Jo’s youth, child , hair, health and sexiness were gone. The only thing she had left was Ernest and her grandson, John. He was growing up so fast but Ernest adored him and sometimes she would imagine that he was their child on nights he would spend the night. Although, it was an illusion, one that was beyond holding for too long.
The cancer had been taking its toll and by God, she had to work. Ernest couldn’t make enough with the occasional job cleaning gutters. He drank more than he could make in a day. She had to work, even her son’s money was not enough to pay for the medicines, food, beer, rent & utilities.
Just after Christmas, 1973, Jo’s cancer appeared to be in remission but even with the treatments being finished, her hair had yet to return nor had her energy. Her daughter Liz had called her this one evening, crying. She was leaving him–Jim, her husband. She was done. Ernest drove out to Cahaba Heights to get her. John was to come with them but for the sake of the peace, Ernest and Liz left him with Jim. Jo walked home the following morning after working all night. Ernest must have been asleep; he didn’t come and get her. Mad as a wet hen, she arrived home, half expecting Liz to be waiting on the stoop. She wasn’t there. Oh well, she is probably was asleep too. When she opened the door, dying for the beer in the refrigerator and wanting to soak her feet, she saw it.
Oh my God, she thought. There was Ernest and Liz having sex in her bed. She screamed and threw the shoes at them–the same shoes she had carried for 15 blocks. Liz jumped out of bed and grabbed her clothes. Ernest said wryly, “Hey, Baby, whatchou doing home?”
She couldn’t believe it. Had they been screwing for all this time? Every time she turned her back were they laughing at how stupid she was. Why would Liz do this? Why would Ernest? Liz did it out of spite she reasoned. She was trying to take her husband–that little whore!
Liz came out of the bathroom with shame on her face but also contempt. She cussed at Jo and left. Jo didn’t know where she went and damn if she cared. Ernest was young and vital why wouldn’t Liz want him. So he was a drunk? Most men were.
After a few weeks, Jo and Ernest returned to normal. She’d not heard from Liz and didn’t care if she would. She did get an occasional call from Jim who didn’t believe she didn’t know where she was, but that wasn’t her problem. Ray, Ernest’s younger brother had inquired if his twin, Joe had been around. It seems he wasn’t to be found. He walked off and left 3 kids and a wife. For all, Jo knew they were together. After all, Joe was John’s biological father back in the day. Liz had a weakness for him and his bad boy imagine. He was a damn psychopath though and almost biblically, Ray, Joe’s twin was mild tempered but men like him usually were–homosexuals that is.
In June, 1974, Jim called Jo to tell her to get to the hospital fast. Liz was there and she may not make it. When Jo and Ernest got to the hospital, they met Jim in the waiting room. Joe had beaten Liz–nearly to death and Jim had brought her to the hospital. Oh and one more thing, she was pregnant—very pregnant. Doctors were not sure she would make it or the baby. The first thing Jo could think was, “my God, Ernest’s baby” but she couldn’t think like that…not now.
Over the days to come, Jim had agreed to take Liz back. All he ever wanted was a family and being sterile, that was the one thing that eluded his 48 years. The baby seemed to be ok, but doctors were sure that the baby was brain damaged. After an amniocentesis, Down’s syndrome was concluded and low amniotic fluid which was most definitely a bad sign. The baby needed to be aborted, the doctors said. Jim and Liz had decided against it. In the beating, her bladder, gall bladder and spleen had been dislodged. Joe was attempting to abort the baby himself–God knows why, but the baby was holding the organs in place. There was a chance that the pregnancy may allow for muscles that had been torn to heal, but the baby was defective. Jim didn’t care. He wanted the baby desperately but to Liz’s detriment, it seemed to Jo. She wanted the baby gone too, just in case. But that didn’t matter, Jim and Liz didn’t care, they had this fool idea that they’d live happy ever after.
Liz made a deal to let Jim be the legal baby daddy and no one ever mentioned the night that precipitated all this. Jo was just happy that Liz was alive. Assuming the baby would be a mongoloid, she knew no one would want the child after birth. There was no reason to think the baby would matter to Ernest even if he was the father. He wouldn’t want a broken baby. It was all safe.
