I'm sure I wasn't old enough to appreciate it: at the age of 8 or 9, receiving a first kiss on my cheek on the front steps of Calvary Church. It meant very little, in the grand scheme of the great wide world, but it left my cheek warm and my heart beating, the way only, perhaps, a first kiss can.
Her name, which I have changed for reasons which will become obvious as this story goes on, wasn't a particularly lyrical one. To call her Rosie Mae Marks is an improvement. I suppose we were in the same Sunday school class--that must have been how we knew each other before whatever evening church function facilitated the kiss beneath an enveloping, starry sky. She was the middle of three sisters--girls that my family knew in the way church families become once-a-week friends. Rosie had an older sister, lovely with glowing apple cheeks, named Leia. (It was around this time that my brother and I discovered Star Wars; we got quite a kick out of her name.) Rosie had a younger sister as well, and the ten-and-twenty plus years that span this story have erased her true name from my memory; we'll call her Molly. Molly was, as I recall from those church days, one of those plump, cherubic girls of about 5 who could truly and objectively live up to the adjective "cute."
The three Marks girls seemed like a hopefully mirror to my own family, what with two girls the ages of myself and my brother, and the big sister I had always wanted. Add to that the fact that their father had a very, very impressive job: he owned a fishing boat. Not a boat from which one casually fished, mind you. It was a boat from which fish were commercially harvested. It was named, in fact, "Rosie Mae;" Mr. Marks would captain the trawler out of Point Pleasant inslet every day, on the search for a bounty from the sea. The job seemed important and romantic--man at one with nature, being part of the circle of life, being amidst nature. It seemed like wholesome, honest work done.
That the boat was named for his middle daughter struck me as oddly unfair to the other two, particularly when I was 8 or 9.
The name stuck with me.
We weren't at the church for more than 4 or 5 years as I recall, the product of my mother's constant look for "the perfect church" and her strange resistance to the truth of church matters: any congregation of humans will include imperfection. Yet, as it turned out, we lived in the same down as the Marks family. And Rosie, having been in my Sunday school class, also logically turned out to be in my grade at school. In middle school, we must have passed each other in the hall, or perhaps had the same gym class. If so, I don't remember it--but I did always remember her.
As the classes got harder and we children became young men and women, wewere necessarily and eventually moved into future paths. I was en route to an academic existence. In high school, I had honors classes; Rosie took to wearing her hair long and mussed, to wearing strange knit hats and ducking out at lunch to the nearby shop which, being one hundred and one feet from the school, was a legal haven for smokers of all sorts.
Our paths continued to diverge, of course. Perhaps she would have faded from all memory... if not for the strangest of turns.
My senior year, I rather stepped into a new direction, and with it came some new friends. One was named Becky, who seemed to have a very lackadaisical home life. Not without structure, of course, but no real oomph to it all. Hers was the house where one could easily have 10 people over for moderate-to-heavy drinking, with mom and dad for the night but vaguely supportive of a small, quiet, no-driving get-together.
Life for Becky's father was, as it turned out, not easy. That spring he revealed he had been cheating on his wife (and by emotional extension, his daughters) with another woman. Pain, anger, grief welled up in the family, as can be expected in a time like that. What happened next was not expected: a month later, he went over his mistress' home, took out a revolver, and blew his brains out all over her kitchen table. Words, doubtless, do not suffice to describe the exponential growth of pain, anger, and grief experienced by Becky, her sister, and their mother. Yet, as time went on, the remaining family grew closer, as can be expected.
One August evening, a few months after my high school graduation and many weeks after her father's suicide, Becky and I found ourselves parked (platonically, thank you very much) at the Point Pleasant inslet. We were there for lack of anything better to do, and having a fine time talking about nothing. Becky, doubtless, was smoking; I, doubtless, was trying to avoid it. Boats, large and small, were in the inslet. Pleasure craft were coming back from a day of sun-baked frivolity. Party boats, filled with paying customers out to fish in the ocean, were on their way out.
So too were the trawlers. She pointed one out in particular: the Rosie May.
"You graduated with Rosie May Marks, didn't you?" she asked.
I said I did.
"Her father is a fisherman. That's his boat. He's got a wife and other daughters..." This much I knew of course. I wondered if she was reflecting on her own father, who had himself a wife and daughters.
Yet at that particular moment, the strange turn was taken. Becky continued in a hazy sort of voice. "My mom and I have been talking a lot since... you know, my dad. She said that when she was 18, she dated Mr. Marks. This was before he met his wife. She got pregnant. You know, from him. They decided to give it up for adoption."
Becky took a drag on her cigarette. "So I guess I have some half sister out there, somewhere. My mom's first kid. Mr. Marks' first kid. A kid no one knows about."
I suppose Becky could have met her half-sister a dozen times over. Perhaps I have. Perhaps Rosie Mae has as well. None of us would have known it. Perhaps that speaks to us living in a cold, distant world. One daughter has a fine, upstanding father... until his sexual indiscretions catch up and it ends with a funeral. One daughter has a fine, upstanding father... until his sexual indiscretions get retold on a black August night and it ends with no consequences.
Perhaps I have a grim sense of connectivity, though, for I don't see it as an example of a callous existence. There is something reassuring about knowing Rosie May as a child, and vaguely as a teen... and seeing her father's boat heading out into the ocean this very day. Thinking of his secret child. His family, incomplete.
It is, after all, a small world.