A very long time ago, when I had been in foster care for about a year, my foster mother took me aside for some conversation. Foster mother told me that she had long suspected that I was her husband’s illegitimate daughter, and that this belief had been a major driving force in her taking me in. She said after living with me for a while, she was sure that she was mistaken. I was too much like my dad, she said, to be anyone else’s daughter. I was too smart, just like him. I had his same snarky sense of humor. I even walked like him. I could be nothing but his. Plus, she was sure that she’d seen my foster father look at me in a lustful way, something that he would never do with a daughter.
I was not part of her clan after all. Not one of “them”. Still, she had what she saw as a duty to my dead mother, her friend, (who was not my biological mother) to finish raising me. Even though I was not her illegitimate step daughter, she would continue to try to do right by me.
I was shocked. My foster father didn’t seem like the cheating sort. He had never been anything but kind and distant, with an occasional venture into attempting to be the boss of me the way he was the boss of all his other children. If he had cast any lustful stares my way, I was thankfully unaware of them.
Not long after, my relationship with my foster family started a slow, inevitable slide toward estrangement. I was no longer welcome in their family. I was no longer welcome in their town. Eventually, my foster mother called to try to make amends. I was as cordial as I could manage, but I had no desire to stay in touch. I thought the best gift I could possibly give the entire clan was to stay as far away from them as possible. Let them live their lives as though I had never existed.
These days, I have a tepid but cordial relationship with some of the clan, conducted almost entirely on Facebook. One of them told me the not-news-to-me. They had discovered that some guy was. . .their dad’s illegitimate son. They call him “cousin” now, to acknowledge the relationship without actually acknowledging the relationship. I am amused and relieved. Poor foster mother was partly correct. There was a secret baby out there. It just wasn’t me.
In the years I still lived in town after my parents died, I had more than one woman confront me with the notion that I might be her husband’s illegitimate daughter. I wish I could have met my biological mother and asked her about it all, but I was too shy. She had, after all, given me away. Since my mere existence captured the imaginations (and paranoia) of so many folks in my tiny town, I figured the last thing bio-mom would want would be to talk to me about it all. I seem to have been her living scarlet letter. Best I vanish for her sake as well, and mine.
And so, when I get invited to school reunions, this is just the big, jagged tip of the iceberg of the past drama of why I don’t want to attend. No offense, old high school buddies, but no social event seems important enough to navigate that landmine of other people’s prejudices, fantasies, and expectations. I’ll raise a glass for you all, from my safe distance of a couple thousand miles.