This past month, I have been sent on an extraordinary journey (even for myself!) I will always say that the most unexpected phone call I have ever gotten thus far is from my own father. At about 10 in the morning in the beginning of February there was a 415 area code calling me. I answer formally, "Hello, This is Curtis" in case it was a business call. An old, deep voice on the other side chuckles "Hello, Curtis. This is Curtis! Ain't that a trip?" I could not speak or breath or blink or move. So I reply cautiously, "Oh, hi... it's been a while... I wasn't expecting your call."
He was not in my life since I was 3 or 4 years old.
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Curtis Lee Ortega, Jr. I came out of the closet when I was 15 years old, nearly failed high school in 2002, helped plan gay pride day at city college for 2 years, planned Be the Change at state, graduated from Fresno City College in 2009, had to call CPS on a family member, initiated the Innaugural LGBTQ Grad ceremony Fresno State in 2014 and graduated that year, and am now gamefully employed at a job that is very rewarding. As you may imagine, I have a lot of which to be proud. But I am not writing today in order to gloat or boast about my life. This blog entry is going to bring piece of mind, joy, and relatability to those who can relate to the content in any way.
My memories of my father do not include any positive moments. Pardon me for being gorey, but he used to beat my mother, beat my sister, and beat me. The very few memories of him are very abusive. Luckily, he was absent more often than present during the formative years of my life.
About 5 years ago, my curiosities got the best of me. I paid a website $14.99 to give me a report of all the past addresses that Curtis Lee Ortega, Sr had lived. I went as far as sending letters to those addresses but I did not continue looking for him because it would not have changed anything. I consider myself a well-rounded person in spite of his absence and in spite of his violent presence. If all I ever found was a headstone/gravestone at a cemetery, I would have been satisfied. My father is a stranger to me because he was absent for 27 years.
Fast forward to the present. The phone call a month ago resulted in a brief visit with my father. I posted this on facebook after the visit:
My father, a once violent, volitile, and physically fit man, had been reduced to a desperate, drug addicted, frail, transient, delirious person. All my anger towards him, all the questions I wanted to ask, all the anxiety I had experienced prior to meeting him got thrown out the window when I laid eyes on the man that my father had become. He lives at a homeless shelter that serves people addicted to meth, heroin, and other drugs.
It didn't matter to me that his clothes were baggy, skin was wrinkled, face unshaved, needed a bath (EXTREMELY!), was missing teeth, his apartment stank, or that he was short. I had gotten lost in small genetic wonders. We have the same eyes, hair, stance, bow legs, thick hands. As many times as people have made fun of my laughter, now I know where I get it from. We have the exact same high-pitched laugh and low-pitched chuckle. These were the things that I was completely unprepared for. The "sameness" settled any dispute about our history. I knew I was looking at my dad for the first time in my adult life. For lack of a better term, it was TRIPPY! But I don't dare call him "Dad" because I don't want to be hurt again.
Did he apologize? Yes. Did he mean it? I am not sure. I would be more apt to accept an apology from a person who can iterate the exact nature of their wrongs. Unfortunately, when I pointed out a specific instance of physical abuse, he would not admit to doing those things. In my opinion, I was flooding him with reality. It was too much, too soon. I expect that he will eventually admit the exact nature of his wrongs but at this point, he is not ready. And I am ok with that because I forgave him for that a long time ago. I forgave him in order to live my life as wholely as possible.
Ever since the visit, my father has called me on the phone at least twice a week. He tells me things that most fathers tell their sons: I am proud of you, I miss you, when are you going to visit, again? All of these things evoke feelings that I have never had. I hear those things regularly from my mother who I love dearly. Now, the man who I am named after, is telling me those same things so suddenly. A part of me wants to beleive it because I never had those things said to me by a father figure. Another part of me is safe behind a barrier where my father cannot hurt me ever again. The happy medium is for me to display gratefulness for his compliments but maintain calm composure so that he doesn't know I am affected.
This part of my life seems like a complex puzzle. I have gotten lost for hours making voice recordings about my thoughts on this new revalation. My father is a homeless man who seems to want to be in my life. I don't plan on denying access quite yet. He paid a big price thus far. He has had to live 27 years without me. That fact alone means that his loss is far greater than mine.
Thank you for reading about the beginning to a new chapter in my life.