BONDS (story)

BONDS (story)

BONDS
By: Gabriel Duncan

I never wanted to be adopted.  Get that right now.  And stop acting like this is some big great feeling or idea.  I wanted to be with my birth family from the start.  I didn’t think it would be better.  My parents didn’t sugar coat it, the truth.  I knew what was lying in Benton.  All throughout my childhood, my mother would share the stories with me.  Everything she knew of what my real family was like.  So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I went back.

I was born Gabriel Matthew Duncan.  Son to Matthew and Kathryn.  On June 22, 1986, I took my first breaths of air and said goodbye to the uterus I popped out of.  My birth mother, Christina Marquez, faded out of the picture when I was five or six.  My mom said it was because she kept asking them for money.  We talked on the phone a lot, my birthmother and I.  My parents sent pictures to her and she sent us pictures of my brothers and sisters, almost all of which were lost somewhere along my childhood.  When I was two, my parents adopted a little girl from Honduras that we named Amelia Kathryn Duncan.

My childhood was good.  I was spoilt, I’ll admit it.  But I’ve always been sore that I didn’t get all the attention I wanted.  Or the spankings I think I should have gotten.  My father was working at a crooked law firm until I was six or seven.  He left, for the obvious reasons, and rented an office in downtown Alameda.  (He was voted the best Lawyer by Alameda Magazine.)  My mother was working in the Parks and Recreation Division of Alameda until I was four, when she started working as the division head in San Pablo.  She retired from San Pablo when I was 19 and became a special education teacher in Alameda.

We, my sister and I, were raised by a nanny from the time I was two up until the ’89 earthquake, when she left.  From there, we were shipped from daycare to daycare until we both became old enough to attend preschool at a Montessori, which was awesome.  Then my parents enrolled me in kindergarten at a Catholic school, which was not awesome.  I was expelled before I completed even half of the year.  There was some hubbub around whether or not I was ‘oppositional defiant’.  Needless to say, I was picked up and planted into the public school system.  That’s when we discovered I wasn’t really a ‘school person’.

My story was: my teachers were mean, uncaring, and (some of them) just plain stupid.  Their story: I always participated in class, I just never did the work.  I was bright, I just didn’t get along with others.  I became unhappy and moody and started beating kids up.  I was subjected to drugs like Ritalin and Clonadine, to EKG’s, Rorschach and Intelligence Quotient tests.  But they didn’t find anything, at least not  anything wrong.  There was nonstop fighting; ceaseless suspensions, detentions, referrals; and interminable attempts at tutoring.  All to no avail.
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By the time I went into middle school, I was praying that things would be different.  But I was too concerned with that fact that I was different.  See, all my life I knew it.  But it was a weird kind of thing, you know?  I liked playing with the girls just as much as I liked playing with boys.  From Barbies and baking, to baseball and water balloons.  I did it all.  My mom, being the raging Park and Rec.’er that she was, put me tons of summer programs.  That’s where I met all my friends.  Sure, there was some good and some bad, but I still remember those summer programs like the greatest days of my life.  I liked it so much I joined the Cub Scouts and went all the way up through the ranks until I earned the “Arrow of Light” (which is the graduating point from the Cub Scouts into the Boy Scouts.)  I was this kid who loved camping and sports and rough and tumble, I guess there weren’t really many clues about what my difference was.  

We all did it.  But when I hit puberty, no one wanted to play anymore.  That’s when I found out it wasn’t as normal as I thought it was.  That’s when I found out the word for it: Gay.  That’s when I found out I had to keep it a secret.  No one wanted to be gay.  It was a bad thing and people threw those kinds of insults all around.  To make matters worse, I was starting to get crushes on my friends at school.  But no one knew.  I’d told one person during the last year of grammar school but no one else.  I had to let it out; I hated having to hide the fact that I wasn’t checking out all of these girls that everyone else was.  So I told two more people.  You see, I need people to know that, and just respect it, straight down to not using the word around me in a deragatory manner.  I’d like you to even stop thinking bad shit.  I know these are hard requests.  But I think you might be able to handle some as simple as common courtesy.  You know: a little less tokenism.  Same thing about Indian thing.  And, on top of everything else: Don’t ever call me a faggot.

