By Susan Cross
My older cousin spoke first. “Can you believe that your mother never told you?” she asked me.
I sat silently, processing the information and then smiled. “Your mother was my mother’s sister. When this happened, you lived three houses away from us. Grandma and Grandpa lived upstairs. That means they all knew. So, in my mind the real question is how could they all have kept this from all of us for a lifetime?”
Both cousins were thoughtful. They obviously had not considered that. Their mother and father were also guilty. Our grandmother was part of the conspiracy. Our grandfather had a stroke three years after it happened and lost his speech. We were all toddlers then, and my younger cousin hadn’t even been born.
Then there was my father. He was a good man. Mother had divorced him when I was three. My memory was cloudy but I remembered another man moving into the house right after my daddy moved out. He loved me very much. In retrospect, maybe too much. I remembered him treating me with hugs and kisses but not bestowing the same affection upon my mother.
My memory is very good. Sometimes that’s a blessing, sometimes a curse. When I was four, I remember, this man and my mother got into the old two-toned Ford Galaxy. I was in the back seat. Mother drove in silence. It seemed like a very long ride. The car stopped in front of a house with a wrought iron fence around the front yard. There was an unusual pattern in the fence—circles with lines going up through them, pointed and sharp at the top. He got out. My mom was still and silent and I could hear the sound of the engine running. He took his grocery bag full of clothes and such, got out of the car and walked toward the gate. The car pulled away from the curb and started driving.
“If you ever mention his name again I will kill you. You understand?” she said. I was silent, holding my breath.
Back in the here and now, these thoughts were racing through my mind as my cousins sat silently watching for my reaction. Then one of them spoke. It was the older one.
“Don’t you want to know? I mean, if it’s true aren’t you curious?”
“No, I don’t think so,” I said. “I mean, what good could come of it?”
The cousin stood up and crossed the room. She had an envelope in her hand. There was writing on it. “Eleanor’s baby boy.” Three words. She opened the envelope and inside was a small piece of paper. Hamilton Park Hospital, Hamilton Park, New Jersey. April 27, 1953. Mother: Eleanor Hanson. Father: Marty Johnson. Adopted by the Zimmerman family.”
This was the evidence that I had a brother—no, a half-brother. As far as I knew, the only thing I had in common was our mother. I was evaluating the situation.
“Don’t you think he’d want to know that he has a half-sister?” my younger cousin asked. “Really, it makes sense to at least try to contact him. I found him on the Internet and he still lives in New Jersey. You could at least email him.”
My younger cousin was very rational and pragmatic. She looked at me and said, “Out of all of the cousins, we are all women and none of us had children. In fact, we are the end of grandpa’s bloodline.” She paused and looked down at the floor. “If his is your half-brother and he has children then it would mean that our bloodline will continue. I’d kind of like to know.”
“Well,” I said, “if you would like to follow up on it, feel free, but please keep me out of the whole thing.”
The expression on my older cousin’s face was somber. “You really wouldn’t want to make contact with him?”
“Let’s do some role playing,” I said. “I’ll be him and you be me. Okay?”
“Hello?” I said as I positioned my hand by my left ear as if clutching a telephone.
“Hi,” she said. “I’ve been doing some research into my family’s genealogy and I think that we may be related.”
“Really? Who is this?” I said, playing my role as him.
“I found some papers after my mother died and found out that she had a baby boy that was adopted. According to your web page, you already know that you’re adopted and are interested in knowing more about your birth mother,” she said, acting as me. “Is that true?”
“Yes. Are you saying that you know my mother?” I asked.
“If your name is Marc Zimmerman and the birthday on your site is accurate, I think I might,” my cousin said.
“I can’t believe this! Who is this? What was she like?”
And that’s the point where I laughed. It was not a ha-ha laugh. My cynicism got the best of me.
I looked at my cousin and asked her, “And what do I say next? How do I answer that question? She was crazy? She was married and divorced three times? She never told anybody about you? Her judgment was terrible? She was an abusive, cruel mother? She was diagnosed with mental illness and refused to take her meds? Oh, but she had beautiful red hair and she was really pretty.”
Again, I laughed. What would be the point? What purpose would that serve? That was all so long ago. Our mother was dead. I stood by my decision not to contact him. If I had the only words I could think of to say to him were, “You were the lucky one.”
Copyright © 2010 Susan Cross – All rights reserved