Pratik Patel – Report Card

Here’s Pratik Patel’s story from June 2018’s theme “Parents.” 

When I was a senior in college, I was paid $50 to write an essay for an international student’s English class assignment. I don’t want this to be an exposé but rich Arab students at private colleges can buy off assignments if they have the means for it. They usually have the means for it. $50 was a sizable amount of money for me back in 2005. I also wanted to fancy myself as a writer so getting paid for my so-called skills seemed like a good way to test them out.

I wrote this story in which my dad pulled a prank on me by scaring the hell out of me about my 2.43 GPA on my high school report card. Throughout the story, he pretends I have bad grades. But I don’t have bad grades! I have a 3.61 GPA! And everybody ends up happily ever after at the end. It had sentences like this:

  • My father caught me examining the envelope, and put the most horrible thought into words. “Your report card for this semester.” My father had said it in the simplest way possible. In spite of the simplicity, I felt the vibes of unpleasant intonations disguised in that statement. I was trying to get my client a good grade.
  • My father could’ve been a great suspense director if he chose to. But instead of applying that talent to celluloid, he preferred to practice it in real life.
  • And this was how I ended the story. I pulled out my report card from the envelope. My father had neatly circled the GPA. In large, bold, black letters, right in the middle of the red circle, imprinted was the number 3.61. He had also left a little note for me: “Just having a little fun!” That is my father.

I re-read that story recently and honestly, I’m not impressed with my writing skills. But back then, I was pretty impressed. So impressed I submitted it two months later for an online writing competition. Mostly for kicks. It was 2005 and the Internet was still trying to find its identity. It was acceptable, fashionable even, to submit stories for online competitions nobody had heard about.

Now you’re probably wondering if I’ve spent time in pIagiarism or copyright jail. I have not. I got away with it OK? And I hope my … client got away it too. Ok, I admit that my ethics are really really … questionable, at the very least. I took money under the table for completing another college student’s English assignment. And then I published it online under my own name. If you think I’m a small-time criminal, I won’t take offense. We’re on the same page.

So anyways I submitted that story for the writing competition. And to my surprise, it won Story of the Month. I was pretty psyched. So psyched I shared it my with father. And he loved it too! So much that he shared it with his friends and colleagues. They replied back to him with nice things about my writing. Nice things like:

  • This is the most successful part of any parent’s life, when they are respected for the good cause which their children have done.
  • Another said: When you look back, you probably must’ve even recollected that particular day and would have developed a feeling of nostalgia!!

My father was an instant hero amongst his own posse.

He emailed me later. He said: “Pratik, it is excellent work done. You should try to pen more and more stories like this. Thank you a lot for centering me in this story. In fact, I lived up all those moments. I kept on smiling while reading it, and everybody in the office kept on asking about it. Keep it up.” Unlike me, he was never good with words.

It had taken $50 and two small-time crimes for that email to land in my Inbox. That email should’ve made any son proud ….. Right? But it didn’t. The trouble, you see, is the story I wrote about my father was … fictional; it wasn’t true. He never played a prank on me. He never pretended I have bad grades. It never happened. In real life, I got yelled at for my average GPA; occasionally, I got smacked. By the time, I graduated high school I knew I wasn’t ever going to live up to his expectations. And it got worse in college.

I shared that story with him for a purpose. I wanted him to know what was going through my mind when I was a student. I wanted to see if, given the opportunity, would he feel sorry for what he made me go through? I wanted him to wonder if setting such expectations was worth it in the end. I wanted a reaction. Any reaction. Any reaction but compliments for my writing. I just wanted an honest moment of truth. It hurt that he never gave me that. I was disappointed all this passing of time hadn’t softened him. And most of all, I was disappointed that my story wasn’t able to get through to him.

I thought that by sharing it with him, I would get closure so we could start from a clean slate. He’d say “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have let you go through that.” And I’d say “I’m sorry I didn’t live up to your expectations.” And then we’d move on with life. Maybe even become good friends and save the father-son relationship for another time. But that hasn’t happened.

