My grandparents adopted me when I was fourteen, after my mother was too crazy to keep an apartment anymore. She gave up her parental rights and I flew to Colorado, it was the last part of my freshman year of high school.
I never knew my dad. My parents were divorced when I was three years old, and he disappeared. I didn’t know if he was in jail, dead, anything. I didn’t know what he looked like. I didn’t know where he lived. He never paid child support. I never met any of his relatives.
My mother’s parents didn’t like me, and adopted me out of obligation. They didn’t much like my mother, either, but then, no-one did. I moved out of my Grandparent’s house when I was seventeen, and shacked up with a nice boyfriend for a year until I could live on my own. My boyfriend was 22 and worked at outback steakhouse. He wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box, but he loved me, and would do anything for me. I graduated high school with a partial scholarship to a local state college, but when I asked my grandparents, as my legal guardians, to fill out the necessary paperwork for my FAFSA application so I could get financial aid to pay for the rest of the tuition, they refused. They didn’t believe women should go to college.
“College ruins women,” my Grandpa said.
They were also mad at me for moving in with my boyfriend, for “shacking up”, and that was part of the reason they refused. They thought I was a worthless whore, and a drug addict, because why else would I have such wild behavior? They didn’t know that I was terrified of drugs, that I thought they would make me crazy like my mom, and that all I wanted to do was read books and be left alone. I had sex with boys because it was the only way I knew of to get any affection, and validation. But it’s not even like I was a big whore. I just always had a boyfriend.
So instead of going to college I worked graveyard shifts at Denny’s, and then when I was 19, I moved to Portland. And then when I was 20 I decided to find this man who had been my dad. I paid a website three dollars to dig his address out of public records, and I hitchhiked to Alaska and showed up on his doorstep. It turns out he lives in Alaska, in Anchorage, the town I grew up in. He’s lived there my whole life. Right. Down. The street.
It was horribly awkward. For all I know, he thought I was some junkie off the street come to hit him up for cash. He seemed well-off. He seemed to regret the fact that I had looked him up. Oh well. I hadn’t had any expectations. It was no surprise, to me, to turn over this long-forgotten rock, and just find more of the world the way it was. It seemed I had crazy relatives, and I had boring “sane” relatives who thought I was a freak. Where were the relatives like me? Where the fuck did I come from? Who the fuck was I?
I forgot about my dad, and he had no problem forgetting about me. If we ever talked, it was through email, a line here or there, and his were always guarded and hesitant. He was just some guy. Whatever.
Then, last year, for the first time in my adult life, I needed a car. As long as I’ve lived in Portland, I’ve been anti-car. I am going to ride my bike, I said, for as long as I can, so help me god. Portland is one of the few cities in the country set up for bikes as well as cars, and I took advantage of that as much as possible. I know that some folks in Portland need cars for their jobs, or to carry shit, or because riding a bike hurts them, or because they get depressed in the winter and only having a bike keeps them from leaving the house at all. But I also think that a lot of folks get a car and just get lazy. It’s true. And I didn’t want to be one of those people, so I put off having a car, even though it would have been nice to go hiking sometimes, or camping, or to be able to buy furniture at garage sales.
But then I wanted to live in the country for a year, and suddenly I needed a car. I’d just gotten back from Alaska, and I had no savings. I did, however, have a harebrained scheme. I would ask my “dad” for money!
I didn’t think he would actually give me any money. The whole idea started off as a joke. Why would he give me money? He didn’t want anything to do with me. I didn’t know anything about him. He didn’t even exist! But I had friends who got money from their parents, now and then, and I thought it would be funny to ask this person who was supposed to be my parent, for money to buy a car. Why not? No one in my family had ever given me money. My grandparents once gave me an old car, and then they took it back. And then I gave them some money for it, and then I drove it to Portland, and then it died. That was about it.
I wrote my “dad” an email. It was hilarious. I invited him to participate in the “sponsor a distant offspring” program. I told him I wanted money to buy a car so I could live in the country. I gave him a list of possible responses to my email he could give, including,
-No. What? Why would I give you money?
-I’m sorry, I can’t give you money at this time.
-Who are you?
The email bounced back. It’d been so long since we talked, I’d lost his email, and when I tried to remember it, I’d gotten it wrong.
