A Stranger Calls

    

A sister desperately needed to talk with her brother; it had been months since they had spoken or seen each other. Starting with her mother, Elena had called everyone she could think of who might know the whereabouts of her brother Eric. She didn't care that they hadn’t spoken or seen each other in a while. She loved him dearly, and now frantically searched for him. She knew her time was running out. It was only a matter of days before it would be too late. On the third day of her search, Elena’s mother gave her a number to call. It was for an old female acquaintance of her brothers that their mother had recently run into. When Elena called the number, she was pleased and relieved to hear his voice.

“Hello, Eric speaking.”

“Eric this is Elena, how have you been big brother? I’ve been trying for days to contact you. Why haven’t you called me Eric?” she said excitedly.

“Hey sis how have you been? It’s good to hear your voice. I’ve been doing ok. I just started a new job at a warehouse in Forestville. So I’ve been busy with that.”

“Eric, you need to call me, I’ve missed you,” she said smiling.

“I’ve missed you too baby girl, my friend told me she saw Ma. You of all people know how my life has been. I’m really trying to get my life together this time Lena. I’m forty-eight and too old for the dumb shit I use to get myself into. I’ve got my own place now, and I’m working a good job.”

            “Eric that’s wonderful and I'm glad to hear it, but you know if you ever need help with anything, I’m always here for you.”

“I know Lena, but when do I stop leaning on my baby sister and her husband? I appreciate everything you’ve ever done for me Lena. I really do, and I’m man enough to admit that. I do plan to pay you back for everything you’ve done to help me. This new job is working out really well for me.”

“You know it’s not about that. I don’t care about you paying me back anything. You’re my brother and I love you. There are only two of us now, and we need to stick together.”

“I know Lena. I just didn’t want to come around you until I was sure I had everything where it needs to be in my life. I want you and Ma to be proud of me, as a brother and a son. I just want to clean up my act, because I don’t see too many more chances coming for me.”

“We’ve always been proud of you Eric, none of us had it easy growing up. It would have been a hell of a lot harder if we didn’t have you to protect us. Even in the hardest times we never forgot, or stopped loving you.”

“Thank you Lena, that really means a lot to me. Now I feel bad for not having called you or Ma before now.”

“Please don’t feel that way Eric, I understand, and it’s not a problem. I know you’ve spoken to Ma on occasion, but you’re a hard man to find when you don’t want to be found, even for her.”

“I never could keep much from you, not even when we were kids. You always knew when something was up with me. I knew it wasn’t much, but I would call Ma every now and then, just to talk for a minute. I asked her not to tell you we’d spoken until I was ready to call you. I wanted it to be a surprise when we did hook up, now that we have, I want to take you and Ma to dinner this weekend.” Eric felt great joy as he spoke with his little sister.

“That would be great Eric, I know Ma would love that and so would I. Now that we have re-connected let me tell you why it was so urgent for me to find you.”

“Sure Lena, whatever you need just say the word and I’ll take care of it.”

            “Good Eric, because what I have to say may be difficult for you to hear.”

“Go right ahead Lena, I’m all ears.”

“Eric, Sherman is dying and he wants to see you before it’s too late, before he dies.”

There was a long pause between the siblings. For a long while, Eric said nothing. He heard what his sister said, but he did not know exactly what his response should be. He let her words sink in as he considered his response to her inquiry.

“Eric are you still there? Did you hear what I said?”

“Yeah, Lena I heard what you said. I honestly don’t know what to say to that. You know exactly how I feel about that motherfucker.” His temporary joy turned to anger.

“I know Eric, but he’s dying and in a lot of pain. He’s been asking to see you for days. It seems he can’t stop asking about you.”

“Fuck him! His pain is nothing compared to what we went through. Lena you know I love you. And I’d do anything in the world for you, you know that. But as far as I’m concerned we never had a father, and I don’t give a fuck if that sorry piece of shit nigga dies today or tomorrow!”

“Eric please, hear me out. I know hearing that must have been hard for you, but can’t we let go of the past? I used to feel the same way you do, but over the years, I’ve learned to let those feelings go. I don’t forgive him for anything. There was a time when I hated him the same way you do, when I would have liked to hurt him for leaving us too, but I can’t live with hate in my heart for the rest of my life. The man is dying Eric can’t we put our bad feelings aside in this case?”

“Have you gone to see him already?”

“Yes, I’ve been to the hospital twice. I’ve even met three of his other children.”

“He has other children? That motherfucker has at least three other kids?” Hell, I don’t know why I’m surprised. To be honest with you Lena, I really don’t want to hear any more about his ass or his other kids.”

“I know I’m asking a lot of you Eric, but can you find it in your heart to go see him? Eric just go see him one time, for only a few minutes?”

“Lena, I really can’t understand why this is so important to you. Has that bastard ever tried to contact any of us? What the fuck did he ever do for any of us, including Ma? So what he’s dying, and now he wants to see his kids? What the fuck kind of bullshit is that? When he could have been with us our whole damn lives, he chose not to be. Now the motherfucker is dying and daddy wants to see his kids.”

