My story is not unique in Americana. Born in '45, I was told old for the hippie generation, and frankly, while it's still unpopular to say so, I didn't care for them. I went to engineering school to stay out of the war, then on a foolish whim, got married and had two kids. Those kids, along with their mom, are gone now. I have only seen them a handful of times since they were 10 and 12, when their mother walked out on me to remarry a childhood sweetheart and Vietnam vet who still thought we should have finished the job. That was the only incident that softened me to hippies. But this story isn't about her, or my kids.
Alone for the first time, I left New Jersey to as far as I could go on the mainland and fine work. The 80s were good for me, as I owed no child support or alimony due to the nature of the departure, and living in Seattle was still fairly cheap back then. Work in the computer industry was booming. Life was good, even when lonely.
That ended in 1991 when I ran into some punk at a book shop. She wore black, had spiked hair, and piercings in her face. Her look so disgusted and repulsed me, I didn't even apologize when I shouldered her on the way out of the door. But instead of falling victim to my plan and screaming like the spoiled child I thought she was, she simply said, "Why are you so angry?"
I said something mean back. She asked if I wanted a latte. I didn't even know what a fucking latte was back then. But there was something so... unusual about this girl that it slapped my closed brain with an open palm. Okay, fine. I'll eat a latte. She didn't laugh at me, but showed me that a latte was a creamy kind of coffee. We got to talking. Her name was Melonie.
I was 45, she was 20. What the hell does she know anyway? She admitted the older she got, the more she realized she had to learn. She wanted to continue the conversation, but had to go somewhere. We met again later. And again. And again.
Long story short, we married in 1993. It changed both of us. She was the eldest daughter of a family of 5, who ran away from home the day she graduated high school. To say she was estranged was putting it mildly. Her parents didn't even attend the wedding.
Despite my best intentions, we have three kids now. And they are the best damn kids ever. But as I said, this story is not about my wife and kids.
Melonie's younger sister, Holly, was the epitome of a spoiled brat. Almost every thing Melonie rebelled against was rooted in her younger sister, a rivalry that spanned birth. Holly got what she wanted, Holly got away with everything, and Holly became "daddy's little girl," thus throwing Melonie off that throne. Still, despite the rivalry, time softened their relationship because both of them had one common angst: their dad, who I like to call Mr. Melonie because of the ironic similarities.
Mr. Melonie was the kind of guy my ex-wife would have dropped her polyester pants suit for. A 'Nam vet, but unlike the new father of my old kids, Mr. Melonie had actually seen combat and been shot twice. The second time he lost most of the functions of the right side of his body, so he was on benefits. Melonie's family grew up poor, but by the time my story starts, they were doing better. Mr. Melonie was a hard worker. Lost most of the use of his right hand? He became a lefty. He built his own set of crutches, and used to move about the house on some kind of wheeled sawhorse that supported his right side and let him zip through the lower floor at great speed an accuracy. While physical labor was hard to come by, he just sat at home and invented things. A few patents later, Mr. Melonie was no longer needing those benefits, so he donated them to the church every month.
Mr. Melonie hated me at first. I still don't think he likes me very much, but I can see why he'd take umbrage at some guy in his late 40s marrying his 22 year old daughter. He was only a few years older than I was. He doesn't have a high opinion of Melonie, either, and when they are together, they fight a lot. Thus, we keep contact down to a minimum.
In 2000, Holly announced she was engaged. She had been working in Portland, and met a man who she had met in college. I never met the guy, but Mr. Melonie liked him a lot. The wedding was an extravagant affair, and he was so happy, my family was also invited. Heck, even the kids, whom he never referred to as his grandkids, ever.
The first time I met Mr. Terrance Kastawicz, I knew something was off about him. He was a rotund man with a shy smile, and spoke in a voice that was unnaturally deep. And I don't mean it was like Tony the Tiger, I mean it sounded artificial, like someone with a high voice trying to sound more masculine. He was also a little guttural, and tried very hard to come off as manly. My first thought was that Holly was marrying an overweight teenager, but when I saw the hint of the tattoos covering his arms and heard him speak about the trucking business... he wasn't no teen.
