By Edith Gallagher Boyd
The ball swished through the basket. Not only was it a buzzer beater, it was against one of our biggest rivals. My shot gave us the win against Whitaker High. The only casualty was my ankle blowing up like a melon – a crooked landing after a jump shot.
My dad often reminded me to tape my ankles, something about his being weak, but I couldn’t take us to State worrying about injuries. Feeling a lot of pain, I made my way to the trainer’s office and admitted my ankle needed help.
Luckily, the nurses’ office at Springfield High was at the end of the hall close to the gym. They had all our records, and were nicer to us guys than the trainers. It was a Friday afternoon game, and the nurses were still on the job.
Joe, the trainer, wheeled me down to the nursing office and left me in the hall.
“Dylan, they’ll take good care of you,” he said.
Joe left me in the hall. I didn’t want to be a big baby and call for the nurses, so I jut sat there. I heard one of the nurses whisper something about the medical records, and the State College student nurse said “He doesn’t know?” In that question- like way girls end sentences with.
Mrs. Turner, the head nurse from forever, jumped a little when she saw me sitting there. “Joe said…Oh Dylan, I thought we were supposed to go get you. How’s that ankle, honey?”
“It needs you, Mrs. Turner,” I said, knowing I was one of her favorites.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, Dylan. Save your lines for the girls…maybe our new student nurse, Ashley?” Careful not to say I thought Ashley was hot, I asked Mrs. Turner if Ashley was talking about me…the ‘He doesn’t know?’
I couldn’t see Mrs. Turner’s face behind me as she pushed my wheelchair to the infirmary, but I smelled a bull’s eye, and started to get an uneasy feeling. She couldn’t even come up with one of her jokes. She just cleared her throat and asked me to describe how I hurt my ankle.
After icing it, wrapping it, and putting my foot in a boot, Mrs. Turner called my mom and asked permission to give me two Tylenol. Like they were going to do anything. My buddy Matt would probably drive me to the victory party, where there’d be something stronger to help with the pain.
I didn’t think I was dying or anything, hearing that talk in the nurses’ office, or I wouldn’t have made the varsity. But, it wasn’t the first time people got quiet and nervous when I came on the scene. Memories of Aunt Barb with a little too much of dad’s eggnog saying, “Marcie, you haven’t told him . . . It’s just wrong!” And then she got all red-faced when she saw me fixing a broken light on the Christmas tree.
Now that I would be sitting on the bench for most of the season, I had time to find out what it was I didn’t know about myself. I should probably start with my parents, but my dad was so protective of my mom, he made me feel rotten if I said the wrong thing around her.
“Dylan, your mother has a headache. Dylan, turn down that music.”
It was like we all revolved around what wasn’t good for my mom.
But nothing made me feel worse than making her sad, so I tried not to.
Matt sent me a text that he would pick me up for the party. He didn’t even make me ask. His truck was really old, so I made sure I had some cash for a cab to get us home if need be. I was waiting for the rumble of his F150, when my mother came up and hugged me from behind.
“I’m proud of you, Dylan. Know how hard it’s going to be sitting on the bench, and you haven’t complained once.”
“Won’t do me any good,” I said, embarrassed by the catch in my voice.
“Dylan, if Matt or anybody else is drinking at the party, I’m a text or call away.”
“Mom, I look dumb enough with this thing on my foot. All I need is Mommy picking me up.
“Sorry, Mom,” I said, and turned around and gave her a real hug, a kindergarten type hug, until I heard Matt’s truck sputtering up our street.
“They’re sure it’s just a sprain?” She said, as I pushed through the door,.
“Yeah, Mom. Mrs. Turner knows her stuff.”
Matt looked at my booted foot and didn’t say anything. We’d been friends since first grade, and he knew I didn’t want to talk about it.
“Did you hear Billy’s parents are out of town?” Matt said. “I helped him unload the keg. Billy said everybody can crash there.”
Billy’s house was perfect for a party – far out of town on acres of land. As Matt and I pulled into the muddy parking area, we could hear the music blasting from the house. I could already taste the shots going down my throat into my throbbing foot.
About to park, Matt reversed and dumped me at the front door, and then went to find a parking spot. Times like that, he was like the brother I always wanted.
When I hobbled into the party, everybody cheered, hooted and clapped about our victory over Whitaker.
“Tough break Dylan”
“But your shot was awesome!”
“How long you laid up?’
Billy brought over a tray of shots to me and Matt. I grabbed one and loved the burning feeling in my throat, the hot, bitter pain relief. I noticed Matt with his hand up, not taking one from Billy.
“What’s up, man? You helped with the keg,” I said.
“I said I’d drive you. Here and home. Done deal.”
Then, feeling like a wuss he said. “No way I’m gonna tangle with your mom, Dylan.”
Whew, I thought. Even my buddies knew how my mom’s focus was totally on me. Why couldn’t she be in a bowling league or book club like other moms?
I hadn’t kicked the weird feeling I had when I heard Ashley talking about me in the office.
It was kind of strange that just as I thought that, I saw her in a group of the older kids – friends of Billy’s brother Roger .They were doing shots and getting pretty wasted.
