"Why are you here?"

       I hear him but I don’t answer. Looking out the window I watch a squirrel struggling to climb a tree branch. The branch is weak, just developing, and the squirrel loses balance as he reaches for a nut on a better limb. Falling gracefully, he rolls over and quickly scurries back up the trunk, determined to get what he wants. Watching the squirrel land on the grass again I think about the day I finally told my mom that I know the truth she didn’t have to hide it from me anymore.

     “Have you ever smoked grass?” I asked my mom just after she had taken her Valium and poured herself a glass of white wine. She sat next to me at the dinner table and laughed, brushing my bangs out of my face.

     “Oh honey, I’ve never even mowed grass.” She studied my face. “Has someone asked you to smoke grass with them sweetie? You know, you can just say no. Drugs are…well, you know, marijuana is a gateway drug.”

     “Nobody asked me to get high. I don’t want to get high. Drugs are stupid. I’m never going to do drugs. They’re what killed my real mom you know.”

     Wiping the wine from her chin mom stared at me in disbelief for a long time before she spoke again. She tried to speak sweetly but there was hostility in her voice. “Why do you think that drugs killed your real mom honey? Your dad and I don’t know anything about the girl who put you up for adoption and your records are sealed sweetie.” The way she pronounced sweetie let me know she didn’t think I was so sweet. She spoke in a halting voice, “Until you’re 18 we can’t find out anything about her other than medical history and drug abuse is not listed in it.”

      Nothing makes me angrier than when people treat me like I’m stupid. I just told her the truth. “Mom, you don’t have to keep protecting me from the truth, I’ve already figured it out. Janis Joplin was my real mother.”

     I’d never seen anybody do a spit take in real life before that day, now I’d seen it done twice. Nobody on earth is better at over reacting than my mom. That’s why I’m here.

     “Do you know what delusions of grandeur are?”

     I hear him, but I don’t answer.

    “I need you to answer a few questions for me Laura. Please? Just to satisfy your mother. She wants answers.”

     “She wants to justify my coming here to my dad. He thinks shrinks are scam artists.”

    Dr. Levine chuckles. I like the way he laughs. It’s the way I think all educated people must laugh. My dad sounds like the laugh track of a cheesy sit-com when he laughs. He’s the foreman at a plant. The only thing he and Dr. Levine have in common besides being men is that they both carry clipboards. Clearing his throat, Dr. Levine asks me another question, “What year is it Laura?”


     “Where do you live?”

     Beaumont, Texas.”

    “How old are you?”


  “When were you born?”

      “October 4, 1966.”

       He pauses for a moment and chews on his bottom lip. “What is 16 plus 16?”


     Every week he gives me the stupid pop quiz on math. Apparently if I don’t know the answers it’s a clue into exactly how screwed up I am. It makes no sense to me. He asks me to add 32 plus 32.

        “Are you giving me a math test or testing my sanity Dr. Levine? Because let me tell you, I’m failing geometry right now and if you listen to my mom, you’d think I was failing the sanity test too.”

     “Fair enough Laura. Your mother says that you are adopted. How long have you known you were adopted?”

       “I don’t remember not knowing. Denny always made sure that I knew it.”

      “Denny is your older brother?”

      “He’s my mom and dad’s real son. I mean, I’m real Dr. Levine, I know I’m real, okay. What I mean is they made him.” I stick my tongue out and squint my eyes after saying that. Yuck. “He was 19 when they adopted me. When I was born he was away in basic training. You know all of this Dr. Levine. You see Denny too. What’s his diagnosis?”

     “I’m not at liberty to discuss his case with you. So, Dennis always let you know that you are adopted?”

    I cannot remember the first time I met Denny but I can clearly remember the Easter I was three years old and Denny dressed up like the Easter Bunny. He was hiding the eggs from me and some other neighborhood kids when I bumped into him. Putting a finger over his lips he winked at me.

    “Is that you Denny?” I asked him.

    He nodded his head.

    “Wow, I didn’t know you were the Easter Bunny.”

     Bending down on one knee to look me in the eye he kissed the top of my head,

    “There’s a lot of things you don’t know about me kid.”

    “Yes. It seemed important to him that I know the truth.”

     “And what is the truth?”

