I don’t know many things about my father. We are eating dinner–my son, my father, my father’s wife, and I. “So, Dad,” I say. He looks up at me. We sit across from one another. “I have a question for you.”
“Okay,” he says and eats a meatball.
I say it quickly as if I’ve decided to jump into a pool of cold water. “Do you remember your first girlfriend?”
My father’s wife laughs. My son laughs. I smile brightly.
“Oh yeah,” he says and twists noodles around his fork. He eats the noodles.
“Do you remember her name?” I feel braver now. Certain things I know. He married my mother when he was 28. They’d known each other 2 years when they got married. He’d left home, Rhode Island, as a teenager to live on his own in Key Biscayne, Florida.
My dad nods. He laughs a little. “Yeah, I remember her name.”
“Good luck getting anything out of him,” his wife says. She laughs too. “Oh boy,” she says.
“Well? Dad. What was her name?” I know my father. He will either tell me the truth or an obvious lie like Martha Washington or Queen Elizabeth. I’m ready. If he tells the truth, I will ask about her. If he lies, I will tease him. I will get my step-mother and my son to gang up on him. I’m about to find out something I never knew about my dad and I can’t believe I had the nerve to ask. “Dad?”
“Marta,” he says and eats a tomato.
I’m named after my mom. “What? Seriously?”
He nods. “Yes. Your mother.”
My father never jokes about my mom. He doesn’t talk about her at all. It is impossible that this is a joke. My brain stalls on this fact. He was 26 when they met. 26 and she is his first girlfriend? But I can’t ask that. That question goes too far. My mom? My dad who always had a date when he was single? In-between wives he had lots of girlfriends. What was he talking about? “Oh,” I say.
He keeps eating dinner. I’m grateful when my son wants to know what his grandfather’s first job was.
I think I know where a story is going. I don’t write an outline or take notes or draw charts. I just imagine a character in a situation and run. But the story goes one way, I’m sure I know…and then I don’t. I’m in a strange place, saying things that I never expected. Later, I read over a scene and say out loud, “Seriously?”
My plots feel such a mess I should have a better plan. I should know what is going to happen. But I don’t know how to do that.