Sunday, February 28, 2010
I haven't seen her in 18 years
My best friends know that I have two daughters, not one. Besides my dear Livy who lives with me, I've got a daughter by a relationship from a woman in Houston in the middle 1980s.
I found out about that daughter, Katie Rose, over a steak dinner when Katie was a couple of weeks old. I didn't know that her mother, Dawn, had been pregnant because we'd broken up after just a couple of months together and I had moved back to Dallas, TX, to finish college.
Dawn left Katie with me for a couple of months soon afterward as I finished my studies. Dawn went back to Houston to get her life together a bit. I and my family became close to Katie. Dawn wanted to marry me, and I did not want to marry her. So, she took Katie back to Houston and said I'd never see her again.
I was dirt poor at the time and got a dirt-poor-man's cheap attorney to try to get some kind of custody. Dawn's family had money and got a good attorney. They fought me with delays for more than 4 years before I could finally get to court against them. Meanwhile, Dawn told Katie that her father was dead.
While the case was being tried in court, the judge took grocery orders from her daughter over the phone at the bench. My attorney was worth every penny I paid him, so I took over the speaking at the hearing and told him to sit quietly. The "judge" gave me only 2 days of visitation each month and told me to pay child support, which I could not afford but paid.
Dawn refused to allow me access to Katie but gladly cashed my checks. I moved to Houston from Dallas to be close to Katie, but Dawn continued to refuse me access, knowing that I didn't have the money to take her back to court to obey a court order. I lived with my best friend in Houston while trying to see Katie. My best friend had become depressed over the previous year from various things and killed himself. I found him. He had used a shotgun.
I moved back to Dallas to finish my last semesters at college and try to save money to take Dawn back to court. She sensed that I was not going to give up, so she moved to Bradenton, Florida, to be near her parents and be farther from me. My step-father worked for American Airlines and allowed me to use and pay for his $40 passes to fly to Florida once a month for my visitation, which was supposed to comprise my getting Katie for an entire weekend.
Dawn finally relented and "allowed" me to have Katie during the day on one weekend's Saturday and Sunday each month.
And so Katie and I saw each other. She was, obviously, shy at first and tentative. My first weekends with her were spent at Dawn's because Katie didn't feel comfortable with me away from their home. We played "doll house" many times and other games. After a few months, she was ready to roll out and do other things. We went roller-skating, played on the beach, took lots of photos (she loved the camera), ate lots of food, talked a lot. I let her drive my car in church parking lots, one thing she thrilled over when we met.
And so we got close, though she never called me dad. I was David. We had a year and a half together. Then one day after we drove in the church parking lot, we sat in the car laughing. She was 6.5 years old. She then asked me the question that led to my not seeing her for 18 years.
"David, where do you go to church."
"Well, I don't go to church."
"Why don't you go to church."
"It's not really my thing."
"Why not?" (kids don't settle for equivocations, eh?)
"Well, I've got a different idea about all that than most people."
"I don't understand."
"Well, some people believe in god and some people don't."
"Do you believe in god?" (she was nonchalant)
"No, I don't."
(long pause) "Why not?"
"I just don't think there is one, Katie."
"Oh, OK." (still nonchalant)
Then we talked about a lot of stuff and moved on. When I took her back to her mom's, she happily hopped out of the car and said goodbye. I waited until she was in the house safely. Before I left the driveway, I reached for something on the floorboard. When I arose to back out of the driveway, I saw Dawn running from the house toward me with her face swollen beet red and furious.
She came to my window and let loose: "Don't you EVER tell my child that there isn't a god! Jesus Christ is EVERYTHING to her! Everything! Do you understand?! ... You will NEVER EVER see her again! Ever!"
Dawn ran back in the house. I sat there for a moment taking it in, wondering what I would do, knowing I had no leverage and no money and knowing I had just been confronted by a madwoman who was the mother of a little girl I was becoming extremely fond of -- and who looked exactly like a girl version of me.
I drove home slowly, sadly and quietly. I had just gotten married to Daniela a few months previous. She and I were starting our own lives together. We'd planned to have children (we didn't and got divorced five years later). Before I made up my mind on what to do concerning Katie, I wanted to talk with her. I called almost daily and hung up the phone if Dawn answered.
Finally, one day Katie answered. When I told her it was me, she said nonchalantly, "Mamma, it's David" and put down the phone for Dawn to pick up. I hung up and realized any attempt to have a relationship with Katie would mean years more of court battles that I again would most likely lose. I realized that I would be getting the lamb's share of time with Katie, thereby having little influence and little satisfaction. I realized that I had not won Katie far enough over to my cause, despite our fun times together.
So I made a decision to walk away. For three years, I wrote long letters to her that were never answered. I sent gifts to her for her birthday and Christmas. I've kept copies of all of my letters to hopefully show her one day. I plan to try to find her again soon and hope that she was not entirely brainwashed by a midwestern family with "family values." I hope she has some of my spirit, my independence, my benevolence, my curiosity and candor about life. I think she may. She sure did when she and I hit it off with our teasing and fun and play and talk.
In the photo above, Katie was 5 years old. Tomorrow, March 1, she turns 25.
I miss her.