      I don’t answer him. I don’t like this. For six weeks I’ve been coming to Dr. Levine’s office and he’s been trying to get inside. Today I decide to let him in. “I know that my mom told you that I know that Janis Joplin is my mother; the one who gave me up for adoption. I can’t prove it Dr. Levine; it’s just something I’ve figured out. That’s why she started bringing me here. She thinks I’m crazy. So what do you think?”

    He looks at his clipboard and nods his head. Not a good sign. Thumbing through a thick manila folder he reads a few pages before looking at me again. It’s a good thing that I am comfortable with silence.

    At home we live in a hushed environment. The silence is interrupted only by laughter when something funny happens on the television or by the sounds of Denny having another one of his temper tantrums. I think there have been times in my house when nobody has spoken to each other for at least three days. Of course, we are civil towards one another but when somebody asks you how your day was, it’s just to be polite, not because they really want to know. Silence is something I’ve just learned to live with.

     Yet, I know that in this silence dozens of unsolved mysteries lay buried. Hidden secrets that if revealed have the power to completely alter the world as I know it. Yes. It’s safer to remain quiet. You grow numb. Asking a psychiatrist whether they think you are crazy or not and then not having them answer you for longer than a full minute can be a little unnerving however. The seconds creep by slowly. With each tick I imagine the worst possible outcome. I can see myself restrained in a straight jacket, babbling incoherently.

    “You are not mentally ill Laura. I cannot diagnose you with a mental disorder, which would require medication. You have a few quirks. What 16 year old doesn’t? Talk therapy could be helpful if you desire it.”

    I hadn’t realized I was holding my breath. It feels good to fill my lungs with air. “Was that Denny’s file you were reading?” I ask, hoping for clues.

    “I’m not at liberty to discuss his case with you Laura.” He turns the folder upside down so that I cannot read the patients name. He’s a very clever man. I have to ask him, I have to know.

    “Is Denny a paranoid schizophrenic?”

    Dr. Levine sighs deeply, “Are you a doctor now Laura?” Shaking his head he leans in closer to me, “No. Laura, Denny is not a paranoid schizophrenic. The only reason I’m telling you that he isn’t is because he lives with you and I agree you have the right to know the truth. But let me ask you, what makes you think he is?”

    “He just acts weird. I had to know, it’s genetic you know.”

     “Yes, but Laura, you’re adopted remember.”

    Now I lean in because I have to read his face when I tell him this, “He’s my father you know. You do know, don’t you? That’s why I had to know whether he’s a schizoid or not.”

    Dr. Levine would make an excellent poker player, “Did Dennis tell you that he is your father?”

     I lean far back in the chair, rocking the front feet off the ground and nearly fall down.       

   “No, he didn’t need to. I figured it out.”

   “I see. Do you like to figure stuff out? Are you the curious type?”

    I set the feet of the chair back down, “My dad says I am. He says curiosity killed the cat, but you know what I say? Satisfaction brought him back. I’m like a cat, you know? I always come back, ready to attack.”

    “What does that mean?”

    He quickly scribbles notes onto the notepad attached to his clipboard. Does he amuse guests at dinner parties with the crazy stuff his patients share with him? I chew on my bottom lip before I answer him. “I don’t know really, I read it in one of Denny’s notebooks. It’s from something he wrote. I memorized it. It says: I’ve already died. I’ve been crucified and committed suicide but like a cat I have nine lives to die and I always come back, ready to attack. I don’t know what it means. I never know what Dennis means. I wish I understood him. Maybe then, I would understand myself a little bit better.”

    “How would understanding him help you understand yourself?”

   “You can’t know where you’re going, until you know where you’ve been.” I read that in one of his notebooks too. I sigh deeply and in this sigh I hear my mom’s voice. That scares me for some reason. How else am I like her?

    His wristwatch beeps. It’s one of those Japanese watches that drive me crazy. This means the session is over. It’s the most I’ve ever talked to him. He stands up, so I stand up. Putting his hand on my back, he speaks, “Laura, have you told your mom that you think Dennis is your biological father?”

    I look up at him, I would not be a good poker player, “No,” I say it so weakly that my voice is barely audible so I shake my head.

    He looks into my eyes and says, “Don’t.”

    Nodding my head I follow him into the waiting room.

