Never Enough Time

Submitted into Contest #131 in response to: Set your story in a drawing room.... view prompt


Drama Fiction

Grandpa told me the story of his childhood many times. His mother was Native American and his father was White. He said that he never met his father because he died before Grandpa was born. The details of this story were vivid and intense. I remember hearing it for the first time when I was about eight and Grandpa was well into retirement, but agile for his age. We were working in his garden when he began. I can’t remember how it started, but midway through, I had stopped pulling weeds and was transported to the early 1900s. 

After her husband died, my great-grandmother returned to the reservation, where she gave birth to my grandpa. His skin was red brown, with brown eyes and black, silky hair. He had inherited no visible characteristics of his father. I was mesmerized by the photo in the drawing room of Grandpa from his late teen years. His long black hair hung past his shoulders. His face defiant, standing in front of a hobbled shack. He was my idol.

Two things before we go on. First, his full head of silky black hair was, by then, solid gray and clipped short. Second, the drawing room was not a place to draw. None of us were artists. Imagine a living room, except there was no television and instead of a sofa there were sets wingback chairs around circular wooden tables with lace doilies on top. That was the drawing room. The drawing room was filled with many fond memories of my grandparents and me.

My dad said Grandpa was ornery, and my mom didn’t speak to him much. But to me, he was wise, funny, and skilled in so many things. He grew the biggest tomatoes in town, and insisted on washing laundry in a tub outside, instead of a machine like everyone else in the 1970s. Some of my fondest memories were with Grandpa, helping him work while listening to his tales of the old days. 

Grandpa grew up on the reservation, constantly being teased for being mixed blood and because his mother was single and very poor. He went to a reservation school until he was in third grade and old enough to get work picking cotton. From that first day on the job, he worked to support his mom and eventually his wife and children. I told him I wanted to quit third grade and get a job, too. He laughed and said I reminded him so much of himself. That was it, his blood was in my veins, and I was proud. I was a little bit Native American, plus some Jewish from Grandma's side, and who knows what else.

I could see that I looked different than everyone in my family, but genetics were unpredictable, I reasoned. I was the only one with dark blonde hair, sky blue eyes, and a golden skin. I towered over my mother, who only stood five feet tall. I was taller than my siblings too, and thin as a rail. Often I would hear comments like, "Hmmm.... I can't tell which of your parents you look like." My standard response was that I got the best qualities of them both.

My mother's parents had passed away before I was born, but the relationship with my paternal grandparents was more dear to me than any other relationship in my childhood. It never crossed my mind that everything I thought I knew was a lie. 

Before we get to that, let’s step back a little. Both of my paternal grandparents died in the 1990s, around the time I was earning my Bachelor’s degree. My sister and brother were older and already had children of their own. The loss of Grandpa, then Grandma within months of each other was hard on me. They were the first deaths that I had experienced and the finality of it took a long while to sink in.

Aunt Lola knew how close I was to my grandparents so she boxed up some things from their home that Grandma had designated for me. The pictures from the drawing room, Grandma's bible, a hand sewn quilt, Grandpa’s snuff box, and his cowboy hat were worth more to me than the money. I reframed the pictures from the drawing room and hung them in my own drawing room when I bought my first house. I was proud of the heritage that I knew, Native American and Jewish, and when asked, I spoke of both with equal fondness. Sure, my mother’s parents were something, but I didn’t know them and she never spoke of her family. There were snippets of conversation every now and again about her parents or her sibling, long since dead. I remember having a sense that something was weird about that, but I pushed it aside. 

By the time my father passed away, I was well into my career and the fascination with ancestry had faded. A few years later, several companies offered mail-in DNA testing for reasonable prices. I knew that I was Native American and Jewish, but what else? It was worth the money to painlessly mail in saliva and get the results on an APP. So I did. The processing time took three weeks. While I waited, I mentioned the test to my sister. She was speechless. I held the receiver for a moment, thinking maybe she was in a low area and had lost signal. Then she cleared her throat. 

“Why would you do that? Those places are a hoax.” She sounded agitated. 

“I did it for fun. I already know we are Native American and Jewish, but I'm curious about what else there is.” I laughed, trying to lighten the mood. 

“How long until you get the results?” She asked, distractedly. 

“Probably next week. You should do it too. Let’s see how related we are.” I was genuinely curious about how our DNA would match up. We ended the call, she being noncommittal. 

