Thursday, February 25, 2010

Living With a Ghost That Won't Go Away: My tribute to Billy Gene Onstead

Today, we are not funny, not funny at all. Comedy will someday resume, I'm sure of it. But today I have a life long mission to fulfill. I must tell the story of my biological father. Because yesterday, after thinking it was another hoax to laugh and roll my eyes at, I discovered that he may truly be dead.

Bill and my mother became pregnant with me before they were married. I was a surprise I guess. Bill disappeared for a while and left my mother wondering if she had scared him away with news of a baby. When he returned he vowed to be a good father, and they were married. The fact that he disappeared once should have been a sign, but my mother trusted him...LOVED him. He was tall, handsome and had a smile (so witnesses have said) that could suck you into his con at anytime.

Bill came into our family with another child from a previous marriage. I'll not share information about her except that we still love her and wish her the best and if she is ever in need of anything, we have been and always will be here.

Bill started out as a highway patrol officer in Texas when he came into my mom's life. Sometime after he ended up working in Saudi Arabia. He was gone A LOT. Mom said he came home once and had an unusual amount of money in a suitcase. He was always weird and secretive like that. He would disappear over seas, never call, and right when everyone thought he was dead or missing, he would show up. The day before I turned 3, he disappeared out of our lives forever.

Right before his final disappearance, Bill told our family (Mom had 3 teens from a previous marriage and Bill had the sister I mentioned above who was also a teenager) that he was moving us to Malta. He showed everyone pictures of the house and told us amazing stories of how wonderful our lives would be. The local newspaper ran a story on the our family moving to the island of Malta. Bill instructed my mother to sell everything. We could only take so much, and we would just have to buy the rest when we got there. He left the day before my 3rd birthday, and Mom set out with the help of friends and family and sold everything: the house, the car, clothes, trampolines, EVERY thing. The older kids shared clothes because soon they would be getting new ones and they told their friends that they were moving to Malta. The whole city knew about the upcoming adventure.

And then he never came back.

My mother waited...and waited...and waited. Friends offered to give her back the things she had sold them at garage sales. She refused to give up hope. Everyone started whispering of possible death over seas. Mom was forced to start all over again, living with her blind mother and 4 teenagers and a toddler, with NOTHING, while she waited to hear the fate of her husband. A year passed with wild rumors coming and going. A friend of Bill's told my mother that he saw an Arab man walking around in Bill's brown suit in town one day. He told her that he worried that Bill was dead. Eventually, Mom was left with no choice but to file for divorce through the state. She divorced a husband that was neither dead or alive, but a ghost that had briefly come and gone, leaving her with nothing but little blond brown-eyed girl, me.

The "brown suit" plays a leading role in my memories. Whether I overheard the brown suit conversation and that's how I came to know about it or my vision is real, for as long as I can remember I have this vision: Me in a blue with white polka dots dress, heavily pleated with lace, white socks and black shiny buckle shoes, walking down a staircase in our house and someone standing at the bottom waiting on me in a brown suit, he is tall but I don't see his face. Everything I describe in my vision, from the little toy lamb with wheels that I walk past to the color of the carpet, my mom has confirmed as real.

After Bill left, and the divorce was final, rumor became facts. The story of the brown suit on the Arab man was made up by Bill's accomplices to keep from knowing the truth, that he was still alive. My mom learned that Bill had not died after all, he was simply living another life. He was living in the same house he promised us, in Malta, and married another woman named Anita (I am told she is Indian) and had a baby girl named Shakeera. Shortly after we all realized that Bill had simply abandoned us, my half sister from Bill moved away and I never saw her again. Seems like there is a running theme where Onsteads are concerned.

I grew up very confused, very angry, very sad and FULL of fantasies about my biological father. I went through the usual stages: Blamed my mother for a while for not trying hard enough to find him, blamed myself for coming into his life when he didn't want another child, hated his guts for living out there and not wanting me or even just telling me why he cannot be in my life. All in all, I grew up with the ghost of Bill Onstead looming over me for 32 years. He looked back at me in every mirror I looked in to. He visited me in dreams, held me, told me things were going to be ok. He loved me in my fantasies--my innocent and dumb little girl fantasies.

