I sent her a message an hour ago and now find myself hitting the inbox link on my e-mail over and over again. Nothing new comes in. I hope she returns the message. Our correspondence has been thin lately. As a matter of fact, it's been a one-way street and I wonder what she's thinking, why she's doing this. I wonder if she still wants a relationship but I'm afraid to ask, because I don't want to anger her or hear that she's over me.
I met her three years ago, around July 4, 2003, when she was 17. Her mother introduced me to her at a motel near Joliet, Ill. Although she seemed afraid of me at first, once she came to know me, that changed. We came to like one another. Her mother had no problem with our relationship. In fact, she's the one who found me on the Internet.
Once I heard about the girl, I didn't hesitate to meet her.
Before I went to Joliet, I told my wife and kids about the girl. It was probably the hardest thing I had to do. At first I wanted to keep it a secret; but when I found myself looking over my shoulder at the UDF payphone, I knew I had to come clean. The DNA test was 99 percent proof positive that she belonged to me. Sometimes I think it changed my relationship with my wife forever. I know that it changed the way I thought about my children as a whole.
Later that summer, my new daughter came to Cincinnati to visit her half-siblings and me. Her mother gave me a shoebox full of photos of her life. Shuffling through the photos, I couldn't help but wish I were there, especially after seeing the one of her baptism that happened on the day after Christmas.
My new daughter and my other children seemed lukewarm to each other but I felt with time they would begin to like each other. Love will see us through, I thought.
That winter I traveled back to Joliet to watch her in a Christmas play. Out of all the kids singing, her voice was the best. While watching the play, I wished I would have been told about her sooner. I missed out on my daughter's whole life. Regrets are a dime a dozen, but this one I couldn't put a price on.
After the play, her mother and I agreed she would be able to come back to Cincinnati in a few weeks for Christmas. I was having an art show entitled Mychal's Island the day after Christmas. I wanted her to be a part of it.
That's when it all seemed to fall apart. Place the blame on me. I guess I was trying to juggle too much at once. My relationship with my wife was in tatters and my children felt as if I was abandoning them for foolish projects. Looking back, I now know I should have fixed those problem areas before they spun out of control.
On the day of my art exhibit, my wife took the kids and went to back to Chicago. I was alone with this young lady, my new daughter, trying to explain that none of this mess was her fault. Feeling troubled, I took her back to Joliet, then turned quickly around and headed back to Cincinnati for the art show. Although others attended, I felt truly alone. I wish now I would have kept her with me for the show.
My new daughter was crushed at what happened to her while in Cincinnati but still found a way to forgive me. That fall she entered Xavier University. I saw her here and there as she went to school. Once we planned to meet at Bellarmine Chapel before going out for Sunday breakfast but she never showed up. That's been over a year ago now. On that Sunday, I entered Bellarmine alone. I listened to the priest as he wondered where all the saints were. He told us to keep paddling. I left there that day and returned alone again the next week to work on the broken soul I had become
Since then, I have become Bellarmine's doorman. Every Sunday I open the door while smiling at all who enter. Sometimes when I'm there, I think one day they'll meet me — all my daughters — and none will be angry. One day I'll open this door of Bellarmine and there will be no strife.
But now I'm at my computer, still thinking of my new daughter. Again I hit the inbox link to my e-mail hoping to hear from her. Nothing new comes in. Maybe one day she'll find a way to forgive me again.
Peter Deane's latest book, "Finding Bellarmine," is available at www.lulu.com.