The next week I received an email stating that my results were in. Before I opened the APP, I read that I had over one thousand identified relatives on the service. Wow! Surely the family tree had branches that I was unaware of, with that many DNA matches. I called my sister to tell her the news. 

She asked if I had viewed my results, I said no, but I was about to. She then told me that she had convinced our brother to submit his saliva along with hers to the same service. Their results were still two weeks away. I was fascinated with the idea of ancestry again, on a whole new level. I opened the APP to view my genetic composition. 

Irish 50%

French 37%

Congolese 12%

Undetermined 1%

What! There had to be a mistake. I reloaded the page then looked for the Native American and Jewish categories, both were zero percent. How could that be? I called my sister back with the results. She took the opportunity to remind me that these type tests were a load of crock. You can’t trust the results, they were for amusement purposes only. Her explanation didn’t sit right with me. We hung up and I went back to the APP. My closest relative was a 24% match with the description, “possible half-sibling”, next to the photo. I clicked on the photo to enlarge it, and there she was. Jessica Parks. I clicked the option to connect with her and compare DNA. Staring at her photo made the hair on my neck stand at attention. We had the same hair, eyes, and golden skin. Holy shit. I exited the APP and threw my phone down on the bed. I rationalized through every explanation, settling on the DNA test was crap and I couldn’t believe a word written in that cracked-out APP. My dad didn’t have an affair, I don’t have a random half-sister out there, even if the “half-sister” looks more like me than anyone else in my family. No, Jessica Parks is just a random person. I planned to delete the APP the next time I opened it. Then, I forgot about it. 

A few weeks later, I received an email from the DNA company stating, “You have new relatives!” Terrific. That's all I needed, new relatives. I knew with one hundred percent certainty that my grandfather was half Native American. There is no way that he would have lied to me in such great detail about the reservation and the hardships he endured. Plus, my grandmother had validated the story, sharing how hard it was to marry interracially back in those days. And there was no doubt that Grandma was Jewish. She knew her family history to the Nth generation. Maybe this would all be worked out when I opened the APP this time and the numbers were corrected; some Indian, some Jewish, and some whatever else. Only, there was no change in the DNA profile. Not one percent different. My heart hurt. How could this be? 

My new relatives included my sister and my brother. At least something was going right. I clicked on their profiles to compare them side by side with mine. No! Under both of their photos, the statement read, “possible cousin”. Emotions rolled over me in waves. Anger, grief, sadness, disbelief. I called both my sister and brother on a simultaneous video call. They had to know something that I didn't. 

They answered almost immediately and looked like they had swallowed canaries. I asked if they had seen the results. Well yeah they had, but these kinds of tests are unreliable, they reasoned. I asked them about Jessica Parks. Did she show up as a relative for them, too? 

“Who is Jessica Parks?” was the synchronized reply. Oh no, it's me! I am the odd one out. The realization hit so hard that my throat seized and I disconnected the call. There was only one explanation. I have a different father. Dad was not “my dad”. Grandma and Grandpa, they weren’t actually mine, either. I was at once furious at my mother and grateful that my dad and grandparents had already passed. Or maybe, they knew?

I sent a group text asking my siblings if they knew that I had a different father. They placated me with, ”Don't be ridiculous” and “Stop overreacting”. Of course they knew, I was the only one in the family that didn’t know. Screw them all. Forget the APP, and forget my so-called family. I didn’t have time to deal with that mind-bending shit. I was a professional woman. No matter who my actual dad was, I had a career and a life that I loved. It took all my strength, but I let it go. I stopped answering calls and texts from my siblings and especially from my mother, for several days. The idea that she could have kept this horrible secret from me and possibly from my father, was too much to bear. 

Unbeknownst to me, my siblings convinced my mother and Aunt Lola to complete the DNA test and mail it in. When the results were in, they texted me with the news. Open the APP. Check your results. I had just stopped thinking about it and the whole mess resurfaced again. Reading their texts, my hope rose. Maybe this time, my results will be corrected. My family will be my real family and we can go back to how things were before the DNA test. I opened the APP from my phone, but the results hadn’t changed. Now it showed that my mother was a “possible aunt” and my dad’s sister was not related to me, but showed up as “possible aunt” for my siblings. It was hard for me to believe that the DNA test showed expected relationships for my brother and sister, but not for me. I had to know the truth. Still fuming at my mom, I called my aunt to ask what she knew about the situation. 

