My dad was snoring in his chair when I arrived home. His cough seemed to have subsided for the time being and I was glad. At least he would get some rest without that awful engine erupting.
I put the eggrolls in the fridge and returned to the family room to check on him before going to my room for the night. His blanket had slid off to the side so I spread it back over him. I was about to leave when he mumbled something. I couldn’t quite make it out, but he did it again ... it sounded like a name of some sort.
Odd, I thought, I’d never heard him talk in his sleep before. Something important must’ve been on his mind. He began to fidget and the name came out clearer this time, “Sterling Mendoza.”
Who’s that, I wondered and thought it an odd name, certainly not one I’d ever heard. He jerked suddenly and part of the blanket flew off his knee and landed on the corner table next to the chair. My Past Lives Letter had been in its path and fell to the floor. I picked it up and was relieved to find it unopened. I don’t know why, but I wanted to make sure it hadn’t been tampered with. My dad would never do such a thing but some protective part of me took over and needed verification.
“Sterling Mendoza,” he said again loudly and jerked from one side of the chair to the other.
Should I wake him, I wondered, then the coughing began and wouldn’t stop. He was definitely having a nightmare and now that he was hacking away, maybe it was better for him to move to his bedroom.
“Dad,” I whispered while gently nudging his shoulder.
“Sterling…” he repeated, still asleep.
“Dad, wake up,” I said, pressing harder.
His eyes popped open and took a few moments to focus while his mind determined whether or not he was still in the dream world.
“Trenton?” he asked, almost unsure.
“Yeah, Dad, you were having a nightmare.” He coughed heavily and I handed over his glass of water.
“Wow,” he exclaimed, “I must’ve been out because I didn’t even hear you come in.”
“I just got here a few minutes ago. Maybe you should go sleep in your own bed.”
“Not before I get my hands on those eggrolls.”
“Okay, I’ll be right back.”
I refilled his water and returned with his food, which he quickly went to work on.
“So, how was work?”
“Same as usual.”
“Yeah, that’s how work usually goes,” he said, dipping one of the deep-fried delights into some hot mustard.
“You were actually talking in your sleep.”
“Oh yeah, did I say anything interesting or that I might regret?”
“You kept saying Sterling Mendoza.”
He dropped his eggroll on the plate and looked up at me.
“Sterling Mendoza, huh,” he said reticently and returned to his eggroll with significantly less interest.
“That’s what it sounded like. So who is he?”
“I’m sorry, son, I wish it could’ve come out in a better way, but Sterling Mendoza was your birth-father.”
I was shocked at the casualness in which he had told me. He hadn’t even tried to lie about it, but then again, that was my dad. He wouldn’t lie no matter what.
“Strange name, I know,” he continued. “But he was quite a man … a Colonel in the Space Force.”
“The Space Force.” I exclaimed, shocked.
“Yeah ... had a stellar career going too.”
“Are you sure you want to know this?”
“You already told me his name, how could I not want to know now?”
My dad’s cough erupted again and I handed him the glass of water. After a few more outbursts, it dissipated. He threw me a pair of sad eyes and said, “Well, to make a long story short, Colonel Mendoza, your father, was accused of treason.” He paused, studying my response.
“What?” I exclaimed, outraged.
“He fought it, but his career was destroyed.”
How could that be, I wondered. “Was he really a traitor?”
“He claimed someone set him up.”
“Does that mean he’s in prison?”
He shook his head, a bit reluctant to answer.
“And what about my birth-mother?”
“Your father’s death was a mystery. Although, I think he took his own life in order to spare you the shame and burden of having to live a life as the son of a traitor.”
“Is that what you think or do you know that for a fact?” He nodded the way one does when he’d rather not say something out loud. “And my mother?”
“No one knows what happened to her.”
“How can that be?”
A wicked cough erupted and lasted several seconds.
“Dad, sit back. You’re overworking yourself.” I decided he’d had enough for one evening and so did I. With little persuasion, he went to his room, but he knew I needed time to process it all. I kissed him on the forehead and said good night.
This was crazy, I thought. Was my birth-father really a traitor? Did that mean I had tainted blood coursing through my veins? And then I eventually thought about Allison and her father and couldn’t help but wonder if he already knew my family’s dirty little secret and was holding it against me.