It's been over ten years since I received a lot of phone calls on a regular basis. My parents are dead, my siblings disinterested, my friends occasional and my associations nonexistent.
We do though get the obligatory telemarketing calls every day, so each time the phone rings I assume it's a vacuum nozzle hoping to suck the spare change from my pockets, or a finely honed manipulatist about to twist my brain as if they were the clown and I was the skinny balloon, and the eventual shape desired was a facsimile of my signature on some long term contract for kitty hemorrhoid cream or buffalo steak knives.
Sometimes I'm so lonely even an argument with the MCI guy is a reasonable social event, and I keep him on the line as long as I can while still verbally whipping him like a Catholic schoolboy and tossing off vulgarities that rhyme with his name. It's almost like my dad's back from the grave and we're angrily debating who actually started the Vietnam War, who killed JFK or...why the other is to blame for every single misery we've suffered since I had the prenatal notion that the womb wasn't big enough to hold my rapidly swelling head.
But once in a great while, a phone call is grist for a lovely tale.
Hi, my name is Shawna and my mom Roseanne told me you were the guy to call. I'm looking for my daddy and I need his phone number, so please, I'm so excited, please what's his number?
She blabbed on and on about her being raised in Idaho and that her mother speaks highly of me and that she was sure that her daddy and I were still friends; but it wasn't until 5 minutes into her speech that she finally gave up daddy's name and made my life all the more interesting, since up to that point I couldn't imagine who Roseanne was much less who "daddy" might be.
“Freddy” she said, almost squealing it into the phone as if she was pinching herself every time something related to "daddy" passed her consciousness; "Freddy Toper is my father, now may I please have his number?"
And then it all made sense, my past flooded over me like the dirty waters of the Louisiana chemical infested Mississippi delta. I felt excited, nostalgic, and about to puke and I asked the girl to hang on a moment while I collected my thoughts.
Freddy Toper. I don't even know where to begin, in fact he requires a story all his own; there's just too much manure in that outhouse to spread it all here.
I hadn't seen him for years actually, my biker days having been almost 18 years behind me by that point...likely the same 18 years Shawna was old in fact. He was the worst of my past; not the most violent certainly, not the worst druggie or criminal or even role model leading me astray. No, he was the manual on bad relationships, on selfishness and ego, on the pleasures of narcissism, and so of course he was desired by nearly every woman I knew.
I'll save the why I think so's for his tale. Let's just say he delivered seed to a dozen of the fourteen girls that were within our vicious circle, and at last count, six of them bore fruit, this being the spawn of the seventh if her accusation was true; and I'd thought it mighty likely as I was in the labor room, letting her mother remove a few layers of my arm skin while baby Shawna was butting her head against momma's locked door. Of course she was Freddy's girl, I'd only forgotten, there are so many I can't remember them all.
I tried to convince the lass that I had no idea where her father might be, that I'd long since spit him out after flossing the bad taste from between my teeth and wanted no part of her reunion. But that only made her cry, and when that didn't work, threaten legal action as if withholding information from a formerly fatherless child in search of her spermmaster was a litigious offense.
She was convinced, poor thing, that I was protecting the piece of crap she dearly wanted to meet, they guy who'd never so much as kissed her forehead much less bought her a drop of milk in 18 years. I took what abuse she gave as gracefully as I could, not that I had to obviously, but because if she'd been my daughter looking for me I'd want a stranger to humor her in her frustration.
She finally hung up on me, screaming that she'd make me tell one way or another. And I just lit a smoke and reveled in my past life a moment, as if it was as romantic as I want to paint it when I'm feeling my present is less by comparison.
The next day I got the same call, the same result and the same threats; and then the next day and the next. The girl was tenacious, I'd give her that. But I still didn't know where the creep was and I'd cut my ties with anyone who might, so I didn't even have a number to pass on to her.
I hit the street finally; determined to get the teen off my back and onto someone's who might still give a rip about her dad. Eventually I found what I was looking for, there are only so many pool halls and beer bars in the Twin Cities, and only so many of those enjoy the crowds that I once hung with.
I gave her the name of my confidante' the next day when she'd called to stick my head on her pike for the last time. She was eternally grateful, prattling on about how she'd found a job working at a local strip club and they'd found her an apartment and now that she'd found "daddy" they'd be all snuggly and huggy and stuff.
At that moment I nearly lost it. I so badly wanted to scream for her to run as fast as she could, back to Idaho or even further if possible. I ached to tell her that her so called father was an absolute jerk who would only drag her into his web and suck her dry spiritually, emotionally and financially as he'd done to everyone he'd ever touched. I clenched my teeth so I didn't spill the beans; that she would be better off to believe she was the product of an immaculate conception, that she was formed by two eggs combining as a miracle of modern science. I almost told her I was her father; but my self effacement got in the way. No matter what a slug Freddy was, I can match him squirm for squirm; at least that's what my anti-ego tells me.
So I said nothing beyond good luck.
I learned later that she'd found him alright. He'd become sort of a regular at her club over time. He'd never consented to a dna test, so never proved his parentage one way or another; and that gave him the right to watch his daughter take off her clothes and dance for dollars. I hear she loved him all the same, that she was so desperate to have a father in her life she would even accept one who wouldn't admit to being related, one whose only financial contribution to her raising was the occasional dollar slipped into her garter during happy hour.
I wonder sometimes whether I should answer the phone when it rings, whether it's a crank or a salesman or a lobbyist for some political hack I'm not interested in. But then it dawns on me that if I just let it go unanswered, I might just miss something unbelievable. When they say your past comes back to haunt you, they're not quite right. It uses the telephone mostly, haunting comes later...it's not dead yet.