October 2, 1974, Jim called Jo at work. He said she needed to be at the hospital in 20 minutes; Liz was having the baby. Jim and John went bowling while Liz had the baby, natural childbirth, which wasn’t the plan. I was born at 10:09 pm. Daddy named me Jimmie Lee.
The secret was kept but Ernest connected the dates. He made everyone uncomfortable by caring me a round saying that I was “his baby”. He spoiled me rotten. My mother didn’t seem to mind. Ernest drank himself to death when I was 3 years old. Jim could not stand him. Maybe he knew something they didn’t know. Or maybe it was just a feeling. Whatever it was, hatred might be the best way to characterize it.
How many times Jo look at me and wonder whose child I was? How many times did it break her heart to think of how my life started? Did she ever resent me or Mother? Ernest was gone. He’d forever be the blameless one in death. But is that fair?
Monday was the day, 3 years ago, that my life changed in a profound way. It was the most chaotic and fabulousday of my life. At 9 AM, almost exactly, the Monday after Mother’s Day, my phone rang. It was my brother, John, who I had not talked to for 4 years, who I had begged to talk to me for so long. I was so needy for the connection to my family. I was isolated and felt virtually sacrificed in the family feuding. My brother was talking to me. It was the best thing I could imagine, until it became the most heart wrenching conversation of my life.
What he told me blew up everything I have ever known about myself. It put my family craziness and my own isolation outside of that family in complete perspective. At first, I wanted to believe he was lying to me. There had always been resentment there but I couldn’t understand why. I was 12 years younger than him. We scarcely had a relationship throughout my lifetime.
I was always scuttled away from him mostly because of him being close to my Mother and Uncle Mike. They were toxic and John gravitated toward that. My Daddy, Jim, kept me at arms-length from the noxious elements that were excreted by the mere presence of Mother and Mike. I never understood it because I was level headed, what could they possible do to change that. I knew the stove was hot but Daddy was insistent they would take my soul if I got close. My Daddy’s instincts were always right. I knew that but I didn’t understand them.
On that beautiful May morning in 2012, I was elated to be speaking to my brother. We had not spoken since Mother’s funeral in 2008. I thought we made amends—for what I couldn’t be sure. Yea, Mother manipulated us against each other, but we each knew that and talked about that. Emotions were high then and we had become orphans together. He was all I had left. Then nothing. Silence until the Monday after Mother’s Day, 2012. All the emails begging and pleading, scheming even to get his attention had all paid off. He called me. While my husband, Chris, couldn’t understand the flutter that my heart had for the longing of this relationship to come to fruition after the pain, he couldn’t be prepared for the fallout of the conversation.
The conversation started with John with a preface of, “I didn’t want to be the one to tell you this. Hon, I don’t get any pleasure out of saying this, no matter what you might think.” He said that because he must have known intuitively that Chris believed every word from John was a weapon for which he would use to slice my soul. John seemed to acknowledge this, but I was certain no matter what he had to say it was the beginning of a new era. One that brought brother & sister together as a family. There was no way anything he could say would change my mind on that. NOTHING COULD CHANGE THAT.
We began talking about health problems and hereditary issues that we each experienced. He had DDD, Degenerative Disc Disease, like Mother. I had the beginnings of it. But I had a cyst on my heart that was most likely benign but this was the pretense I used to prod this conversation. Also my daughter has a genetic abnormality that I passed on, according to geneticists in Michigan. These were the reasons for his call.
He told me that I had to find out from Joe Aaron about all that. Joe Aaron? Who the hell is that? Our Grandma was Josephine Aaron, who went by Jo Aaron. Her last husband, (5-6th), the man I knew as my PawPaw was Ernest Aaron but he was dead. He had a brother Ray but what did this have to do with anything? I was perplexed. Nonsensical. How could I check with a woman who died in 1990? And why would it be something for my brother to have me check out? Wouldn’t that affect him too? She was our maternal grandmother. The only one we had in common as we had different fathers.
Then John told me a story. In 1973, my Mother left my Daddy, Jim, and John who was 11. She ran off with a man, Joe Aaron, a brother of Ernest’s. What? Ernest had another brother. I thought about it and I vaguely remembered another brother that had been spoken of that had killed himself in the 1970’s but that was not him. Joe? My Grandma had stayed close to the Aaron family after Ernest drank himself to death in 1977. No Joe Aaron ever came up and that was odd because I had spent a great deal of time with Grandma and had met Ray Aaron, who was gay.
