There’s a film on Netflix called Little White Lie about a woman who grew up believing she was white when in fact, her father was black. Her white mother, unbeknownst to anyone, had an affair with a black man and got pregnant. As a child, Lacey Schwartz, spent her life looking and feeling different from everyone around her – a fact that was brushed off by her mother and father. As an adult, she bravely made a documentary about finding herself and her identity. She now identifies as a black woman.
Near the end of the film, Lacey’s father refers to his wife having a child that wasn’t his as ‘the ultimate betrayal’ and I said out loud, “No. Betrayal of your child is the ultimate betrayal.” I know. I betrayed my daughter in much the same way. The story isn’t one I’m proud of.
Please note: This is the truth as I experienced it. Others may remember it differently. Be kind to my memories, please.
Kingsbury Elementary, Jr. High and High School plus a small Baptist private school were on the same campus. To boot, kids from other high schools were bussed in to go to the Kingsbury Vo-Tech Training Center. If there’s a way for a child predator to get closer to his prey than living a half-mile away from that campus, I don’t know what it is. Eddie was his name – his real name. I’m not changing it to protect him because he doesn’t deserve protection. If there’s a person in this world living or dead that I can say I hate it would be him, may he burn in hell.
We all called him Queer Eddie, which in retrospect isn’t a fair shake. It should have been Molester Eddie. Pedophile Eddie. Worthless-piece-of-shit-waste-of-oxygen Eddie. But it was the 80’s and we were teenagers, so the most we had the maturity to process was that he was male and he had sex with males, so that made him queer. Never mind that the males he had sex with were ten, twelve, fourteen years old.
Eddie owned a plumbing company – or at least he owned a van with the name of a plumbing company painted on the side. He trolled our blue-collar neighborhood in it, looking for young men who were willing to be “plumber’s helpers” for a few bucks or a nickel bag of weed. On Friday nights, they’d go in groups to the Mid-South Coliseum to watch the wrestling matches. For the boys who stuck around, the rewards got larger. Bicycles. Concert tickets. One boy’s first car – a Cutlass Supreme – was a gift for his 16th birthday. Everyone knew who worked with Queer Eddie, and I guess we all knew about the sex part. The destructiveness of it all was lost on us, though. Even the ones who were involved. Even after Eddie was arrested and charged with Child Endangerment and four of the boys were called to the police station for questioning about their relationship, nothing much changed.
I met Jeffrey at a gang bang when I was 15. For real. I was all fucked up about sex from the years when I was traded to the dope man for a Dilaudid. Jeffrey was all fucked up about sex from working with Eddie since he was 12. My mother was a junkie and his father was an alcoholic. My mother’s abuse manifested as her complete denial that I was a human being rather than a game piece that she could use to get her own needs met. His father’s abuse came by way of violent outbursts at the dinner table about Jeffrey “spreading his ass cheeks for some faggot to fuck him in the ass.” We each thought the other had it worse.
So, Jeffrey and I ended up stoned and naked in the same place and it was the beginning of my first love affair. We understood each other, didn’t judge one another. We both had sex with other people because we had to…every fiber of our being pushed us to. David worked with Eddie every couple of weeks. We were perfect for each other in our brokenness.
Almost two years later, I got pregnant. Jeffrey asked if it was his and I said, “I don’t know.” By now, I was 16 and he was 18 and we pushed forward. He was by my side when my daughter was born. I don’t think either one of us cared whether the biological process that created the baby included his DNA or not. We needed each other too much to consider any alternatives other than staying together. But his family cared and society cared and time spent together became harder and harder. He moved in with Queer Eddie. I moved on to another broken relationship.
By a year old, it was obvious that my daughter was black. My white family, like Lacey’s family, found it easier to overlook the fact but there was no denying it. Soon thereafter, a man came to me and asked if she was his. The father I was hoping for had moved on. This man was black and we had sex. I told him yes without thinking much about it.
His family loved and accepted our daughter immediately – taking her on vacations, buying her Easter dress and doing her hair when she visited every other weekend (thank the gods). They supported me emotionally as well as I made my way through figuring life out and often took my side over his when things got sideways between us. My daughter even lived with the man she knew as her father when I was struggling emotionally and financially to get myself together. All during this time, I knew the truth – I was not sure that the people she knew and loved as her family shared blood with her. There were a few other people in my life who knew this, including my mother and my relationship with her was rough. I lived in fear that she would one day reveal my secret and so, when my daughter was sixteen, I took her to lunch and told her the truth. This led to a conversation with her father, which led to a DNA test which led to a 99.8% chance that he was not, in fact, related to my daughter.
The pain that I caused to people I care about is sometimes unbearable. Though they have maintained their relationship, I know my daughter wants to know who she is. And rightfully so. I hurt people – I hurt my own child – when I lied that day about her paternity. But I’ll tell you a secret – my daughter had a better life than she would have if I had told the truth. That lie gave her a Daddy. A family. An identity that she would not have otherwise had. Because of that lie, my grandson has a Grandaddy and a role model and another person on his side in the world. When I look back, it’s hard to say that I regret it.
What about Jeffrey, you ask?
Some time during the 90’s – by then I was married and had my son,, Joshua –Jeffrey stopped by my mother’s house to report that he’d had twins of his own. In my early 30’s, I heard that Jeffrey was HIV positive. Just a few years ago, I got word that he had overdosed.
I’ve never stop thinking about this man and how much more he deserved than what he got. How much he had to teach the world about love and forgiveness. Sure, we were kids but we we both lived in a very grown-up world long before we should have. His willingness to be vulnerable and broken down made me a better person. His wisdom and his heart changed me. And he deserved more than what he got.
So did my daughter.
We all did, I guess.