And so, here I am, left with as many unanswered questions as I had since I shared the story with him. I hope I find some answers eventually. You know, just so I can write another story about it. And if I do, it’s OK if I’m not paid $50 for writing that story.

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Kerrie Cooper – People Smile and Tell Me I’m the Lucky One

Kerrie Cooper’s story from June 2018’s theme “Parents.”

We were 32, my husband and I, when we decided to start our family. In doing the math, that gave me 72 chances to get pregnant before I turned 38. It was a seemingly endless amount of possibilities.

We wanted a girl most of all. We had already named her Isabella, and hoped with all our might that she would have his curly hair and my brown eyes.

Because I was certain it wouldn’t be long before I was pregnant, I turned my focus to how I would surprise Michael with the news. I decided to sing him Danny’s Song by Kenny Loggins. It held special meaning to us both. We would drive around in his jeep with the top down on some winding country road on a summer day with no particular place to be and no particular time to return; singing it out loud, unabashedly attempting some harmony around “even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with you honey…” and I would have to stop singing for the tears that closed my throat. It was the perfect choice.

During an annual exam I mentioned to my ob-gyn that I had stopped taking birth control and we were trying to get pregnant. She congratulated me and asked how long it had been. “Over a year,” I said. She paused, looking over her clipboard and said, “Well if that’s the case we need to run some tests to make sure you aren’t infertile.”

I didn’t hear anything after the word “infertile.” My ears started ringing – high pitched and thunderous at the same time. I blurted out “Ok” but I was farthest thing from ok. First comes the denial. Then fear. It’s the fear that will get you.

Although the tests were inconclusive, I was given the label “unexplained infertility,” and advised that the best way to get pregnant was through medical intervention. And this began what would be eight years of infertility treatments and drugs; and thousands upon thousands of dollars to have a baby.

The journey shattered everything I had hoped to believe in: Like a body that works; insurance that wouldn’t fail me; a medical system that cares; and doctors who have all the answers.

I had no option but to trust the course in front of me, because why pursue it if I am not going to believe with every fiber of my being, with every wish on a candle, with every silent prayer, with every tearful plea, in its success? It was a game that offered no preparation but I agreed to play anyway to achieve one of the most desired outcomes that two people who love each other often want: a baby. To create another human life. To do with our bodies what they were intended to do.

I began to go through a vicious cycle. Daily injections and scheduled sex and blood draws and the grand finale of semen into a jar, hyper-spun and cleaned and then injected inside of my uterus with hopes that these super swimmers would find my plethora of jacked-up eggs, collide and stick around to grow as one.

Then I waited for the phone call with the results of my blood test. Even though I had, of course, snuck in two home pregnancy tests, my eyes bored onto the strip of paper willing a line to appear, and when one does not, I convince myself that it was too early anyway. The phone call from the nurse is all business, “Sorry. It’s negative.”

I didn’t recover easily. As it went on, I actually didn’t recover at all, only I didn’t realize it. We averaged six cycles a year for eight years. I had eleven surgeries. Insurance stopped covering anything below my boobs. Not that they were paying any of these expenses anyway. It was all out of pocket.

I could no longer be in the presence of babies. Most times I would merely tear up, but others I would sob uncontrollably, and I had zero control over it. People either got the woman with tears dropping quietly or a crazy lady crying the ugly cry with snot dripping down her nose. I couldn’t walk by a Baby Gap in the mall and I sent “regrets only” to every baby shower I was invited to. Everywhere I looked I saw babies and babies saw me, staring right at me, their beautiful innocent eyes looking right through me. Not one of my friends with children understood – how could they? It was the single most isolating experience of my life.

Slowly, my husband and I drifted apart as if on separate rafts in the ocean riding two different currents. Undetectable at all until we looked up and saw how far apart we actually were.

Questioning everything, we began to explore anything. Fertility goddesses, healers, diets, vitamins – anything that held promise. I went to a Maori Indian healer from New Zealand, asking for Papa as I had been instructed to, only to be informed, “Papa only goes where he is needed.” At the end of my session I would find myself surrounded by every healer in the room, Papa at my feet. My body was vibrating so strongly from their energy I could have sworn I was levitating.