    My mom shoves a National Geographic into her bag. It’s not hers. It was in a stack of magazines here in the waiting room. She does that every time we go to a doctor or the dentist, she steals their National Geographic. I asked her once why she just doesn’t subscribe to that magazine. Mom just sighed and said it would be a waste of money. Then she told me that doctors expect you to steal their magazines and that’s part of why they pad the bill. Seems to me if she just spent the $36 a year on a subscription she’d save a lot of money on doctor bills.  Straightening out her skirt she smiles at us then hugs me a little too tightly. I guess she’s trying to prove her love for me to the doctor just in case I said something to the contrary. Doesn’t she realize that his life’s work is seeing right through this kind of stuff? Mom brushes the hair out of my face and looks hopefully at him, “Well, Dr. Levine how is Laura?”

   “She’s doing well. I see no reason for medication,” he says this every week much to her disappointment. Mom is a big believer in medicine. Penicillin, antihistamines, barbiturates, anything that tricks the human body into not feeling what it’s really feeling. Cures are irrelevant as long as the symptoms disappear. I remember Mr. Wong the pharmacist telling my mom once that she takes too many medications. He suggested vitamins and acupuncture. She dismissed him. “I don’t want to feel anything,” she had muttered.

    “Only dead people don’t feel anything,” he had responded.

    My mom looks shocked about my not needing medication. Shaking her head she sighs, “Well, how are we going to fix her then?”

    “Perhaps she doesn’t need fixing. We will continue talk therapy. Today she opened up enough for me to get a clear understanding of what is going on. I would like to work with Laura.”

    “She’s crazy Dr. Levine; she believes a dead rock star is her mother!” My mother shrieks this and the man in the waiting room looks up at me. I flash him the peace sign and give him a crazy smile. Why not? He thinks I’m a lunatic anyways. “Can you refill my prescription please?” Mom begins searching through her purse and follows Dr. Levine to get her prescription refilled and to pay the bill.

    I walk outside and go sit in the car. I want to cry but I don’t. I never do. Instead I look at myself in the window and squeeze a pimple on my chin.

    Hearing her heels clicking against the sidewalk alerts me to brush the hair out of my face, sit up straight and leave my pimple alone. She sighs deeply before starting the car and we drive home in silence. What goes unsaid speaks volumes. Dennis’s car is in the driveway so I know he is home. He should be at work. Mom knows this too but she just shakes her head.

     “Denny!” Mom calls his name out but there is no answer. He must be in his room.   

     “Laura, I’m going to start dinner. We’re having pork chops. Go to tell your brother I need him to go to the store to buy some applesauce.”

     I hate pork chops and applesauce. It’s disgusting. Dennis is playing Pink Floyd music in his room way too loud. When I knock he doesn’t answer so I figure he probably can’t hear me over the music. I walk in and see him passed out on his bed. A paper bag is clutched tightly in one hand and a can of clear coat spray paint is on the floor. I hate seeing him this way. I kick the can and I hear it rattle. Empty. Just like him.

    His room looks like a teenagers’ instead of a grown mans. Unframed posters cover the walls. His favorite one of Farrah Fawcett is stapled above his bed. Across from his bed, above the dresser is a poster of Janis Joplin. Right below the poster he keeps a framed picture of me. He doesn’t have a picture of mom or dad in his room. 

    “Denny. Wake up Denny. Dennis!” I push and shove his body. He’s so heavy when he’s stoned. It’s as if he actually becomes a boulder.

     He’s groggy but he opens his eyes and starts giggling. “Laura, guess what?”

    “What?” I ask even though I don’t want to know.

    “I got fired. I was late to work again and Jimmy said I should just leave. Just like that. Man, mom is gonna be so pissed. And dad, man, he’s going to kill me, I just can’t handle this man.”

    Dennis was working at a tile company, laying floors. He’d been there about six months. He has a hard time keeping jobs. He’s a 35 years old ex-marine with a college degree from The University of Texas. He could be an architect if he wanted to. After he got back from Vietnam he went to college and got a degree in architecture. It took him 5 years. He even completed graduate school but all of that education goes to waste. The only thing he ever does is get high. He spent two tours in Vietnam. I think something about his time there haunts him still.

     “Mom wants you to go to the store for her and buy some applesauce. We’re having pork chops for dinner.”

     “I want stuffing. I hate applesauce!”

    “Dad likes applesauce with his pork chops.”

    “Give me money.”

   “I don’t have any. Ask mom.”

   “Man, she’s gonna ask me why I don’t have any money. This is too much. Why don’t you go buy the freaking applesauce?”

