“Who Are You?” by J.R. Rivero Kinsey

SERIES: Part 16

My eyes open in the morning light to a view of Spanish moss hanging from Live Oaks outside the window. There are no curtains because there are no neighbors. My head aches from last night’s wine, mouth pasty and dry, but my discomfort is no match for the excitement I feel for where I am. I want to see this home, this land, in the daylight. Most of all, I want to be with my father.

Still in pajamas, I pad through the foyer past tables covered with framed family photos. There is one from the early 1900s of a woman who looks remarkably like my step-mother, Laura. I wonder which of the photographs are from her family, and which are from mine. The foyer opens to the main part of the house, and the dark living room I had encountered the night before upon arrival, is now an entire sun-lit world. Through the bay windows that wrap the living room is a view that is almost unreal in its beauty. I hadn’t realized how close my father lived to the water. Directly behind the house, just at the edge of the medium sized back yard is stretched a massive river, placid and smooth. In the far distance, snowy white egrets swoop among trees that form a solid wall of lush green on the opposite bank, circling around as they fly to and from the marsh, dropping in and out of view.

Dad is awake and making coffee in the open kitchen, adorable in pajamas and a tuft of tousled hair at the back of his head. He walks toward me, arms reached out for a hug that infuses me with a sense of warmth and safety. I gratefully accept a badly needed cup of coffee and cozy on the couch, mesmerized by the view. “That’s the Pocotaligo,” he says of the river and spells it out its name. “It’s a salt water river.” Underneath the smooth flowing surface are alligators, small sharks and stingrays. An entirely different world from the idyllic one I’m experiencing at this moment.

While Dad works on breakfast, I wait on the couch, drink coffee, and stare, spellbound, out the window. The dogs, named Doc and Mack for Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, lean their sleek, hunting dog bodies on me, insistant in their demand for affection. Steinbeck is Dad’s favorite but I’ve never read Cannery Row- only Grapes of Wrath, like everyone else.

We sit down to eat, bathed in soft morning sunlight. On my plate are two slices of toast, each topped with an egg and a slice of Canadian bacon Dad smoked himself. I love mornings. I love coffee and breakfast, and staying in my pajamas until 11. Most of all, I love being right here with my father and I could stay in this perfect moment forever.

***

“Who are you?” she asks for the third time, peering at me from behind wire-rimmed glasses, her small face framed in silver hair. “I’m Scott’s friend. We play music together,” I answer, now familiar with the drill. This is how I was introduced to Laura’s mother, the matriarch of the family. At first I thought it was because she wouldn’t accept a surprise illegitimate addition to the family, but it’s because she has dementia and they try not to confuse her. She often asks when she’ll be taken home to North Carolina, where she hasn’t lived in years. “Arthur will come pick you up later,” they tell her. And when she asks for her husband, whom she has forgotten is dead, they just respond, “He’ll be home later.” It calms her, and when later comes, she’ll have forgotten the question was ever asked.

“Saint Kathy,” as Dad calls Laura’s sister for her giving nature, is in the kitchen preparing food for the gathering. The rest of us are scattered throughout the house, patio, and back yard overlooking the water. Kathy’s husband Bill is here, as well as my step-sister Sarah and her boyfriend, Dan, with his tattoo covered arms depicting the history of America. Of course, Dad and Laura are here as well. The only one missing is my other step-sister, Carolyn, who lives in Virginia.

I had been nervous about meeting Sarah, worried she would resent me as an intrusion, but if she feels that way, it doesn’t show. She is quiet and unthreatening, but I can tell there’s a lot going on under the surface. She’s an artist, and I like her immediately.

This family is so different from my mother’s side. Venezuela produces big personalities and my maternal family is no exception. Emotions are always on the surface, boisterously expressed. Opinions are strong and spoken blatently. The tone of this gathering is much more reserved, but everyone is friendly. Chatting at the backyard picnic table with these people I’ve just met, I feel welcome without any need for overt gestures.

Our meal is very American. Turkey and stuffing with salad. Kathy is worried the stuffing is dry but it’s delicious. This is not the first white American family gathering I’ve been to, but they always seemed so “other” to me– what those American people did. It’s strange to wrap my head around this typical Southern family being my family. On one hand, I feel like a root is being staked in the ground, anchoring me to this country in a way I’ve never felt before. But at the same time, part of me feels like an imposter, an outsider, and I long to feel like I grew up with these people, like I truly belong to this place.

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