Someone Else's Daughter by Sharon Steel

In the middle of the eulogy at my mother’s boring and heartbreaking funeral, I started to think about calling off the wedding. My father and Kate. She was wonderful the entire time my mother was incapable of doing anything except utter small noises, point abstractly to things, sleep, and eat the food the home-care nurses fed her when I wasn’t around. Kate took care of Dad, she brought him back to life when my mother’s figuratively, if not literally, ended. I didn’t blame him from falling in love with her. I blamed my mother for letting him go. I know I was supposed to be furious with him for what he had done, for giving up on her before she was truly gone, for not being there when he promised he would. But I wasn’t there when my father and my mother made those promises to each other eighteen years ago, and I had every reason to believe that they had failed each other—or, really, that she had failed him—for a long time now. They wouldn’t have lasted. So why not?


I knew this would happen eventually, not just the way everyone quietly comes to the realization that their parents will die someday. No, I understood that it would happen soon, and that it would give my father the chance to start over, maybe with the person he should have been with in the first place. I just never expected to encourage him, to push my parents apart like I really meant it, the same way most kids beg and plead and scream for their parents to stay, stay, stay, they’ll do anything, just please stay. Go. Please, go.


But we hadn’t even put my mother’s body in the ground, and all I could think about was the mistake I had made. I knew Dad and Kate thought it was their secret. They didn’t know I already knew he had proposed, that they were waiting, bright-eyed, for this day to get here, so they could both finally move on, in tiny, sensitive-seeming baby-steps, of course, out of respect. That meant so little when there was already a black velvet box with an antique ring in my father’s desk drawer. I heard them whispering; they thought I was with her, huddled away in the back of the house where it was safe. As soon as I saw it, and imagined my father choosing it with fear and care, I wanted to erase my existence. I bit it back. I shut the drawer. They should have their chance. I could give them a fair shot. 


My dress was too tight. The Rabbi sounded idiotic. There were still pill bottles on the dresser and instructions on the bulletin board. I could help them put everything away. I would give my father what she never could. It wasn’t wrong. It wasn’t so terrible, now that I thought about it. Some people didn’t need very much time. Maybe I didn’t need time. Maybe, afterwards, I could call Kate my mother. Maybe it would make her happy. Maybe it would make me sane. Maybe I would let her hold me, and tell my father to go away. She would push my hair behind my ears and tell me that I was nothing like her, that my blood had none of her blood in it. She would cut her thumb and cut my thumb and press them together and say, see? You’re mine, now. She was never here. You were never hers.