   “I don’t have a driver’s license Denny.” I put a space between each syllable to emphasize the words.
    “You are 16 aren’t you?”

    “No.” I say with a sigh. “You have to go ask mom to give you money.”

     He sits up and looks down at his unlaced converse tennis shoes. He is a strange looking 35 year old. He holds his body like that of a really old man who has been beat up by the world. He looks perpetually confused, weary. Yet his face is somehow young, boyish. He also dresses like the boys in my high school instead of most men his age. We have the same dingy blonde hair that won’t behave; it tangles as soon as we’re done brushing it. His eyes are insulting to me. His left eye is gray and his right eye is hazel.    

     My eyes are exactly the same and yet I’m supposed to believe that we are not blood related. What we have is called Heterochromia and it’s genetic. I mentioned it to mom once. That Denny and I have the same eyes. She told me that’s why her and dad chose me. It was an amazing coincidence. Sure. Sometimes being a member in this family makes me so angry that I want to scream at the top of my lungs. And yet I stay silent. Perhaps that need to remain quiet is also genetic.

     “Do you have any money Laura?”

     He already asked me for money. He has a bad memory. I already told him no, even though I have $248.36 saved up and hidden in a safe place in my room. I keep it in a box of tampons. He would never look there.  I don’t have any plans for it at the moment but it could come in handy one day. “No. You have to go ask mom to give you money.”

    “Damn!” He hurls an ashtray in my direction and stands up. I duck but I don’t really need to because his aim isn’t what it used to be. “Hey, how do I look?” He tucks his shirt in and smoothes it out a little bit but truthfully he is hopelessly wrinkled. Mom hates sloppiness. His pants are an even worse horrible mess and he’s not even wearing a belt. That’s a real no-no with mom.

     I shake my head at him,” Like a 35 year old man who lives with his parents and can’t keep a job.”

    “Thanks Laura. Geez, you guys always figure out ways to ruin a good buzz. Damn.”

  He walks out of his room to go talk to mom so I seize the opportunity to snoop through his bedroom. I know it’s wrong but I do it every chance I get. Sometimes I pretend like I’m Nancy Drew searching for clues. It isn’t really all that fun though. The more I learn about Dennis the more disappointed I get. He really could have made something of himself. I find a letter in his closet that I haven’t seen before; it’s from some committee planning to create a memorial in Washington D.C. for the dead soldiers of Vietnam. Apparently he submitted a design to be considered. They didn’t accept it. That must have broken his heart. I desperately want for Dennis to succeed at something. I put the letter back in the envelope. Next I find his journal. Dennis writes in it religiously. He never skips a day but most of what he writes is incoherent and strange. His most recent entry makes no sense at all. I think it’s the beginning of a poem.


     They asked me if I’ve found Jesus

     I told them I think prayers

     are just meant to tease us

    I tried to find salvation

   I served my damn nation

  Only to find myself in Hell

  On permanent vacation


     The ink is smeared in spots as though he were crying while writing this. That happens to him a lot. He gets tears in his eyes about everything. Of course, he blames the air because of all the plants here in Beaumont. I blame my acne and raspy voice on the same culprit, so I guess that’s only fair. I have found his journals from before he went to Vietnam and afterwards, the ones that would explain where I came from, but he keeps them in a box with a lock. I don’t know where the key is. The only reason I know the journals have to be in there is because he’s stenciled on the outside of the box, “JOURNALS, 1967-1969.” Those are also the only ones he has under lock and key. Otherwise I’ve read all the rest. He started keeping one when he was 15. Dennis has always had a hard time keeping friends. I think he sees the journal as his best friend. I can relate.

     Lately he writes more and more of these verses and less about what’s actually going on. He’s a terrible poet. I find a drawing of a soldier on his stomach with a rifle in his hands. The soldier looks like Dennis when he was younger. He’s a great artist, very expressive. The look in the soldier’s eyes is haunting. The dog tags have Dennis’s name written over and over again on them, the camouflage spots I realize are made up of his name, written over and over again. The lines of the soles of the shoes are his name again. His name is everywhere on this drawing, it’s on the helmet, the rifle, everywhere, even the eyes are made up of his name written in tiny letters. This drawing spooks me out. What does it mean? Now I sound like Mom, she always has to know what everything means.  Then I read his rambling thoughts on this drawing.

