I hadn’t expected my Dad to engage in a conversation with me about the diaries when I asked if he knew what they were so I was surprised when he placed his laptop on the table next to them and sat in the vacant chair beside me. It had been years since he and I shared a meaningful exchange about anything other than my mental health and even those few discussions were more instructional than conversational. I was suspicious about my father’s intentions as I felt the finger of paranoia stroke my brain sending the familiar tingles of apprehension and doubt throughout my psyche. What if this was an ambush? Perhaps my Dad was laying a trap for me so that he might collect evidence that I had stopped talking my medication and then he could show Mother and Dr. Worth his proof and they’d send me back to the hospital. Well, if that was what was happening then I would have to be careful with my questions and not freely offer my father information that he didn’t already possess about my current state of being. I was not returning to the hospital. I didn’t belong there and I wouldn’t allow them to put there.
“Does Mr. Stokes have you researching the Salem Witch Trials?” Dad inquired, gesturing to the diaries. His question was innocent enough and he seemed genuinely curious about my reason for having the journals in my possession.
“Oh no. I mean, he has given a lecture about the Trials, but I was more interested in our family history,” I admitted. “And I remembered that you always told me that our family could be traced back to Salem.”
“Indeed it can,” Dad nodded, standing from his chair and strolling over to one of the tall bookcases that lined the room as he spoke. “Our ancestors were some of the first settlers of the most significant seaport in early American history. The roots of our family tree go back to the Williams of Salem.”
I watched as he scanned the books on the top shelf and retrieved a tall leather bound journal that looked old and worn, similar to the diaries I had received from Elizabeth Bennet. He retraced his steps to the table and handed it to me. “Pertinent information about our family’s heritage has been recorded in this journal.”
I was shocked. I had been unaware that our family kept records of anything and to hear that such a document had been shelved in the very room where I spent copious amounts of time with my tutors was an unexpected revelation.
“Yes, it has,” he smiled; his face seemed to glow. “This journal has been passed down from generation to generation so that an accurate record of our family’s lineage could be preserved. It was given to Rachel a few years before your grandmother died.”
“Why do you have it?” I asked. “I mean if it was given to Aunt Rachel, why is it here in our library?”
He shrugged his shoulders as he removed his suit jacket and hung it on the back of the chair he occupied “I don’t recall. It’s been here since Daniel was born. Rachel gave it to me so I could record your brother’s information and then yours. I guess she just never reclaimed it, knowing it was safe here with us.”
I placed the journal on the table beside the diaries and gingerly opened the cover. I was curious as to what sort of information had been documented. Were there simply the names and dates of our family members scrawled in black ink or would I find more detailed information? What had my father written about my brother? About me? I carefully flipped through the book scanning the words written in the penmanship of different individuals on each of the yellowed pages I passed by searching for names I recognized. I soon discovered that some entries documented were simple; date, name, location, weight, length, and hair and eye color, while other entries included additional notations that were anywhere from a paragraph to a page in length.
Dad reclaimed the chair he had vacated and studied me with an expression I had difficulty reading.
“I knew even before you were born that you were going to be special, but I don’t think,” he paused then corrected himself, “No, I know I didn’t understand how special you were or how you would impact our family.”
Was this my opening? He stated that he knew I was special, but what exactly did he mean by “special”? Would it be unwise for me to mention my abilities? Have him listen to my MP3 player and show him what I had done with Josh Keyes, Ryan Fuller, and his colleague, Peter Morrell? Or was there a better approach? Did he know that Aunt Rachel was “special” too?
“Your aunt knew that you were going to be born earlier than your due date,” he explained, reaching out his left hand to absently caress the edge of the top leather journal that sat between us on the table. The face of his wrist watch peeked at me from beneath the cuff of his shirt and I found myself captivated by the ticking of the golden minute hand as he continued relaying his story. “She called the day before your Mother went into labor hoping to prepare her, I imagine, but of course because your Mother is … well, your Mother, she didn’t give any credence to Rachel’s warning and because babies are often born early I, too, was unconcerned. But your aunt, well, she was upset, which seemed rather odd to me, so me, being me, I grilled her about it until she reluctantly told me that it wasn’t just that you were going to be born early, but that she had witnessed a number of other circumstances and events surrounding your Mother’s pregnancy, that when she added them to your premature birth – it troubled her.”
