As far as I knew growing up, it was just me and my little sister in our tidy family of four. We have a very close-knit family. And by close knit, I mean, like my mom's whole family would pile up and drive several state's away to accompany us to my dad's family reunion. Most of our family vacations included at least one set of Mom's siblings and their families. As far as the grandchildren went, there were six of us. Richie was first. I followed four years behind him. And the rest were sandwiched in between me and my sister, who was six years younger than me. Me and my cousins were probably raised more like siblings than extended family.
This is a picture of us six grand kids and Richie's fiance, Lisa, around the time of this story. I'm in the top of the tree with a burgundy sweatshirt and big hair. My sister, Amanda, is standing on the ground in a white sweatshirt. And Richie is kneeling with Lisa on his lap. Jimmie is in the tree by me. Boo Boo, or Boo, as we call him and Jamie are in the middle.
Richie and I were super tight growing up, although he was horribly mean to me. My granny used to say, "Pammy would follow Richie to the ends of the earth, and he'd be there waiting to push her off." But, that's a story that will need to wait for another blog post. Regardless of this fact, we shared the same circle of friends, for the most part. I knew most all of his friends, except one.
Hang on. I'm setting the stage, here.
Every year around Valentine's Day our church would put on a Sweetheart Banquet. It was a big deal where you got to get all dolled up with a fancy schmancy dress, or suit/tux if you were a guy, and see just how big you could get your hair. This was the early 90's after all, and big hair was everything. Really. So, anyway... one night me, my mom and my sister were at the mall having dinner at the food court and I ran into a girl that had been coming to church, but that I hadn't seen in a while. In the course of our conversation I mentioned to her that we were going to be having a Sweetheart Banquet and that she should come.
She said, "Oh, yeah. That sounds like fun. And I have a new boyfriend, so, I could bring him."
"Yeah, great. What's his name?"
"Jim. Jim _______."
At this point, unbeknownst to me, my mom about choked and spewed her Pepsi out her nose. Evidently, she said something that had unnerved my mom.
Fast forward a week or so. It's Friday night. February. Snowy. My senior year of high school. I'm getting ready to go out with a couple of my girlfriends from school, Beaner and Yellie. I'm just about ready to leave and my mom gives me this real serious statement, "Why don't you come sit down? I have something I need to tell you." That's always a red flag when you're ready to walk out the door for a fun filled evening with your gal pals. Then she starts in with this whole weighty scenario...
"Years ago, back before your dad and I were together, he had a relationship with a woman." I must inject here, this is where my head started spinning. My palms started sweating. And a whirlwind of thoughts started bombarding my cranium to the point I didn't know whether to puke, pass out, laugh or cry like a baby with a diaper full of dukey. This was 1992. AIDS was fairly new on the scene and being thrown into the forefront of not only the media, but the public school system, as well. So the first thing that went through my head was this: "Oh my God! She had AIDS. Now my dad has AIDS. He gave it to my mom. She probably transmitted it to me and Amanda. Oh, my God! We all have AIDS and are going to die!"
While I'm listening to the foreboding forecast rattling my skull cap, I try earnestly to hear what my mom is saying at the same time. That was quite a chore, considering I felt as if I had a twister raging through my innards. I did manage to hear her say something along the lines that she had gotten pregnant and I had a brother.
Thank God! Whew! It's just a brother! We don't all have AIDS and are going to die! I'll get to live to marry and raise a family! Hallelujah, praise the Lord! I have a brother! Talk about feeling like the weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders! I was feeling some major relief. Heck, I was feeling down-right giddy! So, I went outside and found my dad, who was shoveling snow like a mad man, trying to calm his nerves and let him know I was cool with having a brother and all.
Then all the questions came. I wanted to know details. I was curious why they decided to tell me and my sister now, after all this time.
To be continued...