     Why would they choose some gook’s design over mine? I was there. I was freaking there! Nobody but nobody can understand unless they were there. They say you lose your innocence when you lose your virginity, but that’s not how it was for me. Innocence is ignorance of evil. I lost my innocence in Vietnam where I was forced not only to see evil, but also to be evil.  I hate Jan Scruggs and everyone on the stupid Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. It’s a bunch of bullshit. And as far as I’m concerned everyone in the whole stupid committee can go screw themselves because it was that damn war that screwed me up. I’m nothing. I’m nobody. I’m a shell of a man, as empty as the bullet shells I fired over there. I killed gooks for my country but all my country did was kill my spirit. To hell with the U.S.A. To hell with this stupid competition. I didn’t want to win it anyways. It’s not like it would have changed anything. I’d still be stuck here living with my stupid parents and my daughter, pretending like everything’s hunky dory.

     Shaking, I put the journal down. His daughter. That’s the first time he’s put it like that, he always refers to me as Laura in his journals. I knew it all along. He is my father; I am his daughter. Then I hear my mom calling for me to come and set the table. I put the journal back where I found it and walk into the dining room.

      “You look like you just saw a ghost hon,” Mom says to me.

    I shrug my shoulders and start to set the table. None of the plates match and that bothers me for some reason. They represent so many unhappy dinners. Denny breaks them when he has his temper tantrums.

    Dad has come home. I see him in his recliner watching the news. He’s also reading the paper. He has his pen and tablet, scribbling down notes. One of his favorite things to do is come up with one-liners from the news, then watch Johnny Carson to see if he beat him to the punch with any of his jokes. Mom’s always laughing at him, telling him, “You should send your jokes in hon. You are so funny. You’re better than any of his stupid writers. Oh, you’re so funny.” He is funny, and he comes up with a lot of the jokes Johnny Carson will say in his monologue. It’s kind of eerie. He would never take a chance though, he probably could be a great comedy writer out in L.A. but he prefers the safety of our living room. “Too many earth quakes and weirdos out there in Hollywood,” he says.

     Just as I finish setting the table Dennis walks in with the applesauce and a box of stuffing. “Can you make this too Mom?” He asks hopefully, shaking the box in her face.

     She sighs deeply; obviously he has stretched the limits of her patience. “There’s not enough time for that to be ready for dinner Denny. Just wash your hands and sit down. Dinner!” She calls out to Dad who disappears to the bathroom so he can wash his hands before he eats. The rest of us sit down, waiting for him.

   “Hello Dennis.” Dad says as he sits down. “How was work today?”

   “I got fired.” He crosses his arms across his chest and smirks.

   You would think that Denny would know that dad didn’t really want to know. He was only asking because that’s what normal people do at dinner. Dad desperately wants for us to be a normal family.

    Mom puts down her iced tea and gets up to go to the fridge. She gets dad a beer and returns to the table without saying a word. He opens it and drinks it all in three gulps.

   “I’m going to need something stronger than that Midge,” he says, punctuating the statement with a burp.

    Mom leaves the room for a moment. I suppose she’s gone to the bar in the living room. She returns with a bottle of Jack Daniels. “You want a Coke hon?” She asks hopefully but he shakes his head no. He finishes the rest of his iced tea and pours himself a swallow of Jack Daniels but he doesn’t drink it. He looks at Denny with disgust.

      “What the hell is wrong with you Dennis?” Dad asks. He sounds tired.

   “I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s just eat dinner. Come on, it’s your favorite.”

     “I lost my appetite Dennis.” Dad stands up and walks to the trashcan with his plate, scraping his dinner into it. Mom tenses up, covering he mouth with her knuckles I notice all the color has left her face.

     Throwing his plate against the wall so that it shatters and food goes flying everywhere, Dennis roars, “I’ve lost my appetite too!”

     Mom whispers, “Behave.” She has applesauce in her hair. I have some on my cheek, but wipe it off.

    Dennis grabs the bottle of Jack Daniels and drinks from it in gulps. Dad calmly walks to the table and grabs it from him, then drains the bottle down the sink. “What the hell is wrong with you son?” He stands at the counter with his arms crossed.

     “I don’t know.” Dennis begins to sob violently, “I just don’t know.” He bangs his head against the table a few times.