Aunt Rachel was troubled by circumstances and events that surrounded Mother’s pregnancy and my birth? Something about this thought, this idea that Aunt Rachel was concerned incited fear within me, followed quickly by an instinctual knowing. I held some sort of knowledge or memory of the reasoning for my aunt’s apprehension.
“What do you mean ‘circumstances and events’?” I asked; my heart beating loudly in my chest. I knew what he was referring to even before he revealed anything more.
“I was at the office when your Mother called me,” he continued without acknowledging I had asked him a question, but I didn’t think he heard me; he seemed lost in his memory. “I knew something was wrong because she rarely phoned me while I was at work. She told me that she had made arrangements with Rachel to come by the house and bring her to the obstetrician’s office. She had been awoken by what she believed were false contractions, but once she got out of bed and began moving around, she found that she also had some lower back pain and pelvic pressure and she was concerned that perhaps she was in labor. When your aunt arrived at the house and spoke with your Mother, she quickly made the decision to bring her to the hospital instead of the doctor’s office, a wise decision, because only minutes after arriving at the ER you were born. Three weeks early, just as your aunt predicted.”
“In a pool of blood,” I added, which snapped my father back into the present time with me.
“Did Rachel talk with you about this?”
I shook my head. “No. Daniel was the only one who’s ever said anything about my birth. When we were kids he told me that he overheard Mother talking with Aunt Brenda about how it was hard for her to push me out and that she lost so much blood she almost died.”
“Yes, indeed there was a lot of blood,” Dad confirmed my brother’s words, “and I’m not put off by the sight of it, but I admit I was concerned that morning; everyone in that room was concerned not only about the blood loss, but by the dramatic drop in your Mother’s blood pressure and the spike in her heart rate. There was a general consensus with the doctor’s that she was hemorrhaging and even though they attempted to stop it in the ER she had to be rushed to surgery.”
My Mother’s conduct had been finally made clear to me. Up until that moment I hadn’t understood why she was so harsh with me, so critical and cold. I had internally rationalized her behavior as self-centeredness and a fondness for material possessions, without fully comprehending the source of her cool detachment, but as my Dad explained the circumstances surrounding my birth, I understood that my previous reasoning was inaccurate or perhaps just incomplete. I was to be her only biological daughter and her last child. With my birth any hope of future children had been lost, ripped away from her as I tore myself into this world, and into her life. As I inhaled my first breath I snatched away her choice for more children.
“She blames me for her hysterectomy,” I disclosed to Dad my current revelation. “And she hates me for it.”
“What?” Dad exclaimed in shock. “No, no, Angie. You’re wrong. She doesn’t.”
“Yes, she does, Dad.”
“No, Angie. She doesn’t,” he emphasized. “You misunderstand her. Your Mother doesn’t hate you, she doesn’t blame you. She’s afraid of –”
“Me? She’s afraid of me?” I asked both shocked and angry. I wasn’t convinced that my Dad knew my Mother. Perhaps he was living in a state of denial about what really motivated his wife.
He reached across the table for my hand and squeezed it. “Yes.”
I looked into his eyes. I hadn’t realized how much they resembled Aunt Rachel’s. I felt my throat tighten as I watched the tears gather in his eyes.
“Are you?” I choked out in a whisper.
“Yes,” he said. “I am afraid, but not of you. I’m afraid for you. I don’t want you to get hurt and I’m constantly thinking of ways to ensure your safety.” He paused, holding my gazed as the tears slowly spilled down his cheeks. “But I realize that you are no longer a little girl and you’ve grown beyond me, beyond my ability to protect you.”
“Dad,” I began, “I don’t think you ever could.”