It was in the summer of 1995, as I was recuperating from major surgery, that I got the call from Cousin Abbie. In true diplomat fashion, dad always went through intermediaries. “O is in Paris,” said Abbie. “He wants to visit with you in three days.” I explained I’d just had major surgery and wasn’t yet up to driving or caring for a guest. Could he perhaps give me a bit more time? “Not to worry, the embassy will provide a driver. You are able to make his coffee?”
So, three days later, he reappeared, after more than twenty years. Of course, the weeklong visit didn’t take place at my bedside. While a driver dropped him off and took him back to the airport, I ended up doing all the other driving. While the official reason for the sudden visit was getting reacquainted, it consisted mostly of shopping for gifts for my half brother at Tysons Corner and Bethesda malls, former officials’ homes, with a viewing of Waterworld and dinner sandwiched in between. While at Nordstrom, a pair of fake citrine earrings caught my eye. He bought them. He pocketed them after looking at them, saying they needed real gold.
Then, on the last day, the reason he was here was finally revealed. His son was languishing back home. He wanted me to find him a technical college where he could learn a trade. “What kind,” I asked. “Why not Georgetown? They’ll give him priority as the son of an alumnus.” Dad was vague in his answers. But then, with a resolute look on his face, he forcefully asked me to stop questioning him about R. He wanted me to apply on his behalf and, once accepted somewhere, take him in, make sure he attended school and, “Oh, don’t let him get mixed up with the wrong crowd.” Then, curiously, he added that R would need to go to detox before starting school.
I wasn’t starved enough for dad’s affection to fall for this after twenty years. I passed on the offer to parent my brother, after an expense-paid trip to Morocco later that summer. I got to pick up my earrings when they were ready, and I got to meet R, a very handsome young man I hadn’t seen since he was an infant. R’s privileged childhood turned out to be no less lonely than mine, especially after the separation from Butler, at the end of dad’s posting in Denmark. It was in Czechoslovakia that R found substances to self-soothe with.
My refusal to take the opportunity I was given resulted in another twenty year long silence that was broken last year, through a different intermediary: my cousin Rita. This time, the bait was early access to my inheritance, in exchange for… Wait for it! At least $10,000, more if our DNA strands matched.
I still have this lovely pair of earrings…