I found his actual name when I was 13, thanks to a dusty pink baby book that my birth mother had so thoughtfully half-filled out, and that my mom-mom had so lovingly saved for me. I memorized the name, saying it over and over to myself, doodling it on sheets of paper when no one was watching. I don’t know if the internet had been invented yet, but back in 1993 Naples, Italy, my family sure didn’t have it. There was no Google, or Facebook. There was no way of knowing how to find anyone, as far as I knew. So I just dreamed.
What would it be like to meet him? What did he look like? Was he fat or thin, short or tall? What color hair did he have? Did I get my green eyes from him? Did I look like him, like my little sisters looked like my mom and dad? What did his voice sound like? Did he know about me? Was he sad to let me go? Did I have aunts and uncles–or brothers and sisters? How old was he? Where did he live? What country did his ancestors come from? What foods did he like? What music did he listen to? What sports did he play? Was he good at drawing? Did he pass on anything to me? Did he think about me ever?
I don’t know why it was a big deal. I had a dad–a good one. My parents were damn near perfect and I was having one frigging phenomenal childhood. I had a gnawing sense of emptiness–and I hope that doesn’t offend my wonderful family-family. Adopted people sometimes describe having a “hole”–and I can see that. Mainly, I wanted answers. I went through periods where I was more than a little obsessed about meeting my birth father. I knew who my birth mother was and I also knew where I could find her, or at least find out about her. My biggest concern and fear was that I’d never be able to find him, if and when I ever wanted to or needed to.
I got a little older and a little busier and a little discouraged about the whole thing. I guess I decided to table the issue for a while, due to lack of every single resource it takes to hunt down a complete stranger. It wasn’t until years later, living back in my family’s hometown of Pensacola, where the man was supposed to have been from, that it dawned on me: the phone book. Who needs modern technology?
And sure enough, the name was there. Name, phone number, address–I had actual contact information right at my fingertips. But Pensacola isn’t a small town, and I didn’t even know where his street was located in relationship to where I lived. (Okay, so modern technology and Google Maps could have been slightly helpful at that point.) I dialed his number once, but hung up before the first ring. (I was banking hard on the hope that he didn’t have caller ID). I didn’t want to talk to him; I just wanted to see what his voice sounded like.
High school continued. I had a baby to take care of and grades to maintain. Things were crazy busy. I managed to find a map (a paper map–the confusing kind that folds in on itself about 203 times before you end up crumpling it and throwing it out the window) and look up his street; I went so far as to secretly plan a route to his house, just in case I ever had a chance to drive the family van by myself. I memorized the route: Pine Forest Road. Blue Angel Parkway. Toward the Dog Track. I didn’t want to meet him; I just wanted to see what his house looked like. I didn’t want to meet him. I didn’t want to meet him.
I finally convinced a friend to do a harmless drive-by with me. “I don’t know,” he said. “You might not want to open up that can of worms.” And I didn’t want anything to do with worms or cans–I just wanted to see. Just to look. Observe. For only a second.
The house was easy to find–ordinary little brick house, not old, not new–in an ordinary little neighborhood. Flowerbeds, front porch. It wasn’t a house that some dead-beat freak single man who abandoned his kid would live in. It was a family house. And there were no cars in the driveway. Middle of the day. Sunny day. I felt weird as crap. “Yeah, let’s just keep driving,” I said, still staring at the house.
I wondered what it would have been like to walk up to the door, or to catch him at his mailbox. If he had seen me, would he have known me? And then, what would I have done? What if he had a family? A wife? What if she didn’t know? What if I wrecked their entire marriage? What if I unintentionally traumatized their children? I could be responsible for busting up a family. Can of worms indeed. I wasn’t ready for any of that, even though my curiousity raged on.
One day I got up the nerve to ask my grandma about him. “Well, he wants to meet you someday. Your uncle says he saw him working at a gas station over on the other side of town a while back,” she said, somewhat excitedly supplying me with what little information she had, and without hesitation. I almost cried. He knew about me? My uncle saw him? He wanted to meet me? He knew about me?
I had to find out more. Every now and then, when I came home from Georgia for visits, I would casually drive over on that side of town. Sometimes I would drive by the house, but when I did I was too scared to lay my eyes on it for more than a second. Everytime I stopped at a gas station, I’d wonder if he was the man behind the counter. Or maybe he worked in the back. Or maybe he was off that day. Or maybe he worked at another gas station.
And it got worse. The man in front of me in line for the movies–could it be him? What if he’s sitting in the same restaurant right now–at the very next table? I do kind of look like that guy over there–maybe he was my biological father?
I decided to do one last little harmless drive-by of his house.