John went on to tell me that Joe was the wayward twin of Ray; he was the James Dean of the family. He was violent beyond measure. He married young. He beat his wife and kids, rumors of “other” abuse were suspected. Mother left with him in 1973. The story continued. Mother came home eventually in 1974 maybe 6 mos later, according to my brother, and she was beaten nearly to death. She was also very pregnant. Jim took her back, nursed her to health and agreed to be my father. My mother had to agree to put his name on my birth certificate.
The beating my mother took was so severe, doctors encouraged aborting. After all she was 30, which was old for a mother to give birth. The severity of the beating likely caused brain damage. They were pretty sure I was a Down’s syndrome baby. “Abort,” was the unilateral consensus. My mother had her bladder, gall bladder and spleen displaced in the beating. These could all present major problems if she were to give birth, plus to a defective baby. It wasn’t worth the risk.
Somehow or another the decision was made by Mother and Daddy that this was not an option. My Daddy would do whatever necessary to help preserve my Mother’s health. As long as she could have the baby, the decision was to proceed with the pregnancy. Think about the reality of the situation; this baby was a bastard child the symbol of betrayal, anger, hurt and abandonment to my Daddy and John. But Daddy could not biologically have kids. He married my Mother because of John. He wanted a family. He was 18 years her senior and he had done all the nonsense in his life. He wanted a family. My Mother was a young mom with all kinds of family drama. Alcoholic mother and step-father, criminal brother. John could not be left with these people and he loved my mother. She was young, feisty and was a damsel in distress who was looking for a father after hers passed away when she was 9.
Now leaving the fate of the baby and my Mother in God’s hands, my family became a family again in a small community in Cahaba Heights where they had relocated shortly before my Mother’s escape. My Daddy had utilized the help of kind neighbors to help him take care of John while Mother was gone. JoAnn Warren, 2 doors down, made him a plate for dinner every night. She looked after John who was 2 years older than her daughter, Patti. They made it work. Mother came home and was resentful of JoAnn filling in, but JoAnn was married and no real threat. She was no beauty queen but she was kind and crazy as hell—always cutting up. She would diffuse pain with humor, much like my Dad. Which came first, I will never know. Maybe he rubbed off on her or vice versa.
Daddy was close with her husband Bill Warren as well. They were buddies. This is what my Mother came back to see. She was the black sheep and she couldn’t deny her actions or circumstances. But no one asked her too, but she perceived it differently. Everybody loved my Daddy and she felt like a pariah, for a while, even if it was in her own mind.
John felt caught in between. He loved Mother but resented her. He loved Daddy but was angry at his weakness for letting her come back to create chaos in a life he just began to think of as normal. He hadn’t seen Grandma and Ernest in months because they hated my Daddy. Daddy’s mother, Granny, adored her son, and John but loathed my Mother. So it was a bashing of her at every turn around Granny. How was a 12 year old supposed to deal with that? After all, he was his Mother’s son, not Jim’s. I believe that inferiority set in even if was just perception on his part.
Skipping ahead, when I was born, I was not a Down’s baby. No obvious defects. But my Mother wasn’t in good shape. She stayed in the hospital for 2 mos having her organs re-seated in muscle tissue. Her womb, kept the pieces in place but without the baby, it all went to hell. She ultimately had to have a hysterectomy due to her injuries. I was sent home with Daddy who had never handled a newborn. He married Mother when John was in diapers and toddling. He was absolutely scared to death of breaking me. Due to his kindness of taking her back in and agreeing to completely let bygones be bygones, Mother gave the privilege of naming me to Daddy. I began “Jimmie Lee Barnett”, named after my Daddy, “Jim Barnett”. JoAnn stepped in, again, while Mother was in the hospital. Daddy couldn’t take care of me, work and take care of John alone. So I stayed with JoAnn for the first 2 mos of my life. My Daddy would come home after work and see me. He’d come back after John went to bed and spend more time with me before he went to bed to start all over again.