I called a priest, an acupuncturist and a psychic in the course of an hour one day and I met with each one. From the priest I asked forgiveness for divorcing my first husband. Still under the sway of my catholic upbringing, I had convinced myself that I was being punished by God for the divorce.

The acupuncturist, who I went to weekly for a year, gave me the type of period she said women are supposed to have: pain and symptom free.

The psychic gave me hope: telling me I would not be denied a child; there was a little girl coming to me and she is beautiful and lively. She would be an answered prayer, but comes to me in an unexpected way. I hung onto her every word. I so wanted to believe her.

Depression hit me hard, but when I came out of it, I wanted to pursue adoption. Michael was still grappling with his emotions. Once we worked through the collateral damage of the years preceding we arrived at this one irrefutable fact: we wanted to be parents. We attended adoption conferences and met with agencies, one of which took our deposit but rejected us, and lined up an attorney to help with the search. Five months later, I got a phone call from our lawyer: “There’s a woman in Pennsylvania and she has chosen you to be the parents of her unborn baby.” And then, “Kerrie? Kerrie? Are you there?” On the other end of the line all I could do was nod my head silently, I was crying too hard to answer.

We flew out to meet her. I wanted to know the woman who was making this ultimate sacrifice for us. She lived in a poor area of town. It was sobering to take in her reality—heartbreaking really. After a few awkward exchanges, we suggested lunch and headed out to Ruby Tuesday, one of the only “sit-down” (her words) restaurants in the area.

Michael and I made nervous chatter in the car. I kept stealing glances at her. She was tiny, really tiny, and her belly was huge. I had to fight the urge to touch it. We stopped outside the restaurant so she could smoke. It crushed me to watch her.

As we entered the restaurant, Michael approached the hostess stand. I took two steps towards him and stopped dead in my tracks. Michael turned back to look at me and saw my distress. My face had contorted in way that was all too familiar to him and tears started falling. “Honey, what’s wrong?” I could only say his name, “Michael.” I grabbed his hand, squeezing it hard. I felt like everyone around us froze like a still frame in a movie as Michael and I stood there, facing each other and holding hands. I didn’t need to say anything else. It took him just a moment to cock his head upward and hear the music: “People smile and tell me I’m the lucky one. Life’s just begun. Think I’m gonna have a son. He will be like you and me, as free as a dove…”

Here in Lebanon Pennsylvania, 10 years later, we are with the woman who would give us a child. And Danny’s Song, the song I had wanted to sing to my husband to tell him the news about our baby, was playing in the restaurant.

We moved her in with us for the last months of the pregnancy. I couldn’t imagine not caring for her; she was giving us everything we dreamed of. After three months, Michael and I watched our daughter, Isabella Maria DeMay, being born here in Nashville. Her middle name to honor the woman who brought her to us. She has my husband’s curly hair and my brown eyes.

Finally, exactly the way it was always supposed to be, we were parents.

 

Kerrie L. Cooper is the founder and author of Kindred; building an online library of true stories to heal, inspire and encourage. Kindred is also an online shop full of merchandise that collects profits for one-to-one giving to those who find themselves in an unexpected time of need.

Ty Powers – Better Late than Never

Ty Powers’ story from June 2018’s theme “Parents”. 

Had my father, Charles, been a superhero, his tagline might have been: Mild-mannered Nazarene preacher by day! Mild-mannered Nazarene preacher by night! Dad was kind and gentle and funny, beloved by his church members, but not always the most adept at dealing with his own family.

It makes sense. As many PKs (preachers’ kids) will tell you, that “service to others” thing can be a real problem for the pastor’s immediate family. Early on, my two brothers and I realized our emotional needs often took a back seat to the needs of others. Oh, did I say “back seat”? Sometimes we weren’t even in the car: Mildred broke her hip stepping off a curb; Darryl’s toenail is infected—he’s diabetic!; Tina’s daughter has taken up smoking pot and even worse, dancing; Brother Smith is seeing a Satanic face in the tiles of his bathroom floor. You know, typical stuff.

