Most of us know where we’ve come from. We know the birth story, we know the genetics. For those of us who are adopted, we make up pretty stories in our head to fill the aching holes. I was blessed to meet half of that story in my biological mom, Paula, over 20 years ago. I love her dearly. Thankfully, fifty percent of me is made from strong, compassionate and resilient stuff.
Paternity was always two possibilities. One of sickness and compulsion, and one of sweet, young love. Thanks to a few tubes of spit and two DNA sites I was able to finally piece together that the sperm didn’t come from the top of the heap. It came from a dirty, deep, disturbed underbelly and was a selfish, immoral, despicable swimmer. It’s not the answer I was hoping for. There was no love involved.
For a few minutes (okay, maybe a few days…) I let that momentarily define me. But, I am not trash. I am not ugliness. I am not fear and sadness and trauma. I am not a thief, and I am not that night in October of 1964. I am not the damage that event caused. I am not guilt, nor shame, nor all of the things my biological mom went through to give birth to me. Miraculously and consistently, good things come from bad. Every single time. I am a dusty, dirty miracle. I’m a flower in the ashes, lemonade kind of girl. And though it hurts, God, it hurts, that’s to be expected. It’s to be walked through gently and lovingly. It’s to be absorbed.
I am more than my DNA. I am more than my DNA. I am more than my DNA.
Flash forward six months. I know who I came from and I’ve made peace with that. I lie when I tell people that, but there is a certain level of acceptance. I now have a name for my father, but no face. I MUST have a face. I’ve become obsessed with looking into my father’s eyes, certain that I will see the depravity, convinced that I will instantly hate him – that the ugliness will define his face. I fear that the ugliness will ultimately define me.(I have backslid in the past six months.)
My friend Kent, also adopted, suggests that I contact the local library where my biological father went to college. He says that many libraries keep the college yearbooks on file that someone can scan a picture for me. I momentarily love Kent more than any man I’ve ever loved. I contact the library, make my request, and the thought evaporates. It’s the day of the presidential election. I leave work and go to vote.
I anticipate it will be weeks before I hear anything (I anticipate a lot that night, but nothing happens that’s expected that evening). My phone dings with a new email while I’m watching the returns. It’s an intern at the library. He has sent me a photograph from a line of yearbook photographs he hastily scanned. My hand shakes as I open the attachment. What’s staring at me is a somewhat chubby, brunette boy with a beautiful smile. Huh. He is not what I expected. I’m confused. He doesn’t fit the crime. And then I look left and see half of a face. Half of my son’s face. But, that can’t be. And I see the name…this boy has the same name as the jolly brunette and I realize what the intern has done.
I send an email. There’s been a mistake. There are two boys with the same name. I need the photo of the boy to the right of the brunette. The handsome, blonde, the brooding one. The one that looks like me, my children. The one I’m certain is my father.
Twenty minutes later the photograph arrives. “Oops,” the intern says. I have to chuckle. Just a kid trying to do a job who doesn’t understand the repercussions. I recognize my father immediately. It’s me, but, the male version. My eyes, my chin, my jawline, my forehead, my intensity, my oldest son. There is no doubt. I’m looking in a mirror. I don’t feel hate. I don’t see ugliness. I see sadness, I see complexity, I see the people I love most in this world. I try to reconcile what I know with what I see, and I can’t do that in black and white.
We are more than black and white. Could he be more than black and white?
I will never know. More digging unearths that he died in 1988. I don’t know how, or why. More searching leads me to find he had a daughter – I have a half-sister. I’m elated. She is beautiful. A week later, I private message her on Facebook. I tell her my mom and her father dated. That he never knew about me. I am kind in my explanation. I ask her how our father died. She tells me that he died from “causes that didn’t serve him well.” She pretends for a message or two that she wants to know me, but then she goes silent. She wants nothing to do with me. The grief from that is unbelievable. I want nothing and that’s exactly what I am given. My imagination goes wild about my father’s death. I have a face, but again, obsessed. It’s not enough. The aching hole deepens. What did she mean? Who was my father?
I waited a respectable amount of time hoping that my sister would come around. She didn’t. Enter a relationship with Vital Records for the state of Texas. That relationship didn’t hurt as much as the one with my sister. It only cost me $20.
A death certificate arrived at my office today.
Cause of death – Cardiac arrhythmia as a result of high level of cocaine metabolites and a blocked coronary artery. That is my father. I am crushed. Not surprised, but crushed. And I think of my sister, a teenager at the time of his death, and I am flattened. And I understand her reluctance to know me. I see the cause of death and I’m sure she sees me as merely the cost of his living. There is no connection to me. No need to hear more from me. She already knows enough. I want to desperately tell her that I am so much more than our DNA. But, to her, I suspect I will never be anything but DNA. And, I choose to love her anyway because I am not that night in October of 1964. I am so much more.