Anyway, I told my closest girl friend: it was the perfect coming-out experience.  She was totally cool; she was on the verge of bubbling over with excitement. Then I told a guy I met when school started.  He didn’t have any reaction.  Just a “that’s cool.”  I didn’t realize he would be able to tell the whole school by the next Monday.

My plan was to tell my friends before my parents  just in case stuff at home got too hot to handle.  Then I would tell the people at school.  I thought it wouldn’t matter what they thought.  But it did matter what the people at school thought and that kid threw a monkey wrench into my machine.  So, on a rainy Monday, after someone I didn’t know asked me if I was “that Gabe kid who was bi,” I walked home and confronted my mother.  She had called in sick from work and was resting on the bed in her room.  I was scared.

“Mom,” I said.

She stirred and looked at me, murmuring, “What?”

I was scared shitless, “I have something to tell you.”

“What?” She asked, harsher.

“I think I’m bi,” I told her.

She looked at me straight in the eyes, and said, “Oh.”

She closed her eyes again. “Okay.”
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I told her quickly about the gay youth group I wanted to go to on Wednesday.  She said I could.  Then I asked her not to tell my father before I did.  She agreed not to, but, when I walked in the door on Wednesday after group, my mother and father were sitting at the dinning room table, looking at me.  It was obvious that they were waiting for me to come home.  More obvious that my mother had broken the confidence she had sworn to.  My stomach twisted into knots all the way up my esophagus.  Mom said she’d told my dad and that we needed to talk.  My head was reeling, spinning with all of the possibilities.  I went down into the den and waited for them to approach me.  We sat in a circle.

“Gabe,” My mom said, “I told your father what you told me.”

“Oh,” I wanted to spit in her face.

I really was going to tell my dad.  I had planned that, too.

“. . . And your father and I would like to tell you something.”  She looked at dad before continuing.

“We love you and support you no matter what.”

It felt like the boulder on my shoulder had melted off me and lay on the floor, in a puddle of relief.

Dad cleared his throat, “Son, what you are right now may not always be what you will be in the future.”

And it was over.  My parents both reiterated what they had said about loving me unconditionally.  But I took my father’s comment to mean, something close to, “It might be a phase.”  Of course, no one ever brought the subject up other than my mom.  She took me to a PFLAG meeting, I felt token.  And I was still sore over what she did.  But she never admitted to hearing what I had said.
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Later on, after I had joined up with Victoria Forrester of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), I would say  that he was right.  I really grew up to be gay.  Telling them that I was bi was just a transitional phase I’d decided to allow them before I told them how I really felt.

At school, it was a different story, they yelled at me and started fights.  I had told the administration what was happening.  The counselor slapped them all on the wrists with the legal connotations of sexual harassment and they cooled down for a year.  But, once that year was over, the violence came back even worse.  I was never sent to the hospital.  I’m not subserviently effeminate and I’ve always been someone who could hold his own.  But the taunts were beginning to wear me down, they were making me revert back to the bully I’d been in grade school.

On top of this, my origins were beginning to pull at me more. I had to know who my birthmother was.  I had to be with people who looked like me.  I was completely rebelling inside, against all that was around me.  I felt like I didn’t fit in.  My parents and I were fighting a lot more about schoolwork.  It seemed like they were always on my back.  From the early stages of my coming out, which coincided with the beginning of my adolescence, I had been suffering from chronic depression.  I was isolating myself and day dreaming all the time.  (It was during that time that I wrote my first two books.)  I couldn’t be concerned with school or teachers or classwork.  I didn’t want to be there anymore.  I wanted to get away.

I’d have dreams about the reservation.  I had watched Smoke Signals for the first time, when I was twelve.  When I was younger, I would search the books stores for anything that had the word “Paiute” in it.  But the only thing I found were a bunch of white-washed books about “The American Indian” and the diary of Sara Winnemucca; which left me with little consolation and more of a hollow feeling of isolation.  My mom’s friend, Diane, would take me to Pow Wows and try to satiate my need to know more.  But it only left me with a stronger yearning.  The yearning was so deep that I found myself searching without knowing what I was looking for.  The yearning was the same as that to be accepted by my peers as it was to know my story and myself.
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Now I’m convinced that life cannot begin without knowing yourself.  And the yearning for my blood only became stronger when I conceded that I would not know my birthmother any time soon.  After we lost contact, I didn’t know where she was.  She never called and my parents didn’t call her.  We would receive word of her twice during my childhood.  Once, when my sister was living in Hayward and needed some help.  The other time, when Christina moved to Arkansas.  It was hell not knowing, not seeing, not hearing.  When it was out of sight, I pushed it deep inside my heart where it smoldered and burned until I was 17, until a year after I had taken the CHSPE and left school.

