First things first, the extremely talented comedian Jessica Michelle Singleton released her debut album last night and it already hit #1 on the iTunes comedy list. I highly recommend you buy it so you have something to laugh at after this depressing fucking story.
Also, I wrote this last night:
“You know, I’m in love with love. I’m in love with falling in love, with that rush that comes from gazing into someone’s eyes, that soft silence before a passionate kiss. I’m in love with the ache of missing someone. I’m in love with inside jokes and surprises and long days spent in bed doing nothing but talking and being wrapped around and through each other. I’m in love with the idea of writing something that’s going to make a woman grin or blush or both or look up to the sky and just repeat the words in her mind.
I’m in love with love. And Lord knows, should their be a Lord or Historian knows – and there should be a Historian – that I spend many a night in the broken, jagged, mocking, echoing remnants of love and it’s a deeper death there, but it diminishes not at all my love for the first time he musters the courage to take her hand, to say her name in his throat instead of off his lips, to the first time he sheds self-consciousness and forgets reality outside of he and her.
I will always, forever, doubtless and without hesitation be in love with love.”
That has nothing to do with the rest of this post, but I thought it turned out well and it’s been a while since I shared anything sappy with my blog followers, so I figured – it being Valentine’s Day and all – that I’d post it here.
Now, I’m not a big fan of Valentine’s Day. I think it’s commercialized nonsense. I think it’s created a ridiculous expectation that gifts should be given or that this is THE DAY to really express your love when I’ve always been of the belief that you should regularly be showing that affection and surprising your partner with little things. I could also very much be biased because I’m not good at relationships and I’ve found myself single on February 14th more often than not.
Or maybe it’s because 12 years ago today is when I found out I was adopted and so while everyone else is opening their chocolates and their six-foot stuffed bear, I tend to get distracted with other things.
I was fifteen years old. I had lost my virginity a couple weeks previously and because I was still close with my mom and I told her everything, I had let that bomb drop somewhere along the line. I assured her I was being safe.
Immediately afterward, my girlfriend at the time had sex with someone else and broke up with me, which isn’t really the order I would have preferred those things to happen in. So when Valentine’s Day rolled by, I was not only newly single, I was hurt. Betrayed. I spent that day in high school, sophomore year, back when I was still being bullied by the more popular kids. I was surrounded by shit-talkers and happy romances, and I felt absolutely miserable. All I wanted to do was go home and go to my room, hop onto my computer and talk to people that actually thought I was cool.
And I know that sounds weird and lonely, and it sort of was, but I’ve met most of those online friends since then. Those relationships were as real as hanging out with the kid down the street. It was one of the few respites I had from a lot of sadness and anger I felt during that time.
I get through the day. I get home. I sit in my chair. I fire my desktop up, and my mom calls me to wish me a Happy Valentine’s Day. We talked a little bit. I don’t think I told her that my girlfriend and I had broken up. In fact, I’m almost positive, because she said to me, “Hey, so now that you… you know, are with a woman and growing up into a man, I think you’re old enough for me to tell you something.”
“Okay. What is it?”
“I don’t want to tell you over the phone.”
“Mom, you can’t just say I’m ready for you to tell me some secret… and then not tell me that secret.”
We went back and forth like that for several minutes, with me growing more and more agitated. Finally, on the verge of tears, she blurted out, “Rick isn’t your father.”
I had considered some possibilities of what she might say. Maybe there would be the awkward sex talk we sort of skated over before. Maybe she was seeing someone new. I don’t know. Whatever I was expecting, it wasn’t that. It took me a few long seconds to recover.
“Then who the fuck is?”
“His name is John Buchanan. He was a marine biologist.”
It was a fling. My dad (Rick) was away. He found out, of course, and forgave her, and he put his name on my birth certificate and raised me as his own son. My parents divorced before I turned two. I’m ninety percent sure I wasn’t any of the reasons, because both of them fought for custody and settled with joint and treated me as best they could. And when drugs and alcohol came into the mix and they slept throughout the day or they went away to jail or rehab or another state, I never, never thought it was because they didn’t love me.
They weren’t good parents, but they were and are loving ones.
I went to live with Rick’s parents, my grandparents, when I was five. They took me in after raising three children of their own and spent the next two decades raising a fourth kid out of love instead of biological obligation. I know that shouldn’t fuck with me, but it still does.
Anyway, I was silent. My mom was openly sobbing, convinced that I hated her. That shook me back to the present and I assured her that I didn’t, that I loved her, I just needed to get off the phone for a while. I wished her a Happy Valentine’s Day and hung up.
I sat in that chair for a while, staring at my computer screen. Ten minutes. Fifteen. I pushed myself out of it and stepped down the stairs, stomach in knots. I walked into the kitchen; my grandmother had her head in the refrigerator but heard me come in.
“How was talking to your mom?”
“Well, she said Dad’s not dad.”
She froze. I’ll never forget that. It was only for a second and a half, but she went stone still, and then rose up out of the fridge with a gallon of milk as if nothing was different, as if this was a perfectly normal conversation to have, as if my entire fucking life wasn’t in upheaval.
