Adults always speak in hushed tones, as if that could prevent curious young ears from hearing what they have to say.
“No, this is my sister’s daughter.” Tita* said softly presumably out of reach of my little ears. She hadn’t yet learned that children’s ears hear everything and I was grateful for it. “… no, he died in a car accident when she was a baby. Yeah, it’s very sad.”
I can vividly remember the rage bubbling up in my little 5 or 6 years old body. The flush in her face and distinct thought; Don’t talk about me or my dad. That’s not your story to tell. Even then, it was important to me who told my story, but I was eager to hear or know anything about him. Conflicted, I casually played closer to learn what I could about him. I knew few things about him: he was my father, his name was Mario, and he had died when I was 7 months old in a car accident.
As I grew older, I filled in the empty spaces with stories I made up from fragments I picked up as I secretly listened to adults discuss him with one another. People of all ages do this, it’s a developmental milestone even and helps with creating fluid stories in our minds. Lets’s play a game! How do age appropriately egocentric children fill in the blanks?
FRAGMENT: He usually took me to the babysitter, but not that day.
MY MIND at 6ish: He died because of me. OBVIOUSLY. Had I been in the car he would have driven safer and taken slightly longer to get to the intersection where he died and the event would have never occurred at all. I could have saved him! … at 7 months old.
MY MIND at middle school age: I could’ve died had I been in the car with him.
FACT: He didn’t take me to the babysitter because my mother had found a new babysitter closer to home. The accident happened when he was almost at work; I would not have been in the car by that time.
FRAGMENT: He was dead on arrival.
MY MIND at 8ish: He didn’t love me enough to fight and stay alive. He abandoned me because he didn’t think I was worth staying alive for.
FACT: He was hit twice, during a time when seatbelts were not regulated or heavily enforced. He hit his head on the steering wheel and was found hunched over the center console into the passenger seat. There was no surviving that.
My mother says I would’ve been a daddy’s girl. He literally took me everywhere with him, including playing tennis. He used to call me his little princess.
I only recently learned some of these facts at the ripe age of 31derful. That’s about what I can handle for today.
*Tita means aunt in Tagalog.