“Eric, trust me. I do know how you feel, and I can’t make you do this. Just hear me out one last time. Don’t do it for him, Ma, or yourself. Like you said, the hell with him, I do understand that. I have always depended on you our whole lives. You have always been my hero of a big brother. You have always come to my rescue when I needed you. Even when you’re not around, we are always connected. We have always been close after everything that’s happened in our lives, and I cherish that. Please do this one thing for me, and for the family that we’ve lost. You’re the oldest and you represent us. So for Paul, Deborah, and Dolores, please do this and I will never ask you for anything again.”

“Lena, is this really that important to you?”

“Yes Eric it is, because I have accepted things the way they are and I can forgive the past.”

“Lena you always had a way of getting to me like no one else could. I guess you always will sis. If this means so much to you, I’ll go see his dying ass. Not for me, but for our family.”

“Thank you Eric, this means a lot to me. I love you.”

“I love you too Lena.”

“Do you want me to take you where he is?”

“No, just tell me where he’s at and give me the room number. I’ll make my way there tomorrow.”

“Ok, call me at home if you want to talk afterwards. Even if you don’t want to talk about him please call me.” 

“I will Lena. Talk to you later.”

Elena gave her brother the name of the hospital, and his room number. She also told him that visiting hours were tightly controlled because there were many terminal patients on the ward he would be visiting. That night as he lay in bed, Eric thought long and hard about the conversation he had with his sister. He could not sleep, even though he had been drinking since he hung up with her hours ago. Eric swore he would never touch alcohol again after the last incident he was involved in, but the news his sister gave him had taken a toll on him. In spite of all he had been through and all the shit he knew he had put Elena through, she still loved him unconditionally.

He had conflicting feelings about what she had asked him to do. Although he hated it, he knew he would do as she asked only because he loved her. Eric eventually went to sleep, after justifying in his mind a more personal reason for paying Sherman a visit. The next evening at 8:00 p.m., Eric found himself standing outside the hospital where his father was dying; a friend at the warehouse gave him a ride after work. He decided to walk in before he changed his mind. He intentionally chose to come late in the evening, just before visiting hours ended at 9:00 p.m. Eric was apprehensive about the visit, but decided to press forward. I don’t want to be in that man’s presence any longer than I have to. No matter how long I stay, I kept the promise I made to my sister. He walked in without checking in at the front desk, and went straight to the elevator. He took it up to the eighth floor and followed the numbered doors looking for room eight-twenty -one. Eric approached the corridor leading to his father’s room; it was located at the end of the corridor. He noticed four people leaving that same room. He sat down in a chair across from the empty nurse’s station. Eric discreetly watched the four individuals as they approached him, signed out on the visitor’s log, and quietly passed him on their way to the elevator. The four did not speak to each other as they walked together holding hands. Eric noticed the profound sadness on their faces. Tears fell from both the women’s eyes as they tried to control the sadness they felt. The men with them tried to appear stoic, but their feelings easily showed on their faces.

After they got on the elevator and the doors closed, Eric walked over to the visitor’s log. He read the names of the four people who just left Sherman’s room. He noted that all four signed the log as Sherman’s children. They hadn’t stayed very long according to the log times. Walking down the corridor, Eric noticed that there was an un-nerving smell in the air on the floor. A voice in his mind told him it was the smell of death. The thought did not bother him, in fact, it almost gave him a feeling of comfort that maybe Sherman really was going to die, and he wouldn’t have to deal with him. What the fuck, the motherfucker got to see his other kids before he died.       Eric stopped at the closed door, not entirely sure if he wanted to walk in or not. His heart was beating slightly faster than it should have been, and he even felt himself tremble a little. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, opened his eyes, and walked in the room. The first thing he noticed in the dimly lit room was the smell; a sickly combination of antiseptic, and the death smell he noticed earlier. He looked past the empty bed closest to him, and stared at the occupied bed. Eric stared at the sleeping figure and determined that at one time he was a good-sized man in his youth. The man now appeared quite frail; IV’s and monitors hooked up to his body. The monitors made no sound, but Eric could see the electronic pulses and other activity on the screens that monitored the man’s vital signs, indicating that he was not yet dead. Eric looked from one monitor to the next; one in particular caught his attention, Morphine Drip Control Unit. All three monitors though, showed some sign of life in the now frail man lying on the bed. He stared at the old man; I don’t look shit like that old bastard. Eric thought that their only similarity was their height. Eric slowly walked over to the bed, took away one of the two chairs on the right side and sat down. Eric stared at the two remaining chairs on the far side of the bed. No doubt, his other children sat in a circle around him as they visited his old ass. Eric sat beside the bed and stared at the sleeping man. Hundreds of questions raced through his mind, years of questions he needed answers to. He wondered if even a fraction of them would, or could be answered here tonight before this man checked out. He decided that it didn’t really matter. Nothing this old man could say to him was going to matter or change a damn thing. He decided to leave after only a few seconds of looking at the dying old man. Having kept his promise to his sister, Eric wanted to leave. I saw the motherfucker before he checked out. Conversation was neither desired nor required. Eric stood, turned toward the door, and began to walk away when his father spoke.

