finally told me his name. The words came out of her mouth real slow . . . “Ray-mond Haw-k.” She would have been better off not telling me his name because once she did, I had more questions. “Where is he? Where does he live? Why doesn’t he come around?” I asked breathlessly.
She explained to me that she met him through a friend when she used to hang in south Philly. She told me that he really was in the army and that she had gotten pregnant with me right before he went to basic training. She said by the time he got back from training, she tried to tell him she was pregnant, but she found out he was already married to a woman he met near his base. She said she confided in his cousin and told his cousin to tell him she was pregnant, but she never heard anything from my father, so she left it alone.
I still wasn’t satisfied and wanted more information. So, the next day she went to work and I searched through her dresser drawers for my birth certificate. I found it and his name was on it. I went to the white pages and called a few Raymond Hawks. By the time I got to the sixth name I was tired and hoped I didn’t get another answering machine. The sixth name on the list was the only address in south Philly. He lived on Wharton Street in a neighborhood where my mom used to hang out. I figured he had to be the right Raymond Hawk.
I rode the number 7 bus to south Philly. I felt nervous and excited at the same time. Throughout the bus ride, I couldn’t stop thinking about what was going to happen next. I didn’t know how my father was going to react to meeting me. I wondered if he would reject me, or would he love me like a father should?
I got off the bus, one block away from his house. I walked up to Twenty-fourth Street and made a left. I saw a store on the corner with a big sign that read, “Delicatessen,” and brick row houses in every direction. I looked at the address and went straight to 2416. Taking a deep breath, I walked up to the top step and knocked on the door. As I waited for someone to answer I became a little nauseous and my palms were dripping sweat. A woman with reddish-brown kinky-curled hair answered. Her skin was light brown with specks of freckles scattered on her nose and her cheeks. A pair of black, round glasses sat on the tip of her freckled nose. She was wearing a pink terry cloth robe and blue-and-white flowered nightgown.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Uhm, is Raymond Hawk here?”
“What’s this about?” Her eyes narrowed suspiciously as they began to rove up and down, peering at me through her black glasses.
“I’m his daughter, Nicole,” I said.
“Daughter? Raymond only got one daughter and she’s in this house playing with her toys.”
“My mother said he is my father.” I unfolded the birth certificate that was clutched in my hand.
She bent down and examined my birth certificate. “How old are you?” she asked, breathing hard, her eyes narrowed at me.
“Thirteen,” I said, straightening my shoulders.
She flung the birth certificate at me. “That’s impossible!” Then she screamed at the top of her lungs, “Raymond, get out here . . . now!”
I got the first glimpse of my father as he came to the door, out of breath. He was a tall, beautiful man with smooth, Indian, deep red-brown skin, like mine.
“Yeah, baby,” he said, looking out the white screen door to see why she was yelling.
They both stared down at me and she said, “This young lady says she’s your daughter. Is that true?”
He looked at me, startled, and then he started backing up a little as he shook his head, saying, “No. No. I don’t know her. She’s not my child.”
“You sure there’s not something you forgot to tell me?” she yelled as she swung out and punched him in his side. He bowed over and she walked away from the door. As he was bent over I recognized even more features that looked just like mine. We had the same straight black hair, mink-like eye brows, and long eyelashes.
“Who told you I was your father?” he asked, frowning.
“You dated my mom, Lois Edwards—they call her Lolo. She was friends with one of your cousins.” I let out a breath as I waited for his face to change.
“Lois?” He wrinkled his brow and scratched his head. “I don’t know anybody named Lois. Look, I’m sorry, I never met your mother in my life. I’m not your father, but I hope you find him.” And then he closed the door in my face. I could hear the woman cussing him about me.
Hurt and confused, I stood there for a moment. I thought about knocking on the door again and demanding that he admit that he was my father. But all the lies my mother had told me over the years started swirling around in my head and I decided to just leave.
As I walked back to the bus stop my sadness and disappointment turned to anger. I was in tears for the entire hour- long ride home. I wanted to kill my mother. Why did she insist on lying to me? In my mind my mother was a stupid, lying whore. How could she not know who my father was? How could she keep this information from me in the first place? I asked myself those questions until I got off the bus and ran home.
I usually tried to stay out my mother’s way because she was just so evil. But being scared of her didn’t stop me from barging into her room and disturbing her nap.
“Mom, how could you? I went to that man’s house in south Philly and he said he wasn’t my father,” I screamed.
“What man!” she said as she jolted upright.
I explained the entire story to her in detail, even throwing in how embarrassing it was to be told he wasn’t my father. She didn’t even respond to me as I cried and kept asking over and over, “How could you?” When she didn’t respond, I ran out of her room in tears.
Ten minutes later, she came out of her bedroom with a baseball bat in her hand and ordered me to get in the car with her. I wasn’t sure if I liked the way she planned on handling the situation, but I got in the car and put my seat belt on. What else could I do? We were at Raymond Hawk’s door in less than fifteen minutes. I was surprised that my mom knew exactly where he lived. She blew her horn repeatedly in loud, drawn-out stretches. Then she got out of the car, stomped up the steps to his house, and hit the door several times with her balled-up fist. Two children, a girl and a boy, who looked to be about seven or eight years old, peeked out the window.
“Raymond, open this door,” my mom yelled. He came to the door with his eyes bugged out, gawking at my mom like he was seeing a ghost.
“Raymond, why did you lie to this child?” my mother demanded.
Instead of answering the question, he walked away and the freckled-faced woman took his place in the doorway.
“He ain’t lie to her, he ain’t her daddy. He told her the truth,” she yelled, with her hand planted on her small hip.
With her nose turned up, my mom looked her up and down and said, “Listen, you need to mind your fucking business. This ain’t got shit to do with you.”
“It’s got a lot to do with me because it is my husband you are talking about,” the lady yelled back.
“I don’t want your broke-ass husband. I have a man.”
The woman didn’t have a quick enough response and just stood with her mouth open. The neighbors and other people passing by on the street were beginning to tune in to the screaming match.