” Springfield rules!”
It was like everybody there saw the game. It made me feel good re-living the jumper that put us ahead by one, just enough to beat those dickheads. A lot of the kids from Whitaker were rich and obnoxious, and they were used to winning.
When Billy walked by with another tray of shots, I took one and headed over to talk to Ashley, before I lost my nerve.
She had that glazed-eye look of somebody getting wasted, so I felt safer talking to an older, pretty girl. Somebody said she was hooked up with Billy’s older brother, but he wasn’t near her, so I took my shot.
“I’m Dylan,” I said, pointing to my foot.
She leaned into me not flirty like…just nice like.
“Hurt a lot?”
“Nah,” I said.
“What did you mean, ‘He doesn’t know?’ That you asked Mrs. Turner?”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, looking down.
Billy’s brother Roger yelled over, “Kid bothering you, Ash?” And I felt like decking him, but knew enough to just limp away over to my own friends. I found an empty spot on a couch and rested my leg on a coffee table.
From the angle I was sitting, I saw a pick-up game of b ball out back and that hurt worse than my foot. I was going to hate the bench. Matt shot a jumper that was awesome. He was cut before the season, and had been practicing every day. I owed him, and was determined to talk to Coach about giving him another shot at making the squad. Maybe now that I was out, Coach would give him a second look.
Billy came over with another tray of shots and I thought how pissed his parents would be when they found out about the party. Mr. Marshall was a big shot in the local police department. The pain in my ankle was bumming me out, and I just felt like going home.
All of a sudden, Mr. Marshall burst through the front door and started yelling “Shut that god damned thing off! pointing to the music. Roger, Billy…get these kids out of here!’
Mrs. Marshall looked like somebody died, and went to Billy’s dad, trying to calm him down. Both Billy and Roger were scared shitless.
After a lot of yelling and cursing, Mr. Marshall called Uber for the kids to get home.
Billy’s mom took over ordering a few group rides and made a shushing face to her husband. I imagined Billy and his brother would be grounded for at least a month.
Ashley walked away from Roger and the older kids and plopped down on the couch next to me. She looked pretty shot ….and not so pretty.. and whispered, “Your parents…Ask your parents.’ She got up and walked that way trashed people do.. right out the front door to the Uber van.
Hoping Matt and I could sneak out of the party, I was ready to make my mother tell me what the big deal was, but remembered she would smell the alcohol on me, and it was best to wait. I watched Matt go over to Mr. Marshall and talk to him.
Billy said way loud, “I swear on Mom, he’s telling the truth. He didn’t drink. He’s driving Dylan who got hurt in the win today.” By the time I got over there to Matt, Mr. Marshall wasn’t as mad and congratulated me on the buzzer beating shot.
When Matt dropped me off at home, I heard Mom and Aunt Barb shouting. It sounded like they’d been drinking too. I decided to wait in the side yard. My dad was acting like a ref, “Marcie, Barb…calm down.”
“Tom, Marcie is selfish. She’s just selfish to keep it from him.”
“Easy for you to say. You popped out babies like a bunny rabbit.”
And then my mother started to cry…a big wailing sound and it made my chest hurt and it scared me, too. My parents never made a scene. I felt like telling Aunt Barb off, but knew I was wasted, although old man Marshall sobered me up a lot with his fit.
I thought of texting Matt and asking him to come get me, but felt like I needed to help mom stop crying. As I was about to go inside, I heard the screen door shut and my dad on the phone with Uncle Ralph.
“They’re at it again, Ralph. Can you pick Barb up, or do you want me to take her home?” “Thanks, Ralph. I’ll see you in a few.”
Then Dad was quiet and said. “Don’t worry. They’ll be on the phone tomorrow…and the next day. You know how it goes.”
Dad went back inside and I decided to sit on the bench under our maple tree out back.
It’s amazing how little I felt the throb in my ankle with all the crazy shit that happened tonight. Grown ups wigging out, Billy getting caught, my mom drunk and a mess. And I put the pieces of the puzzle together that had been there all along. Stuff I knew, but didn’t want to know. Things I heard way before Aunt Barb’s eggnog rant to Mom. That I was adopted, and there was a lady out there who gave me away.
I couldn’t hear my parents, but trusted my dad to calm my mom down. I sucked in my breath at the thought that she wasn’t really my mom, but then felt guilty, cause she was. Who else would have stuck up for me when Miss Perkins had a pick on me in second grade? Who else coated my skin when I had poison ivy or chicken pox? I felt the tears coming, so glad I was alone. Why would my mom keep this from me? I saw After School Specials where the adoptive parents sit the kids down to tell them they got them in a special way. Those shows were kind of sappy, but that’s how it was supposed to be done.
Why the lying, and who was the woman who didn’t want me?
After I rubbed my eyes with my sleeve and calmed down, I went inside and sat across from my parents. Dad’s arm was around Mom on the couch. She was leaning into him and still hiccuping, but I wouldn’t go over to her, even though it was killing me to see her so upset.