“Son, is that you? Eric, is that you son? Please sit down.” Eric turned toward the man’s voice, looked at him and slowly returned to his seat. The elder man held out both his hands and began to open his arms as if he wanted to hug Eric. Eric sat down and did not move. He was repulsed by the thought of touching the old man, and the smell that lingered over him. Ignoring the gesture, he simply stared at the man in the bed.

“Son, can you please give me a hug? I've missed you son.”

Eric noticed Sherman’s voice was still rather strong for a man in his condition, not broken or soft It seemed to hurt him to speak louder than he was, as if there was a problem with his throat. Then Eric noticed the small bandage just below his Adam's apple.

“I don’t want to hug you.”

As Eric looked in his father’s eyes, Sherman put his arms down, obviously hurt that his son did not want to touch him. He continued speaking with his son.

“Son, you’re my oldest, there is so much I want to tell you and talk with you about before it’s too late. Your sister was here a few days ago. We had a good visit, she really grew up into a good woman. I only wish she had a grandson for me to hug as well.” Sherman looked at his son and continued speaking in a strained voice, due to his pain.

“You see son, I’m dying of renal failure and the doctors say I’m too old for a kidney transplant, so I can’t get on any of the donor lists. The best they can do for me is managing my pain. I only have one kidney with partial function, and you wouldn’t believe the pain I'm in. Sometimes it’s so bad I can’t take it anymore. Son, I have a big favor to ask of you. Would you agree to be tested, to see if we’d be a match for a kidney transplant? I need a kidney, and the only way that’s gonna happen is if one of my male children donate a kidney to me. I don’t want to die. Would you please help me, would you do this for your father?” 

Eric stared at Sherman dumb founded, not sure what to say to him if anything. Then Eric noticed something in the old man’s aged eyes as he spoke; something that was very familiar. A look Eric had seen all his life, but could never give it a name. It stirred very negative feelings in Eric, and it pissed him off. Looking at Sherman now and having heard what he just asked, Eric decided he would have the conversation with him he had always wanted to have.

“Old man, just who the fuck do you think you are? My head is all kinds of fucked up listening to you. What the fuck makes you think I give a damn about you dying. I haven’t seen or heard from you in how long? My whole fuckin’ life and you have the balls to ask me for a fuckin’ kidney! ‘I’m your oldest, there is so much you want to talk to me about, so much you need to say to me.’ Because you’re dying you think that gives you the right after all these fuckin’ years to claim fatherhood for a son you abandoned years ago. After all this damn time, I’m supposed to embrace you as my father and help you, give you one of my kidneys? Old man you must be delusional, or that shit they have you on has you trippin’. To think I would be stupid enough to agree to some shit like that, and believe me, I’m far from stupid. You insult my damn intelligence. Now I totally understand why you wanted to see me so damn desperately. I know you didn’t tell Lena that bullshit about you needing me to donate a kidney to your ass. She would have told you to go straight to hell. I don’t know how long your ass has been here dying, but I would probably be right in guessing all your other male children, and who the fuck knows how many that is, told you to go straight to hell too. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here. Well you can add my name to the list too motherfucker, fuck you! Before I leave here though, I have a hell of a lot to say to you.” Eric felt the anger within him reaching the boiling point.

“First of all, what the fuck do you know about my sister or me for that matter? Hell, what about the three of us who are gone, my brother and two sisters who aren’t here anymore? And don’t call me son again, I’m not your fuckin’ son and I never have been.” Sherman started to call Eric son again, but caught himself.

“Eric, please there is so much I want to tell you about my past. I know your upset with me and you have a right to be, but there are things you don’t know. I’m still your father whether you like it or not, and we need to talk. So would you please give me a chance and listen to me, please? I’m begging you son.

“Hold the fuck up! You’re still my what? Did you say you’re my Father? So I have to listen to you, old man who the fuck do you think you’re talking to? Motherfucker, you haven’t been shit to me, to any of my sisters, or my brother in over forty years. The only reason I’m here is because my sister asked me to come see you. Now after all these decades you need something from me.”

Eric’s anger was palpable. Eric tried with all his might to contain the rage building within himself. He knew the only way to get rid of what he felt was to tell this man who called himself his father exactly what was on his mind.

“You know I honestly don’t know where to start with you. Let me tell you something right off the break. Before you get shit twisted and all fucked up, you need to know that I feel exactly nothing for you old man. The only reason I brought my black ass here is because I promised my sister Lena I would. I love her with all I have in me, and I promised her I would come see your dying old ass.” Eric paused briefly to allow himself to calm down.

“If that is how you feel then please leave Eric, I see we have nothing to talk about and you’re not going to help me no matter what I say.” Sherman stated as he looked away from Eric.

Eric stood and pointed at Sherman, then held his fist inches away from Sherman’s face.

