I've become so used to stopping the flow of conversations with my priceless gaffes that I've also become quite adept at starting up new topics again. I practiced my art at a party I held recently. We had out my family picture album. Convenient thing, too, as you can flip to the next page, point and say loudly "THIS is the new amusement park outside of Palmares..."
And everyone breathes and speaks bright, brittle words until something catches.
All I had said was "oh, see this is my stepson and THIS is his sister, Diana."
Now, stepsons are so much a fixture of contemporary American marriage that I can't think Christian Andres was the source of the embarrassment. Everyone either has one, knows one or is one. Perhaps they didn't know about the not-quite-ten-year-old bonus gift who came along with the father, but then that usually prompts the "Oh, you have a stepson? How old is he? Do you two get along?" No, it was the sister, Diana.
It was an unusual way to identify the little girl in the picture, so it was partly my fault. Why is she not a stepdaughter? would have been the presumptuous question that people wouldn't quite like to ask. I'd have had to answer that she would have been my husband's step daughter if he had married her mother, which he didn't, so she isn't, and there isn't a Hallmark Card for the little girl who was almost a stepdaughter.
It's this not quite liking to ask about her that irks me. Had I done the work of bearing her and birthing her, she would have been the joy of my life. Had she been the blood child of my husband, I would have been expected to endure the scourging of her bitter adolescent tongue and then forge a relationship with her. As she stands, really, what am I expected to do?
Keep quiet about her at parties, for one thing. But that irks me, too. Birth child or not, she's still herself. She's called Diana Gabriela because my husband gave her that name. He stayed at the hospital with Diana's mother, even though he was only a friend from work at that time. He helped Diana's mother hide the pregnancy from their manager so that no one would lose a job, too easy in Costa Rica of the 1990's.
An upper-middle class girl from Jersey shouldn't espouse or ally herself with a situation that smacks so headily of ghetto. Shouldn't, but did. So I can't complain about it, and I don't. I complain about not being allowed to enjoy it in polite company (please excuse the insinuation that you aren't polite company; excuse also the presumption that you'll understand and appreciate).
Ironically, Diana was a large part of the reason I fell for my husband. One of the first essays he wrote for me in my ESL class was about Diana. Here he was, young single guy, looking like every bad boy your mother would prefer you didn't date, writing about that pretty little girl who he carried to school for the first day of Kindergarten. The line that had me swooning was "But maybe the most impressive thing is that she still calls me daddy even though she knows that I'm not her father." That's chocolates, bears, wine and roses to an aging spinster. That's a good girl's dream: the bad boy with a tender heart.
My husband told me all about her later. Just the way you can grow to love a character in a book, I grew to love Diana. My husband told me Diana was no one's favorite. The oldest girl was the favorite of the grandfather, the second the favorite of the grandmother, the son and the last one the favorite of everyone. But Diana only had my husband to look after her when everyone else ignored her. She was quiet and shy, but expressive and smart. Diana is a latina Anne of Green Gables, a central American Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Too tall, too leggy, awkward and sweet and about to blossom into a genuine and loving young woman.
Diana calls me Andreita la de Papito, and she is happy I'm around because I make her Papito happy. She likes the presents I send to her. Her favorite color is light blue and her favorite Disney character is Ariel from The Little Mermaid. She has a birthday in February, and I'm thinking she'll like another Bratz doll and some outfits for the ones she has. What's all that about? Nothing. It's just what I want to tell people about her, because she deserves it.