I became Jimmie Lee, the apple of my Daddy’s eye. There was always a bond there that couldn’t be equated. This was always a problem for John. He had been Jim’s joy for so long now this baby who wasn’t even his replaced him in Jim’s eyes. This resentment still exists 40 years later.
Hearing John’s version and understanding the facts I knew, like about JoAnn and my birth being so traumatic on my Mother’s body, it all began to click. I didn’t want to believe that Daddy knew all my life I wasn’t his. Had he looked at me and saw the betrayal? Not even once.
Wow…how could I even understand this type of pure love? I was always called the miracle baby, which is what I was always told I was, because Jim had gone through life without ever having a child, until boom, I came along. It was a medical miracle. Knowing this I always wondered why, Granny, Jim’s Mother, didn’t cling to me. After all, my Daddy was her favorite. It was true and everyone knew it. I was his only heir. Was it because of her hatred of my mother? That’s all I ever could chalk it up to, but it still seemed odd. Now I understood.
So my only question for John was what about Joe? He knew Mother was pregnant. Did he not want me? Did he never want to see me? Had I ever seen him? John replied, “As far as I know, Uncle Mike killed him on the mountain in Pine Valley, California in 1983.”
OH MY GOD! Another time frame that had always been an enigma. My uncle was a con artist and he defrauded many really important people in the 1980’s. He was a “cocaine cowboy”. In 1983, we, my Mother and I, were flown to LAX in the cover of night with Ray Aaron, Ernest brother. I was told some bad people were after Mike and he needed to make sure we were safe. Good guys (FBI) and bad guys (who he defrauded and cocaine dealers) were all targeting him. But Ray Aaron, why did he need to come with us? Ernest had been dead for years. Why was Mike insistent on Ray coming? Why was my Grandma and John left behind? None of this made sense.
While all the people after Mike was true, the villain we were running from was Joe. There had been an attempt to kidnap me that I didn’t even know about. A man approached me that Sunday morning in our yard, asking about my Daddy. When I said my Daddy was working out of town, he kept telling me what a “pretty little girl” I was. He left and stalked our house, driving up and down the street. This set off a panic that my Grandma, my Mother and Uncle Mike acted on immediately.
After getting to California, we separated from Ray which didn’t make sense and Mike shuttled us to numerous houses. We had bodyguards. We couldn’t leave the different safe houses or even go near the windows. We brought no clothes or toys. I was 8. There were arsenals of guns at each location which I was made aware of so that I didn’t accidentally hurt myself. Eventually we met up with my Aunt Dee and my cousins at a house on top of a mountain in Pine Valley, California. The house was my aunt’s mother’s home with stables at the top of the mountain on a road that dead ended. No through traffic. It was beautiful and I had kids and a few toys finally after weeks of skulking in these beautiful houses that I couldn’t enjoy because of the tension. I had not talked to my Daddy in all this time and I asked about Grandma & John. I was told they were fine in Birmingham. It didn’t make sense. Grandma was less than 5 feet tall, a petite old woman who couldn’t defend herself. Wouldn’t she be a target if someone wanted to hurt her son?
Mike never stayed with us. We had bodyguards all of us. We got to play in Pine Valley, in the backyard next to the horses. Until one day, someone approached my cousin Curt who was 7 at the time, outside. My cousins were not restricted to the confinements of the backyard as I was. Didn’t make sense. But a man approached Curt and everyone freaked out. The man was asking questions and Curt was told not to talk to me about it. Although, I overheard him telling his older brother David who was 10 what had happened.
We went back on lock down. Mike was more present and stayed all night only to leave during the day. Someone was always on guard, one of the bodyguards or Mike. Then one day, Mike came home and said, “he’s dead. Bobby got him”. Bobby Riggs was this Grizzly Adams looking cowboy who dressed like Johnny Cash in all black, pearl button western shirts with a black cowboy hat and boots. He was a nice guy and had been with us most of the time. He was always armed but he could relate to kids.
While all the adults sat at the kitchen table asking questions, my Uncle on a cocaine high, popped a bottle of champagne. He was celebrating while everyone else was apprehensive. He claimed Bobby had been arrested but the “SOB” was dead. On the Monday after Mother’s Day, 2012, it became clear to me that the “SOB” had been Joe. Shortly after this event, we returned to Birmingham as if nothing ever happened.
