Even though my mother had kept this from me, at least I was able to communicate with her. As for my father, I couldn't bring myself to speak to him for several weeks; I knew, deep down, that he was likely responsible for how things were handled, or mishandled. After all, he had played a key role in virtually all the most painful moments in my life up to then.
My father was not a man of the modern age, and even though he loved the United States, he was very much an old-school Romanian. As a father and husband, he ruled our house with an iron fist. Decisions were made by him, obeyed by us, and explained by nobody. To question my father's reasoning as a child was invitation for punishment, and as an adult was invitation for outbursts.
Starting with my teenage years, I had clashed with my father many times but had never really been angry with my mother, not in this way. I always felt sorry for my mother; she had such a difficult marriage and wasn't treated the way I believed a wife should be treated—with love and respect.
My home life throughout my childhood was turbulent, at best. Tata's rage and temper tantrums took a toll on my family. We often found ourselves hiding in separate rooms. I can barely recall a single holiday when my father didn't make a scene or create some kind of chaos. We were always walking on eggshells. As a child, I never understood his rage, and I still struggle to understand why he did such horrible things to the family he was supposed to love.
But things had started to soften between my father and me at the time I received Jennifer's package. We still clashed on many issues, but his battle with a rare form of eye cancer had significantly shifted the dynamics of our relationship. He took a big leap when he allowed himself to get emotional and melancholy in my presence. However, all the old feelings of frustration and alienation returned when I discovered that he and my mother had kept this huge secret from me for twenty years.
Despite being physically weakened by the cancer treatment, my father's retelling of Jennifer's birth was matter-of-fact and decidedly old-school.
"You must remember, Dominique, we were very poor, struggling to survive and put food on the table. When she was born, the doctors told me that we wouldn't be able to afford her medical bills. I saw her, and she was born with no legs. We had no money and no insurance. We could barely take care of ourselves and you."
No legs?! What does that mean, no legs? I thought. My father had a knack for embellishing, so I never quite knew what to believe.
"That's what I remember."
And that was it. Nothing more. I'm sure the finer details after twenty years in the vault were a little fuzzy, but I expected more— something, anything. I needed more of the story, more pieces to a puzzle that was becoming more confusing with each new detail, but my father had said his piece and offered no more.
Once again, it was my mother who tried to help me understand.