“Are you all right, darling?”
“Yes. It’s nice to be relaxed at last.” I put on a smile behind the sun glasses. I have loved this man for so long, and deceived him for so long, that I must keep the act going.
Until I find a way, if the possibility is not as bleak as it seems right now, to show him the truth without hurting him or the family.
“I know what you mean. I should thank you for planning this family vacation. The cruise is perfect so far.” He sits down next to me and looks out the horizon with a satisfied sigh, holding my hand in his. It’s not hard to make him happy, but he said “so far” as if he had some foretelling inkling.
Is he also gentle and loving like Collin? It’s been thirty years and my memory is a bit fuzzy of his face.
I remember kissing Collin good-bye and watching him drive away as if it were yesterday. I ran upstairs and cried behind closed door all night. He was going to college and it was our last day together for a long while.
We will see each other soon, he promised. Christmas will be here before you realize it. You know I love you, Alina. I am doing this for us, for our future. We will get married as soon as I’m done with the school. Wait for me, Alina.
I held Collin close to me that day while silently fighting a war inside me. He was gifted and disciplined. The future for him was bright and the college was the right thing to do. He said he wouldn’t look at other girls, and I trusted him. He never did the entire senior year we were together. I would wait for him for as long as it took. Other boys didn’t exist in my eyes.
He was also leaving early to start working at the college. It would be selfish if I told him I was pregnant. I knew he would’ve stopped his life to be with me. The thought of whether or not to tell him had tormented me for months. I lost weight instead of gaining it. Now it was too late to either tell him or to terminate it. There was only one option left. I had to beg my parents to keep it a secret. They finally caved in to my tears.
They tore my heart apart when they took my baby away. I was not allowed to hold him. They said it was for my own good. I glared at his face through tears for five seconds and tried hard to sear his image in my mind. They said it was better to give him up for adoption than otherwise. They said this as if they had no hearts and could feel no pain. The physical pain was minute comparing to the heartaches, which took years to heal. I learned to harden my heart each time I saw a baby, or heard a lullaby. I even drew up a sketch of a lovely woman holding my baby with a smile on her face in my mind, then pushed the sketch deep into the back and told myself he would be fine.
Collin held my face and said I had changed, but wasn’t sure how, the first time he came back for the holiday break. I hid my face in his collar and just said I missed him so much. He believed the tears were over his absence, and he loved me more. I learned to live with that lie, too.
The only thing I could remember now is he had Collin’s dark hair. Time has buried the little wrinkled face and the nine-month dark period in a place I seldom visited. Just when I started to think my life was perfect, that the darkness had finally left me, I got a letter from the agency.
Your son wanted to contact you, it said; he's waiting for your decision.
His first letter was enclosed. It was short and polite. He’s in the States half a globe away from me and somehow he found me. He talked about his life and work there, but very little about his childhood. The omission spoke louder than words. My heart sank. The promise that he would be with a good family was not kept. The sketch I made up for him was another lie burned up in smoke.
I’d love to meet you, he said. Is he punishing me by not saying he grew up in a loving family, or that he didn’t blame me? How could I tell him I did marry his father and have a great family, only he’s not included? Will he understand I didn't try to find him because I didn't think I had the right to disturb him? How could I tell Collin he had another son he never knew, because I gave him to strangers?
Me, the person he thanked many times for making his life complete, had carried this cancerous secret with me for thirty years. Our lives are built not on rocks, it seems, but in the sands, and now the tides are coming in. How, in trying to do the unselfish thing, did I manage to fail my family and my first born?
The shimmering ocean stays silent, but stares me back with an enticing promise. The promise of peace, at last.