Tased and Amused
“I swear honey, if I had known you existed, I would have raised you myself.”
I seemed to be getting a lot of sentiments like that since I arrived here. Here being the back woods of Virginia. It all seemed just a little too weird for me. I think Uncle Ray could see the uneasiness in my face because he invited me out to his favorite hangout spot- the garage! As we exited the kitchen and into the man cave, the atmosphere changed! The garage was decorated with walls of tools and Benjamin Moore paint cans. On the right, against the wall was a wooden table that housed a CD player and right in the middle of the floor was Ray’s most prized possession; a John Deere XZ20SE Special Edition Ultimate Riding Tractor. (That was a mouthful) This baby had forest green paint with a lemon-yellow leather seat, even a cup holder, which I assume the company meant for water, but Ray used it for his Corona.
While Uncle Ray and I were chatting his best friend, Skeet came out to join us. Skeet was a weird little man. He was only 5’5 with a shiny bald head. He spoke with a high pitch southern accent but all in all he seemed like a pretty nice guy but way too funny to take seriously. Skeet had taken it upon himself to also now be an uncle of mine even though there was no blood shared.
“Raaaay do you know what Dougie tried to do to me the other day?? Kill me! That son of a bitch tried to choke me.” Chuckled Skeet
“Well Skeet he is a juiced up body builder, keeping your distance is always a good idea.” Advised Ray
“I can’t live my life in fear anymore, so you know what I did?”
“You bought a gun??”
“No man, shit that be stupid. No, I bought a taser. This little life saver will disrupt his movement and render him incapacitated.”
“Finally, a practical use for electricity. That’s about as useful as a trap door on a canoe.” chuckled Ray
“You wanna try it out then???” asked Skeet
“Sure, why not, go on, taze me…”
As Uncle Ray tempted fate with those words, he bent over, so his butt was in direct line with Skeets taser. But Skeet only pretended to taze him.
“Come on, that shit is broke, I didn’t feel anything!” yelled Ray
And with one swift punch and click Skeet tasered the crap out of my uncle that I only had known for six hours.
As I watched in horror, Ray flew about three feet into the air and landed on the hood of his Ford pickup and then death rolled onto the floor, where he convulsed for about 30 seconds.
I was stunned, if I could have moved my legs I probably would have run very far and very fast from these hillbillies, but before I could actually process what happened Ray started laughing.
“Well that is small but mighty, ain’t it?”
Every adopted child has their own theory of who their birth family is. My personal belief was I was secretly Texas royalty, our money was probably in cattle. But on that hot August day in 2009 I was forced to embrace the title of, Her Majesty, Princess of the Hicks. My royal throne; a John Deer tractor with a built in beer cup holder.
Driving down from New Jersey to Virginia Beach, with my mom and sister was no easy feat. It is a 321 mile drive and eight hours of mind numbing boredom. You drive four of the eight hours through fields; one road and many, many, corn mazes. Now if this weren’t bad enough, I have a blood sugar problem. If I do not eat every couple of hours I turn into a raging bitch, or as my family and friends like to call it, The Lady Hulk. We are about three hours into our journey and I am the driver. As we passed the fourth Piggly Wiggly of the trip I started getting a little hungry. We left at seven in the morning and none of us were hungry for breakfast; rookie mistake. The three of us are just driving along, Mom and Dana are chatting in the back seat and then it hit me, the over powering urge to yell at them. If I can recall I think Mom was just going on and on about something pointless, but I turned my head around and told them “I swear to God I will find the closest train station, drop you two off, and go to Virginia by myself!” Dana, being very used to these outbursts already has a plan. You see when I become the hulk you cannot tell me I am hungry, it just pisses me off more. So, she asks for a pit stop, while mom went inside she asked for her sandwich, and with the aroma of turkey sandwiches filling the car, I reach in and grab mine. After the first bite I smile
“Wow, I feel so much better.”
After that outburst Mom decided to drive the rest of the way. The last leg of the trip was to take the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, a 23 mile stretch of road connecting the Eastern Shore of Virginia to Virginia Beach. Below is the water and shore line and for about 35 minutes you go in and out of a tunnel. As Mom pulls off the exit at Chesapeake, I start feeling really sick. I talked to my birth mother, Lisa on the phone and she seems nice but what if this shit is just too real? Driving through the city was a little surreal. Chesapeake seemed to be such a lovely place. It was diverse with some urban parts but also protected farmlands and wet lands. The houses were in row style, right on top of each other with very little front yard space. I bet you could hear all your neighbors’ arguments.
