(Chapter in Novel Sad Man Grinning)
By the time he was fifteen, Joel had been abandoned and betrayed four times over. First by his birth mother, then by his father, then his step-father, and finally by his adopted mother. He was eleven before he even knew that his mother, the only mother he had ever known, was not his birth mother.
This he discovered by accident. Sitting on the open porch of their 2-story house, Joel overheard a conversation between his mother, Catherine Harris and his new step-father, Rick Tanner. When he heard his name, he had peered through the screen to look. They were having coffee at the kitchen table. His mother was explaining the circumstances of Joel’s adoption. She and her husband, Doug Harris, were not able to have children, so they were looking to adopt, she told him. They had gone to an adoption agency in Wheeling, West Virginia, as they were living there at that time. Both of their families were from there, she explained. Joel’s mother was a wreck and had committed suicide, she said, and she and her husband, Doug Harris were able to take Joel, or ‘Baby Q’, under their care when he was only a few weeks old. Does he know? Rick had asked. We never saw any reason to tell him, he being so small at the time, Catherine explained. What good would it do now, his father being gone and all? It would just be upsetting. Besides, he has a new father now, Catherine chimed, smiling and caressing Rick’s forearms. He couldn’t see Rick’s expression.
Joel pretended he didn’t hear his mother’s words. He had backed away from the screen and swallowed the words and stuffed them so far down in his belly that he could only now vaguely recall putting them there in the first place. But from that day forward he knew that the world was deceitful, unreliable, and unforgiving. The information struck him hard and heavy, like the way a baby turtle discovers its own shell is its house and knows it will carry it on its back his whole life. Joel lived in that house. It was the beginning of the hole, and he hadn’t yet found a way try to fill it. Continue reading