me and my daddy in St. Thomas USVI, some time in the early 90s.
My mother’s father died of renal failure four years before I was born. When he died, he was living in Brooklyn with his Trinidadian-Chinese wife and their four children. My mother, one of three children he’d had with my Grams prior to his marriage, was in graduate school at Fordham University at the time. She was easily accessible. His wife didn’t tell her that he’d died until nearly a month after his funeral.
I am afraid of history repeating itself. I am afraid of being shut out of my father’s life because his wife, for some inexplicable reason, does not like my sister and me.
My relationship with my father was rocky, at best, for several years. He left my mother when I was thirteen; they weren’t divorced until I was twenty-one. When he left, I was old enough to understand what was going on, and I despised him for it. But eventually, I had to let that hurt go. I couldn’t function with that burden. So I forgave my father. I love him dearly.
I think, what might have happened is, when my father and his wife met some nine years ago, she didn’t expect that my sister and I would be around. And honestly, at twenty-two, I didn’t think I’d have much to do with him, either. I believe this sudden turn around– I speak to him at least once a week, we hang out and drink and talk shit, he brings me soca cds from Trinidad after Carnival every year– is unsettling for her.
At the hospital yesterday, after he’d been prepped for surgery, the chaplain came to talk to him. She asked him, “Is this your wife?” He said yes. She didn’t ask who my sister and I were, because it was clear. We are his daughters. I have his forehead, his eyes, his chin. My sister has his cheekbones and his full lips. We both share his dark mahogany complexion. We are his daughters, Barrow women. We earned that name by blood. We are proof that he was married before her. We are proof that he loved before her, had a whole different life before her. We are undeniably his. And his wife hates us for it.
I am sensitive to people’s energies. And I knew the moment I laid eyes on that woman that she would be trouble. When we first met, my poor father, who was so afraid of upsetting me, didn’t even want to tell me that she was his wife. But he introduced us, and I am not rude or nasty (unless provoked), so I was pleasant enough. I told myself I wouldn’t judge her just because she happened to be my father’s second wife. But she wouldn’t make eye contact with me. And she never spoke to me directly, instead addressing her questions to my father for him to pass along. I thought that was strange, but brushed it off as her being nervous. The next time I saw her, I said hello to her, and she said nothing. Her daughter similarly ignored me. This continued over the years, so I tried my best to avoid her whenever possible, and to remain neutral if I did have to interact with her.
Then I began to hear rumors– things she’d said about me, about my sister, about my mother, and about my parents’ divorce. My mother’s younger sister went to high school with my father’s wife back in Trinidad. They are the same age, were in the same class. They have mutual friends. My aunt told me his wife had said she didn’t want us in her house (the house, I must point out, my father bought and moved her into, because before they were married, she lived in an apartment in Brooklyn that she rented). That my father would never have treated her the same way that he treated my mother– as if my mother deserved the treatment she received from my father. That if she’d been with him when he finally divorced my mother, she would’ve made sure that he got the house. The last part made my blood boil. My sister was still in high school when our parents’ divorced was finalized. So she would’ve felt good about herself if she’d ensured that her boyfriend’s 17-year-old daughter was forced out of the house where she’d spent her entire life? What kind of woman says these things?
The kind of woman who says these things is also the kind of woman who will roll her eyes when her husband’s daughter begins to cry before he is rolled into surgery. The kind of woman who will grab her grandson– who has no relation to my father–when the hospital aide calls out to the Barrow family and will rush him in to see her husband without acknowledging that my sister and I have been in the same lounge, feet away, for five hours, just waiting for news. The kind of woman who will look right at us and walk away, leave the hospital without saying a word to us about our father’s condition. We went to the front desk and were told that he’d made it out of surgery just fine, was asleep in the recovery room, and that someone would come get us when he woke up again.
I will not let what happened to my mother happen to me. If that means I have to fight–with my words, even with my fists– I will.