Conclusion of The Mystery Box
The box had occupied space in our garage for as long as I could remember, and even though it was off-limits I’d allowed Ricky Delgado, my best friend, to talk me into opening it. My heart sank when I didn’t see a Japanese flag or a chunk of scorched scrap from a kamikaze. Only boring papers and old photographs, just what Dad had said was inside. Black and white snapshots of a remarkably young Dad in his Navy uniform, hamming it up with buddies on shore leave, downing drinks in exotic looking bars. It’s hard to accept that your parents had lives before you came along, but here was proof.
Ricky looked disappointed as he went through a stack of papers. He unfolded a document. “No war souvenirs. What a waste of t—wait a minute.”
I was pissed at Ricky for once more leading me astray. “What did you find, a letter proving my dad was a spy?”
“No, but this is interesting.”
“A marriage certificate.”
“You found my parents’ marriage certificate?”
“Uh, not exactly. Say, what year did your folks get married?”
I wasn’t sure, and did the math. I knew Mom and Dad had been married just over a year when my brother was born and he was now fourteen, so they were married in 1949.
Ricky handed me the document.
It had a spy-like quality to it; important and official. Engraved across the top it read: Certificate of Marriage. I didn’t see what Ricky had found so intriguing.
“Check out the date,” he said.
I found it—June 12, 1947. Then came the bombshell. I recognized Mom’s maiden name, but the other name wasn’t Dad’s. “I don’t understand,” I said, unaware that I was speaking.
“What don’t you understand,” Ricky asked. “Your mother was married to someone else before she married your Dad. Maybe your asshole brother isn’t really your brother. You look like your Dad, except he isn’t short and fat, but David doesn’t look like anyone in your family. Maybe the reason he acts so much older than us is because he is.”
I’d spent my entire life in my older brother’s shadow, tangling with him, being annoyed by him, yet it made my head spin to think he might not really be my brother.
The garage door rattled as it was pulled open. David stood in the driveway. He was about to say something snarky, as he usually did when he encountered me and Ricky, but his lips pressed tightly together as he looked at the open plywood box and the pictures and papers in our hands.
“You’re in big trouble,” he said. “It takes a lot to make Dad mad, but he’s gonna blow a gasket when he finds out about this.”
I handed him the marriage certificate.
He studied it for a minute and then turned to Ricky. “Beat it! I want to talk to my brother.”
“Maybe he isn’t your brother.”
David took two menacing steps toward Ricky and my best friend turned and fled through the open garage door. When Rick had gone, I looked at my brother and said, “Well?”
“Well what?” he answered.
“Are you my brother? According to this paper, Mom was married to someone before Dad. Is this guy named on the license your real Dad?”
“But the name on the paper…”
“This just means that Mom was married to someone else before she met Dad. The marriage was annulled. Do you know what that means?”
I shook my head.
“It means it didn’t count. Like it never existed.”
“How long have you known about this?”
“Long enough. I opened the box and saw this certificate years ago. Mom and Dad’s marriage certificate is in the metal box in the hall closet, along with our birth certificates. This isn’t anything for you to worry about.”
“So we really are brothers?”
“Of course, you little moron. Believe me, sometimes I wish we weren’t but there isn’t anything I can do about it.” He reached down and picked up the screwdriver. “Let’s put this box back together before Mom or Dad find out about this and both of us get grounded for life.”
I gathered up the screws and handed them to David, one at a time. When the last one was securely in place I looked up at him and said, “I’m glad.”
“Glad about what?”
“I’m glad we’re really brothers.”
“You’re such a little goon,” he said, but there wasn’t any sting to it. He helped me move the box back to its spot beside Dad’s workbench before he went inside.
I stared at the box and wondered if there were other family secrets I didn’t know about. Twenty years would pass before I’d discover the answer was yes. For the next few years I’d spend each Christmas reflecting on the plywood box beneath our stout tree, remembering when it only held the harmless products of my imagination.