My birthmother was getting anxious.  I was close to 18, and she wanted to make sure I had her contact information in case I wanted to meet her.  Up until then, my birthfather didn’t know that I existed; he was told around the time she called my dad’s office and left her number.  My birthfather, “Coy”, was kept completely in the dark.  He had suspicions, but my birth family kept their mouths shut.  My parents told me that my birthfather was unknown.  He was “some Mexican car mechanic in Texas.”

Around the time my birthmother called, some friends and I decided to set fire to three buildings on the former Alameda Naval Air Station.  The next two years of my life would be bound by those indiscretions.  But I still took the time during the summer of my nineteenth birthday to meet Christina.  The first message that she had left with her phone number had been lost.  So I was depending on the chance that she would call and leave another note.  It happened over the first summer of my bond to the Alameda County Probation Department.  I was doing some contract work for my dad, filing documents and recording real property.  My father’s secretary handed me the yellow post-it with my birthmother’s name scribbled on it, and underneath, a phone number.  I took the note and performed my duties.  After I was finished, I got a burrito, which was my habit at the time, and sat in my car, looking at the phone number.

I didn’t know whether or not to call.  I wanted to call.  I was dying to.  But I was also suffering from an indecision I couldn’t comprehend.  I picked up the phone and dialed the number.  It rang, but there was no answer.  I hung up the phone and told myself it was probably the wrong number anyway.  I felt overcome with abjection.  Maybe it was just some trick she was playing, to get my hopes up.  Or maybe it was that of my parents.  Maybe they purposefully gave me the wrong number.  Maybe it was written down wrong by mistake.  Maybe the first phone number really wasn’t lost.  Maybe it was destroyed instead.  I went around with business as usual, like the kicked, abandoned dog.  I isolated myself again.
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Kathy was the one who had been pushing me to get medication since I was little.  She was the expediter.  By the time I was 17, I’d been seen by four counselors, two psychologists, a physician and a neurologist concerning my mental health.  My mom drug me in to get me diagnosed as oppositional defiant, as ADD, as depressed, the words “sociopath” and “narcissist” were floating around.  So, when it came time to see someone who would give me a clean bill of health for the lawyer, it was no surprise she took me to someone would have me diagnosed as bipolar.  She continued to make appointments for me to see a psychiatrist who no more than diagnosed me than he did listen.  I began to feel damaged.  This led me to more pondering.  I found myself wondering if my birthmother knew I would turn out to be this way.  If that was why she gave me up.  I already knew that I was never supposed to exist.  My birthmother had found a sancho, she already had a husband and she didn’t want to explain it.

During all this time,   from when I came out to when I moved, I had  been a player in local GLBT politics.  I started out with GLSEN and moved on to gay youth groups.  I became a board member of the Pacific Center for Human Growth’s youth council, where I focused on program re-development and produced outreach materials.  From there I went to the Lambda Youth Group and met Beck Stroud, who I followed to the Lighthouse Community Center and formed LCCY-Us (Lighthouse Community Center Youth . . . Us.)  It was at the Lighthouse that I met Christopher Gomora, outreach guru for the Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits, and Aaron Pinola, a gay Pomo  Indian from the Northern San Francisco Bay Area.  Aaron told me stories of how it was to live and grow up with his family.  Christopher schooled me on anything and everything that I wanted to know.  Christopher and Cody took me to pow wows and taught me about the gourd dance, the importance of feathers, the true names of certain tribes.  The only other Paiute who was in the organization was hard to get a hold of.  So I could only hope I would get in touch with my mother.  I don’t know if it was my new involvement with the Native community or sheer coincidence that she called me while I was at the San Francisco State Pow Wow.