“Oh hell no, old man! You don’t get rid of me that easy. I’m gonna be here now for a while. Everything in me that’s fucked up is about to be released on your dying ass tonight, goddamnit! And you’re right, you can forget about the kidney thing.” Eric stated in a menacing voice. Sherman looked up at his son standing over him and responded.

“I’m dying Eric, can’t we make peace? Can we do that please?” Sherman pleaded.

“Fuck no! I have a lifetime of fucked up experiences to tell you about old man, and you’re gonna listen if it takes all night.”

Sherman reached for the intercom on his bed to call the duty nurse. He wanted Eric removed from his room. Eric stopped him and whispered something in Sherman’s ear. Sherman looked into his son’s eyes and put the intercom down. At that moment, a very young looking nurse making her rounds entered the room. She informed Eric that visiting hours were over and that all visitors were required to leave. Eric walked to the foot of Sherman’s bed, stood there, and stared at him.

“Nurse, this is a friend of my family. I haven’t seen him in a while, there is no one else in the room but us. Is there any way he can stay with me a while? My youngest daughter was allowed to stay overnight with me a few days ago. Please nurse, I don’t have much time?” asked Sherman.

“That will be ok as long as you feel up to it Mr. Sherman. I’m going off duty now, so I'll tell you what, I just won’t let the duty nurse know you have a late visitor, since this wasn’t requested in advance. Good night Mr. Sherman, I’ll see you in the morning.” Sherman replied that he would be fine and the nurse left the room. Eric returned to the seat he had been sitting in.

“Now old man, before we get this thing going, what exactly is it you want to say to me?”

            “Eric, I just want you to know that I love all my children. I’m sorry for not being there for you when you were growing up. Back then, things were different. I was different, and I was young and didn’t understand what it was to be a father. For that mistake, I have felt shame all my life. Can you understand what I’m saying son, can you find it in your heart to forgive me?”

Eric said nothing at first. He stood, and approached the bed. He took the beds remote control and raised the head to almost ninety degrees. He sat at the foot of the bed, staring at his father.

“That’s the best you can do? Can I forgive you, and you’re sorry? I have a better question, why should I forgive your sorry ass? I don’t know you and barely remember you. I sure as hell remember every moment of my life without a father being there with us. I remember my mother going to bed crying every night, because it was such a struggle for her to take care of us on her own. I remember her not abandoning us when she could have done the same shit you did.  I remember the pain she felt each time one of her children died. I remember her getting beat by sorry ass boyfriends, and I was powerless to help her. She hung in there and sacrificed her whole life for us. To ask me to forgive your ass for abandoning us is one more slap in the face to my family and to me. Before you die, I want you to know what it was like for us growing up. I’d like to be here when you breathe your last useless breath. I want the satisfaction of watching you die helpless and pitiful, the way vulnerable children are helpless when they have no one there to protect and guide them. Before that happens though you need to know what our lives were like. I honestly don’t know where to begin, so we’ll start with my first memories of grade school. I’ll tell you this too old man, you will listen to every goddamn word I have to say to you, even if it takes all fuckin’ night.”

Sherman could say nothing, he could do nothing; he was completely helpless. His son talked while his life support monitors quietly tracked his vital functions. His heart monitor reacted occasionally, as he listened to his son. He quietly sat in his bed sitting up in the position his son had put him in. The pain he felt in his back he kept to himself. He wished now that he had never asked to see his oldest child. He had not anticipated the fury that would be so evident in the man who now sat at the foot of his bed. Sherman had hoped all his children would embrace him in his final hours, he was wrong. He had never been in any of their lives for any significant amount of time. He wanted to die knowing that they had forgiven him, and that they had some degree of love for him. He longed so badly for their acceptance, to share some small part of lives he had nothing to do with before death took him. He also realized that most, if not all, of the hatred directed at him now was partly his own fault. So he decided with his last bit of strength to listen to the story the man who he cannot embrace as his son, had to tell.