“I figured it out. I’m not your kid. I’m somebody else’s who didn’t want me” and I started to cry. Really sob like maybe never in my life. Both of them came over to me but I pushed them away and yelled “Liars! You’re nothing but liars Why keep it from me? “
I knew I’d be grounded a lot longer than Billy Marshall for talking to my parents like that, but I didn’t care. Since the ceiling didn’t fall down on me, I pushed it further and walked into the kitchen and grabbed one of my dad’s beers, opened it, and took a swig.
“Dylan,” my dad said looking as mad as Mr. Marshall. I felt relieved that everything wasn’t upside down. I put down the beer.
“Your mother and I,” he began.
My mother said, “No Tom. I need to speak for myself.”
“I needed to believe I gave you life. I resented the experts who tried to take this from me. The ones who said I needed to let you know you were adopted.”
Dad jumped in. “Mom and I never wanted to hurt you, and were preparing to tell you on your birthday when all the records open. “
“Your father wanted that. I would have found a way to stop it,” my mom said, still hiccupping, but showing the kind of guts Coach was constantly preaching.
“Who is she? The one who had me?”
My parents kept interrupting each other saying that tomorrow would be better to talk. I believed them that they were done with the lying and hiding. It was late, and my mother rarely drank, and I was still a little wasted, but I told them I probably wouldn’t sleep unless they told me more.
“Dad,” I said when my voice was almost normal, “you always say, ‘There’s no time like the present’ ” making my voice catch a little.
“Dylan,” my mother said, “Your birth mother didn’t want to give you up for adoption. She wanted to re unite with you when you came of age. Megan was a teenager, and felt unable to care for you. Honey, she was just a kid.”
“Mom, can I meet her after my birthday?”
My parents gave each other a really long look.
“What is it,?” I said.
My dad came to me, and brought me over to sit between them on the couch, and I didn’t fight him. I leaned back into the couch and rested my booted foot on the coffee table.
“Megan, your birth mother, died in a car accident before you were a year old,” my dad said.” Our lawyer let us know after it happened.”
“I’m so sorry, Dylan,” my parents said together.
It was so much to take in. Now that they actually admitted it, what I suspected all along was real. And I would never meet her, and see what she was like, or get a chance to yell at her for giving me away. And good stuff, too. Like seeing if I looked like her, or maybe if we could be friends some day. Or ask her about my other father.
I was done crying for the night, and said the craziest thing to my dad.
“Why the bullshit about weak ankles when we’re not even related?”
I regretted it as soon as I said it, especially when he sucked in his breath like he was shot. He made me look at him and said, “We love you, son. We forget, sometimes how you came into our lives. If you believe nothing else about us, believe that.”
And I did.
“There’s more to tell you, Dylan,” my mom said.
Uh oh, I thought, Started thinking waiting until tomorrow was not a bad idea.
“When Megan gave birth to you, you had a twin brother.’
“Is he dead, too?”
“There are things we are legally bound to resist, until you are eighteen, but the agency did reveal recently, he’s a healthy young man who goes to Spaulding High in Monroe County. We wanted you both, but he was already taken when we were approved.”
“What’s his name?”
“Andrew. Andy Kowalski.”
Andy. I had a brother named Andy. I rolled the name around in my head, and wondered if he knew about me or if the stupid agency rules made him clueless, too.
The next few days with my parents were pretty strange, but I couldn’t hold onto the piss I had for them. My friends were always telling me how cool it was that my parents remembered their names and really listened to them, and made them feel important.
I hated that I would never know my first mother, but I agreed to wait to go see Andy until after my birthday. I knew Matt would take me. When I told him the whole story, he just nodded and didn’t say anything stupid…He didn’t say much of anything at all.
On my eighteenth birthday, I was still limping around, and asked my mom to pick the restaurant for our family to celebrate together. Felt I owed her for stepping up, not just now, but from the beginning. If she promised to whisper, I agreed that she could say what she always said before I blew out my candles. “Who’s my best boy?”
When Matt’s F 150 rolled into Spaulding High, I was excited, but scared. Would he look like me? Would he be chill like Matt? We could hear the crowds roaring for the b ball game. The game had already started.
It was hard to find a seat so we had to go up to the nose bleed section.
Matt saw him first. He elbowed me and said, “Shit, Dylan. It’s like I’m seeing double. He hits his chest three times when he leaves the bench.”
I can’t describe how it felt to see this guy who could have been me…the way he faked left, the way he took his jumpers, and his face was like looking in the mirror.
I had to look away. I couldn’t talk.
I shot a glance at Matt, and he had that pasty far away look he had after his dad left home.
“Dylan,” he said quietly. “It will be so cool to get a brother.”
“Another brother, Matt. Met my first one in first grade.”
He looked sideways, and smiled.
We each snapped some photos of Andy, before we left.
I poked him and said, “Let’s go see Coach.”
“Yeah,” he said, with the kind of spunk Coach liked.
We made our way down the bleachers to his F-150, and headed for home.
Edith Gallagher Boyd is a former French language teacher. Her short fiction has been published in multiple online literary magazines, and can be found by googling her full name. Her short story, ” The Flower Shop,” published in The Furious Gazelle, appears with her nickname, Dee Gallagher Boyd. She lives in Jupiter, Florida.