I called once more from my car.  It was about four in the afternoon.  I had just finished a run to the recorder’s office and decided to give it another try.  A man answered the phone.  I told him that I was looking for  Christina Marquez.  He took down my information and told me he would give it to her.  It was the beginning of the summer of my nineteenth year.  But I didn’t count on her returning it any time soon, or even at all.  I tried not to expect anything, that way I  wouldn’t get hurt.  But my heart was racing  at the possibility of seeing her.
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At the Pow Wow, I was retelling the story of my adoption to my new friend, Adrian, who was a student counselor, employed by a Central California UC.  Right when I got to the question and answer part, she phoned.  I wasn’t expecting it.

“Hello?”  I said.

“Hello,” A woman said.  Her voice was stressed.  “Is . . . ahh, Matt there?”

Wrong number, “No, I think you have the wrong number.”

“Oh,” There was a pause and I was expecting her to hang up.  “Is this Five-One-Oh . . . .”

“Yeah, but this is Gabriel.  This is my cell phone.”

My friend was watching the exchange.

“I’m looking for Matt and Kathy Duncan.”  It clicked.  “This is Christina.”

“Hi!”  I can’t describe the rush that I felt right then.  It was something close to ecstasy, but closer to relief, it was strong enough to raise the hairs on my neck.

Longing, yearning; having her on the phone was like having her next to me.  And I didn’t want to be separated.  She asked me how I was, and how Matt and Kathy were.  She told me the names of all of my brothers and sisters, the name of my grandmother, and more information about my father.  He wasn’t unknown after all; he was just kept in the dark until I was legal.  We talked more, but she had to go to the store and she said she would call me back.  I hung up the phone, said goodbye to everyone at the Pow Wow and took off home to get a notebook and wait for her call.

You’re probably wondering how it feels.  You want to know.  You want to experience it.  So I’m sure you want to ask me more questions.  You’ll want to know what it was like, if was I excited, was I scared, how my parents reacted.  Shut up.  I’m writing this so you won’t ask me again.  Eighteen years of existence and everyone wants to feel that joy.  They want to see that excitement.  The people who “wish” they were adopted.  I’m tired of it.  Eighteen years of yearning and hoping and not wanting to think about it; because thinking means hurt, means feeling, and I wanted that part of my life dead for as long as I didn’t find my birth family.
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She was staying on the rez, (that’s native talk for “Reservation”) in Benton.  We made plans to see each other within a month.  My mom was insecure.  My dad was, too.  They were supportive, though, and brave.  I know for sure that my mom was afraid I would never come back.  But I had to, after all, I was still on probation.  

Some kids never search their blood out; whether that’s because they don’t want to or because they’re to afraid to or some other reason.  I was a mix of emotions then.  I was close to two years on probation and the legal and monetary consequences of my actions were making it difficult for my parents and I to communicate respectfully with each other.  It would get worse the closer I came to the end my legal bond period. I was anxious.  Ecstatic that I was going to meet her, but terrified, too.  We set the date and I packed.

I set out in the early afternoon.  It took me eleven hours to get into the Blind Spring Valley.  I drove straight through the reservation without ever finding the house she was supposed to be at.  In fact, I blinked and half of it flew by.  There were no lights to go by, no landmarks, and no one outside.  I didn’t know where I was going.  I turned around once I had driven a couple miles past the reservation.  I drove straight through again and looked for a pay phone.  There was none.  So I drove to the house with the most lights on thinking, surely, they must be awake and be able to give me directions to the house.  I knocked on the door of one of my uncles.  He looked at me suspiciously when I asked him where Christina Marquez lived.  He said he didn’t know, so I asked him if he knew where Joe, the tribal chairman, lived.  The man pointed up to a house in the distance.  I thanked him and took off.  I knew Joe was my great uncle, but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t know how he would react.  I was supposed to be a secret after all.  Joe pointed out my grandmother’s house and I arrived, tired and hungry.

Like I said, the moon was full, so I was able to see clearly my surrounding when I stepped out of my car.  My mother had heard my car pull into the driveway.

“What took you so long?”  She asked.

“I stopped in Minden to get something to eat,”  I told her.

