Alcohol is like a slow working truth serum. It gets the same effect as sodium pentathol, but with less than guaranteed results. I have seen it work wonders though. One such occurrence was a year ago today; when a group of people came into the bar where I was sitting, enjoying a quiet drink. They were already pretty well saturated with what smelled like whiskey-based truth serum. They were close enough to me that I could identify the alcohol they were drinking, and therefore they were also close enough for me to hear their conversations. The combination was sure to bear fruit.
There were two rather tall members of the group that were perched directly to my right. One was a skinny fellow who was wearing a Foxy Shazaam t-shirt and skinny jeans. He was extremely demonstrative with his hands and his facial expressions followed suit. The other was a more burly type, who stood about 6'5” tall. His hands stayed still on the table, and his thick black beard hid any smile or frown that he could conjure up.
The skinny guy's name was Tom, and he was the more visibly intoxicated of the two. He was also the one doing most of the talking. He was discussing his recent failed relationships, his disgust with his current job, and pretty much just complaining about his entire life at that moment. The odd thing was that he was making all of these sad comments and observations with an ear-to-ear smile pasted on his face. The bearded gentleman was like a hairy statue, whose sole purpose in the “conversation” was to listen and occasionally nod his head to show he was still awake.
Tom continued to express his loathing for his boss at work. He talked about how he was simultaneously an arrogant prick and a know-nothing micro manager. Tom spoke about the women who had left him for other men in the recent months. One girl broke up with him because he was “too clingy” and the other said he “never wanted to spend time with her.”
I thought to myself, “Either he went from one side of the spectrum in women he dated, or he over compensated in his approach to being a boyfriend.” Either way, I felt like this conversation was building up to something worth hearing. I was right.
Tom quickly changed course, and became exponentially more adamant about his new line of verbal assault on the ever listening ears of his bearded friend. They shared a round of Jagermeister shots, and Tom got to his new point. He said, “And today is my birthday. God damn it, it really sucks having April 1st as a birthday!”
His bearded brother said, “Oh yeah, I knew that. Is that why you called me to meet you up here?”
Tom interrupted him, “Yep, but that is only part of the story. Today my parents told me I was adopted. I thought it was yet another April Fools joke for my birthday. Unfortunately, it was not.”
His friend could only say, “Wow, dude. That sucks.” His friend was good at growing a beard, but really not so skilled in the art of empathy.
Tom jumped back in, “Yeah, they basically just said, 'Happy birthday son, your biological parents didn't want you. Have some cake.' I didn't know how to respond.”
I wished I had some sort of way to interrupt their conversation and supply Tom with some support, or maybe act as his friend's empathetic Cyrano de Bergerac. Alas, it was only my job to listen. And so I did.
Tom went on to explain how his parents had actually always wanted a son, and his adoption was planned shortly after conception. Luckily neither his adopted or biological parents gave him any details on the conception. That would be rather awkward for all involved.
What I couldn't get over was the fact that he initially thought it was an April Fools prank. Were his adoptive parents really big jokesters, or did he have to question everything that ever occurred on his birthday? What a horrible set of affairs that would be. Most people just get to enjoy their birthdays by eating cake and hanging out with friends and family. Tom had to stay on his toes and wonder what trickery was in store for him that year.
I imagined an eight year-old Tom waking up on his birthday to find a saddle in the living room sitting next to a book about how to care for a pony. His parents would blindfold him, buckle him into the minivan, and head east to the farm where his birthday pony was waiting for him. They would drive in circles for twenty minutes or so, stop the van, open the sliding door ceremoniously, and have him remove his blindfold only to find out he was standing in front of his own house. His parents would be rolling on the ground laughing after shouting “April Fools!” and then lead him inside so he could open up a Lego set or G.I. Joe action figure. Most kids just got the set of blocks or action figure without the emotional roller coaster. Not Tom; he got the full treatment.
Did a sixteen year-old Tom find a cherry red Ford Mustang waiting for him in the driveway, only to later find out they had just taken it for a test drive with the sole intention of tormenting their son? Was he subjected to this kind of torture every year, or did his parents have to wait a few years in between the cruel practice of dashing his hopes and dreams on the anniversary of his birth?
I wondered what kind of effect that would have on my psyche. I quickly realized, I would probably end up just like Tom. Not knowing what the next birthday would bring. Not knowing how my next personal or work relationship would pan out. And probably not be able to trust anyone to whom I grew close.
Tom's parents could not be trusted. I had only know about them for a few minutes, but I questioned their motives and parenting skills at every corner. I even wondered if this was actually their April Fools opus. Were they going to let this joke go for an entire year before revealing the elaborate gag?
Tom would spend the next 365 days asking questions about his “real” parents, and they would answer all of them with vague and political responses. Tom would slip into deep depression, but his parents wouldn't let him on to their clever ruse. Each day they would greet him with smiles and comforting hugs. He would lose weight from not eating. He would quit his job, and become a recluse. His skin would grow pale, and his face would lose any semblance of vibrancy.
A year later, Tom would emerge from his basement lair to see his parents sitting in the living room with another pair of adults. They would introduce them as "Mr. and Mrs. Jones." They would call him to sit down on the couch between them. He would slowly come to realize that these were not just house guests. These were the two people who gave him life, then gave him up. They were his biological parents!
The morning would be one of the most eye-opening experiences of his life. He would learn about how his father was a classically-trained guitarist, and his mother was a ER nurse who saved the lives of hundreds of people every year. If they would have kept him, then their lives would have been more ordinary, and he would not have gotten the support and love he deserved.
His being adopted was not something that he needed to think about ever again. It was a great thing for everyone involved. His biological parents got to live their lives and make their mark on society, while his adoptive parents got the son they always wanted, and most importantly he was the recipient of love and admiration from those parents. Tom would finally feel like he knew his place in the universe.
Tom would rush to go get the poetry notebook in which he had written his every thought and feeling over the last twelve months. It would be his final act of cleansing. This was going to be the cathartic moment he had been waiting for, not just in the past year, but his entire life!
Upon his return to the living room, notebook in hand, his smiling face would be greeted by the puffed cheeks of all four adults in the room waiting for him. Their cheeks would deflate and a loud roar of laughter would fill the room, fingers pointed in his direction. His father would stand up to walk over to him. Tom, standing bewildered and wondering what was so damn funny, wold begin to speak. His father would interrupt him before he could get a word out, and scream, “April Fools!”
The whole thing was an elaborate hoax, with the sole purpose to further push Tom into solitude and distrust for the entire human race. It was at this moment that he would come to the realization that it was not the entire human race that was to be distrusted. His parents were just assholes. The rest of the world knows how to just say, “Happy Birthday” and take you out to dinner or to the bar for a drink. Luckily, Tom eventually found a bearded friend who could be there for him. And even more lucky was that on the day where he first told that story to another person, I was there to hear.
Happy birthday Tom!