Robin Antalek | Longreads | April 2020 | 18 minutes (4,599 words)
In 1964, when my mother was pregnant with my younger brother, she found out that her husband, my father, had married another woman and that woman was pregnant as well. My father’s new wife had left her family and three small children, and then she and my father had created a subset family, making us a complicated algebraic formula, resistant to logic. He and his new wife lived together somewhere in Fairfield County, Connecticut, commuting distance to their jobs in Manhattan, where they had met. For a while they lived in his red Volvo wagon that smelled of his ever present Camel cigarettes.
Once, way before my brother, he drove us in that same red Volvo wagon down the wide tree lined Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn to a pre-war apartment building overlooking Prospect Park for a visit with his parents. The adults gathered in a room with windows that offered a view of the tops of the trees while, at 3, I remained in the kitchen with the housekeeper and a parakeet in a cage in front of a window that looked out onto a brick walled airshaft.
The bird turned its back on us while I ate Milano cookies. When dinner was ready the housekeeper took my hand in hers and led me into the big room. I was too full to eat the bright pink roast on the broad, gold-rimmed dinner plates, or sip from the tiny glass of tomato juice resting on a paper doily on a miniature plate. I know the attention on me was uncomfortable and confusing. My feet dangled from the chair in patent leather shoes and I was reprimanded by my father more than once for kicking the bar that stretched between the legs. Tucked in the large bureau behind me was a Batman and Robin coloring book, a gift chosen I supposed because of my name, not gender, along with a fresh pack of crayons, promised to me only if I ate my entire dinner. Later I am shattered, inconsolable, my face rubbed raw against the shoulder of my father’s tweed coat as he carries me from the apartment, a piece of meat still lodged between my cheek and molars.