Once we got home, I waited until Mom went to bed before I got out the phone book. Adam Whitman. There were about ten. None were in Glendale, but there was one listed in Burbank. Maybe that was him. I decided I had nothing to lose in trying. If it wasn’t him, I’d be in exactly the same place I was before.
“Hello?” A man’s voice. It must have been him.
“Hello, may I please speak to Adam Whitman?”
My heart skipped a beat. I had to say something or he was going to hang up. “Uh, I’m not sure how to say this, you don’t know me and I hope you don’t mind me calling out of the blue, but my name is Amy, and I think I’m your half sister. On your father’s side.”
Adam took a deep breath. “What’s your mother’s name?”
There was a long silence, but I heard him breathing and feared that he would hang up. But he didn’t. “Where are you now?” So it had to be the right one.
“Well, I live in Seattle but I’m in LA until the 8th.”
He paused a long time before he responded, and I wondered if I’d made a mistake. “Do you want to come by on Sunday? We’re in Burbank. The kids don’t come back from camp until Tuesday. My wife will be home and she’s a great cook.”
“Sure, that sounds great,” I said. “I’m in Sherman Oaks.”
“Perfect.” I realized then that I was almost going to forget to tell him about Tara. “Um, you have another sister too. She’s in town.”
“Jesus Christ,” Adam exclaimed.
“Her name is Tara. Her mother is Deborah Stone.”
“Sorry,” Adam said. “That wasn’t directed at you. Well, she’s of course welcome to come.”
“Sure. See you Sunday at seven.”
He gave me the address, and I hung up the phone in disbelief. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to get out of meeting him, only that I hoped I would find answers, I supposed.
I called Tara and told her that we’d made plans. “You go,” she said. “I’m sure he’s nice but to be frank I don’t know if I’m ready.”
I said nothing. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go alone now either.
“It’s different because you and I have known each other forever,” Tara continued. “I don’t know, I’m just still processing everything. Mom was telling me things about the way he treated them.”
“That’s not Adam’s fault.”
“I know,” she said. “I’m not ready yet. Maybe someday. But seriously, you should go.”
I realized I wasn’t going to change her mind and told her that I understood. We resolved to get brunch before my flight on Monday. Tara was a good person, even if she was too quiet and shy for her own good most times. I collapsed back into my bed and started thinking about what I was going to say to Adam.
I told Mom about my plans and she told me that if it was what I needed to do then she couldn’t stop me. She also told me to have fun. She hadn’t met Adam but she’d heard good things about him. He’d done a few interviews as a teenager in the 70s but after that he’d kept a low profile. Tara had said the documentary she watched said he moved to LA in ‘79. That meant we’d been the same city for most of my childhood. What if we even passed each other at the store or on the street and never knew it? But I couldn’t think about that now.
Mom let me borrow her car for the drive to Burbank, and the entire time I felt my heart pounding in my chest. What if he didn’t want to see me? I supposed that was impossible, otherwise he wouldn’t have invited me over.
After a few minutes I found a spot to park around the corner. I was sure I was at the right address as it matched what I had written down. Still, it took every bit of strength I had to ring the doorbell.
A petite woman answered the door. She saw me and smiled.
“You must be Amy,” she said.
“I’m Mary, Adam’s wife.” She shook my hand as she gave me a smile. “I’ll get him. Come on in.”
She let me in and told me to make myself at home. Their house was nice, comfortable. Exactly what I would have imagined a normal middle class family with two kids would have lived in.
“Do you want anything to drink? We have water, iced tea, lemonade…” she began from the kitchen.
Before I could answer, a large Golden Retriever ran into the room from out of nowhere, jumped up on me and started licking my face. Of course these people had a dog. It was really friendly though. Instinctively I started laughing.
Mary noticed and came into the kitchen. “Donatello, no. Go lay down.”
The dog sat at the foot of the couch, staring at me as he wagged his tail. “Donatello?” I asked.
“Our oldest loves Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
“Hi, Donatello,” I said, scratching his ears. He relaxed now.
“Did you want anything to drink?” Mary asked.
“I’m okay with water.”
“Coming right up.”
Just then, a tall, dark haired, blue-eyed man emerged. He looked so much like Jay it was uncanny. He was dressed in a button down and jeans. He saw me, gave me a vague smile, and shook my hand. “Amy?”
“How was the drive?”
“It wasn’t too bad.” Then he sat down next to me on the couch. “Do you want a beer or anything?”