She nodded and we walked, watching out for the discarded microwaves and large rocks, on into the house.  The house was what some people would consider “messy”.  Some would call it trashed.  But I didn’t care; I wasn’t there to make overall judgments derived from a dark and weary first impression.  My brothers, Emilio and Marky, had fallen asleep during the wait.  But my grandmother, whose house I was in, was up and sitting at the table drinking coffee.  She looked me up and down, I looked her up and down and we introduced ourselves.
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Okay, okay.  What was it like?  What were you feeling?  I’m used to meeting new people.  Used to being dropped into social situations that are completely alien, situations I’ve never experienced before.  This was the unknown I was experiencing, even for me.  This is something that isn’t in any book.  Any handbook.  There is no “How-to: Meet Your Birth Family” book.  I was curious, I scrutinized everything to such an inordinate degree that it bordered on prurience.  I did not, however, feel like a stranger.  I felt at home right away.  And I felt like I had met them before, but couldn’t recall where or how.  My mother served me the tamales that were warming in the oven while my grandmother asked me questions.

They interrogated me and told me stories.  We sat around for a few more hours before I lost all of the rest of my energy, and we had to go to sleep.  Already, I liked my grandmother.  My mother, I was wary about, which attests to the large volume of feces my adopted mom had been throwing with Christina’s name on  them.  We talked some and then went to sleep.  In the morning, my brothers came over to change for school.  They were quiet at first, looking at me.  I tried to be outgoing, because I’ve seen my adopted cousins meet and play with new kids before.  Soon, they opened up and told me their names and ages.  They showed me their dog, Sabrina, the barrel that they rolled down hills with and their CD players.  Emilio wanted to know about where I came from.  He wanted me to tell him what the city was like, about my car, my belongings.  Marky asked if I had a dog, a sister, he wanted to know who my mom was.  When I told him, it was hard to gauge his reaction.  He must have felt close to how I did when my mom told me that Amelia was living with us, that she wasn’t going home.  But he clung to me and was so proud of me that I didn’t think we’d have any major problems getting along.  Then the bus came and took them to school.

During the day, Christina and I drove around.  She told me about our family’s past, the trouble that my brothers and sisters had got into, where they lived.  She told me about all of the different people on the rez, and took me to meet them.  I came to find out that I was related to most of the reservation.  I met my cousins Reina and Meagan, who were at Reina’s house taking care of their kids.  I took pictures of them, and the house.  I took pictures of the sunrise.  When Emilio had gotten out of school, Christina took us swimming at the  artesian and then to meet my uncle, Mark, who was living in Bishop with his girlfriend, Crystal, his my two nieces.  I took pictures of them, of the sunset, of the barbecue; I cataloged everything.  It was my first visit home and I didn’t want to forget a thing.  Mark grilled a great steak and we all sat around talking.

When it came time to leave, my feelings were bittersweet.  I didn’t want to go.  The thought stirred my stomach in a wicked way.  But I had probation.  That was the only thing that kept me in the Bay Area.  The Benton Range–on which the Utu Utu Gwaite Paiute  Reservation straddled–and the area surrounding it were beautiful.  I’m talking pure, virgin forests.  Most of the land was protected by federal and state entities.  The Yosemite National Forest was only an hour west.  Mammoth Lakes was forty-five minutes away.  The Owens Valley is a hotspot for rock climbers and hang gliders.  Being an avid amateur outdoorsman, I had fallen into one of the most wonderful places in the world.  The week after I arrived, I packed up again and drove back to the bay area.
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Life became hell.  My parents and I began fighting more often than ever.  The probation department was going through some changes, so my P.O. was out of contact for several months before I was notified that I (my case) was being transferred to a different deputy.  I was having difficulty choosing between school  and a profession.  I attended the California Culinary Academy and got wrapped up in a lot of stuff I shouldn’t have.  Things were decaying, and I couldn’t see any way to remedy the situation.

I came back to Benton for  two weeks to meet my sister, Vicky, and my brother, Joey, whom I hadn’t been introduced to because they and my mother  had had a falling out.  I ended up staying with my sister until I had to go back to the bay area and begin the process of being released from  bond.  I met my cousin, Tavouchi, who was Joe’s daughter.  I met Joe and talked politics with him.  I started become more familiar with the people at the station, which is a gas station/cafe/grocery store affiliated with the Benton Tribal Economic Corporation.  

