Elec and I hadn’t contacted each other at all. It was a little bit of a let down to not have received even a text, especially after how we left things, but I wasn’t going to be the first to make contact. For all I knew, I’d never hear from him again.
Thoughts of him still consumed me everyday. I’d wonder if he had asked Chelsea to marry him. I’d wonder whether he was thinking of me. I’d wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t gone to my own room the last night we were together. So, even though I was back to my home base, my mind was constantly elsewhere.
My life in Manhattan was pretty predictable. I worked long days at the office and got home around eight each night. If I didn’t go out for drinks with my co-workers, I’d spend the weeknights reading until I fell asleep with my kindle on my face.
On Friday nights, my neighbor Sully and I would have dinner and drinks at Charlie’s, the pub underneath my apartment. Most women in their mid-twenties would spend their Friday nights with a boyfriend or a group of women their own age. Instead, I chose to spend it with a 70-year-old transvestite.
Sully was a petite Asian man who dressed as a woman and in fact, I assumed he was a woman until one night a pair of spandex revealed some disproportionately massive junk. I sometimes thought of Sully as a he, other times, as a she. It didn’t make a difference because by the time I figured “it” out, I’d already fallen in love with her as a person, and it didn’t matter what gender she was.
Sully was never married, had no kids and was extremely protective of me. Any time a guy would walk into Charlie’s, I’d turn to Sully and say jokingly, “What about him?”
The answer was always the same. “Not good enough for my Greta…but I’d do him.” Then, we’d just have a good laugh.
I’d always been hesitant to talk to Sully about Elec because I was seriously afraid she’d want to hunt him down and kick his ass. One particular Friday night, though, after one too many margaritas, I finally divulged the entire story from start to finish.
“Now, I understand,” Sully said.
“Why you’re here with me every Friday night and not on a date with some man, why you’ve been unable to open your heart to anyone. It belongs to someone else.”
“It used to. Now, it’s just broken. How do I fix it?”
“Sometimes, we can’t.”
Sully stared off, and I suspected she was speaking from experience.
“The trick is to force yourself to open it even though it’s broken. A broken heart is still a beating one. And there are many men who I’m sure would like an opportunity to try to fix yours if you’d let them.” She continued, “I’ll tell you one thing, though.”
“Elec…with an e.”
“Elec. He’s lucky I won’t set foot on a plane. I’d set his balls on fire.”
“I knew you’d feel this way. That’s why I was afraid to tell you.”
“And I don’t know who this Kelsey is…”
“Whatever. There is no way she’s better than my Greta, more beautiful or with a bigger heart. He’s a fool.”
“Someday, he’ll realize he made a big mistake. He’ll show up here, you’ll be long gone, and the only bitch greeting him will be me.”
That weekend, I felt better for the first time since Elec left. Even though it didn’t really change anything, Sully’s words of encouragement had helped bring me out of my funk a little.
On Sunday, I’d finally gotten around to replacing my winter clothes with summer outfits. I’d always put off the wardrobe changeover until it was almost too late when half the summer was already over. I spent the entire day doing laundry, purging items to donate and neatly organizing my drawers. The weather was dry and warm, and the windows in my apartment stayed open.
I decided I deserved a glass of Moscato wine after my long day of housework. I sat on the balcony and stared out at the street below. There was a gentle summer breeze as the sun started to go down; it was such a perfect evening.
I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds of the neighborhood: traffic, people yelling, children playing in the small courtyard across from me. The smell of barbecuing meat trickled over to me from an adjacent balcony. It reminded me that I hadn’t eaten anything all day, which explained why the wine had already hit me so fast.
I told myself that I loved my independence: being able to do whatever I wanted, go wherever I wanted, eat whatever and whenever I wanted, but deep down, I longed to share my life with someone.
My thoughts always seemed to travel back to him no matter how hard I tried. What I didn’t expect on this quiet summer night was reciprocation.
When my text alert sounded, I didn’t immediately check it. I was sure it was Sully inviting me over to watch something on television or my mother checking in.
My heart started beating out of control when I saw his name. I didn’t have the courage to immediately read the text because no matter what, I knew it was going to disrupt the calm mood of this night. I didn’t know why I was so scared. It wasn’t like things with Elec could have gotten any worse, unless of course he was contacting me to formally announce his engagement, which would have devastated me.
I breathed in, finished off my wine in one long gulp then counted to ten before looking down at the message.
I want you to read it.
One simple sentence, and any small progress I’d made this weekend in trying to forget him went down the tubes. My hand was shaking as I pondered a response.
He wanted me to read the autobiography he was working on. Why now? Of all the things he could have said, this was the last thing I expected.
The thought of finding out everything I’d always wondered about was absolutely exciting and terrifying all at once—mostly terrifying. Even though I was certain there were parts that would upset me, I already knew what my reply to him would be. How could I have said no?
I would love to read it.
Elec: I know this is out of left field, especially after how we left things.
His response had been immediate as if he were waiting for my answer.
Greta: I certainly wasn’t expecting this.
Elec: I don’t trust anyone else to read it. I need it to be you.
Greta: How will you send it to me?
Elec: I can email it to you tonight.
Tonight? I knew then and there that I’d definitely be calling out of work tomorrow. There was no way I would be able to stop reading once I started. What was I getting myself into?
Elec: It’s not finished, but it’s pretty long.
Greta: I’ll check my email in a bit for it.
Elec: Thank you.
Greta: You’re welcome.
