First Chapter of Fathers and Other Strangers

I was in a foggy depression. I’d been musing about Gilbert and loneliness was hovering over my day. I worried that 2019 would become a bastardized year. The quest to try to date was getting more difficult as I crept from middle age to senior status. At first the early retirement in 2018 had been a cluster fuck. The director of accounting job at California Health Resources (CHR) had extinguished after twenty-five years of servitude and I was fed up. I was forty-eight and after a disheartening job search, I wanted a change. My frugal lifestyle and a generous severance package had enabled a large nest egg. I knew CHR was covering my healthcare for free until I was sixty-five in addition to paying me a year’s worth of salary and a lump sum golden handshake only if I signed papers stating I would never sue them for an illegal lay off.   But on the first day of retirement, I realized the job had defined me. It had been tough reinventing myself. I tried comedy improv and standup comedy to keep me distracted but the real salvation had been the LGBT Memoir class at The Village. And of course, my beloved temple Beth Kol Hadashim. The rabbi was on sabbatical this summer and I would be making my debut as a theologian. I’d been asked to do a sermon and I found any opportunity to perform irresistible. You could say I was a closeted actor, never having fulfilled my original aspirations of attaining a Theater Arts Degree in college. But the remission from despair had ended abruptly.

            When I heard the buzzer at my West Hollywood condo, I was startled. I wasn’t expecting any visitors or deliveries. Oh, no, another buzzing sound. I just wanted to be left alone. Friday afternoon drew me into memories of Shabbat when Gilbert insisted we light candles, drink the latest Trader Joe’s wine special and break challah bread with blessings.  

            “Who is this?”

            “It’s Mark. I’m your son.”

            “Is this some sort of con?”

            “No. Please let me in.”                      

            “No. You must have the wrong unit. Go away.”       

            “Isn’t this Lynn Pinchas? Unit 302?”

            “What is this?”

            My anger was building. How does this guy know my name and my unit number? This was nuts. 

            “Listen, there is a park next to your building. I just want to talk to you.”

            “No.” I hoped this guy would give up if I just ignored him. Having the King’s Road Park next door had been a blessing and a curse. The view of shrubbery rather than the blight of another complex increased the value of my corner unit. The summer jazz concerts were priceless too. I was plagued by noisy canines, piercing children’s birthday parties, and a hangout for the homeless. The damaging memories of my tenth anniversary refused to scar over.  

            The damn buzzer hit my hearing aids again. This time I went to the bedroom and slammed the door. The bell kept ringing. He wouldn’t give up. I’ve got to get rid of him.

“OK. I’ll meet you but I’m just giving you five minutes to explain.”

            I was wacky to do this. I don’t know what possessed me to meet this, Mark. And he thinks I’m his father. But I was intrigued and maybe it would inspire me to write something. I’ve had writer’s block with my memoirs and tried a daily blog to get creative juices popping. The memoir writing was making me delve into dark places smothering with honesty. Where was the cathartic experience that my fellow classmate writers espoused?

 After I grabbed a blue cardigan sweater from the packed closet, I pulled back my vertical blinds hoping to catch a glance of this character in the park. I saw a man in a suit pacing. He looked harmless if this was Mark. 

            When I approached the man sitting on the park bench, I had an eerie feeling. His sorrowful green blue eyes looked familiar and his strong smell was producing a wallop of fear. When he stood, he was shorter than my height of six feet. And because his suit was hanging off his frame, he appeared super-thin like me. Mark had that semi-youthful look that said leaving the twenties and entering the thirties. I refused to shake his hand when he came into my space. He had a tremor which made me uncomfortable.

            “Just tell me why you are here. You don’t expect me to believe your crazy story.”

            “I’ve been looking for you. Wanted information about who my father was.” His foot was tapping uncontrollably.

            “I’m a gay man. What makes you think I’m your father?”

            “It doesn’t matter about you being gay. Just let me tell you my story. After I left my foster home at eighteen, I started trying to find anything about my parents. My foster parents were of little help because I had been shuffled from one home to another. The trail was convoluted. I had to go through such bullshit to get birth records. All this red tape. Like it was a government secret.”

            “Get to the point. I’m only giving you five minutes.”

            “I finally found my birth certificate. It listed Jane Elaine Lippman as my mother. No father listed.”

            “Did you ever find this Jane who you thought was your mother?”

            “Another nightmare scavenger hunt. Remember, this was 1988 when she gave birth to me. It looked like a dead end until I found her death certificate. Thank goodness for the internet. AIDS was the cause of death. Another dead end until I found the doctor’s name, Jim Becker on the death certificate. Finally, I might have a contact.”

            The story sounded ridiculous but I wanted him to continue so I could go back to my condo. Lightheadedness was crushing me as I listened. 

            “The doctor was retired but at least he was alive. He was living in Las Vegas so I drove out there. I prayed that he could help me. When he told me Jane was a prostitute, things started to make sense. That’s why there was no father listed and that explains why she had AIDS. Dr. Becker was the doctor she had been seeing after she was diagnosed with AIDS. She told him she’d given birth and gave the baby boy away for adoption.”

            Mark started crying. I ached for him and this devastating conclusion.

            “Mark, I understand how painful this must be. But what does it have to do with me?”

            “The doctor gave me this letter my mom had written before she died.”

            Mark handed me the letter. I felt like I was in a melodrama when I put my glasses on and began reading:           

 I know you’ll never forgive me for giving you away but I couldn’t bring you up having a mother as a prostitute. But I loved giving birth to you. It was a miracle that I got pregnant. I joked with the other girls that you were a virgin birth like when Mary gave birth to Jesus. I mean we were so careful. Always taking birth control pills. And we had started asking clients to wear a condom because we worried about getting AIDS. We never had accidents. Well, except sometimes if we didn’t get a prescription filled, we might miss a day. That must be how you came to be. And if you’re reading this you probably want to know who your father was. I think his name was Lynn Pinchas. You don’t forget a name like that. One of the youngest clients I ever had. He was the last man who I had sex with before I got sick. I gave birth to you nine months later. This could be your father. This virus is eating me alive. Remember, I loved you.

            Mark remained silent after I finished reading the letter and told me, “I was so angry with the doctor. Why hadn’t he tried to find me? He said he couldn’t locate me.”

It’s impossible. This must be acoincidence. Look, I’ve never had sex with a woman so I couldn’t be your father. I’ve heard enough of your story. You have the wrong Lynn Pinchas.”

            “Look at me. We are connected. I know you saw that when you looked at me. This is a shock. I get that. You gave me five minutes and I’ve taken enough of your time. Maybe you’ve forgotten what happened over thirty years ago.”      

            I had an ache filling up my stomach. Lunch was creeping through my esophagus looking for release. The Park was cursed and if I didn’t leave, it would chew at my flesh.

            I croaked, “I’m sick. Going to go back to my condo.”

            “Here’s my phone number. Call me if you remember anything or better yet text me.”

            He shook my hand and when I felt his flesh I relaxed. The stomach acid subsided as I walked away while I stuffed the card into my pocket with the name Mark Lippman.

Was Mark my doppelganger, a mirrored Lynn? How can this be? The Invasion of the Body Snatchers came to mind. Something else about him bothered me. His smell reminded me of my father. The putrid urine odor after Dad had been drinking.

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