How witty would it be if I simply looked up the word “bastard” in the dictionary and then spent an entire essay or blog post contesting it? Not clever at all. Let’s be honest, we all know what a bastard is. Historically, it’s an individual with no father. That meaning still holds water, but despite our progressive intentions, it’s grown more towards someone who simply does not belong; more specifically, one who is unaccounted for and unwanted. On one hand, a bastard is one with no morals, ethics, or reason to make the right decision. It’s fairly flippant usage permeates dialogue, primarily in the form of insults (I’m thinking here of “You killed Kenny! You bastards!” coincidentally enough, my half-brother’s name is Kenny). On the other hand, “bastard,” when it is cast some positive light, typically denotes the story of one who is out to prove their self as one who is just as worthy as claimed siblings (I’m thinking here of John Snow). Despite not experiencing a typical upbringing, complete with mother and father, this exceptional individual still feels and cares the same as everyone else brave enough to depend on them, and in some ways, this makes them empathically superhuman to outside witnesses.
Contrary to how I, as a bastard, should probably feel, I find neither of these definitions insulting, nor do I find the latter uplifting. I am unaccounted for: it’s unclear what my family’s medical history is; I spent my youth gallivanting, breaking the law at all hours of the night; no one felt responsible for getting me gifts at a step-parent’s family holidays; I was the only person in my household with my last name; lopsided family pictures; etc., etc. Growing up, I felt as though people could smell the carelessness on me. If someone picked on me, or made fun of me, as children are wont to do, (which happened often on account of both my small stature and my step-father’s reputation as the town drunk), it was not for any logical reason apart from my lack of biological father, which was my fault because I was only a child, and children tend to feel more responsible for problems in the world than stealing a cookie before dinner. (That cookie always did go to I Don’t Know.) I was convinced of it, my pores secreted some odor hell-bent on repelling any notion of care or concern from its source. In short, I was self-destructive.
My behavior reflected this attitude for the duration of my teenage years, and was continually validated by my overly intoxicated, toxic parents. I would disappear into the underground of Green Cove Springs for days on end and no one would notice I’d left. Unintentionally, they’d lock me out of the triple-wide, and when I’d beat on the door at 2am, they’d angrily open it and say, “I thought you were in your room? Why didn’t you just go back in through the window?”
“Because I’ve been gone since Tuesday,” I’d reply on that particular Sunday night as I walked to my room.
When I was about twenty-two, my biological father contacted me out of the blue, on Facebook. I had been out drinking. I was living in Riverside, Florida. He sent a friend request with no message. I learned he went by Wally. In his pictures he had hair bigger than mine and was broad chested. He was very short. All of what I saw was so different from my memory of him as tall, young, and burly yet suave. He was a born again Christian. After my curiosity faded as I looked at his pictures, I felt my blood begin to boil. Granted I was drunk, I couldn’t account for the anger. For about nineteen years prior to this night, I’d spent most nights wondering what was wrong with me that I wasn’t good enough for this man, and now I could have my answer. Now, I could ask him any question I wanted to and he would owe me an answer, but I was so fucking angry.
Instead of accepting the friend request or hitting “Send” on the searing message I’d written, I closed my laptop and laid down. I told myself that I’d sleep on it. Maybe I’d feel better the next day and could actually do something with this anomaly in my life. I tossed and turned and cried and felt hot and I was so exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep. So I messaged him:
I’ve been fine without you. I think you owe my mother some child support.
Then I blocked him.
After that interaction, I thought the hardest part would be accepting that I couldn’t blame him. It didn’t occur to me often to hate him, but I knew I’d made the decision to walk away. Eventually, his image disappeared from my memory. The last time I actually saw him is all that’s left. We were at a park with a number of baseball diamonds. It had to have been somewhere in Middleburg, Florida. He bought me a cherry flavored Air-Head and a foam keychain shaped like a spaceship (I wanted to be an astronaut at the time). As far as memories go, that one’s just fine. Blaming him was gone. The only reason I think I could justify blaming him was because he did message me when I’d mastered not thinking about that dysfunctional situation.
However, I did think to blame him. When I finally did accept that it wasn’t his fault, or mine for that matter, it was somehow everyone else’s. The world is just like that. People leave. Everyone leaves. Even though I’d spent the majority of my life missing someone who I’d never even really met, when I could meet him, I didn’t want to. I left. He left. Everyone left. Everyone leaves. Stability and security become an illusion, and you try to live for the moment, and somehow still accept that you have to pay your bills at the end of the month.
So, before I get too emotional, back to the task at hand. What is The Bastard’s Curse? Absolutely, it’s not being accounted for. Yes, it’s understanding that there is a world that I won’t have access to, and it exists and it just seems so goddamn wonderful. So why don’t I have access to this world? I have fairly healthy emotional relationships with my friends. (Healthy in that they are mutually beneficial: patient, strong, understanding, loving.) But the real curse is knowing that they can walk away at any moment. The real curse is not knowing what I’m capable of doing, more specifically, who I’m capable of walking away from.
I’ve been bastardized three times in my life. Every single one of them, I thought a bond existed that nothing could ever break, until someone walked away. Ultimately, The Bastard’s Curse is accepting that you will never belong. It’s looking at people who think they belong and have all the evidence to prove it and still thinking that it’s illusory. And knowing that you think it’s illusory because you don’t have access to it.
Sometimes I think that I am the absolute other because I will forever be a specimen. Do I make unscrupulous decisions thereby illustrating the harsh truth I feel every day? Make everyone else feel it? Make it real for them as it is for me? (With misery loving company and all.) Or, do I spend the rest of my life trying to prove to myself that it doesn’t have to be like that? Do I spend the rest of my life proving myself? I’m all for being a fluid person, capable of changing my mind when new data emerges, but this is the part I choose. Thus far, it’s been a day-by-day decision: “Oh! My crush said I looked pretty today!” – It doesn’t have to be like that (it’s the little things, sometimes). Or, “No one wants to let the Syrian refugees in to America because they don’t want to understand what’s actually happening over there” – This is the world we live in.
I really don’t know. I think I should try, but what exactly am I trying for? What’s the end game here? Would I make it through a lifelong romantic relationship just to tell myself that it’s all fake? Will I confuse compromise for lies? Should I just adopt five more cats?
I was hoping that writing this out writing this out to say yes this hurts and it’s hard would give me some insight into myself. Writing normally does that, at least. But it hasn’t because I still don’t know. Unless continuing to hope is the answer, the answer that even Wally wouldn’t think to give me. Hope. How silly.