In retrospect, I can’t begin to imagine the thoughts that were racing through her mind. To keep this secret for fifteen years, to have it suddenly and unexpectedly exposed, to be put into the so fucking unfortunate position to have to try to explain why I was only now finding this out. My grandmother was a strong, brave woman.
“That’s true,” she said. Nobody had told me because my dad had asked them not to. He wanted to tell me when he felt I was ready; that would come over two years later, after more prison, after halfway houses, after struggles with sobriety. He sat me down on the couch in the middle of the night, lights off, TV muted, and told me had something to tell me; I told him I already knew and it changed nothing, that I loved him; I hugged him and turned the television back on and pretended not to see him weeping.
“I need to go,” I told my grandmother.
“Out. The mall. I don’t know. I need to go.”
I was a bit of a mall rat at the time. It helped that I worked there, at a comic book and collectibles store, with my best friends at the time. They were all older. I was 15, but I partied a lot, hard, with these guys. When I was 16, I moved out into an apartment with them for the better part of a year. We were thick as thieves, as close as brothers. I went to my first party with them, had my first taste of liquor since I once unwisely tried to gulp Bombay Sapphire from a Dixie cup. They knew the night I lost my virginity. If I could talk to anyone, it would be them.
I locked my bike up to the rack and strode into the mall doing my best not to have a panic attack. The store was devoid of customers and my friends were busy putting merchandise and cards away. I flung my arms to either side.
“Well, I found out I’m a bastard!” I cried.
They turned as one to look at me, look at each other, look back at me.
I laughed. How could I not?
“Not that kind of bastard. Like, illegitimate child bastard.”
I explained. They were as baffled as I was that my mother would think to bring that up on Valentine’s Day. In her defense, she didn’t actually want to tell me until later. My friends were very supportive. We started joking about it, we definitely drank about it, and it just became a thing. When we pooled our money and resources later to start throwing raves around the city, we each donned a moniker. I owned it. I became The Bastard.
Later that year, in June, at my brother’s birthday party because my mom has fucking phenomenal timing, and in front of the first woman I truly loved, she told me that John “wanted” to meet me, but wouldn’t do so until a DNA test was taken that he wouldn’t pay for. Which, look, I get it. But if you thought there was a fucking chance that you had a 16 year old kid whose life you’ve already missed out on, you couldn’t shell out a couple hundred bucks for that? The icing on the cake was when my mom said, “And if he’s not your father, Jered, I don’t know who the fuck is.”
I’ve never spoken to John over the phone. My junior year of high school I sent a letter about myself with a picture of me from junior prom. He sent a letter back with no picture. He owned a bike shop in Sacramento. He liked to golf. He didn’t want to talk any further until he spoke to my mom. We never corresponded again and I didn’t keep his letter.
I tried meeting him in 2009 at the age of 21 by tracking down his address. He had moved. I called every bicycle shop in the city but couldn’t find him. I wouldn’t know what I would have said or done had I been able to.
And that’s pretty much it. There have been some residual effects of finding out I was adopted. In my teenage years, I’d lash out sometimes. “Why do you even care what I do?” I’d yell at grandparents that absolutely didn’t deserve it. “We’re not even related!”
On my grandmother’s death bed, we spoke for 30 seconds over the phone, maybe. She spent most of it making sure I was going to be alright, and I spent the rest lying about how well off I was and that I’d be okay. She told me I was as much family to her as any of her blood kin and that she loved me just as much.
As recently as last summer, visiting my grandparent’s home and digging through old photos of the early years of their marriage and the childhoods of my dad, aunt and uncle, of these full lives decades before I was an even an idea of an accident, I felt very much like an outsider. An intruder on this family. The feeling was so severe that I hit a terrible manic spiral and lost myself a few friends through this desperate desire to be loved and accepted. Not my best look.
I have abandonment issues. I have acceptance issues. I have crises of identity and I struggle with the concept of legacy. I don’t feel right living the life I have as a continuation of the Mayer family in the same way I wouldn’t count their ancestors as my own. I wasn’t ever really raised by my mother, so that won’t work either. And fuck John Buchanan.
So I’m left trying to build my own legacy using the shape of my mind and beliefs that my grandparents helped mold, and so I often overwhelm myself with stress and panic when I get set back or I fail. “Is this what people will see when they look back on my life. What am I leaving behind? What have I truly accomplished? Who will weep when I have passed?” I tell you, it goes 0-100 real fucking fast when something goes wrong. I’m working on that.
I guess more than anything, Valentine’s Day just makes me think of John. Why, when he no doubt never thinks of me, I don’t know. But it’s usually today that I want more than anything to live up to the love of my parents who tried to stick around and to my grandparents who didn’t need to but did. Some day maybe I’ll find this guy and tell him I was able to make it, to be somebody, and that he could claim nothing of that except the pathetic brag that he basically donated me to my mom and her husband.
Or maybe he’ll be dead by then and I’ll finally be able to let this go.
Again, go check out Jessica Michelle Singleton’s debut album. She’s hilarious. Happy Valentine’s Day!