"Don't visit him," I told my daughter Nicole. Her first day home from college and she'd rush to the nursing home. I thought it would end when he forgot her name. Same conversation repeated again.
"Who are you?"
"Daddy, it's me, Nicole."
He'd squeeze her fingers and touch her face. "Do I know you?"
Me, his wife of 20 years, a scent I thought he'd recognize and a touch he'd savor, but nothing returned from the black holes of his eyes.
"You won't get what you need," I said. "He's gone."
"You're just angry."
True enough. He'd left a miniscule pension, not enough to cover the bills and the tuition. Nicole might need counseling.
"You need to go on with your life, Nicole."
"Mom, I'm scared. Will I forget? Treat you like a stranger?"
The promise I'd made to my husband Hugh twenty years earlier haunted me now. Would it still be valid now that he'd forgotten? Had my conduct been so shameful that I'd need to bury the memory, forever?
It had happened in August, the hottest month in Los Angeles, a record heat wave. If it hadn't been for the sizzling, I wouldn't have been home reading the paper, never have picked up the phone or had a stranger at my door.
Call me Kevin, the man said. His shirt wet with sweat and his pants dangling from his skinny waist, he puffed up his chest and spoke. "I'm here to protect the intellectual stock and prevent imbeciles from being bred."
I invited him in, but he never asked my IQ. He set his canister on my divan and removed the lid. Fumes spun into the air as he pulled out a white-tipped stick with a bag of milky fluid wrapped around the tip. "We can do it today," he said, rolling up his sleeve.
Weeks later, I met my soon-to-be husband and confessed. "Our secret," he said. "Don't tell anyone, ever."
When would I tell Nicole? Never or now. I took a deep breath. "Nicole, honey. I was pregnant with you when I met Hugh."
"Oh, my god," Nicole shrieked. "How can you tell me this?"
"He wanted to be your dad."
"You lied to me."
"I promised him."
"Did you think about my feelings?"
"You'd never know. That's what I thought back then."
"If he's not my real dad, who is?"
"White #6, blonde hair and blue eyes."
"A sperm bank donor, a Nobel Prize winner. You have dozens of brainy siblings, but you won't meet them either."
"My whole life seems fake."
"If I hadn't lied, would it matter?"
"I can't forgive."
"But, you won't need to worry."
First published: August, 2007
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