     “Family of loonies. That’s what I’ve got. A whole family of dag dang loonies. I’m sick and tired of this whole damn setup. Jefferson at the plant today tells me how his wife won teacher of the year, his daughter was just accepted to Harvard Law School on a full scholarship and his son just opened up his own dental clinic. Then he asks me so how’s your family, Jones. And what do I say? Okay, they’re doing all right. I lied! I had to lie. What am I supposed to tell him? My wife takes valium just to get through the day without slitting her wrists, my son is a druggie looser who can’t keep a job and my daughter goes to a head shrink because she thinks Janis Joplin is her mother. We’re all doing fine and dandy, thank you very much. We’re just groovy.” He says the last part while making a waving motion with his arm and then sits down in his chair exhausted from his speech.

     “Janis Joplin is my mother. And Dennis is my father.” I blurt this out before I even realize I’m speaking. So often the dialogue in my head goes unspoken that I am shocked by the sound of my own voice.

     My mother screams and then faints. She really does. Overreacting again. While dad revives her Dennis looks at me with a puzzled expression on his face.

    “How did you know?” He asks.

    “It’s pretty obvious isn’t it?” I know I have a smug smile on my face. Maybe it’s inappropriate but it feels so good to finally be vindicated and then Mom comes to. I wish I hadn’t said anything. She looks mad so I wipe the silly smirk off my face.

    Dad looks at me shaking his head, “What makes you think that Janis Joplin is your mother Laura?”

    Finally, I get to explain. Finally, someone has asked the right question. “It’s very logical, really. I was born on October 4, 1966 right here in Beaumont. Janis Joplin was here in Texas during that time on a little break. She played in the bar where Dennis used to play drums with the house band in Port Arthur. He told me so.” Dennis nods his head. “I figure motherhood wasn’t really her gig, so she let you guys raise me. Anyways, the guilt must have really got to her, giving me up and everything, because she died of a drug overdose on my fourth birthday. I figure she was sort of celebrating it, you know, in her own weird way, but it got out of hand. She died.” I look out the kitchen window at the horizon. The sky is an unnatural hazy orange and electric blue with just a slight smear of bright pink. It looks like a pretty picture that an angry toddler took a black crayon to. All of the beautiful colors are smeared and smudged. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to get as far away from here as fast as possible.

    “So you think Janis Joplin is your mother because she died on your birthday?” Dad asks me, his voice full of disbelief.

    “It’s more than that. I know my mother insisted that I be named Laura Pearl. Denny told me that. Janis Joplin’s sister was named Laura and Pearl was Janis Joplin’s nickname. I read about it in her biography. Denny gave it to me. Plus, the initials, LP, it’s like a pun or something, you know. A record is an LP. I kind of just figured it out. That’s all I have to go by, but I know it’s true.”

     “We don’t know who your mother was, Dennis has never told us. Dennis insisted you be named Laura Pearl. That was his idea.” Dad says with a sigh.

     “Because my mother told him to name me that. Janis Joplin is my mother. It had to be kept a secret. Denny didn’t want to cause a scandal. Right Dennis?” He doesn’t answer me, “Right Dennis?” Is he really that cruel? Would he plant false ideas in my head?

 Dennis doesn’t look at me as he speaks; instead he stares intently at the salt shaker.   

    “They never met your mother Laura. She refused to tell anyone she even was pregnant. Before I left for Camp Pendleton I told Mom and Dad that I had got a girl in trouble. She wanted to go to Mexico for an abortion but I wouldn’t let her. I asked Mom and Dad if they would raise my baby as their own and they agreed. But they didn’t want to meet the girl. They knew she had to be some bar girl and they didn’t want to meet her. The doctor called them when you were ready to come home.”

     “I know whoever your mother was she had to be a little slut but she wasn’t Janis Joplin, I know that.” Mom says this through clenched teeth.

     “Do you know what it’s like to fight for your babies’ life, to make sure that she lives instead of being aborted and then to have people spit in your face and call you a baby killer?” Dennis drops to his knees and howls.

     “Tell her Dennis. Tell her that Janis Joplin was not her mother.”

    “That’s what you want to hear, isn’t it Mom? Well, I’m not going to tell her that.”

    “But it’s the truth.”

     “The truth is you don’t know who her mother is, or was. I promised Laura’s mother I would never reveal her identity to you and your big fat judgmental ass. And I never will.”

     “You can’t talk to me like that!”

