Because I Had To
by David Bulitt Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Jess Porter spent her childhood bouncing from therapist to therapist and prescription to prescription. An outcast at school and a misfit at home, the only solace she ever found was in her relationship with her dad, Tom. Now he's dead. Feeling rejected by her adopted mom and her biological twin sister, Jess runs off to South Florida. But she can't outrun her old life. Watching the blood drip down her arm after her latest round of self-inflicted cutting, she decides her only choice is to find and face what frightens her most. Because I Had To takes the reader inside the worlds of adoption, teen therapy, family law, and the search for a biological family. With a cast of finely drawn, complicated characters, it asks us to consider: can the present ever heal the past?
My dad is dead. It's been almost a year now. He was pretty young, only 52. When I think back on all I have done since I last saw him, I'm not sure how I should feel. Embarrassed? Some, yes. But also proud of myself, in a strange sort of way. At 23, I've probably done more than a lot of people have. Or should have, anyway.
I made it at home for just a little while after he died. Me, my mom and my sister. And that's exactly how it was. Me. My mom and my sister.
Kasey and I are twins. We were born in Pittsburgh and adopted right away. My parents did not use an agency but got us through what they always told us was an independent adoption. They found us literally by running some sort of "baby wanted" ads in local papers and those penny saver things that people look at in grocery stores. Ever since I can remember, Kasey and I were different. As twins, one would think that we would have a connection, a natural bond of some kind, permanent “womb-mates”. For whatever reason, though, I never felt it. More than that, I never even liked Kasey. I know it's crazy to say, but as far back as when I was about six or so, I can remember wishing that something bad would happen to her. Of course, for a little kid, "something bad" usually meant like her hair falling out or hoping she threw up all over herself. Once when we were little and on the couch exploring the depths of our prepubescent vaginas while watching Sponge Bob and playing that stupid “Pretty Pretty Princess” game my sister loved so much, I handed Kasey a clip on earring and told her to put it on that little bump thing just above her vagina.
“It will tickle.”
Like the mindless sheep she was, Kasey immediately snapped it right onto her clitoris. She went screaming through the house and it wasn’t until my dad could catch her and was able to pry her legs apart long enough to unhook the thing that she finally quieted down. I didn’t exactly know what a clitoris was at the time, but it sure looked like it hurt. I stayed on the couch and laughed my ass off.
As we got older, I stopped wishing for Kasey to take a fall somewhere along the manicured little path that my mother paved for her. Like old bathroom wallpaper that no one notices, I just stopped thinking about her altogether.
Same as my mom, Kasey always seemed perfect. When we were kids, her hair was long and light brown and curly. She had this creamy translucent white skin and I don’t think has ever, even now, gotten a pimple. She reminded me of one of those irritating American Girl dolls. When we would brush our teeth together in the banana yellow double sink bathroom that we shared, I always looked over at her in one of her little pink Lanz nightgowns, buttoned up all the way to the top. When she finished, Kasey would rinse out the toothbrush and put it right back into the holder, exactly where it belonged. I looked at her, and then straight ahead into the mirror at myself, toothpaste running down my chin.
My hair was a bit darker and much straighter than my sister. I had this awful freckle on the tip of my nose that to me looked like a little licorice jellybean. I picked it off over and over again, must have been a hundred times, only to have it always grow right back. The summer before I went to high school, my Dad took me to a plastic surgeon that lasered it right off.
I did everything I could to get my hair to curl like Kasey’s. I tried my mom’s curling iron, burning my fingers more times than I care to remember. A few times, I tried tying my dad’s socks into it overnight hoping to wake up and see one of those unrealistically cute Disney channel characters in the mirror. One time, I had my dad drive me to a dollar store and bought me my own set of 1950’s style curlers. I put them in and one got so tangled that the next morning my dad had to cut it out, leaving a short, jagged patch. Nothing worked. When I got a little older, I just gave up, and instead, just let my bangs grow and brushed them over the side and across my forehead, often low enough to cover my left eye. My hair-never-out-of-place mother didn’t approve. More than once she told me that I looked like one of the Beach Boys. I didn’t know who they were back then, but I knew she did not mean it to be a compliment. I asked my dad to play me some of their music and thought it was pretty good. After that, I didn’t really mind the comparison.
Like everything else we owned, my mom bought us the same nightgowns. I hated those things, all frilly and soft. Kasey kept hers folded tightly in her “nightgown drawer”. I just never felt comfortable in them and stuffed them into little balls underneath my bed. Instead, I would rummage through my dad’s old t-shirt drawer and steal one of his particularly big and baggy ones. It drove my mother crazy, but Dad kind of liked it. Even now, at 23, I still wear his old t-shirts. Except for his Asbury Jukes music collection, what’s left in my bank account and some great fucking memories, those old t-shirts are pretty much all I have left of him.
Family law specialist David Bulitt has been praised as the lawyer who “epitomizes stability and old fashioned common sense” by Bethesda Magazine and routinely makes every top Washington DC Metro lawyer list. His clients say that he is “the best non-shaving, motorcycle-riding, bourbon-drinking, non-lawyer, lawyer” they know.
The grandson of a New Jersey bartender, Bulitt was the first member of his family to get a professional degree. After years of raising kids and focusing on family responsibilities, Bulitt Bulitt now spends much of his spare time discussing world issues with his dogs and working on his novels. His first book, CARD GAME, was published in 2015 to a bevy of five star reviews. His new novel, BECAUSE I HAD TO, is available now on Roundfire Books.
Bulitt is the Assistant Managing Director of Joseph, Greenwald and Laake, PA, one of Maryland's largest and most prominent law firms. His practice focuses on all areas of family law, including cases that involve complex financial and property matters and property distribution, divorce, and child custody disputes. He is often appointed by local courts to serve in one of the most difficult and demanding legal roles, as a Best Interests Attorney for children whose parents are embroiled in high conflict custody disputes. He also has extensive expertise working with families that have children with special needs.
WHEN DID YOU DECIDE TO WRITE A BOOK?
About 15 or so years ago, I started keeping notes and ideas for what turned out to be the basis of my first novel, CARD GAME. Literally, I stuffed scraps and napkins, and whatever else I wrote on in a folder for all that time. I had four children, full time job as a divorce lawyer, so I would have just as easily swam the English Channel as write a novel. During the summer of 2013, I had a lengthy trial scheduled right before a vacation. When the my case settled and the trial was cancelled as a result, that left me with almost three weeks worth of space on my calendar. My wife encouraged me to get out of town and give the novel a try. I took her up on it and while I was gone, wrote much of that first book.
COULD YOUR BOOKS BE MADE INTO MOVIES?
I think everyone who writes a book might see it as a movie. That said, I do think that CARD GAME, with its sort of “Big Chill” mixed with “Diner” vibe would make a great film. BECAUSE I HAD TO might be a tougher conversion. Although, in fairness, I think that BECAUSE I HAD TO is a more sophisticated and well written piece, the content might be more difficult to transfer to a screenplay.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE ‘BECAUSE I HAD TO’?
I have a child who grew up with special needs, behavioral issues and multiple mental health diagnoses. She spent much of her childhood going from one doctor to the next and constantly being prescribed different medications. I think that, as a result of my experience parenting and doing my best to raise her, BECAUSE I HAD TO flowed out of me quickly and naturally. It really is Jess Porter’s story and although I based that character on my own child, ultimately Jess is a much more “together” kind of individual.
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