“Do you have any idea what it’s like to sit in a classroom full of six year old kids at a new school, and have to listen to everyone else talk about their fathers when I had none? The teacher asked each kid to stand, say their name, and tell the class what their fathers do for a living. Before the teacher got to me, all the kids proudly talked about what they knew of their fathers work. I remember it even being a little funny, six year olds trying to describe an adult’s job, something they know nothing about. The teacher playfully helped them along. Well, there wasn’t a damn thing funny about what I had to say when it was my turn to speak. Being six years old, I proudly stood up, put my hands at my side, and looked around the class as I said my name smiling. With a child’s innocence, I said, ‘I don’t know what my daddy do. He don’t live wit us, my mommy say he ain’t shit.’ All the children put their hands over their mouths and ears, and I didn’t know what to think. The teacher immediately stood up and shouted ‘Eric! Go to the back of the room and stand in the corner.’ That came with a smack across the ass as the bitch escorted me to the corner. The teacher made me stand there until lunch hour. I had no idea what I had done to be punished and humiliated like that. Then, I had to eat by myself because the teacher wouldn’t let any of the other kids sit with me. Now, I don’t know how many babies you have in the world or how many of them you actually had a hand in raising, but kids can be extremely cruel to each other, that’s one of the things I learned quickly after I started going to school. I remember telling my mother about my day in school after I got home. She hugged me and told me I had done nothing wrong. I clearly remember her saying to me, ‘Baby it’s not your fault. I don’t want you to be ashamed of anything. Your daddy didn’t want to stay with us, but it’s ok, because we have each other, and I will take care of our family.’ I remember her taking me to school the next day and going to that teacher’s ass. Ma didn’t go at her physically, but with words. I learned two very important lessons that day. That my mother was my protector, and to never talk about your sorry ass in public if it could be avoided. You see old man, I learned at an early age how fucked up it was to not have a father around. There were other kids in my situation, and we learned to keep certain shit to ourselves. The strange thing about that is, we could look at each other and somehow we knew that we were the fatherless children. We were the kids who were not good enough to be friends with children who had both parents. We were the fuckin’ outcasts, even in our own schools and fucked up neighborhoods.”

Sherman said nothing. He simply listened to his son. Sadness showed all over his face, and the pain in his back grew more intense and moved down his legs.

“Then motherfucker, there were the times the school would have activities, like fathers coming to lunch day. Father son activity day, bring your father to school day, father son dress alike day, father and son field trips and shit that I wasn’t allowed to go on because of you. Back then, schools incorporated many activities around the family, all that father son shit and your sorry fuckin’ ass was nowhere to be found! We had to carry that shame. Now, mom did the best she could with all of us, to be with us for school functions, but she had to work. Since we lived with our grandparents, our grandfather would come to see us at a school function if he could, it was nice being with him. I’d walk next to him, proudly holding his hand. My little chest full of pride, and it felt good because I had a man with me too, like everybody else, a real life full-grown man. I would always see that fuckin’ look in everybody’s eyes though. The kids, the fathers, and the fuckin’ teachers all had that look in their eyes. That look that says you don’t have a father and I do. That look that said to me, your old grandfather is not your real daddy, that your one of those fatherless kids and I’m not, and I’m better than you. I learned to spot that arrogant, conceited look in people’s eyes, that look that says I’m better than you and your nothing. You know something, my grandfather gave me the key to get over all that bullshit, he explained to me in very simple terms that I didn’t have to try so hard to make people like me or except me. Either they would, or they wouldn’t, so to hell with them. You just find something you're good at and be the best at it, and when you make real friends you’ll know because they’ll always be there for you and you for them. It broke my little heart when grandfather died a year later. I remember thinking, another man has gone from my life, my grandfather has left us all alone. It hurt like hell. At least he was there for us my whole life up to that point. Shortly after he died though, other things changed for us and I didn’t know why until years later, but I’ll come back to that.

Before grandfather died I made him proud, because I quickly learned what it was I was good at, fighting and academics. Grandfather and I would spend hours watching boxing matches. I’d listen to him talk about the great fighters of his day. He would even show me different moves and explained to me why they worked or didn’t work. We would go to the local gym and watch the fighters train. We would be there for hours on the weekends. I started training and working with the fighters and I loved it. I took that shit and I learned to fight the hard way, in the streets. After taking a few ass kicking's, I got good at it real fast. For every beating I took, I learned from the guys at the gym what I did wrong, and corrected it. Fighting, however, would cause me major trouble later in my life. In time, I became the defender of my family because we had no one else to protect us. I also learned quickly that grandfather was right about something else, but I'll come back to that later. After I learned I really had a talent for my schoolwork, I soon became a star pupil. In time nobody cared about the fact that I didn’t have a father like they did, because I had something they didn’t. I could hold my head up high because I was smarter than my peers were. I took great pride in the fact that many kids hated that about me, and my brother and sisters. Since I could also kick the shit out of many of them, nobody fucked with us. Mom was always so proud of the grades we brought home. Our papers and report cards always made her smile. You know another thing we, the fatherless children, learned? We were always among the smartest kids in any class throughout school. I never could figure that one out. My brother and sisters included were very talented students, as were most of the other fatherless children I’ve ever met growing up. Many of us fucked up royally later in life. We did lack a serious component in our lives though, any fuckin’ idea what that could be old man?”

Eric directed that question at Sherman and he said nothing. Only the deep sadness in his eyes responded for him, Eric continued.

“Another thing that I’ve always had is one hell of a memory, which allows me to relive this shit over and over again. For instance, like how the holiday gatherings were occasions we once looked forward too. Suddenly all that shit changed after grandfather died. You still with me old man, you need to listen to what I’m about to say. I’m about to tell you some real shit.” Sherman responded by nodding his head. The pain in his back and legs was getting worse.

“Eric would you please lower the bed just a little, my back is starting to hurt.” Sherman asked.

