The words barely made their way out into the atmosphere…hesitant, choked by staggered breaths drawn amidst a river of tears. I hid out of sight as I watched my father, bent over and racked with emotions as he accepted the death of his mother…my grandmother. My heart went out to him. I had NEVER seen my father like this. A strong, confident man with island blood flowing through his veins, he was a man’s man…a “never let them see you cry” man. He was the spine in the body of his family…the voice of reason…the glue that held us all together. And yet, here he was, broken—sobbing over the loss of his mother. I wanted to run to him, tell him that everything would be okay. That he would be able to move on. But how could I, the bastard child of this emotionally wrought man, encourage and uplift my father when I was battling the smile that had formed on the inside at the news of my grandmother’s death? I was happy that she was gone…
“She may be your child but I will never accept her”
My parents always told me that I should stay in a child’s place. As a little girl, I had a knack for having a LOT of mouth and being very opinionated. And I had a tendency to voice those opinions. Most times, folks would hear me before they saw me, but this day, for some reason, I was in quiet mode.
It was my father’s weekend to have me for visitation and he took me to his mother’s house for a visit. As usual, when we walked in, I spoke to my grandmother, hoping that for once, she would not look upon me with disdain in her eyes. Hoping that for once, she would ask me how I was doing. Hoping that just one time, she would ask me how is school…or how is dance class. But, this time was no different than any other time that I had seen her: I spoke, she gave a snotty “Hello” and then proceeded to ignore me. She began stilted conversation with my father and I sat on her plastic covered uncomfortable French Provencial furniture…sweating…the backs of my legs melting into the plastic. I announced that I had to use the bathroom and made my exit. Of course, I didn’t have to use the bathroom…I just needed to get out of that oppressive living room filled with adult conversation and awkward silences. I played in the water a bit. Wet up my grandmother’s decorative soap…yes…the very soap that was for decoration ONLY. I spritzed on her White Shoulders cologne. Opened up every container that I could find in the medicine cabinet. Pretty much went into every cabinet and drawer that I could find in the bathroom until I got bored.
I opened the bathroom door and began to make my way back to the living room but stopped when I heard the whispered rush of heated conversation. I froze in my tracks. I could feel the tension in the air. What were they talking about? And why were they speaking so low? And why was my father’s voice in distress? I crept down the hallway, closer to the living room so that I could hear. Snippets of the conversation floated down the hallway to my ears. Oh My God!!! They are talking about me!!! ME!!!
“No matter how she got her, she is still my daughter!”
“Just because YOU claim her doesn’t mean that I have to!”
“She is my child and I love her.”
“She is not a true (insert family name).”
“Please don’t treat her that way. She doesn’t deserve this. She is just a child. She is my child.”
“Just because she is your child doesn’t mean that I have to accept her.”
Tears welled up in my eyes as I heard these words. My heart was crushed. What had I ever done to this woman to deserve this treatment? Yes, I was a tomboy in the worst way. Yes, I tended to be a bit on the loud side. Yes, I was born to my parents as the result of an extra marital affair…but how is that MY fault?
From the time that I could talk, my grandmother insisted that I call her Mrs. (family name) while all of my cousins, nieces and nephews got to call her Mommy (her first name). My dad would load all of his grandchildren and me (we were the same ages) up in the car and visit my grandmother over the Christmas holidays and she would have pretty little Christmas gifts and candy for them…but nothing for me. So my dad would purchase gifts to give to me at her house so that I would not feel left out. But I knew that the gifts were from him. Afterall, she didn’t know me well enough or want to know me to know that I preferred Stretch Armstrong to Malibu Barbie.
Report Cards would come out and my father would proudly show her the straight A’s that I faithfully earned each school year and she would glance at the cards and roll her eyes as if bored. He invited her to my dance recitals but she was always busy. As a matter of fact, I do not remember ever receiving a hug from her…no smiles sent my way. Yet each time I visited, I dutifully greeted her with a kiss on her smug, slack cheek and hoped that this would be the day that she finally accepted me.
