I imagine it was around that time when my grandmother (my "mema," as I call her) decided to tell me the truth. Only, she never had the chance. Instead, while my mother and I were sitting at the drive-through window of Burger King, she turned to me. "What if I told you your father wasn't dead?" she said. "What if I told you that he's the one that did this to me?"
It was a lot to take in at age five. I had built him up to be someone wonderful—someone that I never had the chance to meet, because a car accident stole him from me. Instead, it turned out that he was like one of the "bad guys" from the R-rated movies I saw advertised on TV. When my mom was pregnant, he had confided in her that he sometimes wanted to kill people. His sister's boyfriend for example—he dreamed of hiding in the bushes and attacking him one day.
He started beating my mother as soon as they were married. One day, he beat her so badly that she drove herself to the hospital. Instead of telling the truth, she complained of labor pains. Being that she was nearly nine months pregnant, the doctors didn't question her story. Instead, they performed an emergency C-section, and I was born.
She decided to leave my father soon after. She and I moved into my grandmother's home in Calhoun, Georgia, with the intention of starting a new life.
One day, in early March, my grandmother drove my mother and I to the local library. My mother was in the passenger seat, cradling me to her chest. As soon as we paused at the Stop sign, my grandmother saw him. He stepped out of the bushes—just like his fantasy—raised a gun, and fired. He missed initially. But the second shot landed directly in my mother's temple, sending me to the floorboard—and her to the hospital again. She survived, somehow—minus an eye, a sense of smell, and with the mentality of a child (a 12-year-old, according to the doctors).
I was fortunate enough to be so young that I will never remember it. I never knew my mom before the "accident," as we call it in my family. I only know her now—her forgetfulness, her chronic headaches, her inability to comprehend time. She once left to go to Wal-Mart at 7 PM, and didn't realize how much time had passed when my uncle went to find her the next morning—more than nine hours later. During a family trip to Disney World, my grandmother had to call the police. My mom had taken me for a quick errand and we hadn't returned, six hours later.
When I tell people the story now, I feel like I'm telling someone else's story. It's all I've ever known, so it doesn't make me different. But the responses tell me otherwise.
"Do you think—er—that maybe you inherited any of his traits?" people have asked.
The simple answer is no, I suppose. I don't have dreams about killing people and I would never hurt anyone on purpose. But ask me if I grew up feeling different—off, somehow—and the answer is yes. I grew up being terribly fearful of men. My room (which was specially-built when we moved to a different state) had no windows, and a row of panic buttons behind the bed. Not the most "normal" bedroom for a kid. My birth certificate was doctored, so that my dad wouldn't find me. You see, he was only in prison for seven years after the incident, so the notion that he could find us and hurt us again was always at the forefront of my grandmother's mind.
The story is a weight on my shoulders. When I hear stories about the families of killers, I understand what the family must be going through. My grandmother is the best mother and father anyone could ask for, so I'm lucky. I got out unscathed, unlike my mother. But that nagging feeling that he could find me, that I'm anything like him, that I'm unworthy of love because I'm damaged goods—sometimes creeps in.