"Your uncle died yesterday."
It was October 2nd. It was a Saturday, and it was warm, and I was going to Manhattan. Of course he was too old to be my uncle. I took the newspaper from my adopted mother and read the obituary, no expression on my face. An old Jewish man. A photographer. I'd never known him. In high school, I would run searches on my name, desperate to know my real family — he always came up. But I had always dismissed him because how could I possibly be related to Richard Avedon?
But I took the obituary with me, and I bought a copy of the New York Times
at the ferry terminal
, carried it in my messenger bag
until it got too heavy and I had to throw it out.
Yes, this man was family. I knew because they mentioned that his sister went crazy
. I had been taken from my family because my mother was crazy, and my grandmother had been crazy as well. Very often they told me that I'd go crazy too.
Or that I was already.
I used to cry in school all the time.
My adopted mother found it an embarassment more than anything. I felt pretty embarassed, too.
And also, I was tomboyish growing up — or not really tomboyish, I just hated wearing dresses, and I'd rather read or play video games or Ninja Turtles than mess around with Barbie. This was also not normal. Here I was, 20 years old, and I didn't even wear makeup.
So I was crazy, too. Maybe. Probably.
I was quiet in school, though with a nasty sense of humor, and often I'd be reading or drawing during recess instead of playing with the other kids. I used to draw on my desk. I'd draw and write during lessons after finishing my work early. I found school very boring. The other kids called me a nerd and a dyke and stuck up and my nickname throughout middle and high school was "Daria".
But at least I was saner than the rest of my adopted family. After 7th grade, I'd finally managed to get ahold of my emotions, and sure that made me seem a little wooden, but at least it left me calm enough to protect my adopted family from each other — from the suicides and the homocides they threatened. I was the one uninvolved, the one to call the police, for while I was short and thin and not strong enough to stop things, at least I was quick on my feet and in my head.
It never ended. The fighting was constant. It made me so angry. I wanted to have a normal life, to date and go to college and have a nice job, but my adopted mother never really fixed anything. However many times her daughter Therese went wild, and beat her, or threatened me and my younger, adopted sister Emily with knives, she always dropped charges and brought her home. And if there was a lull in the action, she'd start in on me and Emily. Emily was an alcoholic, delinquent spic, according to her. She drove Emily to living on the streets to get away.
And every time I'd get angry at my adopted mother, for this or that humiliation, and every time she was upset with me for not being normal enough, she'd say, "Fine. Go back to your mother! Go back to the one who shit you out! Go back to that wackjob! You're just like her!"
Richard Avedon was my family.
And I had never known it.
Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.
Yeah, they sent me to Catholic school.
I had been ashamed to be an Avedon. I had grown up wanting to be Italian. I was proud to be Italian. My family trees were not my own.
They sent me to Catholic school, the greasy, filthy, nerdy Jew with the coke bottle glasses and the borrowed last name.
Actually, I didn't have one in my first 4 years there. I came home one day with a test paper written "Avedon", and my adopted mother was so upset, she called the school and told them I shouldn't write that. That it wasn't really my name.
So I had no name. Just my first name.
Those motherfuckers. Those lying, malevolent coprophages. After all those years of being called scum, of having my family called scum, of being taken from my family and being beaten and having my little sister beaten and being told that I was abnormal to be angry at them...to know that I was not scum, not genetically diseased, not a carrier of bad blood...
They were the scum. They deserved to be beaten. They deserved my anger, and it was normal.
February 14th, 2005.
I had been calling around to find legal aid and homeless shelters. Earlier in the day, my adopted sister had been at it again, and rather than call the police I left to call my sister. My real sister. I wanted to leave, but she didn't answer the phone and I came back.
I fought back.
As she strangled me I tore at her clothes and beat her with my fists. She was twice my size but I wasn't afraid anymore. I ran to my neighbor's apartment to call the police, because she had broken the phone in ours. I managed to keep cool for most of the call, but by the time the police arrived, I was sobbing.
"You filthy Jew!" she said to me, and she spat on me, and my adopted mother threatened to kick me out if I pressed charges against her daughter. Her daughter, not my sister. I was never her sister. I was never part of that family.
I packed my bags and called a cab after her daughter was arrested and she was asleep in bed. I left her a note, as a courtesy. I had gone to live with my mother. My real mother. My real mother had a degree in English and worked as a counselor at a mental hospital. She was bipolar, but on meds.
And with that, I went home.