I poured the rest of the bottle into my glass and couldn’t inhale the night air deeply enough. The smell of the neighbor’s previously appetizing barbecue was now making me sick.
I climbed off the balcony and into my bedroom through the window. Opening my laptop, I anxiously typed in my email password too fast, having to try it several times before it went through correctly.
There in bold right at the top was a new email from Elec O’Rourke. The subject simply was My Book. There was no message in the body of the email, just a Word document attached. I immediately converted it to another format so that I could read it on my kindle.
I knew that this story was going to devastate me. There were going to be revelations that would explain Randy and Elec’s behavior toward each other.
What I wasn’t expecting was to be completely gutted by the very first sentence.
Prologue: The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far
I am my brother’s bastard child.
Imagine how I felt when that bomb was dropped on me.
From the time I was fourteen, though, that revelation has defined me.
My miserable childhood would have made a hell of a lot more sense if I had become privy to that minor detail sooner.
The secret was never supposed to come out. The plan was to have me believe that the man who degraded me for as long as I could comprehend words was my father.
When he left my mother for another woman, Mami would eventually have a nervous breakdown and spill the truth one night about how I actually came to be. Once she’d divulged all of the sickening details, I couldn’t figure out who was worse: the man I always believed was my father or the sperm donor I never had a chance to meet.
The f**ked up story of my life actually began over 25 years ago in Ecuador. That was where a U.S. businessman who emigrated from Ireland, Patrick O’Rourke, spotted a beautiful teenage girl selling her artwork on the street.
Her name was Pilar Solis. Patrick always had a penchant for art and beautiful women, so he was instantly mesmerized. With her exotic beauty and extreme talent, she was unlike anyone he’d ever come across.
But she was young, and he was leaving soon. That didn’t stop him from going after what he wanted.
Patrick was a higher-up at a U.S. coffee powerhouse. They’d tasked him with overseeing the purchase of some crops outside of Quito.
The only thing Patrick had been overseeing was Pilar.
He’d visit her street cart every morning and bought a painting each day until eventually, he’d purchased them all. Pilar’s paintings were a main source of income for her large, impoverished family. All of the images depicted intricate stained-glass windows painted from memory.
Patrick became obsessed—more with the girl than her art. His trip was supposed to have only lasted three weeks, but he extended it to six.
Unbeknownst to Pilar, Patrick wasn’t going home unless he could take her with him.
Even though she was under 18, he located her parents and began to court her with their approval. He’d given them money and purchased gifts for every member of the Solis family.
He spoke to her father about the possibility of taking her back to the U.S. with him where he could take her under his wing, put her through school and help her build a real art career. The family was desperate for one of their own to have that kind of opportunity. They eventually agreed to let her go to America with Patrick.
Pilar was captivated and scared of the older man all at once. She felt an obligation to go along with him despite her trepidation. He was handsome, charismatic and controlling.
After moving Pilar to the states, Patrick kept to his word. He married her when she turned 18 to facilitate her being able to stay in the U.S., enrolled her in art school in addition to English classes and used his connections to get her artwork into some Bay area galleries. The one catch went without saying: Pilar was his. He owned her.
What she didn’t realize was that Patrick had a family—an estranged ex-wife who’d just moved back into town with their son.
One afternoon, Pilar was painting in the room Patrick built for that very purpose. A strapping young man wearing nothing but jeans who looked about her age appeared at the doorway. Pilar had no idea who he was, just that her body instantly reacted to him. He was a younger, more handsome version of her husband. She was shocked to find out that Patrick had a son and that he would be staying at the house for the summer.
Every afternoon while Patrick was at work, his son, Randy, would sit and watch Pilar paint. It started out as something innocent. She’d tell him stories about Ecuador, he’d introduce her to the latest music and American pop culture—things Patrick couldn’t relate to at 20 years their senior.
Soon, Pilar found herself completely smitten and in love for the first time in her life. Randy, who always felt that Patrick abandoned him, held no allegiance to his father. When Pilar admitted that her feelings for her husband were platonic, Randy didn’t hesitate to take full advantage.
One day, he’d crossed the line and kissed her. From that point on, there was no going back. Their afternoon encounters went from innocent conversations to sordid rendezvous. Eventually, they’d started to talk about a secret future. The plan was to carry on their affair until Randy finished college and was no longer financially dependent on Patrick. Then, they’d both run off together.
In the meantime, Randy moved permanently into Patrick’s house to be closer to her and pretended to have girlfriends to throw his father off. Randy and Pilar were always extremely careful until the one time they weren’t and miscalculated Patrick’s return date from a business trip to Costa Rica.
That was the day Patrick walked in on his young wife f**king his son in their bed. That was also the moment that set off the chain of events that led to my existence.
An enraged Patrick locked Pilar in a closet while he beat the shit out of Randy before kicking him out of the house. Patrick then allegedly raped my mother in the same bed he’d found her in with his son. By the time Randy broke through the window, it was too late.
Exactly what happened next is not completely clear because the details given to me have always been sketchy. The only thing I know with absolute certainty is that Patrick never left that bedroom alive.
Mami says he fell and accidentally hit the back of his head in the middle of a struggle with Randy. I suspect that Randy might have killed him, but she would never admit to that if it were true. I knew she’d protect Randy until the day she died despite his betrayal of their marriage.
The police never suspected anything and bought the story about Patrick falling and hitting his head.
Because he’d lived lavishly and had been putting Randy and Pilar through school, Patrick had no money to leave them. Randy had to drop out of college and ditch his dreams to take odd jobs.