“Fuck you and your back. I’m not going to let your ass go to sleep on me, and the pain in your back is nothing compared to the pain we’ve suffered. So you’re just gonna have to man-the-fuck-up and deal with the shit the same way we were forced to deal with our pain. Hit that damn morphine drip button, you’ll be alright. As I was saying, family gatherings used to be fun at first, because it gave us a sense of belonging within the family. Finally, my family was accepted by others for who we were. I started out truly loving all the grown-ups as only a child could. I looked up to every adult in  the family who would come to picnics, cookouts, and holiday dinners, until some shit kicked off at one particular Christmas dinner that I have never forgotten. I really thought those bastards cared about us, then after grandfather died, I learned that he was the only reason we were tolerated. Can you imagine what it’s like when a child enters a room full of his aunts, uncles, and adult cousins and he is referred to as one of Donna’s little bastards? The adults would smile and laugh when they said that shit so I thought it was a good thing at first. Do you know what it’s like when you’re told to leave a room that your little cousins can enter, but you can't because they consider you to be different? Others are welcomed and not talked about like animals, especially when their mother is not there to see it or hear it? Of course the child doesn’t know at first that they're talking about him and his family in a fucked up way. Then you realize that you’re treated differently than other kids in the family, and you don’t know why. You’re given different foods from the other kids when your mother is not around. Certain family members don’t want you around their own kids. The presents we got at Christmas, if any, from those fuckers were a joke compared to other kids in the family. I remember one specific year, I was ten years old. It was time for the children to open gifts from family members. All the other children got nice toys and other presents. On this particular Christmas my mother gave very expensive toys and gifts to her sister's and her cousin’s children. It had been pre-planned among the adults, who would buy what for whom. Now mom only ever got one or two nice toys and clothes for each of us, and that was fine, there were five of us. Well on this particular fuckin’ Christmas day, I clearly remember my family sitting at our mother’s feet, at my aunt’s house after we ate dinner. We watched as gifts were exchanged back and forth among all the adults and kids in the family. There were many children. I remember the excited looks and smiles on all the kids' faces as they opened their gifts and screamed out with joy. I remember the gifts from my mother to those other little motherfuckers, and at that time, those were damn nice toys and gifts. I remember my brother and sisters sitting there waiting patiently for our gifts from the family. Waiting for our presents to come around, we watched for damn near an hour. As the pile of wrapped gifts got smaller and smaller, not one of our names was called to get one. My mother bought all that shit for other motherfuckers and not one of them even got her a gift. I remember Uncle Butch had to go back to grandmother’s house just to pick that shit up. Uncle Butch himself gave out four new bikes. We looked at mom and none of us could hold back the tears. My mother jumped up and said, ‘what the hell is going on here, where are the things for my kids?’ Eric smiled as he recalled his mother saying that. You know what those rotten motherfuckers said to her? Her sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins, all them motherfuckers had the nerve to tell her that they were gonna take care of us later. My grandmother was in tears and so were we. I watched my mother turn into the Incredible Hulk on those motherfuckers.”

Eric demanded that Sherman close his eyes as he described what happened next. He wanted Sherman to picture his mother in action defending her family against a bunch of sorry adults, who would purposely treat children that way, to do what he wasn’t around to do.   

“My mother stood there for a second, taking in what her own sister said about taking care of us later, and the look on her face turned menacing. When Ma spoke, she was pissed. ‘Oh, hell no! You niggers must be out of your goddamn minds if you think I’m gonna take this kind of shit from any of you motherfuckers. I do what we all agreed to do and you motherfuckers think I’m gonna let you get away with this shit. I could have spent my money on my own kids if I had known you fuckers were gonna pull this shit. I’ll be damned if I let any of you treat my kids this way.’ She called the names of everyone she bought a gift or toy for. Mom told those little bastards and the older teenagers to give her shit back. She went to the ones who didn't respond and took back all the gifts she'd given them. The fury in her eyes was like fire. No one said shit or tried to stop her. All throughout the house, she went and took her gifts back. She cursed out every adult in that motherfucker along the way, all except my Grandmother and Uncle Butch. Uncle Butch was, himself, disgusted by what they had done to us. I learned something else about my mother that day. How strong she could be and that other family members were afraid of her. I rarely heard my mother curse. I’d never even seen her really angry, but when she went off on those fuckers, not one of them made a move to stop her or even said shit back. Now, Uncle Butch had her back because they were always close, and he was like a surrogate father to us. I don’t think Uncle Butch being there is what kept the rest of those bastards from getting stupid though. They realized how ugly they really were and how fucked up it was to pull that shit on my mother and us. My grandmother told everyone there that if grandfather were here they never would have pulled that stunt on mom. The old dude was really feared, and respected by everybody in the family. I later learned, while growing up, that grandfather always favored my mother since she was the youngest of his daughters. I guess many in the family always resented that, so they took the shit out on us. My mother gathered us up, we got our coats and got the fuck out of there. Uncle Butch walked grandmother to the car and loaded up all those toys and shit. Then, when we were ready to go, he started the car, then turned off the car and went back inside my aunt’s house. About five minutes later, he came out that motherfucker with two of the bikes he had brought over there. He tied them to the hood of his car and we got the fuck away from there. Did you know that the family predicted that we would all end up in jail, as prostitutes, or derelicts living on the streets? That’s what they thought of us, my own fuckin’ family, that was one of the last family functions we ever went to. Our relationships with the entire sorry ass family changed after that. It would be years before I would even speak to any of those bastards again. Hey! Old man, open your eyes. Did you see that, was my description vivid enough for you to picture that shit? Did that give you even a small idea of the kind of shit we had to deal with growing up?”

