DNA

I have two family trees. All adoptees do. The first is the family whose name I share, who I grew up with, my family. The other tree is newer, yet with older roots. It is my DNA tree. I had done a DNA test over fifteen years ago, but the parameters were much broader back then. This time, the motivation was from Dad. He had his DNA tested and showed me the results. I asked Katie if she wanted to get tested because they were running a two-for-one special. To my surprise, she really wanted to see what her genetic background was.

The irony of her enthusiasm is that I searched for my other family tree because of Katie. When she was in high school, she had a rough time. Was there some clue in my birth family that might help me help her? I must have had an unconscious desire to know myself, but I sure didn’t know that then. I just wanted to find out my genetic background, I told myself.

I hope Dad understands this journey is completely separate from my relationship with him. I am always, and forever, Bob’s daughter. Shirley’s daughter. Mike’s sister. Ginger’s cousin. Katie’s Mom. Me. I never expected that this quest begun for Katie would awaken a desire to know my other family tree.

As an adoptee, not knowing your DNA family is nothing new. In fact, it was probably more common to have been orphaned or abandoned throughout history than now. I can tell you that no matter how wonderful your family is, or how good a fit (mine were/is, on both accounts), being an adoptee is incredibly lonely. There is no one who looks like you. There is always the stark words ‘adopted’ written across your medical history. No one compares you to an aunt, or brothers and sisters, or mom and dad. You are an island unto yourself. I coped by keeping a little part of me protected. I wasn’t aware that I did this until recently, and I wasn’t too happy to see that.

I already knew who my birth parents were when I ordered the tests. My journey started back in August of 2007. Apparently I had to mull over my options because this was three years after Katie had graduated from high school. For $65 I ordered my de-identified  adoption paperwork from the Methodist Mission Home in San Antonio. The heavily inked out lines are reminiscent of secret government files.

There have been a lot of emotionally jolting firsts for me since then. The afternoon I received a packet from Methodist Mission Home, I pored over the papers. My birth mother wanted to be a journalist, her family owned a restaurant; she was one of eleven kids.  My birth father was a musician and a journalism teacher. Huh. Imagine that. September 5th, 2007, two months after listing my information on every adoption reunion site I could find, an “adoption angel” who had seen my request sent me my birth mother’s name and a link to my original birth certificate (my birth mother had named me “Suzie”. I’ll give her a pass because she was 18 and it was the late 50s). After months of sleuthing, I saw a picture of my birth mother. I remember I sat there, stunned, staring at the young girl who looked a lot like me. Some five years later, I finally, finally, put all the pieces of the puzzle together and found out who my birth father was. His picture confirmed everything. I look like him, too. At long last, I had images of the people who created me.

I now have a dual-track family narrative. The one that is, that I’ve known my whole life, and one that I’m struggling to form into a new narrative. They will never meld. I have no desire to spring myself, uninvited, into my birth mother’s life. I don’t care to hear her story, the mea culpas and rationalizations behind her choices. It is enough—more than enough—to know who I came from, to see their pictures and names, and to see what I am made of.

 

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dad

Yes, my dad is alive and kicking. I want to take the opportunity to embarrass him while I can. It’s not often we get our own personal heroes, but I have one, a fact that has become even more emphatically clear during my struggle with Lyme. Dad and I are extraordinarily close, our relationship uncomplicated, unlike the relationship I had with Mom. Maybe that’s the nature of fathers and daughters, but more likely it’s because our personalities simply mesh. His 89th birthday is next month. He hates his birthday. His office once threw him an unbirthday party because he assiduously and purposefully withheld the date for years. He is going to kill me for writing this. I know it. That’s okay, Dad. You know you love me.

I was adopted on the sixth day of my life. I didn’t know until this year that mom and dad adopted me because I was a “hard to place” child, because I am half-Hispanic. This fact rattled me a bit. Hard to place? Moi? That’s because Mom never shared this tidbit with me, and I don’t think it ever occurred to Dad to even mention it, until I asked.

Dad was raised in a world of women. His dad traveled for work, and eventually divorced his mom when Dad was twelve. Dad credits his decidedly egalitarian views towards women (an anomaly for his generation) to this upbringing. I realized he was different from a lot of other dads early on. Other kids weren’t canoeing with their fathers. Other kids weren’t playing ping-pong, tennis, or just talking to their fathers. I rarely heard of friends’ fathers vacuuming, cleaning windows, or washing dishes. He did all these things and more without complaint. I complained enough for the whole family. Mom went back to work full-time when I was in the sixth grade with his blessing (I hesitate to state it that way, because he fully supported her choices). In his mid-fifties, he moved to Memphis for her job and commuted to Denver two weeks every month because she had interrupted her career to move for his. He took care of Mom for the last ten years of her life, putting aside nearly everything for her.