When I did talk to my Daddy, he was highly upset by my Mother taking me to California. Ray also returned to Birmingham with us after being elsewhere in California the entire time. Now I knew Ray was trying to “manage” his identical twin brother. That was his function. Had this all been about me? No one ever explained what or who was going on at the time. Even as an adult I had asked my cousin David who was 10 in 1983, what was that about? He said some bad dudes were after his dad. That was the “official” story.
In hearing, my brother’s confession, my life changed. The hardest thing to understand was always that my Daddy knew I wasn’t his, yet he made me the center of his world. That is not man’s love. That is God’s love. Mortal men cannot see beyond the circumstances. Yet he made the best relationship of my life out of an absolute disaster. I have since found out that Mike didn’t kill Joe Aaron on the mountain. But whatever happened, altered this excursion. There was no threat any longer. I found out that Joe died on the same day my Daddy died, 7 years later, May 23rd, 2004 in Florence, Alabama.. My Daddy died actually around midnight on May 22, 1997, but his death certificate it says May 23. The symbolic nature of this was not unnoticed.
My life changed after this revelation. I spent a year connecting to Joe Aaron’s family only to find out that they knew about me, including his wife and most likely his 3 remaining children, one son of his was dead. Joe was a murderer according to family lore, went to prison, alcoholic, violent, even describing him as the devil himself by his nieces. I was lucky to be taken from him. While his twin was kind, he was the divinely opposite. There had been 8 sons in his family, Ray and Joe were the babies, my PawPaw, Ernest was one of the oldest. Their father was a preacher highly regarded in the community but all 8 of his sons were either pedophiles or gay. My brother once told my Mother, PawPaw, molested him when he was a young kid. I thought that was a lie because PawPaw also had a special connection to me, even though he died when I was 3. He used to come visit with Grandma and tote me around telling everyone I was his “baby”. He spoiled me by walking me up to the country store and buying me candy. Even though he was a lazy drunk, as I’d become aware of when I was young, he wouldn’t have molested John
Ernest Aaron & me
.Now that became clear as well. I recalled Ernest staging pictures of me before he died that I felt uncomfortable about. I was 3. One was me naked on the grass and another was standing “seductively” next to a bike. He died soon after. Those pictures still make me cringe. I was supposed to be his next victim.
After talking to a member of the Aaron family, I got a better understanding about the circumstances around my conception. My mother left my Daddy. She went to her Mother’s apartment. My Grandmother was battling cervical cancer, lost her hair, while working and supporting Ernest who couldn’t keep a job for all his drinking. While Ernest was laid up drunk, my Mother out of her own psychological issues, slept with him. My Grandmother caught them and threw my Mother out. That’s when she ran off with Joe. He didn’t know about my Mother sleeping with his brother. When he found out, he beat her, focusing on her stomach to kill her but also to kill me. He almost succeeded. That’s why Ernest always said I was “his baby”.
My God! My Grandmother….How dare they? Did she ever look at me with resent? I certainly didn’t think I was her favorite but she was never unkind but she was what I would call emotionally withdrawn. She wasn’t like that with my cousins in California, but she was with me. I always assumed it had to do with her hatred of my Daddy Jim.
Out of all this, I saw how divine intervention had been working in my life for so many years. I could see the specific instances that had been changed by God, including my stable home with my Daddy after my parents divorced and my mother reversed back to being an angry, alcoholic, vengeful woman. I had been saved. I was the miracle baby. I always knew that. When I was a little girl, I knew God had a “big” plan for me. I just knew it. No one told me. I knew it would be later in life but I knew I was exceptional, extraordinary. I never felt that way. I was chubby kid who was always awkward with others, but I felt this light within me. If my being alive and well today required this much hurt and pain, defying all laws of nature and emotion, then my mission must be worthy of the sacrifice necessary for my existence. All the suffering would not be in vain.
That Monday after Mother’s Day, I realized how extraordinary I was. My mission began. Bless God, my heart was full of love for all the people who shouldn’t have loved and nurtured me who protected me against monsters I could never imagine. The price of this was the isolation from my brother. Still stings today.