“I’m okay.” Just then, Mary emerged with the water. “All set.”
“All right,” he said with a smile. Then, Mary joined us on the couch.
I awkwardly held my water glass. I’d spent so much time thinking about this meeting and I hadn’t thought about what to say. “No Tara?” He asked.
“Um, no. She decided that she wasn’t ready.”
Adam bit his lip. “I understand that.”
I took a deep breath. “So, what do you remember about Jay?” I still couldn’t bring myself to call him my father.
Adam paused. “Well, I was only six when he was thrown in jail the first time so I don’t remember him much at all.”
Mary gave Adam a reassuring look. “I’ll let you guys talk. I’ll finish dinner in the meantime.”
“Okay,” said Adam. He gave her a quick kiss.
“She’s nice,” I said once she was in the kitchen. “How long have you been married?”
“Ten years in October.”
I gave him a tired smile. It was nice to see two people with a good relationship and I hoped I’d feel it myself one day. “So what do you remember?” I asked. “About him?”
“It’s funny, it’s the little things. It really is. Like, I remember him taking me to Dr. No when it was in the theater. You know, the first James Bond movie. It was just me and him. We’d never really spent time together, just the two of us, before. And afterward we went driving to this camp and he showed me how to build a fire and we grilled sausages and made s’mores. I just felt really connected to him then.”
I took a deep breath, not knowing what to say. I wasn’t sure what I’d been expecting. Adam continued.
“At the time I didn’t really understand why Mom wasn’t there but she told me later she’d made him plan a day with me. And only me. But the thing is…” Adam began to trail off. “I remember so clearly what he said to me. That he wished he had a father who would have done things like that for him, so he wanted to do that for me. But I can’t remember him ever telling me loved me. Sometimes I think he wanted to but he just didn’t know how.”
“Yeah,” I said. Come on, think of things to say.
“Mom always figured I probably had a few half siblings running around.”
“And where’s your mother now?”
“She passed away last year. Lung cancer.”
“How old was she?”
“Fifty-eight.” He stood up and took a black and white photograph off the shelves. It was of a smiling woman in fifties clothes with long dark hair. Adam looked a lot like her too. “This was in ‘55, before I was born. She’s about seventeen here.”
“I’m so sorry.”
Adam smiled sadly. “I think my dad took this, but I’m glad I have one of just her. She was a great woman. And a great mother. I wish you could have met her.”
I wasn’t really sure what to say. “What did she think about everything? When it all came out?”
“I think she was pretty disturbed. I mean, I was fourteen, so I was more or less old enough to understand. I got a lot of crap for it in school.” He laughed ruefully. “Kids that age are the worst.”
I kept my eyes on him to show him that I was listening. “I visited him once in ‘76.”
“And how was that?” It occured to me that were talking about him like he was dead, but he was in fact alive and well and there was nothing stopping me from visiting him in jail if I was ever in Colorado.
“He told me to make something of myself,” Adam said. “Not to listen to the lies society was teaching me or something. Still trying to indoctrinate people in prison, I guess.”
He sighed. “So, Amy, what do you do?”
“I’m a substitute teacher in Seattle. Mostly middle school, but some high school too.” I was a bit annoyed by the change of subject, but I figured Adam was probably so used to these conversations that it was old news to him.
“Are you married? Do you have a family?”
I shook my head. “I’m twenty-five and I feel like I haven’t done anything with my life.”
“I’m thirty-nine and I sometimes feel the same.”
We both shared a reassuring smile. That was when it hit me. This was my brother. He was a good person and I wanted to have him in my life, whatever that may look like. He seemed to have an awfully good head on his shoulders. I was a little sad that Tara wasn’t here, but maybe we’d all meet in the future.
“You know, my kids are nine and six,” he said. “My stomach gets all in knots when I think about telling them one day. When they’re old enough.”
“Don’t wait until they’re twenty-five.”
We both laughed.
“How have you dealt with it all?” “I’ve made something of my life. It hasn’t been easy but nothing that’s worth it ever is.” He was silent for a long time. “The older I get, the more I think dad just wanted to be adored. He wanted things to be easy. Mom loved him, but she called him out on his shit.” He sighed. “He had a hard life, but he could never admit when he made a mistake.” He smiled at me. “I think we just have to keep living.”
“That makes sense,” I said.
Just then, Mary called us in for dinner. For the first time in a long time, I felt calm.