Sixteen years ago, my marriage was in shambles. The shit had hit the fan, or as I say when children are present: “The ship has hit the sand.” Even though my dad and I didn’t really have a “spill your guts to me” type of relationship, I needed someone to talk to. Even though I resented his parishioners for stealing him away from me for all those years, surely all his counseling experience was not for nothing,” so I called him.

“Hey, Dad.”

“Ty!!!!!” He always sounded like he was either super surprised, or trying to prevent me from falling into a hole.

“I need to talk to you about something. Can it be just you and me, so maybe not at the house?” I wasn’t ready to loop in my stepmother just yet.

“Sure!” he said in that professional “Welcome to our church; please fill out a visitor’s card!” sort of way. “Come on over and we’ll drive somewhere!” My dad loved Buicks. Big ones (“I like big Buicks, and I cannot lie!), so when I got to his house, we got in his big Buick and hit the road.

I was terrified.

“Why don’t we go to Trevecca and talk there!” my dad suggested. If you’re a Nazarene in Nashville, you can’t help but be linked to Trevecca Nazarene University in some way or another. He had an office on campus.

“Yeah, Dad, that’ll work.”

We made small talk in the car, which wasn’t talking, per se, but rather, my dad reading road signs, as was his habit. “Piccadilly Cafeteria!” he would announce as we drove past. “Fessler’s Lane!” said the street sign. “Hair club for men!” declared the billboard, or my favorite: “Vasectomies!”

It was a warm, clear, beautiful afternoon, and I was sweating profusely. At Trevecca, we circled the tiny roundabout. This was before they installed the Jesus statue there. It’s a tiny Jesus on a giant pedestal. It sort of looks like a second-place trophy hiding in the hydrangeas. Just past the dorms, we found an empty pavilion. We sat down at a picnic table. I remember the sun casting shadows behind my dad’s head.

“So, what’s up!” As you may have noticed, all of my dad’s sentences ended in exclamation marks, even the questions.

I looked at him, his elbows propped up on the table, his hands clasped under his chin. I wanted to hem and haw, but I had been hemming and hawing all my life, and I was exhausted.

“Dad, I’ve been having an affair. I’ve been cheating on Gabby.”

It wasn’t surprise on his face, but sadness. Tears welled up. He had always been awkward around my wife. This was the man who suddenly blurted out over dinner one night, “Gabby! We just want you to know that we don’t think any less of you just because you’re from a third-world country like El Salvador!” Geez, Dad. Now we know what you haven’t been thinking about. For days on end. Now THAT was an awkward ride home.

So, here he was, devastated. The thing I remember most was his eyes, the way they were reshaped by his heart that was breaking, for both his son and the beautiful daughter-in-law he loved. I’m not sure what I was seeking from him then, but it wasn’t justification. I didn’t want him to condone anything. Maybe what I wanted from him was something like shelter, protection from what was crashing down around me.

So, that was Bombshell #1.

Bombshell #2: “Dad, it was with a man. I cheated with a man.” Now, THAT revelation brought a surprise to his face, and again, what I remember most was his eyes, full of heartbreak. And confusion.

I had been baffling my dad for a long time. I thought of one summer when I was 11. We were spending a week at the Nazarene Campground in Anadarko, Oklahoma. Trust me: a Nazarene campground in August in Oklahoma is its own special kind of hell. Ratcheting up the misery was the fact that I was being bullied by two older kids. Every time we crossed paths, they would beckon me with an overly lilting “Hey, Ty, come kiss my hand,” an exaggerated flick of their wrists, and a swish of their hips. It was so relentless, I eventually refused to leave our cabin.

Dad knew what was going on, so he sat me down and gave me an awkward tutorial on how to hold my hands under my chin (like this, not like this), so I wouldn’t appear so feminine. That event and other encounters from my formative years caused something to lodge itself somewhere behind my heart—the notion that derision from others was likely my own fault, that this thing I didn’t quite understand about myself must’ve been evident to others, scrawled all over my face—it definitely was something that warranted dismissal and rejection. Even hatred. I know now, in his own fumbling way, that Dad was just doing the best he could, but I wore that shame for a long, long time.

