First Time Again

by Chila Woychik

So here it is. Me, the facts, and that strange after-silence. Btw, I can’t say I expected any of it. I still don’t expect it unless living in a dream is someone’s idea of comfortable expectation.

First, I ask where those nieces came from, that nephew, the half-siblings? Did I really lose a sister I never knew? And who says a guy’s not my biological father, that my German mother had several lovers, several children from several men, me included? There’s a man who doesn’t claim me. Really? When the news came, I lost so much, and then (here comes the cliché) I lost myself.

Hellos and goodbyes are such interesting gestures. They’re gain and loss inside an embrace or on the tail end of the simplest of expressions. In the case of the dead sister I never met (given up for adoption very early on), there are no hellos or goodbyes, only loss. Only only only. If only I had the chance to share one of those expressions, some gesture that would put me past all this, one time, face to face. If only.

My Warm Tobacco scented candle from my son reminds me of Dad, the one who raised me, the one who cared. There’s nothing shoddy or missing or careless about him. Not related but I’ll call him Dad anyway, and the other, faux-dad, or simply, an imposter, a drunken sperm donor to my mother one fateful night those years ago.

As you can see, this may become a little dark. Dark places in the mind lead to dark places on the page; it’s inevitable. Also inevitable are the random moments my mind flies to my newfound ancestry (if four years can still be considered newfound, and with something this odd, it’s a lifetime). Just when I think I’ve regained the stability of a slow elephant, I’m jostled off the beast’s back, lay splayed out, looking up, wondering how I got there.

Next, when a glowing sun slips down along a pink and blue sky, you know you’re not dead yet. Crows perch in trees against a sepia woodland and one challenge remains: to try and reduce your feelings to words on a page, or a Facebook post.

So it’s two years later, December 2019, and your mother dies. The woman who two years earlier finally admitted her indiscretions to you, the lost daughter, the party wherein she met your biological father, and you, the result of an urge, a momentary fling. Since then you’ve lived a twilight life inside a heart buzzing with bees. Makes sense you’ve always believed in breaking rules and taking chances, and now you know why.

Sometimes I reach for a glass bottle tucked away in a closet or a small plastic bottle in a drawer. It’s weak of me, I know, but these truths are stinking up the place and I hope my liver doesn’t hate me for it. I’m looking for weed. But I think I might finally believe that this has nothing to do with guilt – at least not my guilt. Most days I do except when I don’t.

DNA tests, church records, calls, emails, or messages from cousins or someone totally new, the death of your mother – these things challenge and change us. “You’ll be okay,” someone tells me, but I want to be more than okay. I sometimes wonder if I’ve been incredibly bad and God is punishing me, or if I’ve been incredibly good and She’s giving me an opportunity for something I’ve yet to receive a memo about. I also wonder if this is a grand test from the Universe of Universes, a test where the answers are so obtuse that it’ll eventually drive me mad, send me to an institution like where my mother’s half-sister still lives, where I’ll be medicated to oblivion, my memory wiped clean, my synapses cleared of too much thought. I can see it now – me sitting on a lawn chair in the sun, staring into a blue sky, listening (while not really listening) to birds trilling off-key and far too loudly. I wonder about all this, and maybe you would too.

I’ve always believed you should write about the things you know. I know about tiny farmsteads, skies, Evangelicals and their predilections, and now, I know about my new family at every blind corner. I know about grief, shock, and a wonder that surpasses the wonder I feel while staring down a sunset.

I know about those tiny farms and a firmament decked with stars. I know how to castrate a lamb, accidentally ride a cow backwards, and track an eagle across a caravan of clouds. And I know how to wish I was in a nightclub full of people in groovy clothes, sipping the few cocktails I’ve never tasted, and being asked to dance by an incredibly hunky young Fabio. I know about Baptists. Their churches and repeated hypocrisies. Their fears. I know, intimately, about their tendency to avoid those unlike themselves and call it discernment. I’m done being mad at them. Anger has turned to pity. 

And finally, I’ve learned that sometimes you’re safer when there’s no way out. We don’t always get to know why some things happen, whether we were right or wrong, whether we did a thing or were simply alive to experience it. We don’t get all the answers all the time, or even most of the time, but I’m so tired of complicated.

But really, we don’t have to talk anymore. This can be one-way, and I can listen. I can listen to a world wanting to live another day. I can listen to your shoes scraping along the high wire you’re crossing. And I can listen to every single tear sliding down your face in this darkness. I won’t become the friend with all the answers because I have none. I won’t become the “let me tell you what I think” friend. If nothing else, I can listen.

Listening to Three Dog Night takes me back to those earlier years when things, like four years ago, got crazy, and my version of wild had nothing to do with the environment or natural world. Mama Told Me Not to Come, An Old Fashioned Love Song, The Road to Shambala, One. These songs, I feel them all over again, and what a time to be me. I’m the invisible woman like so many other women my age, spun backward, back to delicious uncertainty, an exploration that leads to who knows where, and a weird new discovery of self.

There’s no ending to a story; each day writes itself for the first time again. (I’ve been living this for the past four years.) And even though it’s in my head and won’t let go, I no longer have anything to fear; I don’t want to be safe; we can never keep running endlessly; we finally settle in. And we always think there’s one more sip of coffee in our cup.

Chila Woychik (she/her) is originally from the beautiful land of Bavaria. She has been published in Cimarron, Passages North and others, and has an essay collection, Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology (Shanti Arts, 2020). She won Storm Cellar’s Flash Majeure Contest and Emry’s Linda Julian Creative Nonfiction Award. She currently splits her time between tending her sheep in Iowa and avoiding the snakes and gators of Georgia. She also edits the Eastern Iowa Review.