To tell this story I have to take you back first to the summer of 1974. I was preparing to head to college in the North Georgia mountains. My family had already moved to the Pacific Northwest. I was living with Judge Rufe McCombs and her family.
I made the trip to East Tennessee to see Granny Leona and Pap, my father’s parents. While visiting with my grandmother one evening, she told me there was a rumor she had heard that my dad had fathered another child.
I don’t remember being shocked by such a notion. I had lived a pretty chaotic life that wasn’t the least bit sheltered. I’d read all the popular literature of that time, books on my mother’s bedside table – The Happy Hooker, Valley of the Dolls, as well as the Bible, which was full of all sorts of sexual intrigue.
My response was something along the lines of, “Well, Granny, if that’s true, I want to know.”
As far as I know, Granny never told this story to anyone else. And it occurs to me that she only told me then because it was on the heels of me telling her I had an abortion earlier that year. Maybe she was prompted by empathy. Or maybe, as a woman who bore 8 children, and whose opportunities were stunted by a poverty common to the women of her time and place, she simply understood.
She rolled her wheelchair across the hardwood floor, maneuvering her way from the bedroom where she spent the bulk of her day, to the narrow kitchen, where she pulled out the black rotary phone. She placed the phone in her lap, stabilizing it between her swollen arthritic knees. With her bent fingers, she adjusted her glasses, and using her knotty knuckles, turned the tissue-thin pages in the telephone book until she found the number she was looking for.
I don’t recall who it was she called. I don’t recall much of what she said, other than asking whether the rumor she had heard about Dave having another child was true or not.
When she hung up the phone, she told me not to worry about it. It wasn’t true.
I did as she said. I never worried about it. I didn’t mention it to anyone. My sister says I told her. I don’t recall that. I didn’t tell Tim, or my kids, or ever even ask my mother about it. I pretty much forgot about the conversation I had with Granny in 1974.
Until one Sunday afternoon in late August, about 8 weeks ago, when I received an email from a woman I didn’t know. Attached to the email were two photos of my father at a very young age. Photos I had not seen before. The email read as follows: My mom has two pictures of David P. Spears. We googled him to see if we could find out any family info. We came across your name. Is this your dad?
To which I replied: “Yes. Why does your mom have photos of my dad?”
The kindly gal at the other end of the email took awhile to respond. I can only imagine she was taking her time figuring out what to say next, and how best to say it: He dated my grandmother, who lived in Rogersville. My mom has a more detailed story but there is a possibility that he may or may not be my mother’s dad.
There’s more to this story, obviously.
But for right now, I want you to consider that while our president wrecks havoc on this country and does everything in his power to destroy democracy, aided and abetted by Senators like Mike Lee and Mitch McConnell, all of us are living out personal dramas of our own.
Years ago when working on the Karly Sheehan story, I recall that moment when I asked Karly’s dad how he felt when his marriage ended, given how young Karly was. And his reply was, “Honestly, Karen, I was so exhausted with Sarah I was glad it was over.”
That exhaustion David felt is something everyone who has ever lived with a narcissist knows.
It’s something most every American who is not part of the Trump cult knows right now, too.
It’s exhausting having to fight day in and day out for some semblance of normalcy. It’s exhausting being at odds with people you love who are motivated by their sheer desire to overpower others, who seek to enforce their religious dogma on others. Loved ones who believe that they have some divine understanding of God that you and your ilk lack. Oh, to be sure, they are praying that each of us come to see the world from their viewpoint, which they believe to be the only “righteous” one. And knowing all of this really has nothing to do with God but is tied up in their misguided desire to do away with abortion and LGBTQ communities, and to perpetuate their own unconfessed racism.
It is all so exhausting.
There is little to no energy left in a person’s life to deal with the dramas that would typically consume us.
Our loved ones die of Covid or cancer and we can’t be with them as they draw their last breaths, or gather to celebrate the life they lead.
Our loved ones have miscarriages and births and we can’t sit with them and hold their hands and speak words of encouragement over them.
Our loved ones lose their jobs, and what are we supposed to say? Hang in there? It will get better?
Our loved ones are stressed working from home while overseeing virtual school and herding preschoolers and we can’t even step in to help.
Our loved ones, the essential workers, head out the door to interact with a public who has politicized wearing a mask, a public who believes their rights override any right an essential worker has to protect their own health.
It’s all so exhausting.
Who has time to reflect upon the possibility that your parents may have had secret loves you knew nothing about?
As Joan Didion so aptly noted: “Life changes in an instant. The ordinary instant.”
A quiet Sunday afternoon turns into a whirlwind of “what ifs’.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of After the Flag has Been Folded (WilliamMorrow).