Mr. Melonie dragged his new son-in-law around the reception like a prize horse. "Terry's my boy!" he'd say. Terry owned a small trucking company, and despite my father-in-laws boasting, always toned it down with, "Naw... it's small. I do alright."
While Melonie spent most of the wedding attending to her sister, when we finally got a moment alone together at a reception table, she leaned over to me and whispered, "Don't you think Terry is a little odd?" I mentioned I thought he seemed young. Melonie nodded and acted like she was about to say something, but didn't. She was hiding something, but I had to keep the kids in check because they were high on wedding cake by now and running around like crazy.
As I kept the kids in tow, I watched Terry and Holly dance with one another. They kissed a LOT, and you could tell the feeling of love was mutual and the mature kind of love that Melonie and I had. But again... something was really weird about the whole thing. Like how Terry wouldn't take his tux off. He said he paid for the damn thing for the whole night, and he wanted to use it, even though he was sweating a lot. He said it made him look distinguished.
I was also a little surprised how much weight Holly had gained. I had seen her at my wedding, since Holly was the only family member to attend, and Holly was a skinny little thing. Now she looked about 250 lbs or more. She rose out of her wedding dress like a muffin. Terry was even bigger, and the two of them danced on the floor like happy balloons. As the evening wore on, it became evident that Holly was very protective of Terry. She often answered for him, and sometimes took him away from uncomfortable situations.
"She has no Adam's apple," Melonie said late in the evening.
"What?" I asked.
Melonie was holding onto our young Sidney, who was 2 at the time, and had finally collapsed in her lap from exhaustion. "Terry. Has no Adam's apple."
"Neither does Holly, Mel."
"Forget it," Melonie said.
Later on that night, in our hotel room, Mel said, "Something weird is going on here."
"Yeah..." I agreed. "I can't quite put my finger on it."
Mel paused, again, like she wanted to say something but held back.
"Terry's a nice guy, but he seems... kind of like a young man trying to be an older man, you know. How'd he get that trucking company again? Did he inherit it?"
Mel shrugged. "I am not sure. I am not sure... if he's a guy."
"A guy ... of what?"
"No, I mean. Forget it."
"No, Mel. A guy? What do you mean?"
"I think Terry might be a woman."
I laughed. "Well, I'd think Holly would have figured that... oh, wait, did she have sex with him yet?"
"Yes. I asked her in the bridal suite, but she said he's a great lover. She even said that she's had a few pregnancy scares. Thats what's so weird. Terry just gives off this... womanly vibe, you know?"
I laughed. "Oh my god. That would be quite a surprise on their wedding night. What room are they in again?"
Mel hit me with a pillow. I could tell she was upset.
"Okay, I am sorry. Look, I highly doubt that Holly married a girl. She might be a little spacey, but she's not stupid. She's got a college degree and all."
Mel absently picked at her toes while she channel surfed hotel cable. "My little sister can be dense at times. I hope not."
The subject was not brought up again until a few years later. Melonie had broken her foot, and was in a soft cast. The phone rang one night, and it was Holly. Terry was in the hospital. He had been hurt in a car accident, and was in bad shape. She wanted Melonie to drive down and give her support.
"Why not dad?" Mel asked.
"Please... just... you," Holly begged. "I have something to tell you, and you can't tell anyone else."
"Okay," Mel said, and started calling around for a sitter.
A few hours later, we were driving down to Portland. Now was not the time to speculate what was going on, but in the back of my head, I felt Melonie knew already why dad couldn't see Terry.
When we got to the hospital, Holly was a mess. She had gained even more wight, I had felt, and looked terrible. The first thing she did was ask me to leave, since this was "sisterly stuff." This pissed me off, but I did as I was told and sat in the waiting room for hour until Melonie came out.
She looked confused.
"How is Terry?" I asked.
"Look... ah... I... ah..."
I put down my magazine. "So you were right."