Sherman looked at Eric and he had no idea what to say to him. He knew there was nothing that he could say that would erase the pain of those early experiences. He looked at Eric, and then turned his head away in shame as he spoke.

“I don’t know what to say Eric, what would you have me do? I can’t change the past and I can’t say I’m sorry enough about what you all went through.”

“You’re right about that old man, but let me ask you a question, because what I told you is just the tip of the fuckin’ iceberg. I want you to answer me this, if you could change your life from what it was, and instead been with us our whole lives as a father should be, would you?”

Sherman closed his eyes and opened them. He looked at Eric and gave him his answer.

“I’m too old to lie to you Eric, and in too much pain. I had a good life and I’ve made many mistakes. As much as it hurts me to say this to you, I wouldn’t change my life as it has been. Not even to be the father that you needed me to be, or to the sixteen other children I have out in the world. You don’t understand how things were back then, you don’t know how it was.”

“Motherfucker, then make me understand why you abandoned us. Tell me why you’d have kids and then just say the hell with them. We needed your sorry ass, and now death is knocking on your fuckin’ door. You show up now and need us for body parts. I can’t believe this, to top it all off you want us to forgive you. Is the answer the same for all your other children motherfucker or just us? Have any or all of them forgiven you for abandoning them? Besides the four people I saw leave this room, how many of your other children have forgiven your sorry ass? Did any of them feel sorry enough for your ass to give you a kidney because you’re dying?” There was a long pause between the two.

“Since you don’t have an answer for me, it must be hell no.”

Sherman said nothing and refused to answer Eric’s questions; the shame he felt prevented him from even looking at Eric. Eric looked at Sherman and he felt a rage build within him that he had felt many times in his life. There was an internal struggle building within him and he tried with all his might to control the thoughts and feelings he was experiencing.

“You lay your sorry ass there and you ask me to forgive you? How the fuck can you possibly think that I would ever do that? You know something old man, even if you would have lied about changing your life, I wouldn’t have believed you. Obviously your idea of being a man was to live your life as you pleased, have goddamn babies everywhere with absolutely no intention of taking care of them what-so-ever. Did you even know that two of my sisters and my baby brother are dead? Do you know how they died or when? I know you’re sorry ass wasn’t at their funerals. Do you have any idea of the toll that took on Ma and the years it took her to get over their deaths? She had to watch three of her children die, no mother should have to deal with that. Where the fuck were you when our lives unraveled? Let me tell you how they died, kids with so much potential trying their hardest to do the right thing. Living in the hood in Southeast D.C., left to the mercy of the streets took a serious toll on all of us. I tried to protect us from a lot of that. I tried as hard as I could, but I wasn’t able to protect us the way we needed. In some cases, I protected them in the wrong ways. I ended up causing my family a lot of pain by going to jail. I was just trying to do what I thought was right. My brother Paul died when he was 17. He and two friends were going out to celebrate their High School Graduation. Paul was always a good kid, not getting into trouble like his older brother. The Air Force recruited him as a Communications Specialist. He was looking forward to starting his military career. Paul planned on going to college while serving in the Air Force. He and his friends went to a movie to celebrate and were heading to a pizza place afterwards. A truck hit the car they were riding in head on while they were stopped at a fucking traffic light. The police told us that Paul and the driver were killed instantly. The young man who was riding in the back seat was crippled for life due to his injuries. Did you even know that my brother is dead? Paul had so much to live for, and he was taken from us like that. The driver of the truck that hit their car wasn’t even scratched. The fucker was a repeat offender with multiple drunken driving convictions. He had no insurance and no compassion for the three young lives he ruined. In court, that bastard showed no remorse or regret, his lawyer portrayed the innocent victims as the guilty parties. They portrayed it as if it was my brother's and his friend’s fault they were stopped at a fuckin’ light when he smashed into them. That motherfucker got off with a slap on the wrist again. I said fuck that, I eventually caught up to him. I dealt with his ass my way. I made sure he’d never kill another young person again, because he got off on getting fucked up drunk, and getting behind the wheel of a car.”

            “Eric what did you do to the other driver.”

“That’s none of your fuckin’ business old man. What you should have been concerned about were the multiple children you had in the world.” When Eric spoke next it was with a fury that sent Sherman’s heart into overdrive.