Anyway, back at Trevecca, all of that was roiling around in my head as I cried, “Dad, I don’t know what to do. I’ve been leading this double life, and it’s tearing me apart.”

“Well, why don’t we do this,” he said, no exclamation marks this time. “Let’s pray,” which I realize now can sometimes be a preacher’s sneaky way of avoiding the topic at hand. But that’s what we did. I don’t recall exactly what he prayed, but I do remember what he did not pray: there was no “getting right with God,” no “lead him out of this phase into the arms of his wife again,” no “God, just help him like sports.” Actually I did love football. All the spandex.

He just prayed for healing, and who doesn’t need that?

After the prayer, he said one more thing as he hugged me: “Hey, Ty. I want you to know something. I love you. Ann and I love you. We always will. We always have. We love Gabby, too. We’ll get through this together.”

So, there you go. My awkward dad surprised me at one of my life’s most crucial moments.

The “together” part didn’t quite last. The marriage sputtered out after another six years, including a stint in a misguided counseling approach akin to reparative therapy—what I call, in retrospect, “Homo No Mo’”. I don’t recommend it.

Gabby and I went our separate ways. She finally found a real man.

And so did I!

Dad and I never talked about my gayness again, which says as much about me as it does him. I never told him who his youngest son really was, deep inside. He was gone before I could say, “Dad, I am a gay man.” I never got to show him the shame-free version of myself. I never had the chance to introduce him to the guy I’ve been known to eat ice cream with. On that guy’s couch. In that guy’s house! Scandal!

But I did get that one very special afternoon with him, praying under that pavilion, his hand on my shoulder, the heat of the day swirling around us, the shadows lengthening, the fireflies hovering.

There was distance between us, yes, but the uncrossable chasm that I thought would open up between us when I told the truth simply didn’t happen. Every now and then, I can feel him just across the table, simply loving me.

 

Ty Powers grew up in Oklahoma, Texas, and Mississippi and has been a Nashvillian since 1994. An editor for the Lord at a local Christian publishing house, he whiles away the hours coming up with innovative ways to undermine family values.

Parents – The Understory and Next Theme

Here’s Rob McRay’s understory for our June 2018 theme “Parents.” 

Nashville, tonight we shared stories of parents.

We moved next door to the Church of Not-Entering-Without-Knocking, where our lying58-Parents siblings caused a crisis. But our brother confessed, and we told our parents, and the Incredible Hulk was saved.

We felt like a Kennedy at technically a bed-and-breakfast. We learned we were on our own dealing with a barf sprinkler spewing a ton of not-puke. But in the end, it was worth a good laugh and, maybe someday, a thank you.

After a life of bullying at hell camp, we took a ride in our father’s big Buick…the day “the ship it the sand.” Our bombshell confession led to a prayer for healing…and words of love. And we wish he knew the shame free version.

We went from winning at the best day ever to falling on our face on the way to the birth of the most alert newborn ever. But we have survived raising ourselves, and we have learned not to talk about cows on trains.

We lived with never living up to his expectations, and the questionable ethics of plagiarizing our own plagiarism. But Father’s pride over a story that wasn’t fully true left us with unfulfilled dreams of mutual apologies.

We don’t remember breathing when she told us the news. After an evasive call to him and an intuitive call to her, we were on our own to say the words we could not say. And we learned it takes a long time for a heart to heal.

Sliding down a big toy with nails led to frantically looking for a penis bucket. But the good news is that it didn’t hurt much…but someday it will!

Mom’s cooking mishaps included strange pseudo-Mexican dishes, and demonically blooming steaksicles, and Dad with Joe Pesci eyebrows. But we all survived the physically painful experiences.

The tests and treatments led to shattered beliefs and tearful pleas and avoiding Baby Gaps and baby showers. After seeing a priest and a psychic and a papa, we finally heard the song…and she gave us our dream.

That was our night with parents.


Thanks to all our storytellers—Hamish, John, Adam, Anne, Kerrie, Ty, Melissa, Trey, and Pratik! Join us July 23 for “Regret.” You can pitch your story idea here. See you then!

59-Regret