Mel threw herself in a waiting room chair and started to cry. She then started to explain, but her crying turned into laughter. I hadn't seen her this hysterical since her first pregnancy. She laughed very hard, and her attempts to keep it down resulted in her face turning red.
"Is Terry a girl?" I asked.
She nodded. "And... and..."
"Holly just found out?"
Mel laughed so loud, she looked like she was having trouble breathing. She shook her head back and forth, trying to hold onto it.
"How long did it take Holly to--"
"No NO!" she said. "My sister. My sister, all pink and frilly and daddy's little girl... oh my god, she's a LESBIAN!"
I started laughing, too. "Well, did she just find that out--"
"No! She's been a lesbian since she was 16, apparently. Daddy has NO idea, and oh my god you can't tell anyone. Don't tell Holly I told you, but I had to tell SOMEBODY!"
"So Terry and Holly are lesbians?"
"Yes, stupid!" she said, and ran to hug me. "Oh, god, this is so fucked up. Terry's going to be fine, he's... she's got some broken bones and deep cuts, but she's stable now. She's been awake and joking through the whole thing. I got to see her. She knows I know."
We both held onto one another. I smelled her shampoo and rocked her slightly. "Mel... how many other people know about Terry?"
"Apparently, it's one big secret. The company she owns doesn't even know she's a woman. It's her 'thing,' she likes dressing up and being a guy. Holly met her in college at a lesbian bar or something. Oh, man, if daddy had ANY idea..."
"Wow," was all I could say. "No wonder she didn't want him here."
"Yes, and the worst part of this is I called daddy and told him before we left. Holly told me not to, but I thought daddy would want to know. I thought Holly was being hysterical. I didn't tell him how badly Terry was hurt, but... wow. I sure hope he doesn't come here."
"What about them trying to have a child? What about all of... Terry's love of guns and... she's a dyke. Oh, right."
"The pregnancy thing is all a ruse. Mom and dad are really pressing for grandkids, and they are trying to adopt. Holly was going to eventually tell him she couldn't get pregnant, but... oh dammit..."
And that's when I saw Mr. Melonie. I was about to say, "That's interesting. What about OUR kids whom he never sees?" but it was caught in my throat as Mr. Melonie wheeled himself past the automatic doors.
"Shit. Shit shit shit shit..."
"This is Holly's fault. She got herself into this..." I said.
Mel hit me. "Hi, daddy!"
"Good to see you here, Melonie," and in the most friendly gesture he had made to me since we met, Mr. Melonie nodded at me a greeting. "How's my little girl?"
"I am fine, daddy... oh, you mean Holly..." Mel's face drooped in submissive anger.
"You too, you too... how are you? You look like you have been crying! Is Terry okay?"
"Oh... Terry's fine, daddy... just fine..."
"I'd like to see him."
"I don't think that's possible. He's... ah..."
I almost said, "A woman. The accident pulled his nutsack off," but the mere thought of those words made me ill.
"I have a right to see my son in law, get a nurse or something!"
A snicker escaped from my nose. Mel hit me. "I am your son in law," I said. "Why don't WE have a chat?"
Mr. Melonie gave me a stony look. "Maybe later. I want to see Terry. Why are you all acting funny?"
Mel dried her eyes. "It's okay, daddy. We're a little sleep deprived."
"I want to see my son in law! What's going on?"
"Holly is fine, dad," Mel said, spitting a little poison into her words.
"I know she's fine, she wasn't even in the crash!"
That's when Holly stepped out into the waiting room. "Dad! What are you doing here?"
"Is Terry all right?"
Holly looked at Melonie with a hint of murder. "Terry is fine, Dad... just needs a little rest now. How did you know?"
"Your sister called me..."
Holly looked VERY angry.
Melonie sputtered, "Look, I called dad because I thought it was... something serious. I didn't know... it was not as serious."
"What the hell is going on here?" Mr. Melonie asked. "This room stinks of bullshit. Why didn't you call me? What am I not supposed to know?"
The room went very silent.