Even in my awkward, clunky years (I might still be in them), I wanted to beat the curious at their own game: craft a different answer, name a different ethnicity, to each and every friend, foe, or cat, who asked. And so I did. I’ve been everything from Albanian to Asian, Brazilian to Burmese, Cambodian to Californian, which oddly pleased the askers more than, ya know, the truth. This, of course, made me stop and think. If everyone is so interested in what I am, maybe I should be, too. I could use this nagging and awkward question as an excuse for learning about my own history.
Raised by divorced parents who are both Caucasian, I knew I was different. Different than my Dad’s family, different from my blonde haired-blue-eyed brother, just different, period. I knew there was something a little awry but didn’t quite know what it was.
As it turns out, there was a secret being kept from me and the truth about my biological father wouldn’t surface until I was about 9 years old and even then, I couldn’t comprehend all the pieces of that very complicated puzzle. It wasn’t until high school ended that I was finally ready to go looking for him, to find the man whose DNA had made my life an endless flurry of, “what are yous.”
Years passed. I searched every avenue possible but continued to come up against dead ends. He was like, a ghost.
Then, one bitterly cold November day in 2008, after I’d birthed a human of my own, my journey came to an abrupt and devastating end. My birth father, this man who held all the answers to these questions, had died four years prior from a slow-burning cancer. He was buried in the town I lived in at the time, and who was listed as his daughter in the obituary? Me. The news was traumatizing. How could I be so close to him and yet, so completely far away when he took his last breath? I tortured myself with dozens of open-ended questions that couldn’t be answered, I still do at times. I also continue to cross paths with people who just have to know: “What are you?”