As I sit here writing this, I am keenly aware that Tuesday, the 12th, was the 15th anniversary of my Uncle Mike’s death. He was one of my protectors. Even though I never knew him well because of the distance my Daddy imposed, I know he was an angel that swooped in to save me. I will forever be grateful. I love you, Uncle Mike!
Yesterday, in contemplating writing about all this, I found a dead sparrow in my backyard. This scared me because I know that a dead sparrow means death. But in meditating about it, I found that to mean that someone took on death for me. It is there to remind me, I was saved, in the face of all the damned, evilness of the world, Christ died for me. I was rescued. Bless God.
Galatians 12: 22 was brought to me last night.
22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, 23 that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’ 24 I will accept nothing but what my men have eaten and the share that belongs to the men who went with me—to Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. Let them have their share.”
Out of chaos comes stability. Out of ugly comes beauty. Out of hate comes unabounding love. I have to look at the parts of the circumstances around my family at the time of my birth. It all comes to pass in a fluid form of harmony. While everything was falling to waste, my mother’s health, my parents’ marriage, my brother’s reality, out comes a baby that unites everything. It is remarkable really.
Then you have my dad alone with a child that is not his and a newborn baby that is also not his, trying to work and balance time with everyone including my mother in the hospital. He was overwhelmed as he’d never ever handled a newborn before. He couldn’t stay up all night and go to work. Nor could John. There was no allowing of my grandmother Josephine to help, because she was a damn drunk with a husband who was possibly a sex offender. Nor could he ask his mother Georgia, for she didn’t like the circumstance that had befallen her son. So what do you do? He’d been close to the Warren family 2 doors down who had a daughter Patti who was 2 years younger than John. From what I understand, JoAnn, the mother and wife of the Warren family, would make him a plate of food at night after work while my mother had been gone. She’d help him out with John so that Daddy had some help. Quite kind of her in the circumstances.
Now he had a newborn trying to navigate the same situation. Whether she volunteered or he asked her, she took the newborn to her home and kept her there and Daddy would visit. She kept me for the next 8 weeks because my Daddy was afraid he’d “break” me and he was just overwhelmed by the entire situation. But out of that chaos, he and JoAnn where the first people on this planet that bonded with me.
When I was almost 3 mos. old, my mother came home and in the Liz fashion swept in to get “her baby”. She had little to do with JoAnn Warren after that. It seems to me that jealousy set in. She played the doting Mother for the first few years of my life. She was the normal mom. It wasn’t until I was 4 or 5 that she and JoAnn made some sort of peace. They became best friends. My dad was always closer to the Warrens and I assumed it was because Bill or (Uncle Bill) as I called him was his buddy. But I know now that wasn’t the case. The dynamic of seeing JoAnn and my Dad talk about me was unusual and I was not able to put words to it until I was older and knew the situation of my birth.
Throughout my life, my mother took a freefall. She went from “Carol Brady” to “Joan Crawford”. She blamed my Dad for his part in her descent. She was a walking zombie. She was drinking, popping pills. She’d gone back to work at Harry Alexiou’s “Gold Nugget” Restaurant. She shifted over to the his brother, Johnny Alexiou’s restaurant ,the “Brass Rail”, which to everyone threw up a red flag.
Johnny was reckless and lived on a level that was not as stable as his older brother Harry. Self-destruction was his middle name. His reputation could be inferred to be wild. I say that because of people’s reactions when she told them she was going to work for Johnny. Everyone lowered their brow and asked the same question, “Liz, are you sure?”. My mother’s answer was that he was “not the same”. Even as a young child, I knew what that meant.
From that time, JoAnn was my babysitter, my emergency contact. She was my rock. My mother tried to balance it by leaving with my grandmother on the weekends but her lack of parenting skills was infamous. Had I been a bad kid, I could have gotten away with anything? I would sit on the hill in front of her Southside Apartment. I would then barricade myself in her bedroom while she sat in her recliner drinking beer. Was the indifference because of me and where I might have come from? Maybe because she seemed to be different in the pictures of my cousins, Curt and Anna when she visited California. She didn’t seem ambivalent to them. I thought it was because Jim was my dad and the tension between the 2 of them was palpable. But now I know it may have been the fact, I was possible her dead husband’s daughter. How do you get passed that?