One of the things I love most about Dad is his absolute, unwavering unconditional love for those fortunate to be in his orbit. He wants nothing but good things and happiness for you. This used to intimidate and frighten me: could I live up to such a fierce love? Now I see that I do the same to Katie. There are worse things in life to know you are someone’s sun, moon and stars. He spoiled me a bit, but again, there are worse things. He has supported me unequivocally throughout grad school (he used the proceeds from Mom’s cello and bow to pay for it) and through my ordeal with Lyme disease. I do the same for Katie, and we do what we can for him. It’s a happy circle of unconditional love that I wish everyone could experience.

Dad was not a pushover, however. I tested plenty of boundaries. My brothers didn’t know what boundaries were. Dad has questioned his (and Mom’s—they were a team, 100%) choices on how he raised us. This is both endearing and annoying, because there were maybe four or five times, tops, where the punishment was unwarranted. He likes to remember differently, but some of his punishments were downright genius. One of my favorite stories (and his least, probably because it reflects poorly on me) is the time I was caught completely bombed on Quaaludes (thank goodness the guys’ parents came home, because we were literally on our knees howling with laughter because we couldn’t get the car keys in the door to unlock the car). Dad grounded me for six months. He said we were going to be spending a LOT of time together and signed me up for tennis lessons with Kingwood’s new tennis pro, Jim Rombeau. To this day Dad and I share an abiding love for tennis. This didn’t solve all of my misbehaving, but it brought us much closer together.

There was a time when it used to irk me that old boyfriends (really, all of my friends) always asked how Dad was doing, to the point where I suspected they liked him more than me. Now I see it for what it is, a huge compliment to him. He’s nonjudgemental and listens, no matter your sex or age. I remember discussions about news, books and life as early as nine or ten. When I was twelve, or maybe thirteen, I announced I was atheist. He asked me how I came to that conclusion and we began a discussion on belief and faith that continues to this day.

Dad won a lawsuit against an oil company known for stiffing independent exploration geologists who’d done work for them, largely because the jury found him an impeccably honest and moral witness. He once told me he’d rather see an honest F than a cheater’s A. He embarrassed me and my cousin Ginger at the movie theater by doing a spot-on imitation of Tevye singing “If I were a Rich Man” during intermission. He got thrown into the pool regularly because he was that dad, a good sport who liked to have fun. He likes to solve the world’s problems over a few drinks. He makes his granddaughter feel like she’s the center of his universe.

Whew. All these compliments! Lest you think he’s perfect, he can’t dance. His singing is abysmal. His ‘cooking’ is utilitarian at best, popcorn and wine at worst. He hates to wait. He can barely sit through a movie. He hates most holidays. He never feels like he gives good gifts (this is nonsense, he gives the BEST gifts).  He gets mad when Katie and I fuss over him. Too bad, Dad. We will fuss over you forever. Many friends who know him joke about letting him adopt them, too. He picked me, a hard-to-place monkey-faced baby. I’m not nearly as nice as he is, so too bad, he’s mine, and I’m not sharing.

 

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liar

I was going to write a paean to my Dad on my blog this week, being Father’s Day and all, but my dad really, really hates Father’s Day. Instead, I realized that I lie to myself about Lyme now. Yes. It’s true. You can lie to yourself about anything. Think about it. I’ve decided I should be just about well now, so I have rationalized my relapses by saying I’m “super-tired”. I can do this for days. In fact, I just did!

This past week, Denver’s Lighthouse Writers host LitFest. Workshops, readings, and salons where authors famous in the literary world discuss literature. I needed to get back into the writing world. I took the week off from work and volunteered. I also took five or six workshops. I started to backslide the fifth or sixth day. I told myself I was tired from working my brain and social skills for the first time in at least a year and a half. Lies, all lies. As my daughter said today, “You want me to tell you when you’re relapsing? Because I could’ve told you that four days ago.” Cue eye roll.

Why do I have such a hard time admitting to relapses? This must be a new thing, tied into my belief that I should be well. Or maybe there is more to it than that. When I was little, when we were sick, Mom had her tried and true medicines and sick foods. Ginger ale and jello for stomach upset, Coriciden-C and warm saltwater for colds and sore throats., and calamine lotion and mercurochrome for everything else. This lasted as long as you were actually ill. We were not allowed to watch TV, or run around, or goldbrick. As soon as we were well, we were expected to get on with it. She was a good example, herself. I rarely saw her sick in bed, unless she had a raging cold, was throwing up, or when she had cancer (okay, pretty good excuse, Mom). Other than that, she got up and powered through everything. Dad was not much different. He scared the shit out of me when he had back surgery. I was a freshman in college, so to see him laid out like that for the first time in my life was shocking.

My point is, being sick only got you so much sympathy in my house. I absorbed these lessons and chafe at not being well. I don’t revel in the attention being sick gets. In fact, I hate it. I also hate not having any fun, and believe me, when you’ve been sick a long time, even work is something fun. So I lie. Maybe I hope that the lie will morph into the truth. That would be great. I do it in all sorts of ways. There’s the ‘wow, I look pretty good for having eaten 400 potato chips this week’ lie. The ‘twenty minutes of weights and 800 yard swim is a tough workout’ lie. The ‘I deserve this <blank> my life has been so hard this week’ lie. That one’s my favorite and usually involve either clothes or makeup. In truth I don’t ‘deserve’ shit, it’s a self-serving lie, the best kind.

