Growing up, I didn’t even know that my biological father existed. I mean, intellectually I knew that he was a real person, but something inside of me refused to let me connect with the possibility that this “father” person was someone that was real and that was out there in the world somewhere. I never really had the courage to ask questions and talk about it with my mother, because it seemed that every time I brought it up, she became…not angry, but something like angry, and really wasn’t interested in talking about it. The thing is, I had really vivid memories of days that I could have sworn I spent with my father. Days that I spent with a little boy. Days that were spent with relatives. All of their faces were faces that I couldn’t see, black mist in my dreams and thoughts, but their presence, their energy, and my connection to them was felt. My
step-dad took me in when I was just under two, and that’s really the only father I ever remember, but I knew I wasn’t HIS, and I needed to know more. Who DID I belong to?
When I was 16, I was getting my application ready for work at a specialty grocery store near my parents house, and I had asked my mom for by Social Security card and my birth certificate so that my dad could drive me to the library that evening and we could make copies to attach to my paperwork. My mom was busy making dinner and told me to go into her “paperwork” drawer, and get the documents that I needed. She told me exactly where they would be located (my mom is THAT person) and sure enough, when I went into my parents bedroom, it was right there where she said it would be. What she didn’t mention was the letter from Child Support that was sitting with my documents, all rubberbanded together. It was a document claiming that my biological father wanted to start contributing money ($1/month!!!). I was very confused because in the 16 years of my life, I never even had any idea what my biological father’s name was! To see it there, written, in bold isolated print, with what could have potentially been my last name had life played out differently, was very surreal. I didn’t know what to do. My heart races a mile a minute, and I knew, that if I ever wanted answers, that if I ever wanted to know anything about this man, about the other half of my genetic makeup, then I HAD to ask. So, I gathered up all of the courage that I could muster, and walked what seemed like forever to the kitchen, and faced my mother with envelope in hand, and said something along the lines of, “Umm, I don’t know, but I found this, and it had my name, and it had his name, and I just, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know!” And for a second, I kind of expected a slap in the face, or a scolding for snooping, or an attempt at avoiding the conversation, but none of those ever came. My mom calmly turned to me and said, “Well, your father wants to give you $1 a month. After 16 years, $1 a month! You never needed him before and you definitely don’t need him now! But if there is anything pressing that you need to know, then go ahead and ask.”
I choked. I didn’t know what to feel. Here was this door that for years I was hoping to bust wide open, suddenly left ajar for me to walk through and find an infinite amount of answers to my incessant questions, and I couldn’t assemble anything more then, ” Nah, not really.”. That night, I went to the library, made my copies, kissed my parents goodnight, and cried myself to sleep. How could I not ask?! How could I want to know so many things so desperately for so long, and given the opportunity, I absolutely choked?! But that day, my mom left the door cracked and over the next couple of years I had a few things answered, but there were so many things that didn’t add up. There were questions that I asked about holidays and county fair and cars and strollers and snowstorms that my mom told me were not real. That they never happened, but at a later point in my life, I was told that they were true.
I was 19 when my uncles wife called me to tell me that she had some news about my bio-father. She used to run a step aerobics class and 2 of the women in the class, unbeknownst to her, where relatives of mine. As fate would have it, my uncle picked up his wife, and realized his cousins were in the class, began a conversation and lo and behold, one of the women had a cousin who was a friend of the woman that by bio-father was dating (or something like that). Somehow, after a few weeks of digging, my uncles wife was able to get me a phone number to contact my bio-father. I had that number written on a florescent pink Post-It for over 6 months before I decided to actually use it. The call that I had been waiting a lifetime for, seemed like it was another lifetime away, but I finally got rid of the resentment for all of those years, and picked up the phone…
Yes. Who is calling?
It’s me, Samantha. Your…daughter…
Oh my god! Oh my goodness! My prayers have been answered! Daughter! How are you?!
I’m fine, thank you. How are you?