So I called him.
He was so relieved to hear from me, he sent me a thousand dollars. I bought a 78 diesel Mercedes that burned oil, and spent the winter in a yurt on an organic farm. I had two hundred kale plants. It was amazing.
The great part of the whole deal is that when I’d talked to my dad on the phone this time, he’d shown a genuine interest in me. After all these years! It made me curious about his potential parents and siblings- did I have a whole family out there, waiting to meet me? I decided to ask this man some questions about my other relatives. Who were they? What were they like? Did they want to meet me?
He said they did. He said I had a grandma living in San Francisco. She had been an editor at Ten Speed Press in the eighties. Her name was E. I also had an Aunt- his sister. Oh yes, he said. I can give you their contact info. They would love to meet you.
I could go to San Francisco! I said. I could meet them!
I’ll get you that contact info, he said.
You do that, I said.
The email never came. Finally I wrote him and asked what had happened. He wrote back and said,
“Our relatives are currently unwilling to have contact with you, because of the pain that B. (that’s my mom) caused.”
I got so mad I wanted to punch the computer. None of these people had had any contact with my mother in over twenty years. I wrote him back. If all this time had past, I said, and they were still so upset by things my mother had done that they weren’t even willing to have any sort of communication with me, then most likely they weren’t the sort of people I wanted anything to do with.
Duder never replied to my email. And yet, part of me believed he was lying. Why wouldn’t my long-lost relatives be curious to meet me? He was probably just covering up for some shady shit he had done, like forgetting to tell them I existed at all. I threw all hope of having any sort of relationship with him out the window. And anyway, he wasn’t the relatives I was looking for. He was nothing like me. The only creative thing he had ever done was write a guide to carrying concealed weapons. How very Alaskan of him. The book had been published by his mother, the editor in San Francisco. The book is available on Amazon, and contains such charming passages as,
“If you’re stuck in traffic after a long day at work, and you see a young girl setting fire to an empty elementary school, do you shoot?”
I haven’t talked to him since. But always the thought has nagged at me- What if he was lying? What if they’re dying to meet me? What if they look out the window and think of me, and wonder where I am? Isn’t my dad’s mom really old? What if she dies before I get to meet her? What if she’s just like me, and I meet her and everything suddenly makes sense?
This month has been an intense month for me. My life is open, completely open. I’m suddenly freer than a box of day-old bread in the rain. If I was going to do anything totally brave and reckless, like contact my relatives in California and then go meet them, now would be the time to do it.
And so last week I went to the same site I used to find my dad, and paid it three dollars, and there was my grandmother’s phone number and address. And my aunt’s, too. It was so easy I couldn’t believe it. Why had I waited this long? I wrote down the numbers they gave me, two or three for each relative. I would have to call them all, and find the right one.
This morning I decided to do it. I’m house-sitting for a friend, and my friend Paula is staying here too, just back from the east coast, nursing some heartbreak. This morning she was sitting on the floor in her striped pajamas, making plans in her journal.
“I’m going to call my Grandma,” I said, on the couch with my new cellphone. “I’ve never met her. Watch!”
“Whoah, that’s intense!” said Paula.
I called the first number, and a voicemail picked up. No good. I called the second. An old woman answered the phone. I could hear TV in the background.
“Hi, could I speak with E.?”
“Speaking.” She sounded impatient. Crotchety, even.
“This is kind of an awkward call. I’m ____, and I think we might be related.”
There was a pause, but not for very long. Actually, there wasn’t really much of a pause at all.
“We’re no longer related. And please don’t call this number again.”
I hung up the phone. I felt a little crushed, but then I was over it. So my dad hadn’t been lying after all. Maybe I should call my Aunt? I realized that, most likely, I would get the same response. And what was that old saying, something about sleeping dogs?
Fuck sleeping dogs.
I called her back. My number had been blocked. So I called the first number, the one with the voicemail. I left a message. I told her that I wasn’t a creep, I’d found her number in public records, and that she didn’t need to call me, but if she wanted to learn more about me, there was a way she could do that.
“Carrot Quinn dot blogspot dot com. That’s Carrot like the vegetable, Quinn, which is my last name, blogspot, spelled b-l-o-g-s-p-o-t, dot com. Bye.”