Basically, I started fitting in.  My sights were less on attaining urban residency than it was on becoming obscure and invisible.  I began to look at the city as an alien pace with too many people, all of whom were in too much of a hurry to die.  Even if the Owens Valley area was what I considered to be “Hicktown, Ca” at that time, I still yearned to be away, be gone, be calm.  And I think my parents saw it, too.

The fighting in our household had become too much.  My mother and I were berating each other on a daily basis.  The probationary situation was in limbo.  The burn unit that I was ordered to volunteer for would not accept me, my probation officer told me to ask all of the other hospitals, her reports were inaccurate and frighteningly biased, my judge was pissed off at me because she couldn’t remember what she had ordered me to do, and could only remember clips and phrases from the hearing (you should see the minutes), and considered the reports of my probation officer to be the complete and total truth.  (Excuse this tangent.)  I found the Alameda Juvenile Probation Department, overall, to be completely unorganized, unethical and unconstitutional.
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My commissioner would not respect my wishes or constitutional right to recess because my lawyer wasn’t present.  The D.A. blatantly lied about the particulars of my case to keep me on probation (three abandoned buildings turned into five schools, with pictures and a connotation of  psychopathic joy in committing such a crime.)  This is the same legal system that has never been able to mail to my correct address,  that failed to notify me of at least two hearings I was supposed to appear at (that were not written down on my notice to appear forms and were not even mentioned during the hearings) which bench warrants were issued against me, and whose commissioners were too dull or lazy to remember their own decrees (I had to correct her).  This is a system that is responsible for the welfare and rehabilitation of juveniles.  This is a system that, because of their own inability to keep accurate records, almost had me wrongly arrested on at least three  separate occasions.

Just a tip to you criminals: when the judge talks to you like a person, talk to them the same way.  In this day and age, there is no such thing as an impartial judge.  And there never was.

None of my phone calls were being answered, our letters were habitually ignored, my dad was worrying about the increased workload at his office, and the increased spending of the household, my mom was on my ass to get a job, she was trying to come to terms with an early retirement she thought was forced.  The situation was FUBAR.  It was my idea to see a family counselor, but my parents and I had decided it was time for me to move out.  Unbeknownst to them, I had already decided to move to Benton.

My public life had nothing to do with this side.  On the outside, I put on my happy face, and I kept quiet about the trouble I was in.  I worked my way into volunteering for the Encinal Encino? High School and the Alameda Meals on Wheels to complete the hours I needed.  My father, mother and I had reached an agreement with the Alameda Reuse  Commission that would nullify a great portion of the restitution I owed if I volunteered myself for indentured servitude.  Things were shaping up; they just weren’t going fast enough.  With that and the communication breakdowns above, it felt like I was just spinning my wheels.

When I told my family of my intent to move out to the Owens Valley, they looked at me like I was crazy.  No, they told me I was crazy.  They wanted to know why the hell I would do a thing like that.  My city friends told me there would be a lack of ” opportunities”.  My mother and father were supportive.  They were willing to help me with whatever I need.  They still loved me no matter what.  But they didn’t want to me to go home.  I would not be  dissuaded.  Once I was in my last term of probation, I went down to Bishop one last time to apply for as many jobs as I could in a week.  I’ll admit, the job market was grizzly.  Most of the places I applied for were looking for low-level, entry positions, but I had connation (‘connation’ means by birth, family connections, do you mean ‘connections’? Joey).  I left and spent the next two weeks volunteering until, finally, I was freed of my chains.
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My mother had gone to live in Mammoth with her boyfriend, Jose, and my two brothers.  (Pay attention or you won’t be able to tell which mother I’m  talking about.)  So I stayed with my sister, Vicky, and applied for jobs.  No bites.  But I persisted.  It was my prerogative to move out of the house and into the valley.  I began packing my belongings at home, but instead packed a day pack and set off for Benton.  My aunt, Jolene, had offered me a place to stay with my four cousins.  I took her offer and moved into her house on the Paiute reservation.