At the age of 17, a very pissed off teenager, Bill's wife Anita Onstead wrote me a couple of postcards with no return address. The first was from South Africa. She told me how she wanted to interview and study me for a book she was writing about children from dysfunctional homes and that she would contact me again soon. In the second postcard she told how handsome my father was and how wonderful their life was with a house in South Africa and a Villa in Spain. She revealed that she and Bill had lived in Malta and that was where their first daughter was born, and their second was born in South Africa. Her name is Rasmeeka. She again said she would contact me when she was in Dallas next time, and then I never heard from her again. But how nice to write a little girl who spent her LIFE up to that point obsessed with questions about a father who chose to disappear. The part where she referred to him as tall and handsome was especially sensitive. *dripping in sarcasm* But the BEST part of her revelations was when she told me the age of her daughter that was born in Malta...she was born while Bill was still coming back to Texas to play "daddy/husband" to us, and Anita KNEW!

I found my father once, in Loveland, CO, and tried to contact him. I was told by the police there that Bill wanted me to leave him alone and threatened to press charges. I was 17 when I was told that. I also wrote Uncle Ted (Bill's brother)probably 10 different times begging for something, an answer, anything. NO ONE ever responded, ever cared. All of my sisters (there are 5 of us total) know Uncle Ted and were close to him. I did not. No one knew me, no one ever wanted to.

I will spare you all the details of a life spent wondering. I will skip to last year when I reconnected with two of my sisters who had been abandoned as well (one who lived with me and one who was abandoned just before Bill met my mother). We came together on Facebook and somehow I ended up finding out a few things that I never knew from one of them. Some of the things brought a LOT of closure to my never-ending chapter titled, Bill Onstead-The Mystery Never Ends. It helped to hear those things. I also learned that Shakeera and Meeka never knew about Bill's other "daughters". Anita and Bill had apparently perfected the art of living a lie.

But I STILL needed that moment. I still needed to have my say. And one of my greatest dreams was the day I would be told of Bill's death and I would attend his funeral and finally look upon his face--my father's face--and have my say to Anita and Bill's family.

Sadly, that day will never happen for me now. A week ago today, I discovered that Billy Gene Onstead died back in December of 2009. On his tribute site, the family (aka Anita) chose not to disclose the funeral date or arrangements. So my day to look upon my father's face will never come...in this life anyway. Anger like I have never known rushed through me that day, followed by a cold blow-to-the-stomach reality that left me curled up in tears for hours. Those around me would say "good riddance" and "you're better off" and others would just hold me without knowing what to say. Truth be told, there was NO right thing to say to me. How do you mourn the death of a ghost, of a man that was never there? How do you mourn a dream of looking into your father's eyes or hugging him and finally knowing his smell? It's funny what you think of when you are left to wonder, I always wondered what he smelled like, what his scent would be when I held him in a tight hug. How do you mourn a conversation you never had but ALWAYS dreamed you would have, practiced it in the mirror as a young girl? "Why did you leave, why did you pretend I never existed?" And he would answer.

I have just sent off for a death certificate. It will be the only thing I have of my father except for a few pictures of him smiling and one of him holding me like I was his greatest joy. I will put them all in a box and will carry that box with me throughout the rest of my life. However, when I put the lid on that box, my dreams will finally put to rest, just as Bill was this last December. Although, I cannot say that his soul is enjoying peace, as he has quite a bit to answer for in Heaven.

As for Anita, she lives on and still looks at herself every day in the mirror. In those moments, when she lingers to long at the reflection, it is my hope that for even the slightest moment in time, she knows what an evil person she is for living such a lie for so very long, and hurting so many little girls along the way.

To Billy Gene Onstead, my prayers are truly with you as you face your Maker and beg for mercy for sins against your children. May your soul one day find peace and may God grant you the forgiveness that I have trouble granting you myself. And then may God forgive me.

