In the ‘90s when I was living in San Francisco, I was stopped on the street, on the bus, at the supermarket. “Are you???” “Do you know who you look like??” Having attention drawn to myself is an uncomfortable position for me. But at the time the attention wasn’t on ME it was on a person splashed across front pages of newspapers and tabloids across the nation. In the burgeoning 24-hour news cycle this particular story was barely given a rest.
I was drawn into the cyclone because of an uncanny physical resemblance to that person in the news.
As a donor conceived person it wasn’t the first time I was uneasy sharing a physical resemblance to another person. When I was approximately 17, a high school senior, a neighbor walked by the house in a Los Angeles suburb where I grew up. I was outside talking with my dad when she walked by and we exchanged pleasantries. That neighbor was a freshman. Though she lived only a few blocks away, we were mostly acquainted through a mutual friend.
My dad interrogated me about this acquaintance. “Who is she?” “Where does she live?” “Who are her parents?” “Does she have older siblings?” I didn’t even know the answers to all his questions. He was far less curious about people I dated at the time. I was stunned. I couldn't figure out what my dad was going on about. This young person, R, was friendly, polite, and by all accounts good-natured. I wrote it off to, *eyeroll* oh dad, teen exasperation with adults.
I think her dad was a doctor though.
I didn't know I was donor conceived until I was 25 years old. My dad, clumsily, told me. "I'm still your dad," he said. On that we both agreed. That never changed, or wavered, or diminished. His interrogation that day back in the mid-‘80s showed me our connection (or lack biologically thereof) was certainly on his mind over the years.
So, in the ‘90s, when people would interrogate me on the street, "You MUST be related to her," I could not argue. I'd just joke back, "Not as far as I know." Or sometimes even, "Not as far as you know."
My (paternal) grandmother, with whom I never discussed the fact that I wasn't related to her by blood, even noted how remarkable the resemblance was between the person drawing notoriety and myself.
At the time the repeated mistaken identity mostly bothered me because of the unwelcome attention I endured. It also bothered me because it caused me to ponder the life choices that led each of us to our current places in life. After my divorce, the death of my brother, and the death of my father, I was still learning who I was and what I was about. Life was challenging but I am deeply grateful I had the opportunity to conduct that exploration beyond public scrutiny.
I also understood that this ’90s doppelganger grew up in Los Angeles, and that her father was a doctor. If you were donor conceived at a clinic adjacent to UCLA, where prospective clients were led to believe many of the donors were pre-med, you might begin to understand the tumult those repeated mistaken identity situations caused me internally.
Researching details for this writing I learned my ‘90s look-alike attended Santa Monica College the same year my brother, Tom, did. Oh how I wish I could ask him if he ever knew her. There are a million things I wish I could ask him. Regardless of whether he and I shared a siblings-worth of DNA he was my brother. I miss him so.
Until the moment I discovered the identity of my donor I was prepared to learn my younger (half) sister had endured the worst our celebrity driven media can churn out.
Today I am sad to say she and I are not related. Her work in the field of anti-bullying activism is noteworthy. I admire the intention with which she approaches this, certainly at first, unbidden public persona. "If I have learned anything since then, it is that you cannot run away from who you are or from how you’ve been shaped by your experiences. Instead, you must integrate your past and present." Well, if that isn't a lesson for me as I traverse this donor conceived journey.
I haven't found a younger half-sister. Yet.