There is this moment that plays over and over in my head some days. I’m sitting at the kitchen bar/counter thing in my childhood home – and in these stupid barstools that I couldn’t stand, mostly because my mom wanted to paint our home in Denver Broncos colors (but, muted, of course because she wasn’t a real fan and the bright colors just wouldn’t “mesh”) and she never used the right kind of paint for the pleather and metal so it scratched your skin. It was summer, just before I was to turn 18, so of course I was wearing shorts and the painted fabric scratched me as I moved, nervous to ask my dad a question. (Well, my step-dad, but keep reading.) He was standing, which was a challenge at this point in his life because the hepatitis was really putting him through hell; well, that’s not really true, all the experimental trial drugs were. Anyway, he was standing to my right. I told him how sorry I was for being a complete brat when I was a child and refusing to let him adopt me despite him asking at three separate times throughout my life.
Flashback: I’m 11. Almost 12. (That’s important, but a different story.) A friend, Kera, from Winter Terrace (we lived on Summer) is FINALLY having a sleep over at my house. I was so excited her parents gave us permission for her to come to my place. We’re in my room doing whatever thing two 11 year olds do on a sleepover; I don’t remember. My parents are drunk, so the door’s closed. Nevermind that, my mom bursts it open, heaving from tears or shortness of breath, I don’t know. Her mascara is all over her face; it makes me hate make-up more. She slams the door shut behind her, sits on the floor, her back to the door. We’re trapped. She decides, in this moment, to tell me that she lied to me my entire life. My dad, the one that fathered me. She lied. He didn’t see me in the hospital room after I was born, barely step out of the hallway, and immediately turn around a leave. (Because, yes, that’s what she told me prior to this night.) No, that’s not what happened. It’s of note that at this point in the story Kera is literally crawling out my bedroom window, fleeing. (We never hung out again.) My mom, she uses this moment to tell me, “you’re the product of a one-night stand. I don’t know who your father is. There were too many for me to know.”
Flashback: I’m 15. My parents are fighting again. I blast Blink-182 in my room from my sweet, sticker-bombed-boombox that’s on the shelf above the freshwater fishtank in the cubby space made by my perpendicular bunkbeds. It’s Enema of the State, an album I bought three times because I kept thinking I lost it and just rebought it (and found it …every time …in the boombox). I was probably listening to “Aliens Exist” because that was my favorite song, but I’m not exactly sure. My mom storms into my room, but that’s easier to do these days since I never closed it and just had plastic hippie beads hanging from the door frame. (Mostly so my mom’s hair would get stuck when she walked through them because that entertained me ever so much.) She tells me we’re going to practice driving, which seems strange but I get up, get the keys, and get in the car anyway; I want to pass my driving class so badly so I can always leave this place. We drive a part of town that I’ve passed a lot as a kid, but it feels like I’d been there before. Like really been there. We park at some white and green house that might have been a trailer made to look more like a house. There’s a small, plastic pool you get at Walmart for fifteen bucks out front with slime showing where it was once full. She gets out and argues with some man at the door for a while. I stayed in the car.
Fast-forward: I’m sitting on the stoop of a portable at school right before my driving class begins. I’m going over and over this letter I stole from my mom’s makeup case. “Zero percent match,” it reads, or something like it. I had absolutely none of the same alleles in common with the man from the house with the pool. My mom? Turns out I wasn’t switched at birth like I had always dreamt. She was my biological mother. Damn.
Flashback: It’s somewhere between the last two stories when I work up the courage to tell my mom, yes, I will go in for the paternity test of this man, David, she thinks might be my father. We go sometime a few weeks later to a set of buildings that no longer exist. (I wonder if there’s some analog there. I’ll explore that another time.) They swab my mouth, and my mother’s. Apparently, a paternity test throws in a maternity test for free. Mother-daughter bonding? I think not. David, he goes at a different time to make sure there isn’t a crossing of paths mixed in with some domestic shouting, I’m sure.
Fast-forward: It’s somewhere between the last two stories when my mom comes to my room and calmly tells me the paternity test was inconclusive and we have to do it again. I tell her I’m so tired. So tired of all of it. Who is or isn’t my father. I’m tired. I don’t want to do it.
Fast-forward: I found the letter. It wasn’t inconclusive at all. It was THE most conclusive a test could ever be. That damned bitch lied to me, about my father, again. And again.
So, there I am, sitting in the scratchy chair. Apologizing for being so torn my entire life about the idea of a father. And, I ask him, for once and all – “would you adopt me before I turn 18?”
I see him beginning to cry and I start to cry. We are both so happy. He wants to, emphatically. It’s just a few short months until I’m an “adult,” so we need to work quickly.
Fast-forward: It’s a week later. For reasons I will never understand, my father let my mother back in the house. They sit me down at the exact same spot. My father standing to my right. My mother across the counter, staring right back at me. He tells me they have some news about the adoption. He doesn’t have that happy look anymore. And, she says, “I won’t allow it. I won’t let you have anything you want in this world, Jessica.” She leaves. Proud, even.
I’m dumbfounded, even though I shouldn’t be. He looks at me and makes me look at him when he knows all I want to do is stare at the ground or run away and not be here, in this moment any more than I have to and he says, “you’ll always be my daughter – no matter what your name is.”