In reflecting on the obstacles and the skeletons that have plagued me, I have to say that my belief in God was restored after all of this. The circumstances that I was born into should not have allowed me to flourish in the way I did. I was a bastard child of morally absent parents surrounded in dysfunction. Yet Jim Barnett, my Daddy, took a child he should have resented and made that child his own. He took the purity of innocence and cultivated it into a loving functioning person. He took an act of anger and rage and with almost alchemy-like conversion turned it into love and compassion.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. In my case, I guess that’s true. I found out the man who was a superhero to me, is not my father. The worst part is the story leading up to my birth. My mother is 18 years younger than Daddy, Jim. My brother, John, is 12 years older than me. He saw what happened in the months prior to my birth. He proceeds to tell me that in the later part of the year of 1973. My mother left my Daddy. She ran off with a man named Joe Aaron. The relationship is convoluted. He was her step-father’s brother. As I have come to find out, he was an evil, mean, hard drinking man. He was married; he ran around on his wife, beat her & he is a suspected pedophile. My mother left my brother with Jim, who is not his biological father, to be with Joe. That is screwed up.
Oh but wait…there’s more. In the early part of 1974, my mother came back beaten SEVERELY, and pregnant. This is where God steps in. My Daddy takes her back, gets her taken care of and agrees to raise me as his own. He had always been sterile due to an illness in his teens. He wanted a family and the agreement was that he was to be listed as my father on the birth certificate. Now, it must be understood, that my Daddy married mother in part because of her already having a child, my brother John, who was 18 mos. old when they married. But he always carried the name “Maddox”, a separating moniker placed their by my mother. To remind my Daddy, who’s son he was. Now that kind of option was off the table. I was to be a Barnett. He would name me. I would be his child–period.
This decision broke my heart. He knew I was the illegitimate child of my mother and this mess of a man from a very painful time. How does a man reach such a place of forgiveness in the eyes of face of such pain? I believe this is my divine intervention. After a hard pregnancy due to the injuries to my mother in her beating by Joe, I was born. My mother stayed in the hospital for over a month so that the doctors could fix some of the damage done by Joe that couldn’t be done while she was pregnant. In the meantime, my Daddy took me home. He couldn’t take care of a newborn, give John the attention he needed and work. He was also scared he’d break me. His solution to this problem was another one that would positively affect my life forever. He went to a neighbor lady who had 2 kids–one in high school & another a little younger than John.Her name was JoAnn Warren. He asked her to take care of me. These 2 people, not related to me, would be the biggest 2 influences in my life. This is just the beginning of my village.
Not long after my mysterious jaunt to California, my mother, recently divorced from my dad, ended up letting me go live with him “temporarily”. She planned a moved to Pensacola, where my dad and his new wife lived. I had spent the summers there. I loved it because it was peaceful. No drunken, bipolar hissy fits. No mind games. No belittling. I was just a kid. I was away from my mother, brother, uncle and grandmother. Each day was me and my dad. He and I had always had this special bond. He loved me more than anything and he was my hero. I knew he wasn’t perfect, but I couldn’t imagine what a better daddy would be like. His flaws made him human and made me feel like I didn’t have to always be perfect. I could be me without hindrance.
During my life, I clung to my Daddy. He could always talk me through things. I would get upset; he & I would sit down and talk about it. Usually, it wasn’t as bad as I perceived. He was a calming, reasoning and enlightening force in my life to rival no other. His death in 1997 broke a portion of me, because at 22, I was not prepared to give up the part of my soul that he occupied. He physically, emotionally, & psychologically was a part of me. Jim Barnett’s influence in my life will resonate forever. When he saved me, he saved my future, my children. I married a man that cherished me who is much like him. He showed me how to live peacefully without drama. He taught me how to think things through. His actions reverberate in every faction of my life.
Then one day, I get a call. It is my brother, who I have not spoken to since my mother’s funeral. I had medical issues I wanted to discuss with him. I had emailed him begging him to talk to me about such issues. It was May 14, 2012. The day after Mother’s Day 9:30 AM. The words he spoke I was not prepared to hear. Jim wasn’t my Daddy.