As our electric blue Saturn Vue turned the corner, I see the house. The house where my birth grandmother lives, and it is beautiful. Two stories, green lawn, pillar doors, a two-car garage and a fourth of July wreath hanging from the door. As mom puts the car into park, I open my door, and there she is, peeking her head out from the front door, Lisa, my birth mother. She is chubby, with a short boy haircut, and she is dressed in white and blue stripped Bermuda shorts with an oversized red T-shirt which automatically adds ten pounds. Fuck! Well guess I can’t eat fast food ever again.
“Jennifer? Lord, you’re finally here!”
And before any air can fill up my lungs Lisa has snatched me up and hugged the Jesus out of me. To be honest, I didn’t really want a hug. To be fair, I didn’t really have a plan except keep your distance and I will keep mine, everyone needs their own personal space. My birth grandmother Mary had a camera and flashes were going off left and right. Lisa ushered us into the living room where we all sat down and kinda just stared at each other. I look so much like this woman, her facial features are the same as mine, and I hate it.
The sitting and gawking continued all through the night. We went out to the Olive Garden for dinner. It is a chain restaurant whose main slogan is “When you’re here, you’re family” I really didn’t want to be here, and let me tell you these people were not my family. Unlimited breadsticks and half assed Italian food, I ordered spaghetti and meatballs and a large glass of wine. I go into great detail here about my food because there was nothing else that happened at dinner of any interest to anyone; with the exception of “Jen watching”. All Lisa and Mary did was whisper to each other, proceed to tell me every family member that I looked like, and word vomit all over any appetite I may have had. It felt like I was on display and they had never seen a girl eat spaghetti before.
Throughout the two day visit I was introduced to many characters and they all had something to say and very distinct personalities.
Next up was my birth grandmother, Mary. Mary is about 75 years old and really a very nice woman. She has a tiny frame (I wasn’t lucky enough to get those genes) with blonde hair, but not the normal blonde, more like the old person golden blonde, like Rose wears on the Golden Girls and it is permed. I think she is the only one that I can truly trust. She informs me that she is Southern Baptist and Jesus Christ Superstar is her savior. Once, during the visit, she pulled me aside,
“I never wanted Lisa to give you up. I tried calling the hospital that day you were born but she didn’t want to speak to me. I would have raised you. I had a nursery all set up at home, with a crib and everything was all pink and yellow. I never knew what your parents named you, but I knew what Lisa would have named you, Whitney Marie. Pretty ain’t it?”
I wanted to reply “No, it is not pretty, and Jennifer is my name.” But all I did was smile and nod.
Mary then looked at me
“Bless your heart, I am so glad you’ve come home.”
Well that sure is a funny way of putting it seeing as my home is in New Jersey.
After that encounter was Uncle Ray. When I first met my Uncle Ray, I was pretty overwhelmed. I felt close to him pretty quickly. This man understood that he had nothing to lose, if I didn’t like him, he could go on with his life. He was in no way trying to impress me and I appreciated that. It allowed me to get to know the real uncle I had just met. I learned that Ray had been in the Army for a couple years out in Colorado and that is how he met Rusty, his wife. Ray had also been big into drugs; cocaine I believe was his favorite. I am also pretty sure that he had a slight drinking problem, but I guess if I lived out of the middle of nowhere I might too. While talking to Uncle Ray I noticed one of his eyes seemed kind of off. It seemed to have a glassy film and a blueish tint to it. Ray proceeds to tell me he got it shot out by a BB gun that his friend was playing with and now he has a glass eye. This seemed to be the same for the majority of the Podunk population.
Then I found out I had two cousins, Brenden and Nathan. Brenden is a 16 year old girl (that threw me as well) and Nathan is 20 years old. I would describe Nate as a class clown. He had shoulder length curly hair, with an angelic face. He had graduated high school but didn’t go on to University. Brenden was a junior in high school, mainly working on her cosmetology degree and was failing everything else. I had graduated high school and was in college, I was looking like the golden child of the family. Nathan was also hanging with the wrong crowd. I was allowed to go out with him one night. I say allowed because he had gotten into a pretty bad car accident a year ago with his truck. Evidently, he drove off the side of the road into the medium, flipped, and been stuck under his truck. I am pretty sure the outing I was about to have explained why. As I hopped into his Ford 450 he handed me a Corona for the trip; Nathan as well had opened one. As we sped along the back roads of this God forsaken land, he started telling me about his friends, and how they drank, and went mudding (still not sure what that is) and smoked weed. This was going to be a typical night out for them. Our first stop was the local watering hole, The Confederate. Of course, the bar was called this. Had the patrons not realized they lost the war? Any way we walk on inside and get ourselves a drink, and a couple of Nate’s friends introduce themselves and Nate, bless his heart goes,
“This here is my cousin Jennifer. No one fuck with her.”