14 comments:

taffi said...

oh goodness. I'm so sorry. :hugs:

Sra. Rivera said...

Thank you for sharing your story, Vina. That can't be easy. Your strength is amazing.

Amy said...

Oh mercy! You have my hugs and prayers. What a crazy roller coaster this has been for you and your family.

Mattsmom said...

Vina I am so sorry. I had no Idea what to say to you when this happened, and really I still don't, but I do want to offer you my condolences and a big virtual hug.

SunnyMomma said...

(((hugs))) That is so much to go through! I am so sorry for your loss - mainly the loss of not getting a REAL closure to the ordeal you've been put through by that man. I'm so sorry.

Heidi said...

No words from me, just hugs.

(((hugs)))

Dawnyel said...

Also sending you my hugs and love!! <3

Lis said...

Hugs, Hugs, BIGHUGS....
I wish I knew what to say, or do to help you through this... maybe a pina colada night is in order...
Love you girl, :heart:

Melissa said...

wow!(((hugs)))

Ren said...

My prayers are with you dear...though I haven't experienced this sense of loss....my husband has....I have heard him say those same statements about his dad as well...about his scent...him holding Dan, feeling that he is his greatest joy etc...but I also feel that there might be something to Anita's life, which is being misunderstood. Probably she must have gone through some trauma, but she chose not to show it...This is just my thinking....doesn't really have to mean anything....Anyways, you are in our prayers.

Gaylene said...

You're amazing Vina, in strength and love and sense of being! I cried as I read your words, thoughts and feelings. Your reunion will come one day but until then many hugs and prayers for you. I love you and can sense your faith and testimony even in your trials. I hope you are continually surrounded by love and peace.

AliciaQ said...

Vina,

I just finished reading the blog about your Ghost and I have to tell you that I sit with chills still on my skin. The emotion within this blog made me feel a sense of pain and anger while reading your story. I guess we all have our ghosts like the one you had in yours. I too have had issues with my parents. Nothing I would feel comfortable blogging about but I will say I am still trying to heal. I wish you peace in your healing process. Hopefully someday we will get there.
Alicia

NIK said...

Vina - I don't think I ever commented on this. :) Your story filled a very important piece of my 'absent' world. I found out things I NEVER knew and the contempt I had for both him and Anita grew. I never knew Bill. He abandoned me before I really had a chance to know him. My memories of him are before you were born and I was very young (2-3). I was very scared of visiting him as a child because of the environment (although I do remember a lion on a trapeze toy he bought me...mmmm). I was grateful when he called (or someone called) and said he had gone away to another country and would be back some day....he never came back. I think for me the real struggle came as a teen and the anger towards him erupted plus the fact that my new stepdad was a child predator made life even more of a challenge. I use to write letters to him and anita all the time but they never arrived or were never responded to. I'm grateful that Uncle Ted did indeed get involved with me because he was a portal into their world of debauchery and alcoholism - I world I shall not enter. I was blessed that Tedde lived only just around the block from me so I could run to her when I struggled (I ran away from home so many times as a teen...). I am so lucky to have found you!!! The curse of Bill has been a blessing in my life in that it has expanded my family.....with good stuff. :)

Kathleen Jacobs said...

Small world, I am distantly connected to your world because one of those "other" daughters your biological father had, Meeka was married to my former (not sure what to call him -his name is also Bill- he was married to my only child that died at age 32 of breast cancer). Anyway...Meeka got pregnant and he
married her, they are now divorced.
Count yourself lucky dear, Meeka & her sister are topless dancers in Las Vegas...I can only imagine that this Meeka was an awful step-mother to my only grand child that I have been kept from seeing since her mother, my daughter Natalie died. Two evil Bill's...my husband has a similar life story as you so I know the hurt you feel and that part of your life is missing, I can only hope you don't let that man define your life dear and I will pray for your healing. This Anita did to you what Meeka did to me when I pleaded with her to reason with Bill Voelkner to let me see my only grandchild.
God says in his Word "Vengence is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay". You are right, both Bill's will have a lot of explaining to do for thier evil deeds. xoxo