My mother knew it was close to the time we would say goodbye, and changed from being aggravated to the coddling and insecure person she was underneath.  But it was too late for me.  I wasn’t used to affection from her.  We had been fighting since I had gone into school.  It was uncomfortable, so I stayed cold.  I felt bad that I didn’t feel more.  But I also blamed her, as much as I blamed myself.  It was just something I didn’t want to deal with.  So I didn’t.

The first time I had gone to see my birthmother; Amelia began to show more interest in her roots.  Her mother had never been in contact with us, not like mine.  There was a flood in the area of Honduras that Amelia was from, and it didn’t seem likely that she would be able to find her mother.  Even  so, we still had one lead on where she’d gone.  But Amelia fell more into school and social situations, the latter of which she’d avoided in her early teen years.  When I came back the last time, when all of my clothes and belongings had been boxed and I was ready to take the first load with me, she was getting ready to go off to college.  I’m proud of my sister, I know her  persistence will take her everywhere she wants to go, and I’m glad that she came into my life the way she did.  I don’t know whether or not she will take the unimaginable journey to find her mother.  I just hope she’s in peace with her adoption.

Sometimes, people who look for their birth family are never to find them.  Sometimes, those are also people who say they never looked or were never interested.  Some children are taken away from their mothers and fathers because they weren’t taken care of as well as they should have been.  Others were simply abandoned. You get all kinds of stories.

My father was always supportive.  I found him the easiest person to talk to.  He listened to my plans and gave me tips and suggested changes.  We had a rapport and the dissolved legal matters gave us more room to breathe.  On the night before I left, I said goodbye to my sister and told her I of my pride and  confidence in her.  The day I left, I hugged my mother goodbye and told her I would be back for Thanksgiving.  My dad shook my hand and wished me luck.

I arrived in Benton late at night, pulled all of my boxes into the room that had been prepared for me and went to sleep.  In the morning, I would start my job hunt with the tenacious goal of attaining employment before the week was through.  I did it, and began to realize just how different this place was from the city.

I found a job at a pizza factory.  I was a ‘dough boy’.  The job wasn’t difficult by any means, and I was  paid seven dollars an hour.  I worked it for a day, and then left to join a local cafe in their menu/hygiene and portion control endeavors.  They were willing to pay me 12 an hour for my contributions to the project.  I liked coffee and bagels much more than pizza (bagels were a lunch item and were very popular, as well as the quiche, both of which are quite delicious).  But I didn’t last there for long either.
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I don’t want to bore you with the play-by-play of my landing in Benton Hot Springs.  Let’s just say, right now, I’m in between and in the middle of a paycheck dispute with a former employer.  The jobs are scarce.  The people who own the restaurants have  employed their less-than-employable offspring  as managers.  So I have to deal with a middle-aged BOY who has an IQ score of about 80.  To make matters worse, there are about three different families who own the majority of stores and  restaurants in the town of Bishop.  So now I’m looking in Mammoth Lakes, where things are little less inbred.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a little cafe in Bishop, 36 miles south of Benton.  I haven’t haven’t’ signed up for an internet connection yet, so I come down here and make updates to this every time I drive in to get supplies.  I’ve been here for three months now, so it’s going to be a little difficult for me to get the distance I have from my childhood memories.  

In the morning light, when I came home the first time, I stepped outside of Christina’s house and took a look around.  Her yard was cluttered with an old  Buick, a  Ford station wagon ;, in the corner of her property was a dog house, all around were the rocks she collected when she took her walks.  In the back of the house, there was a gaggle of junk too miscellaneous to mention.  The house across from us was the same way.  And the house next to that.  In fact, when I looked around, I wondered when Joe would schedule the dump truck and the bulldozer.  But it’s not messy.  Sure, it could be dangerous.  Who knows what kind of rusted, sharp or otherwise gross things you’d find out in front of some of these people’s houses.  This is rural Native America.  This is the only Native America.  

But all around, the Blind Spring Hill, the Benton Range.  Behind the hill, the White Mountains.  Behind the range, the Sierra Nevadas.  This is the kind of place where the sky is painted with clouds.  The sunsets are on fire; more beautiful than any coastal sunset I’ve ever seen.  I can’t reiterate this enough.