In reality, though, super-tired means a relapse. My bones ache, my brain thrums and I bang around like a woman in high heels after three glasses of wine I rub my eyes because they burn and itch and blur up. It is most certainly bartonella. I’m taking medicine, so a reaction means dead bugs, which means a sore liver and more tiredness. It’s all so boring. I think that might be my problem. I am bored with Lyme. Bored with doing only what I can, not what I want. Bored with babying myself, always making sure I get enough rest, eating well, and all that crap. Bored with my own limitations. Lying makes it more bearable. Am I really fooling myself, though? It would seem I am such a good liar, that I can fool myself quite easily, but then, one has to want to believe in a lie to get away with it.

I don’t see any way out of this box. I’m not well enough to forge ahead with my life with no consequences. I’m tired of being sick. The lies work! Father’s Day is still this weekend. I’ll call Dad, tell him I love him. I can embarrass him any time I want. I’ll get to that paean someday, Dad,  but you gets a pass this weekend.

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clean

I’ve had a bad week. Normally I’m loathe to admit this, but it is pertinent to this post. Today is, so far, a good day. I walked the dogs, ate breakfast, and began to clean. I like to clean. It is a zen-like activity for me, one of those empty tasks that allows the brain to unravel knotty problems or work through troubling emotions. I wanted to clean so that I could move back into my own bedroom. This month has been filled with family and friends who have stayed at the house. Because my dad is eighty-seven and my dad, I insisted that he take my bedroom this time. That is because I had a friend staying in his old room. I moved downstairs to the basement spare bedroom (which has its own bathroom and is quite cool and comfy) and stuck my brother  Mike on a cot in my office. I would have put him downstairs in the cool and comfy room, but he has a bum hip, smokes a pack a day, and drinks endless cups of coffee. My office is next to the back door and the kitchen and it’s on the main floor, so no stairs. Anyway, it was chaotic. Now we’re back to me, my dad, Katie and Cris, her lovely boyfriend who is here four or five nights a week.

While growing up, my home was calm, clean and ordered. My mom wanted it that way. We often battled—I felt her standards were ridiculous. Saturday mornings were the worst. I couldn’t leave until my room was mom-clean. She checked under the bed, in the closet and inside my dresser. I had many diversionary tactics: the paper (I read it from cover to cover by age 11), American Bandstand followed by Soul Train (I’m a Soul Train girl 100%!), and watching golf or tennis with my dad ( a lifelong tradition, as it turns out). Nothing lasts forever. At some point I dragged myself to my room and turned on some music. Once I started, it wasn’t bad. I have a deep appreciation for the crisp, fresh smell and suppleness of clean towels and sheets. I love knowing where things are. When my cousin Ginger moved in with us, I was twelve. I remember how vehemently annoyed she was that everything had to be done just so. Over time, she became a much better and more cheerful cleaner than I, and I resented her for this. Now, of course, I love to kvetch with her over the things we suffered together (ask her about cross-country skiing!).

I’m not quite sure when I realized I liked an ordered household, but I do. When Lyme drove me into my home for days on end, an almost maniacal need for cleanliness took hold. Katie would tell you I was OCD about this, and she may be right. Lyme settled in my brain and stirred up all kinds of synapses that should have been left alone. Those times could best be described as an acid trip on downers while sick with the worst hangover ever. Looking back, I’m not sure how I endured those days. Maybe the fact that my brain was inflamed and not working right made time warp, so that days flew by without complaint.

Whenever I felt well enough, I cleaned and shopped for groceries before I did anything else. If you’ve ever been sick for a long time, it’s better to be sick in a clean house. Waking up to dirt and mess is disheartening when you’re well, devastating when you’re ill. If you felt bad already, seeing all that chaos simply drags you down further. But maybe that’s just me. I don’t think so, I think my need to clean, like my need for exercise and sleep, takes precedence in my life. I value it, so I make time to do it. Things I don’t value, like sitting in front of the TV or going out drinking, I don’t do.

This isn’t saintly, nor does it make me a better person (wait…I think it might! Doesn’t the Bible say cleanliness is next to Godliness, or was that Ben Franklin? Anyway, this atheist feels pretty fucking holy about cleaning) but it does make for a nice place to wake up to, no matter how shitty I feel. This past year, much to my chagrin, I also discovered I’m a bit of a Nazi bitch about control over my house and kitchen. I wanted a roommate. I asked an old, dear friend to come and try it out. It was apparent to me that I don’t like anyone else cleaning and straightening my home. I would not do well with a maid. Well, I might. Perhaps I’ll win the lottery and find out. I wasn’t pleased to uncover such an unflattering side to myself, and I can’t truly blame Lyme for it.

Don’t expect me to apologize for my cleaning problem. Keep asking me to come over and clean your house. So far, only a few friends have enjoyed this bonus (Alex and Vilja, I’m looking at you!). To my friends and guests: it’s nothing personal, I just do it all better than you. And I like it.

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