1 – Whose Child Am I?
I didn’t go to the funeral. I couldn’t. I thought about it as I stepped up to the front door of the house in which I’d grown up. I couldn’t go there and act like I really mourned that bastard. The only regret I had was that it didn’t happen much sooner.
I fished the key from my pocket and unlocked the door, entering with mixed feelings. I promised myself I’d never come back here.
I looked around the foyer. Nothing had changed. I ran my hand along the banister at the bottom of the staircase. Except maybe the dust. The old germophobe would have a stroke if he could see that.
I went to the old man’s study. There were two walls of bookshelves–mostly related to his work. There were framed documents, all recognitions of his accomplishments. There were no personal mementos, no family photographs. It wasn’t Joseph Sadowski’s style. The only thing that ever mattered to the old bastard was his work.
I pushed the familiar feelings of resentment aside. I hadn’t come back here to revisit the past. That was the last thing I wanted. The old man was gone now, and truth be told, I was glad. I wouldn’t be sticking around for the reading of the will. I was fairly certain I wasn’t mentioned in it, anyway. No, I’d come to get my personal property before the house was vacated and turned over to whoever had inherited it.
The old SOB always had cash in the safe. That made about as much sense as everything else he did. I opened the safe and found an envelope that contained a stack of large bills. I tucked it into my backpack and turned my attention back to the safe. You owe me, Joseph. This won’t begin to cover the debt, but I’ll take it.
There was also a small case containing half a dozen flash drives and flash drives. I turned on the computer, the one I’d never been allowed to touch while the old man was alive, then removed one of the drives from the case and put it into the USB port on the computer. The files appeared on the monitor. I opened them, one by one. It was all gibberish to me. Notes from the old man‘s work. Hard to believe that SOB was a genius, I thought.
Then something caught my eye. One of the files bore my name. I clicked on it and opened it. At first, it made no sense. Then I saw the words that in seconds turned my entire life into a lie….
I walked alone through the cemetery, not sure exactly where the old man had been buried. It took me almost half an hour to find the grave, even with the directions I received from the caretaker. “I’ll bet you’d be surprised to see me here, wouldn’t you, Father?” I asked aloud, studying the grave marker dispassionately. “To be honest, I’m surprised to be here. Never thought I’d ever come back. Sure didn’t plan on it–but then, I don’t really have anywhere else to go, do I?”
I knelt by the grave. “This is the closest thing I have to a real home, thanks to you. I don’t have a family, don’t belong anywhere. You never even told me who my biological father was.” I was silent for a moment. “People like me only have one true parent, don’t they?”
I found it appropriate that the marker bore only his name, date of birth and date of death. “No ‘beloved husband and father,’ no sentimentality. I know how you would have hated that,” I said, as if he could hear me.
“So how do I find out where I came from, old man? You destroyed most of your records–and what you didn’t shred, the authorities seized. Anybody who might have known has either been arrested or has dropped off the face of the earth.” I took a deep breath. “Andrew knew, didn’t he? Of course–Andrew always knew everything. You let him in on all of your experiments.
“What about Mother–Dorothea?” I asked. “Did she know the truth? Would she be able to tell me?”
I stood up again. “If I were to make any bets, I’d say Andrew was more likely to know the truth. Problem is, I have no idea where your favorite son has gone.”
I forced a smile. “Hate to cut this short, Dad, but I have no desire to end up a lab rat–and I’m pretty sure if they find me, they’re not going to just let me ride off into the sunset. They’ll probably dissect me to see if I’m really human. No, thanks. See you in hell, Dad.”
I pulled my tattered baseball cap low over my brow as I extended my arm and turned my thumb upward. Hitchhiking wasn’t going to be easy–so few motorists were willing to pick up a man alone these days–but it was the only way I could leave Boston without being spotted. The authorities would have people posted everywhere–but what were the odds of being spotted out here, on the highway?
A car slowed to a stop on the shoulder a few yards ahead of me. I ran to it and found the driver to be an elderly man alone. “Where’re you headed, young man?” the old timer asked.
“South,” I said. “As far as you can take me, I’d appreciate it.”
The old man nodded. “I’m going to visit my granddaughter in Hartford, Connecticut. I can take you that far,” he said.
“Thanks. I appreciate it, sir.” I tossed my duffel bag and backpack into the back seat and slid into the front passenger seat. The old man pulled back into the right hand lane and drove away….
From that day on, I never stayed anywhere for long. I never formed relationships, never let anyone get too close. I couldn’t.
Six months after I hitchhiked out of Boston, I was living alone in a third-floor walk-up in Harlem, all that I could afford when I first arrived in New York–but now, I was two months behind in my rent and facing eviction. My cue to move on. Time to head for a place where odd jobs would be more plentiful.
I ran a comb through my hair. That night, I was washing dishes at a diner in Queens. I would make barely enough to buy food. It had come to that–food or a roof over my head. I had gone from being the only child of a wealthier-than-Midas couple to working odd jobs to pay the rent. I’d gone from being their son to not knowing exactly where—or who—I came from.
I picked up my Bible as I headed off. I’d been studying the world’s religions since my days in Paris, knowing it would have infuriated the old man. I did a lot of things for that same reason—from growing my hair down past my shoulders to riding motorcycles to my love of classic rock music. I would have entered the clergy, had I not loved art so much.
Art. I hadn’t picked up a sketchbook in months, let alone a paintbrush. My heart hadn’t been in it since that day in Boston, the day I learned the truth about my birth. Would it ever be again?