Some of you asked and, because we're a small group and I trust everyone here, I'll tell you. I don't know what you will think of me after you know, because to tell you how nineteen years were lost, I have to tell you things about me that I haven't written about before.
On March 20th, the same day that California's governor ordered a statewide lockdown in response to the pandemic, I became a father. I'm 54. My daughter is 19. Her name is Melody Rain and I knew within five minutes of our first conversation that, yes, she is my child. She uses weird phrases I would or do use, loves rock and roll and Broadway musicals, writes poetry and bears the family curse of unruly eyebrows. She loves cats and she wants to live on the road in a camper. She's an activist and a survivor of abuse. She's thoughtful and sarcastic and cynical. She has said things to me that have infuriated me only because she sounds exactly like me. I've only described her to you by way of what I see in her that's me and you can't possibly begin to know her based on that. Everything else about her, all the things unrecognizable, is a nineteen year mystery that I've only begun to unravel. I love every single clue she gives me.
I met Melody's mother in 1992. I was only four years off the road and at that time in my life, settling down had brought me more darkness than even the hardest highway ever had. Out on the road, just a vulnerable boy, I avoided all the drugs, crime and most of the violence. By the time I was 25 and living in my own apartment (it was a shack in the desert), I was a petty criminal with a violent temper and a hardcore crystal meth habit. I met her at a friend's house and, to be honest, it was her name that turned me on to her first. Wendy. Even in those wasted years, my love for Bruce Springsteen remained true. If the romantic notion of her name hadn't been enough to make me love her, she was a disc jockey at the local FM station and she had hair like a lion's mane.
It only took us two hours to get down to a couple of the things I loved best. Motorcycle riding and sex. We didn't date, we didn't court, we didn't even discuss it. We were a couple and two days later I moved into her little vintage trailer. Now, just in case this story seems like a romance, don't forget about the violence, the crime and all that crystal meth.
I know what the Bible says about hell, but not once does it mention the interior of that little silver trailer.
We were fucked. Within days we were fighting, but I didn't leave. Whatever energy we had between us was deadly. We were vicious to each other, but she'd beg me to stay. She'd throw me out and call me right back. She spit in my face. She bit me on the back of my neck. She slept with other men whenever we fought. We fought all of the time. I was always getting in trouble and getting arrested. I called her names; the ugly and horrible ones. She told me she was glad my mother was dead. We broke the mirrors, the television, the cups and glasses. We never slept. We did drugs and we fought. I killed her goldfish and she stood over me and broke every one of my Springsteen CDs with her bare hands. Now, usually hell is eternal, but we wreaked a lifetime of havoc in just four months and imploded. No, that's not right. We exploded. Our ending was ugly enough that it impacted some of the other loser drug fiends we were connected to. I took my leather jacket, my old duffle and my bike and I was gone. I never saw her again.
Until 2000 when we ran into each other outside a used record store. I could see in her eyes that she hated me and I knew in my soul I hated her so we spent the rest of that day in a room at the Motel 6. We did the one thing we were ever any good at and I never heard from her again.
Until five months after that when she forced my phone number out of a friend and called me in the middle of the night. "I'm pregnant." "Who's the father?" We had a cruel conversation, she told me I would never see my kid and I never heard from her again.
Until four months after that when she called me to tell me I had a daughter. I could hear the baby. I told her I wanted to see her and have a paternity test done and she told me to fuck off and I fucked off. I didn't think about it much after that.
Until two years after that when I got a letter from the State informing me that I was being sued for past-due child support. I went to the Family Services office and was swabbed for a paternity test. They told me they would notify me after paternity was determined, but I never heard from them again.
Until 2005 when I got a letter from the State informing me that the lawsuit had been dismissed and I owed no overdue or future child support. That's it. There was no reason given, no determination of paternity. A friend of mine who may or may not have been a paralegal told me that they wouldn't dismiss the child support claim if I were the father. I called Family Services and got ran around without getting any information. I believed I wasn't the child's father.
Until last Spring when I started getting texts, facebook messages and even a PM on Greasy Lake, all telling me a girl named Melody was trying to contact me and that she said she is my daughter. Everyone she contacted was linked to me somehow on the internet, either through facebook or my never-used instagram account. I wondered why she hadn't just contacted me directly, but I understood. I told a friend to giver her my phone number and a few minutes later my phone rang.
We talked for six hours. We cried and we told stories and we argued about her mother and we talked about music and Star Wars and pot and poetry. She sent me pictures and I knew her face in an instant. She looks like her mom, but she looks like my niece and nephews. She looks like a Holeman. I knew without a doubt that she was my daughter and the conversation ended with her demanding a promise from me. I met her demand and told her that I wouldn't ever leave her now that she had found me.
I never will.
We have talked nearly every day since then and I know about her friends and her job and her college. She's so smart and funny and smart-mouthed. She's such a little stoner and so brilliant and her favorite band is The Rolling Stones. That's her mom's favorite, too. She's open to me and forgiving of me and patient with me and comfortable with me and she doesn't even hate me.
I am her father, but I know nothing about being a father to a 19 year old girl and I'm bound to fuck this up, but I'm determined not to. I let her speak her mind and tell her truth, I accept her sly accusations and her resentments because they come with her love. I paid her rent the last two months and it is the best money I have ever spent in my life. This kid fucking loves me. I mean, she really loves me. And I love her so, so much and I can't explain it. Not to myself and not to you.
She's told me much about the years we missed and now I know that the child support case was dismissed because Wendy defied the courts and never showed up to have Melody's DNA tested. They moved a lot and Wendy married twice with two divorces. They ended up in Arizona, in a place called Surprise. Yes, Surprise. Seems fitting.
I've told her much about the years we missed, too, and we've come to the mutual opinion that we're grateful for now. She's found me at a time when I'm a much better man than I used to be and I'm thankful that I've cleaned up my act enough over the years that I can be a positive influence in her life now. I wasn't there when she needed me, but I'm here now and she still needs me.
I need her, too, even if I never knew it.
I wrote this poem last night and sent it to her and she said it's the best poem I've ever written and that makes me feel more like a writer than all my mediocre book sales combined.
That’s my beautiful daughter’s
My secret pain
Is just an absent father’s
To find her so familiar
And still such a mystery
To know her blood is my blood
And yet no shared history
I’m just a broken branch
on her family tree
And she’s a brand new link
In an old, old chain
That’s my beautiful daughter’s
I don't know what else to tell you except that beyond here lies mystery and that I freely admit my guilt. My daughter forgives me. If you don't, I've still got that.