Lola, was just as sweet and loving as my grandmother had been. Dad favored her over his other siblings and I could see why. She was always proper, helpful, and compassionate. I didn’t quite know how to broach the subject, so I dove right in. After a gasp and “Oh Lord Jesus!”, she told me what she knew. Lola said that my parents had been married for a long while before I came along. She said that my mother told her that she didn’t want any more children, but then found out that she was pregnant with me when she was already several months along. My parents announced the pregnancy and in a flash I was born at home, with a midwife.

“So, your father loved you from the beginning. There was never any doubt that you were his child, as far as I remember. You really should talk about this with your mother. She is the only person who knows. Plus, who knows if that new-fangled DNA stuff even works?” Lola’s smile lit up in her voice.  I thanked her and disconnected the call. I decided it was time to discuss my parentage with my mother.

Mom answered on the third ring, with hesitation in her voice. We had not had the best relationship over the years. In fact, I was much closer to my father, or whoever the man was, that raised me. 

“Mom, I need to ask you about the DNA results.” It was a matter of fact statement. 

“Yes, I have seen the results. I sent a sample too, you know?” Mom answered, on the defensive. 

“Do you have anything to tell me? Was I adopted? Are you even my mom? How can you explain this?” The questions poured out of me in a high-pitched squeak.

She said that she would rather talk about this in person, which people only say when there is bad news. I told her I would be over in an hour. 

As I parked, I steeled myself to hear that my mother had an affair, I am a bastard, and a dirty secret that was kept from my dad and his family for years. Or, an even worse version…I was found by a dumpster, which is what my sister said when we were young and I made her mad. What my mother told me was nothing that I could have imagined. 

My mother had a fraternal twin, Jewel. Her twin was male and happened to be my dad’s best friend. My dad and Jewel were so close, they enlisted in the Marines together. My dad served one tour, while Jewel stayed on for a few more, serving all over the world. Years went by and Jewel’s letters were few and far between. Then one day, he just showed up on the doorstep with a baby. He told my parents that it was his child and that the mother died from childbirth. Jewel told them that the family of the mother was looking for him, and wanted to raise the child themselves. Jewel could not imagine giving his daughter away. My parents welcomed him with open arms and agreed to help with raising the baby, me. Just a week later, Jewel was killed in a car crash. My mother had lost her twin and my father had lost his best friend, just when they were reunited after so many years. They had a decision to make. I would be their daughter. That is what Jewel would have wanted. They had always planned to tell me when the time was right. That time never came. They never thought that the secret would be discovered. And it wouldn't have, except for DNA.

“How do I know this is the truth, Mom? Did you make it up? Tell me!” Tears streamed down my cheeks and splatted on the floor. 

“I have a box of Jewel’s things in the attic. In the box, there is a picture of you and him, and your real birth certificate. I am sorry, dear. I didn’t want to tell you like this. Your dad, well both dads really, they loved you with all their hearts. I know we haven’t been very close, but I see so much of Jewel in you. I miss him every time I look at you. No one else knows. It is yours to tell, if you want to.” 

My mom brought the box down from the attic. I looked at the picture of me and Jewel. He was tall and thin, with bright blue eyes and golden skin. He was holding me swaddled in a linen blanket. A withered, yellowing certificate showed his name, my name, and the name of my birth mother, the same day as my actual birthday. 

I was never Native American. I was never Jewish. The grandparents I loved so dearly, were not even mine. My brother and sister were my cousins. My mom and dad were my aunt and uncle. Everyone I knew was now unknown. I was crushed, yet I loved them all the same. I decided to keep my secret. Maybe one day I would tell it, when the time was right.  

January 31, 2022 04:05

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Barbara Burgess
14:08 Feb 11, 2022

This is a lovely story that keeps the reader reading. Well done.


Astrid Mercier
03:36 Feb 13, 2022

Thank you so much for the feedback!


Barbara Burgess
07:45 Feb 13, 2022

you're welcome


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Kendri Petersen
17:24 Feb 10, 2022

I love the pacing of this story. It gives detail while holding my attention and keeping the plot moving. Great job!


Astrid Mercier
03:36 Feb 13, 2022

Thank you so for the feedback! I am glad you liked it.


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Kevin Marlow
04:09 Feb 10, 2022

I love this story. So true in the time of DNA tests. I found out my only 'real' Grandpa was not by blood the day I helped lower him into his grave. I'm scared to send in my spit, my parents have and they don't want to believe the results.


Astrid Mercier
03:38 Feb 13, 2022

Thank you for the feedback! Yes, I sent my sample in and was surprised at the results.


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