February 12, 2019

Twenty-four hours after our mother died we were arguing about the order of the service, me wanting to pull rank and speak first, when the envelope was delivered. I was feeling stubborn and out of sorts. My sister had arrived too late to say goodbye and I imagined she had offended our mother somehow even though they had always been close. It was a confusing time, the after, the jockeying for position, the old hurts and sensitivities rising in the vacuum caused by her loss. I was feeling the weight of being the eldest. My youngest brother had fallen asleep on the couch, his favorite way to remove himself from family arguments. I picked up the envelope from the pile on the coffee table to keep from kicking his foot or the robin mug I had bought for my mother’s tea, now filled with beer, insulted by the lack of decorum we would have displayed if she were still alive.


It was the result of the DNA test from the kits we had received from our uncle at Christmas. I had been the last to finally send it off.


As I read the results, confusion flooded my body. I fled to my mother’s bedroom and stared at the now empty space where she had so recently laid. How could the result of my DNA test have arrived when the only person who had the answer to a question I had never needed to ask, was gone? My siblings DNA tests had revealed all the ways they were alike in their beautiful composition of race, but mine was completely different.

I tore through every single box in her closet, studying the pictures, so many people I didn’t recognize. Why hadn’t I done this with her? The letters and cards were from our dad, in the early days, or things we had made for her.


No clues. No answers.


Were there clues inside of me? Had I suppressed knowledge? I had felt different. My family is analytical, reasoned mathematicians and I am a dreamer, an artist, but I never imagined I wasn’t one of them, that I was not my father’s daughter.


My father, my biological father, the father whose DNA I carried in every cell of my body was not the father who raised me, my sister and my two brothers, for that father had been German and the test said I was a purebred 100% Ashkenazi Jew.


I staggered out in the hallway and observed my siblings hunched together looking at something on my brother’s phone. I felt separate, untethered and had to grab the doorframe to keep from floating away.


I took the letter and slid it back into the envelope.


I did not speak at my mother’s funeral. I did not tell my sister or brothers why.


I did study the face of every man in the synagogue.


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