Every person living on the reservation has, by statute and by custom, no less than an acre of land.  No one I’ve met yet practices tradition.  Most of the people here believe in the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant)  religions.  Many of them speak Spanish and are of mixed Mexican descent.  Add to that a pinch of Paiute phrases and an in-the-works government and you have Benton.  The blood quantam set forth by the tribal council is a quarter.  The Utu Utu Gwaite Tribe has about 350 enrolled members, approximately 80 of those people are on the reservation.  My generation is mostly made of “mud bloods”, our average quantam is about an eighth.

I found all of that pretty disappointing.  I wouldn’t be able to enroll.  I wouldn’t be able to learn our tribe’s tradition, or our language.  And the family politics that are played in Benton are frustrating.  I won’t go into specifics to avoid hurt feelings.  But there’s a lot of shady stuff that goes on under the radar out here.  Most of my family members have been incarcerated at least once.  The sheriffs make a game out of harassing us.  And the white people in Bishop don’t even think twice about asking me if this place is “better than Mexico.  Ha ha ha!”  So I began to understand why people looked at me like I was crazy when I told them I would be moving in.  Though I’m still not deterred.
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About a month after I had been living with Jolene, my mom showed up again.  She brought Emilio and Marque.  She said they were moving back; that her and Jose were fighting too much.  I was looking forward to hearing that.  And I agreed to help mom and Jose move out.  I had traded in my Scion for a Ford Ranger before moved out, so I was more than willing to try it out hauling.  I didn’t like Jose too much in the beginning.  I thought he was too arrogant, too loud, too short and too Napoleon.  But I got to talk with him.  I found out he was pretty levelheaded.  Emilio and Marky are his only sons, so he’s not one of those assholes who go around setting up franchises.  He works construction in Mammoth Lakes and he’s damn good at it.  He’s never tried to be my father.  I made it clear from the beginning that we came from someone else’s spurt, and he respected that.  So I respected him.

Emilio and Marky finally figured out that we had the same moms.  We came out of the same tummies.  We started clashing soon after they moved back.  That worked out, too.  I had to lay down the law a few times.  No, don’t dig through my first aid kit, ’cause you’ll need it, just like the time you sliced your finger open.  No, don’t jump on my car and dig through the glove box ’cause then I’ll have to mess with your stuff too.  Nothing serious.  I like having little brothers.

As for my mom, I had to get over my initial reservations, too.  She told me she did tweak occasionally.  My parents told me she got in some trouble for drugs.  Christina told me she stabbed someone.  My parents told me she chased a narc around her car and threatened to kill her if she didn’t leave the rez.  You can understand why I was a little hesitant, right?  But she was always honest, always up-front about everything.  Before I came out, when we were talking on the phone, she shared anything she thought I should know in one desperate spurt of honesty.  (It must run in the family.)

During that first week, Christina Marquez started to separate from the past.  She was was wearing a snug, white sweater, when she fully separated and homogenized in front of me.  She was doing the laundry when it slapped me in the face.  We were talking about something I can’t remember.  But it just hit me right then: Christina Marquez is a tough woman.  Who she was at the moment was who she was shaped by the other three children she had, and the other two (Emilio and Marky) she was taking care.  Shaped by time in prison.  By tweak.  By chasing narcs out of town.  All of that crammed into one woman.  And it just poured out of her right then.  From her take-no-shit attitude to her way of searching every single pocket before she stuffed them into the hot, dirty water.

She told me about wondering whether or not I would come looking.  Christina said sometimes it tore her apart.  She would get nervous wondering; so anxious she wouldn’t be able to sleep.  She wanted to call Kathy and Matt, but she just didn’t want to step on toes, you know?  My parents told her about their first attempt to adopt a newborn child.  The woman they were negotiating with pulled out of the deal at the last moment.  She knew that my parents needed to have a baby.  When we talked about how my parents were then, and how the house was, she told me it was blurry.  Christina said she pushed it to the back of her mind so she didn’t have to think about.  But it still tore her apart.

Even talking about it, I’ve got a lump in my throat and butterflies in my stomach.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  I’m just glad I found her.  I don’t know how I would have lived without meeting her.