I am just so surprised, and feeling blessed. The Lord is so good! (mumbles a small prayer to himself) Tell me, how is life? How is everything? I have waited so long to hear your voice and to know about you.
Well, life is good. I graduated high school. I’m working. I live with my girlfriend and it’s good. Really good. (throwing daggers at how great my life was without him)
Me allegro! I’m happy! Your girlfriend, eh? How’s your mother?!
Everyone is good. My mom was just diagnosed with cancer, but she’s doing well, and my dad…I mean, my step-father he’s good. My brothers and sisters are all…..
I didn’t know what to expect or why he had hung up on me. “He’ll call me back!”, I though, but he never did, and that resentment filled me again. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that the technology in the Dominican Republic was not as advanced as it was here in the states, and that even if he DID have a caller ID, chances are, our private number wouldn’t have showed up. All of that anger and resentment for nothing!
Fast forward to 2009, drinking a 40 with my old best friend in her apartment in Astoria, Queens, listening to depressing music and playing a game of “Sequence” when my phone rings. It was a NYC number that I didn’t recognize. I had my friend answer my phone as we usually did with an unfamiliar, unstored number.
“Sammie’s phone! How can I help you!?!”
“Si, eng, I lookeh fo Samantttta. Chee tah-king plee? I her Tia frong her fadder, Harry Luis Leyva”
“Hold on please… (covers receiver) Uh, swipply, some lady saying she’s your aunt from your father Harry…”
Cue heart palpitations. After a few minutes, it was decided that I was going to be meeting with my biological fathers side of the family in 3 short days. It was the Friday evening 2 days before Father’s Day. The irony in that. So I geared up, channeled my bravest self, steeled myself to be prepared for anything that could happen, and promised myself that no matter what, I wouldn’t cry. I wouldn’t show weakness and I wouldn’t allow these people to penetrate my heart. That all went out the window the second that I was driving to their home in the Bronx. I spent the whole 30 minute drive basically in tears. Was this really happening? I found a parking spot, did my best to calm my nerves, walked up the apartment building and rang the bell. I made my way through the hall, and noticed a door partially open, with plenty of noise coming from inside. I just knew that was them! I knocked timidly, and a woman who’s face resembled mine, opened the door wide, greeted me with smile even wider, and took me in with a full embrace. The tears of joy, anguish, relief, lost time, and hope for a new future filled our eyes and sobs escaped our mouths, and here I was, in the arms of an Aunt that until yesterday I had no idea existed, and somehow, I felt…at home and welcome and wanted. It took a good 30 minutes to embrace every family member that was there. 2 uncles, 3 aunts, their spouses, a whole slew of cousins. Suddenly, a knock on the door. Everyone freezes. Some smile. My cousin gets up and answers the door. At the threshold, a young man, same face as me, same nose, same hair, same eyes, same spritz of freckles on the bridge of our nose, and I knew, immediately, he was my brother. A little boy that I had last seen in some distant memory when I was 4 years old, holding onto his red stroller, at a fair, petting animals and eating rainbow popcorn and cotton candy. I remembered. My aunt confirmed. It really happened, that day. It was real. Mom told me it was a lie but I FELT it! I wasn’t crazy! We embraced each other, touched each other’s faces, cried, laughed, “You look just like me!” “I KNOW!!!!” That moment, suddenly, it felt like I was complete, having gained something I never knew I was missing. That night, we talked, we shared stories, our likes and dislikes all so similar. How he can’t have milk early in the morning, just like me. How he’s very mechanically inclined like me. How he’s so smart but so lazy, like me!
We made plans that day to see our father, who we had just found out was in a state prison for having jumped bail, boarding a plane to the Domincan Republic for 20+ years and trying to get back into the country to find us and reconnect. The details of his arrest aren’t really inportant, but the fact that he married a woman that he loves, that can’t have children had him thinking that God punished him for not taking care of the two children that he already had. So he made his way back to the US using his legal documentation and was arrested immediately after getting off of his flight.
My brother and I made plans to visit him the next day, a day shy of Father’s Day.
(To be continued…..)