I have to leave and I don’t know when I’ll see you again so I should tell you everything about our father. You know he was a miner and died with 110 other men in an explosion. I think that’s all you know. Mom never felt the need to talk about him because as crazy as it seems, she never missed him, not in the way you think. She only mourned him while he was alive.
When he would come back from the mines, his face and hands and the back of his neck were lightly dusted in soot and his dirty blond hair masqueraded as midnight black. He’d tell mom, during dinner, what she’d already heard repeatedly like orbits going nowhere except in circles– how the conditions at the mine were deplorable. The supervisors assigned more than the maximum amount of people working in one shaft, or the mine wasn’t dusted properly and it could be potential for an explosion, and how they all knew and the inspector knew and the union knew and even the government agency knew, and no one was doing a thing– not a goddamned thing– and he’d bang his fist on the table, crushing mom’s overtly cheery mood she learned to develop over the years to compensate for dad’s.
Mom’s shoulders would sink and she’d visibly deflate and she’d shudder and bite her lip before catching her composure and calmly tell him that he has to leave the company for me, for you in her womb, for her, and for him. In one way, I’m glad you never saw this but in another I’m sad you never will.
He never considered this an option. He couldn’t leave his mining buddies he’d worked with since he was sixteen and lusting after girls and adventure. He was a union leader and that made it all the more difficult. He felt the pressures of looking after everyone’s well-being, not just ours. Mom understood this after a while and instead of asking him to quit she tried to come up with different options, like the time she told him that maybe he and some of the other guys could write a letter to the governor. Who knew some company men. See if he would listen to their plight.
Dad thought it was a great idea and everyone loved mom for that. They were nervous and took their time writing and editing and using the right words and making sure their commas were correct and that no participles were dangling, I’m sure. It was a huge disappointment when nothing came of it and no acknowledgment was received. It was devastating but dad never said anything about it again.
I slept in the room next to mom and dad so I know when you were made. It was always late at night, silent except for the door chimes the wind gently pushed around. I heard their love sounds, muffled through blankets and walls but I knew it was ok because they were our parents and they loved each other. So I was never afraid of sex.
Mom went into labor when dad was at the mine. I went with her to the clinic and since dad was away, she had me call one of the other miners from the union. He came by first to check up on mom and said he’d go get dad because no one was answering the phone, muttering under his breath that the manager was a dipstick and some other words I didn’t really understand. He patted me on my head on the way out.
But he didn’t come back when we expected and dad never showed up either. After many hours you howled newly released from your amphibious state and burst into tears at the shock. Later mom would say that you cried the way you did out of defiance.
We heard, through nurses and doctors at the hospital, huddled around whispering, that dad’s mine blew up. A spark turned into an explosion from the excess of coal dust that ramped up the shaft in lightning speed and every man there, all 111, were killed. They left 99 widows and over 70 children behind. You were the 77th.
Out of shock mom refused or neglected to mourn and came to believe you were dad reincarnated. We didn’t tell people much about this. Thing is, you were born in the same hour dad died.
Did you ever read The Little Prince? When he wants to go back to his planet, he says it will look as if he is dead but he’s just shedding his old body for light travel. Maybe that’s what mom had in mind when dad died. That he shed his older, tired body for a lighter, fresh one. She relished having him/you in a perfect state of happiness and innocence that was so far from the frustration and helplessness that he left behind.
I saw dad’s friend, the one who came the day you were born and dad died, at a coffee shop I was working at many years later. He was drunk and sloppily wished aloud that he died with dad and the others. I told him dad never died.