“You’ll find out soon enough what happened to the driver that killed my baby brother. Now shut the fuck up and listen to how my two younger sisters died. Deborah and Delores were crushed by Paul’s death, and so was I. We did our best to move forward with our lives the way Paul would have wanted. The girls were doing much better than me, for a while it looked like they would be fine. It seemed that bad luck always found a way to fuck with us. My sister Deborah died years later from ovarian cancer. She was a nurse and engaged to be married to a good man. She was on a fast track to get her career going and start her own family. By the time we learned Deborah had cancer, it had spread to the point that there was nothing that could be done for her. We were with her when she died. She went peacefully in her sleep at thirty-two.

Delores never really recovered from Deborah’s death. Ma, Lena, and I tried our best to help her. They were very close, so when Deborah died it was as if a part of Delores died as well. What we didn’t know at the time was that Delores had turned to drugs big time. I suspected it, but by the time we found out what was really going on, she died of a drug overdose at thirty-five. I was in jail at the time for beating her sorry ass boyfriend nearly to death for beating on her. I always suspected him of turning her on to that shit. I was allowed to go to her funeral. Then I spent the next two years in jail for assaulting the man who beat my sister. When I got out, that motherfucker was the first person I went to go see. Let’s just say he’ll never put his hands on anyone else’s sister or daughter.”

Eric looked at his father and smiled, but the smile didn’t convey anything close to happiness. Sherman looked at Eric and wished that a nurse or a doctor would come into his room. This man, who now sat at the foot of his bed terrified him. He did not want to hear any more stories. All these tragic stories about people he never knew. Even if they were his kids, he couldn’t change what happened, and he could do nothing about their lives or deaths. This was not the reason he wanted to see his oldest son. He wished that he would just leave and let him die in peace. All Sherman wanted before he died was to hear his kids say that they loved him, even if it wasn’t true, he just wanted to hear the words. Just maybe one of them would help him live a little longer. He saw something else in Eric’s eyes now, and it terrified him. It had nothing to do with love.

“What do you think so far old man? Do you have anything to say? I use to always wonder what our lives may have been like if our father was with us, not anymore. That thought would creep into my mind from time to time. Now I will grant you this, I have met people who hated their fathers or the motherfucker that lived with the family. He was usually an alcoholic or a deadbeat who wouldn’t work, a junkie, or a woman beater, because he was not man enough to do what he needed to as a man or as a father. Motherfuckers like that did nothing but bring shame to their families. In many cases, when a sorry fucker like that up and left, died, or got locked up, it was a cause for celebration. I already told you a little about how our lives have been, now let me tell you a little about the woman you left behind with her five children. My mother is kind, loving, and generous, just as my grandmother was. She did the best she could with us and I give her all the credit in the world. She protected us, fed us, clothed us, kept a roof over our heads, and sacrificed for us. I can’t say enough about her or praise her enough for the things she did for us, but I guess to someone like you that doesn’t mean Jack-shit. She didn’t do anything more than what a mother is supposed to do for her children, right old man? Was that the secret to your plan? You would choose to fuck women who you thought would be fine raising children without your sorry ass, if they ever got pregnant. My mother got us all to adulthood and did a good job. Fate is what fucked us over. Obviously, at least one of your other baby mama’s did the same thing since I saw four more of your grown children earlier. Did you ask one of the men in that group for a kidney as well? I would have loved to have been here and seen the look on your face when one or both of them told you to go to hell. I’m happy as hell my mother is still here and healthy after all the shit she had to go through, but it damn sure wasn’t easy. My head is fucked up about something though. I need to ask you a question, but first let me help you out with your lines.”

Eric walked over to where Sherman’s IVs were set up; he traced the power cords for the morphine drip and the intercom for the nurse’s station and unplugged them. Sherman’s eyes got wide and he opened his mouth to say something then stopped. He knew his words would have no effect on this man; Eric sat back in his seat.

“I noticed you pushing that damn morphine button a little too much, that shit must knockout the pain fast, but it doesn’t last long does it. How does your back feel old man? I hope your pain won’t become too unbearable. We still have a long way to go. Now the question I want the answer to is where does a sperm donor get off calling himself a father? Can you please answer that for me? Do that and I promise I’ll get the fuck outta here and let your old ass die in peace?”

Sherman did not want to speak; the pain in his back was intense now. He wanted to scream out for someone to help him, anyone, but he was too afraid. He felt himself lose control of his bowels and he shit on himself.

“Goddamn! Old man, did you shit on yourself?  Damn you stink, but I’ll be leaving soon and someone will come clean your nasty ass up. Being helpless is a fucked up feeling isn’t it old man? We still have more talking to do though, so deal with it.”

Sherman understood Eric wanted him to suffer, to humiliate him, but he couldn’t understand what good his suffering would do now. He couldn’t change anything. I’m dying.

“Alright Eric, I’ll try to answer your question, but first could you please plug my pain medication back in and let me call a nurse for help?” Sherman pled in a painful voice. His eyes started to water and the feeling of sitting in excrement was beyond humiliating.

“This is not a negotiation old man, and after you shitted on yourself I don’t want to come anywhere near you. Answer my question, what makes a sperm donor think he’s a father?”

 


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