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What I have written so far is carefully crafted. It gives me a sense of order, control, to create something contained and artistic. This is not at all how it has been for me.
So, this is how it was:
It was a period of maybe a week between the first curious fact—a message from Ancestry or 23 and Me, I think. This is what a blur it is. I don’t remember a specific moment or line where something shifted.
I just want to say it.
The maps changed, I saw the messages, I made some jokes.
It feels like forever, but since you know me, you’ll understand my delay between a question and the search for an answer is almost nothing. I have never moderated my curiosity.
So, to set this in time, it was February 2022. Wordle was new, and my mom and brother and I had developed a habit of texting our guesses the next day, comparing strategies.
Around the same time, I logged on to those sites to tell my son if he was more English or Polish or German. He wants to know everything about everything, a marvelous curiosity. This time I noticed, without giving it much thought, that I was less Jewish than I was when I first signed up.
It still makes no sense, but, like a cliche, like Dani Shapiro (whose story I only read after I found myself amidst something very similar), I thought it was an error. I can’t remember the cascade of events that week, but one click led to another, and it’s been a blur since then.
It’s kind of sweet to think of this now, but I called the 1-800 number to report an error, because the family trees or prompts or whatever were wrong, clearly. In looking at the chart I had to say if my brother was connected to me on my mother’s side or father’s. It gave me no option for both. Eventually I clicked mother’s side, and it showed he was my half brother. When I clicked my father’s side, he didn’t show up.
This phone call—someone answered the phone, and told me there are no errors, and referred me to links about “Unexpected Results”, which linked me to support groups. I still found it funny, and told people about it. I think my husband was the only one who considered it was a possibility.
In one of our daily Wordle texts I showed my mom and brother a screenshot of this ridiculousness, and that was that. No reply, but I wasn’t suspicious, because it was silly.
But I looked around, more and more, and found old messages from cousins I’d never heard of. I hadn’t looked at these sites in years.
My brother and I Zoomed, and compared charts. He was connected to our first cousin, my dad’s sister’s kid, but I wasn’t. He was 75% Ashkenazi Jew, and I was 25%. None of the cousins who had messaged me showed up on his chart, but there they were on mine, first cousins once removed.
Denial is powerful. None of this computed. My brother was clearly my parents’ genetic child. So I also must be. We weren’t adopted. So there was a mistake.
But it became hard to ignore, and my brother said he didn’t want to know. I asked my mom if she had anything to tell me, and she didn’t answer. So that is when I knew.
I didn’t know what I knew. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
It is all good news. The donor is a kind man. He has responded to my email. It is All a Good Thing. Everyone ended up with what they wanted—a healthy baby for my parents. It’s confusing to me that my brother was born two years after me without a donor, but I was given a physiological explanation for this.
This is all coming out without elegance. It’s not what I wanted to do when I started sharing this story. But I think I need to just blurt out all these facts so I can go on to the feelings, and stop curating and crafting.
So, here is a feeling I have right now. Embarrassed. Ashamed. How could I not have known this? I am the only person in our family born with dark hair and big blue eyes.
Of course everyone would, will, tell me there was no way for me to have known, and moreover, there is nothing to be embarrassed about. I was created with the best intentions, and raised with love. But I am deeply embarrassed, like I’ve been walking around with my shirt inside out and backwards. It’s not my fault, but it’s my life. I am more than halfway through it, and I feel like hiding.