Alas, it was for naught. In my thirteen years of life, she never once fully accepted me or showed me the love that I saw my nieces, nephews and cousins receive. And it hurt me, but hardened me. It also confirmed to me that in her eyes, no matter what I achieved, I would always be The Bastard. So when my father received news of her death from a stroke, my heart broke for him. He lost the first love of his life: his mother. When I received news of my grandmother’s death, I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. No more mandatory visits. No more groveling for acceptance. No more feeling less than. No more seeing other children receive while I got nothing. No more questioning my worth. No more longing for love from a selfish woman who would blame a child for her father’s actions. I was elated. And there were no tears. But, there was the stain of being labeled a bastard.
For years after her death, I struggled with rejection…struggled with feeling like I don’t fit in…struggled with finding my place in my father’s family. I always felt like I didn’t quite belong. I had half brothers and sisters on my father’s side…a half brother on my mother’s side…and there I was in the middle. My father and his family had one name…my mother, her husband and my little half brother had one name…and there I was with a name of my own…and the stain of being a bastard child.
So I studied extra hard and extra long. I did every talent show, entered every art contest, ran every race, did spelling bees, fashion shows…anything to prove my talent and to prove that I was worthy to completely belong to a family. Yet my years were spent rotating weekly visitations, shared holidays and split summers. I was jealous of every child that I met who had a mommy and daddy that were married and living in the same house. I was jealous of my nieces and nephews who shared my father’s last name when I couldn’t even have his name and I was his daughter. I was tired of getting side eyes and stares from church folk who whispered that I was the illegitimate child of my father. I was tired of my friends asking me why my last name didn’t match my mom’s or my dad’s. I was just plain damned tired. Nevertheless, I didn’t stop my one girl show for acceptance. And I never let anyone see me cry.
So many nights I ached. So many times I asked God why I was not enough…why I was not worthy…why I kept reaching out for love from a grandmother who was not prepared or equipped to love a love child. Why even in death, she tormented me. Why, years after her death, her words still bothered me. But most importantly, I asked MYSELF how long will I allow the words of a bitter old woman define who I am and dictate my destiny?
When I asked myself that last question, I allowed myself to move beyond the emotion of being hurt. I allowed myself to look beyond the word “Bastard” that I had engraved on my heart. When I asked myself that question, I allowed myself to consider the fact that while my getting here on earth may not have been done in a correct manner, God saw fit to allow me life…and God doesn’t make mistakes…and He doesn’t make bastards either. As I considered my existence, I was forced to acknowledge that I am fearfully and wonderfully made in His image and that while I may not be accepted by many, HE WILL ALWAYS ACCEPT ME. He tells me to come as I am.
When I began to consider these things, I realized that while the world may call me a bastard child…while my grandmother chose not to accept me, not only does God accept me, but my father’s family and my mother’s family had accepted me 100%. Sure, my name may not match theirs. Sure, I may be a reminder of a forbidden relationship…but at the end of the day, when I took off my bastard colored glasses, I saw total love and acceptance from those who mattered most.
These days, I look back on my grandmother—not in fondness or adoration—but in sadnesss. Because in her lack of acceptance of her granddaughter, she missed out on an awesome little girl with a helluva personality. She missed out on bragging rights about her granddaughter’s straight A’s. She missed photo opportunities after all of the dance recitals. She missed out on conversations about race cars, daddy long legs and Rock’Em Sock ‘Em robots. When I think about it, I wasn’t the one who lost—SHE WAS!!! And I feel bad for her because she could have had some great memories.
Oftentimes, life deals us a crazy hand that is beyond our control. Life isn’t always fair and sometimes, we are placed in less than stellar situations. But I have learned that it’s not the hand that we were dealt that makes us, its how we play the cards. We can accept a losing hand and accept the labels that life gives us. OR we can play the hell out of the hand that we were given and come out stronger, wiser, new and improved. We are not who people say we are. We have the power to label ourselves and to define who we want to be. We cannot give our power of strong self away to people who are less than deserving of even our weakest selves. We must always remember that God doesn’t make junk. Know our self worth. Speak and breathe positivity into our own selves even when the deck is stacked against us. Its how we play our cards that will make or break us.
I refuse to live a bastard life.