     “I just did.”

     “Why did you raise me this way, never letting me know that Dennis is my father? Didn’t you think that I would figure it out?” I scream it at her and it feels good to get it off my chest. I could lie to her a million times about where I go and who I hang out with and those lies wouldn’t begin to compete with her falsehoods.

    Dad says, “Dennis, sit in your seat. Don’t lie on the floor like some kind of dog.” Dennis does as he is told but flips dad off first. Shaking his head dad explains, “I told her it was stupid not to tell you. Especially to act as though we adopted you from total strangers. How was she ever going to explain your resemblance? She insisted though, it all be kept hush-hush. I went along even though I knew it was stupid because all I wanted was some peace and quiet. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

     “What about what I’ve wanted?” Mom is crying now, really sobbing. I’ve never seen her cry before not even after her father died. She over reacts but she never cries. “Nobody has ever asked me what I wanted.  I thought I was finally going to have time for myself after you graduated high school Denny. I raised you the best I could, got you into to a good college and how did you repay me? By becoming a drug store cowboy, being forced to join the Marines instead of going to prison and then getting some whore knocked up? I had to raise your child and I just wasn’t in the mood Denny. I only had one child for a reason you know. I didn’t particularly care for motherhood. Stuck here in the house day after day. I wanted to be a world traveler. When I was younger I dreamed of being a photographer for National Geographic. Did you know that? Did you care? The most exotic place I’ve ever been to is Disney World. The hippos there are fake. I wanted to see real wildlife.”

     “Shut up. You’re pathetic.” Dennis tells my mom.

     “You shut up! You’re pathetic!” she yells at him banging her palms against the table.

     “Shut up both of you!” Dad says quietly. “You are both acting like children. The only child here is Laura and she deserves better than this. Dennis, you owe it to Laura to tell her who her mother is. Don’t play head games with her either. You gave her that book knowing that an impressionable young girl would jump to conclusions, real or imagined. I don’t know what the truth is about her mother but it’s not fair to her to lead her on. At this point it’s none of my business or your mother’s business but it is Laura’s business.”

    “Janis Joplin is my mother, right Denny?”

    “I thought you had it all figured out Laura, you’ve been reading my diaries, haven’t you!” He screams at me.

    For years I have been ducking as he hurls things in my general direction. Every time he gets angry he throws whatever is closest to him. As the saltshaker zooms past my head I have had enough, I retaliate by throwing the peppershaker at him. He has a sneezing fit and glares at me but I don’t care. He’s had it coming. 

    “Go pack a bag Laura.” My dad sounds firm.

     “Are you kicking me out?” I say, my voice breaking. I feel like I will cry. I never cry. Mom says crying is a useless waste of energy that could be better utilized by cleaning. We sure have a clean house.

     He sounds shocked, “What? No. Oh no sweetie. No. You and me are going to go on a vacation so that these two can get their heads screwed on straight. I’m going to call in at work and tell them I need to take two weeks of sick time. I’ve never taken a sick day in 37 years of work at that plant. I was hoping I could keep my record until I retire, but what the hell. I’d say I’m sick right now, sick of their behavior. You and me are going to give these two a chance to get their acts together. I think we both need a break from them, don’t you think?”

     I nod my head, “Where will we go Dad?”

     I don’t know, why don’t you pick.”

    “How bout California?” I suggest.

    “Too many weirdos out there.” He replies.

    “Too many weirdos here too, don’t you think?”

     He swallows a chuckle then nods his head. “California it is then. We’ll check out the Johnny Carson show. Hey, maybe Raquel Welch will be the guest star.”

     Nodding, I smile. I feel optimistic for the first time…ever. I feel so much more lighthearted. This must be what freedom feels like. I head off for my room to go pack my bag. I don’t know what’s going to happen here but I have faith that everything will be okay. Dad knows what he’s doing. He wants a normal family but I know there is no such thing.  All I want is a happy family or at least a family that is honest with one another. I’m just so relieved that the truth finally came out tonight. Well, almost. Denny never did say if Janis Joplin really is my mother or not, but that’s all right. I don’t need her to be like I used to. Whether she is or isn’t, I finally feel freedom from the burden of hiding the fact that I know Denny is my father. And as Janis said freedom’s just another word for nothing to left to lose.


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Short Story
writing jester71
Life's too short not to wear fuschia!
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