“But, wait a minute—Terry said he met Walter while they were in the service, and then Walter came by for a job with—” My aunt Evelyn stopped in mid-thought, trying to do the math of what Don had just told us.
“All those years, I never even heard the name Walter. And then how did he meet Sheila?” Mary asked, to no one in particular.
Mary was married to my dad for a seemingly stable and happy twenty-five years. I considered her my mom, feeling closer to her than my actual mother had ever allowed me to, even if I called Mary by her first name. That all changed, of course, when my dad admitted to smoking crack for the preceding ten years, and then up and left her and the two kids he’d help raise.
“Walter said that he met Terry through Sheila,” Don answered.
Really? He knew her first? Did she start him on drugs? Were they having—
“Do you think they were, you know, intimate?” Mary picked up my thought, her hand slowly waggling back and forth. She always made the same gesture when she was unsure of something. I’d seen it ever since I first met her when I was eighteen.
Aunt Evelyn looked embarrassed. We all did.
Jim, my stepbrother, was slouched in the furthest corner of the room, watching this news unfold. Jim and I were great friends, and he’d become the brother I always wanted in a way that an only child often longs for a sibling. We hadn’t spoken in three years and it felt great to reunite with him, too, picking up our rhythm right where we’d left off.
I peered into the main room, where my dad was, saw Walter, and wondered if he had any more answers, or just more mysteries we’d have to solve. He was easy to spot—a tall man, his hair more salt than pepper, wearing dark shades indoors and a gray linen pimp suit. His arms spread out over the two neighboring seats as if he was waiting for company.
“I’m going to talk to Walter,” I said. I hadn’t intended the thought to come out of my mouth. I squeezed Dixie’s hand; I was relieved she’d driven up from southern Illinois to be with me, proud to introduce her as my “sister-in-law.”
I sat down a few seats away from Walter, not wanting to interrupt his comfortable position.
“I just heard you and my dad weren’t in the service together,” I said.
“Nope. Met him in ’92. Met him through my daughter,” answered Walter, looking straight ahead through his sunglasses, never once meeting my eyes.
“I gotta ask you a tough question. When did you know my dad to start doing drugs?”
“I don’t know nothin’ about him doing any drugs. No. Don’t know anything about that.” He didn’t flinch when he answered.
There weren’t going to be any questions answered at the wake. I wondered if I ever would find out the truth, the truth beyond what my dad had constructed for me and the rest of his family.
I shook Walter’s hand. Walking back into the small oak-paneled room to join the family, I realized I had to know, and somehow I was going to find out.