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Oh, brother!

August 19, 2020

I really don’t want to do this, but I don’t think I’ve got a choice. Too many disturbed nights recently – tossing and turning trying to get to sleep for hours, waking in the middle of the night or long before it’s time to get up (an hour and a half this morning), desperately trying to cling to and remember the latest mad dream. (A Murdoch Mysteries connection last night? What the hell was that about? I’ve never even watched the show.) Phone calls dodged with friends because I really do not want talk about this, but how can I have a conversation and say nothing? It’s time to get this out of my head, where it’s banging around and fucking with my sleep. As I’ve said before, better out than in.

Let’s start with a story. When I was three and a half years old, the lovely old lady with whom my mother and I lodged died. Hers wasn’t just the roof over our heads. Mrs Robertson (or Auntie Grace as I called her) also took care of me during the day, allowing my mum to go to work. Finding another home we could afford and childcare wasn’t going to be easy, so I was taken to Keswick to live with my mother’s older sister Elizabeth, her husband Jim and my two older cousins, Jeanne and Joanne. Mum visited when she could. Eventually a new home was found, Mum came to collect me and life went on.

I have few actual memories of this period, other than my Aunt Elizabeth being much stricter than my mother and of this being the time when I came to absolutely adore my Uncle Jim.

A couple of weeks ago I had a phone call from my cousin Jeanne. I haven’t seen or heard from this woman in decades. She lives in Colorado and has done for many years. (I couldn’t have told you where she lived a month ago.) A couple of years back she and her husband decided to do DNA tests. The results came back. Interesting, not interesting, whatever. She’d pretty much forgotten about it. Then last month she received a message via 23andme from a fellow who’d just done his own test. It seems Jeanne had been flagged as his first cousin. Initially she was completely baffled about this out-of-the-blue man who’d been given up at birth for adoption. Then she did the math and realised his date of birth coincided with the period when I’d been living with them in Keswick. It was the only possible explanation.

She had absolutely no idea how to contact me, no idea where I might be living. For a couple of weeks she tried to track me down herself, before eventually contacting her sister Joanne, from whom she’s been estranged for many years. Her first contact with me was a vaguely worded message left on the phone about 23andme throwing up a cousin of hers in whom I might be interested. I didn’t do anything about it for a couple of days because the day she left the message I had an abscess the size of a ping pong ball in my mouth and could barely speak.

When I did pick up the phone it was to call Joanne, not Jeanne, asking her if she’d heard from her sister lately. Indeed she had (for the first time in sixteen years) and she told me what they’d figured out. I felt as if my brain was exploding. How was this possible?

After talking to Joanne, I rang Jeanne. It seems she and this bloke have been in contact regularly since he first reached out. She’s filled him in on the family tree, promised him she’d contact me and let me know about his existence. A couple of days afterwards I rang her back to ask if she had an actual address for him. She did.

He apparently told Jeanne that he’d be happy to pay for me to take a 23andme test to confirm the relationship. I told her I didn’t need to. I could do the math as well as anyone else.

For the second time in my life I feel as if I never knew my mother at all. For the second time in my life this feeling is breaking my heart. Absolutely breaking it.

I’ve written him a letter. I also included a slightly modified version of this “biography” of Mum that I wrote a couple of years ago. When he’s read that he’ll know as much as I can tell him about the woman who gave birth to us, including the fact that in 1945, shortly after the end of the war she gave birth to and gave up another son. Since my Uncle Dick told me about this several years after her death, I’ve always thought of him as her lost boy. It seems there were two lost boys. My poor mother.

This much I know about the father of her first child: His name was George, he was an RCAF pilot and he died.

Growing up, I sensed that it was painful for my mother to talk about my father. I didn’t pry too much. (I did once ask her what had attracted her to him. Her answer? “He made me laugh.”) I was in my late twenties when she eventually gave me a name and told me he was a lawyer. A couple of weeks after Mum died, I went to see her sister. I figured if anyone knew more it would be her and that she might now be willing to share her knowledge. I told her I knew his name and that he was a lawyer. My aunt looked at me and said that if I knew that much, I knew more than she did.

If 23andme has thrown up no information about paternal links, there’s no point in this bloke looking to me for answers. As I said to him in my letter, Kay Holmes guarded her secrets well and took them with her to the grave. In another lifetime, under other circumstances, I think she would have made a bloody good spy.

And now there is the big question. (Oh, man, there are so many frigging “big” questions. For now let’s just focus on this one.) Do I want a brother? Do I? Jeanne thinks he’s a nice guy. Well, that’s good. I guess. But, honestly, I just don’t know.

I will tell you one extremely bizarre thing.

Remember last month when I suddenly, out of nowhere, for the first time in my life found myself thinking about taking a DNA test? Well, guess what? The day after the thought suddenly popped into my mind (before I rejected it) was the day Jeanne received the first contact via 23andme, which means it was the day this half-brother of mine received his own DNA results. Freaky or what?

I’ll tell you something else.

This year, 2020, has turned out to be the strangest year of my life – and that’s not including the bloody pandemic. Resurrections, long lost friends and lovers and now secrets crawling out of the grave.

Bloody hell.

From → Blog

  1. krysross permalink

    I repeat: You can’t make this stuff up.

  2. janeshead permalink

    Wow. Crazy. You are living in an implausible novel.

  3. Susan permalink

    2 head-exploding, synchronistic and very personal events in one year…take the brother, I say. I wonder whether he may be easier to make contact (actual, real contact) with than S. in the UK, and life could hardly get any weirder for you this year.

    Your mum’s story, even if you filled in some spaces with conjecture, would make a beautiful novel, similar I think to the ones written by? whose life stories included one with Lyme in the title. I loved them, and now I must try to find the name of the author!

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