I had only known this kid about two hours and that was one of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me. I was his cousin, and he was proud of that fact. After our drink we got back into the pickup and headed to his dealer’s house. Now I don’t know if it was the country music playing through the speaker system or being forced to stare at the confederate flag for an hour, but I was feeling a little Southern. I put my half drank Corona bottle to my lips and finished it. This is what my life would have been like, drinking in the front seat of a pickup truck, wearing a camouflage sweatshirt and listening to Sweet Home Alabama.
Now Brenden, she was a little tougher. She didn’t say much but when she did it was usually a few choice words. Personally, she seemed a little spoiled, got whatever she wanted. Her daddy had bought her a brand-new Mitsubishi Lancer and she was complaining that it wasn’t a truck. But I could not deny this girl was a southern girl. She wore her pink hunting gear, four wheeled and cussed with the best of them.
But let’s get back to Lisa.
Before Lisa and I had met we had to correspond by letters. It was a very odd sensation, writing a letter to a woman I had never consciously met. When I was younger my sister and I used to watch the children’s movie, Fievel (An American Tail); there was a song that the main character would sing to the moon “Somewhere Out There”
“And even though I know
how very far apart we are,
It helps to think we might be wishing on the same bright star,
And when the night wind starts to sing a lonesome lullaby,
It helps to think we’re sleeping underneath the same big sky!”
After meeting her I will now never ever watch or listen to that movie again.
In one of her letters she told me she was a lesbian and hoped I would be OK with that. I’m from the north, a yankee; of course, I am okay with homosexuals. She went on to say she had a partner named Wendy. They had gone to high school together and reconnected after both their divorces. Now, I really am not one to make assumptions, but at the time I found it a little weird that both these woman happened to be married for over ten years and then randomly decide they are gay, but I digress.
The day of the “family” picnic came. It was my last day in Virginia; Lisa and Mary had invited everyone under the sky from first cousins to step siblings, including Lisa’s partner Wendy and her children. I come to find that Lisa had never even told Wendy she had given a baby up for adoption, which I guess is none of her business, what Lisa did do was tell Wendy two days before the party. Naturally Wendy was pretty upset and really didn’t speak to me, which at the end of the day was fine because they ended up breaking up two days after my departure.
While all that shit was going on, I managed to hang around my Uncle Ray and Aunt Rusty. These two were fire crackers! Ray to me was the most honest. At the end of the day, he had nothing to lose, either he would gain a niece or life would be the same as it had always been. After a couple of drinks, we started seriously chatting. I found out that Lisa never told anyone she was pregnant, and he only found out about me 10 years ago.
And in that moment, I realized this collective group of human beings were not my family, nor were they each other’s family. I had been given the most unselfish gift a human being could be given; and that gift was a chance at an amazing life. By Lisa giving me up I was placed with an amazing group of people who loved each other unconditionally, got into everyone’s business, cooked family dinners, were highly educated and laughed at absolutely everything. This was my family. As our Blue Saturn Vue drove away from Chesapeake, I couldn’t be more thrilled, a whole eight hours in a car spent with my mom and my sister, laughing. I hope they packed sandwiches.
Jennifer Fytelson O’Brien is a freelance writer currently based in Los Angeles who is known for her insightful poetry. With over a decade of poetry writing, Jennifer has a unique voice that shines through her collection and speaks to her readers. Jennifer has an MA in Creative Writing from The Lincoln University. Jennifer’s work has appeared in numerous outlets such as The Blue Nib, The Borgen Project and Canada’s oldest literary magazine, The Mitre. She currently writes for the number one TV site, Screen Rant. Jennifer also enjoys keeping up to date with her personal blog, ALettertoWrite.com and encourages you to visit! When Jennifer is not writing she enjoys traveling, going to the beach, and playing with her dog.