Intuition is a compelling concept. It’s our mind’s way of steering us toward truth when our research and rationale have been exhausted, like an otherworldly power. Yet we have no evidence to prove it exists, other than an unexplained compulsion within us; a compulsion that engages whether or not we ask it to.
Even if we’ve perhaps willed it not to work.
It’s mid-September 2017. Leah, my girlfriend Jessi’s sister, is in town, and she’s asked to see us tonight. My girlfriend and her sister are adopted, from different biological families. From the start, I’ve been intrigued by Jessi’s origin story, as well as her relative disinterest in learning about the identity of her biological parents. “I don’t need to know anything besides my medical history,” she says. “The family I have is my family.”
Her view is a principled one, with an unshaken respect for the only family she’s ever known. It’s safe to an extent, as well — digging into your biological connections can inadvertently alert you to ambiguous family secrets, for instance (Exhibit A: Me). As such, the last five-plus months prove that she and I have gone about our family’s DNA questions differently. While her biological origins remain in the pages of books on the shelf, I can hear my internal monologue driving me in a different direction. There’s more to your story, David…keep going. Find the answer. Open the pages.
But it’s been close to four months since I’ve touched those pages. Morgan and I exchanged one or two messages after she returned from el Camino, but we haven’t spoken since. My parents haven’t asked me about the fire alarm discoveries either.
I can’t say for certain why.
My silence on the matter hasn’t been intentional. There are no ill feelings toward anyone involved. Perhaps the emotional energy I’ve expended just to repeatedly run into a wall has taken its toll in a short time. But that doesn’t mean my thoughts about it have gone dormant in the last four months.
Leah arrives on-time.
If you didn’t know Jessi and Leah weren’t from the same biological parents, you’d probably figure it out by the time you saw them. Jessi is about 5’5” with fair skin and freckles that glow under green eyes. Leah is about 5’1” with dark hair and brown eyes. They’re sisters, but as adopted ones, they look nothing alike.
Leah lives in NYC and has for close to five years. Catching up with her is largely a covering off on the basics — work, her boyfriend, friends. But since we see her only a handful of times a year, it feels like a piece of home in our otherwise quiet living room.
A half hour in, though, Leah hits us with one of those hard transitions that are only used when there’s something important or difficult to be said. “So…” she begins. The words hang like dangling power lines, a volatile current coursing through.
It turns out I’m not the only one in the midst of a DNA discovery.
Leah has, by and large, been more curious about her origins than Jessi. But to what extent, we hadn’t really known. She explains that her interest in learning about her biological countries of origin through Ancestry.com has brought with it some unintended surprises. Namely, the identity of a biological half-sibling, a 19-year-old girl born and raised 30 miles north of Miami, where Jessi and Leah were raised.
I look at Jessi to see her reaction.
She has a sensitivity to her that I adore, though in a protective gesture, I put my hand on her shoulder to comfort her in case this has stung her in some way. In her heart, I know she knows Leah is her sister. But I hope this discovery hasn’t caused her to question it. To my pleasant surprise, it doesn’t seem she’s bothered. Her mouth is slightly agape in surprise, but she’s not upset. She always knew this day could come.
But there’s more. Leah continues, explaining that not only has she discovered the existence of this person, but she’s made contact with this person. “She and I share over 1,200 centimorgans, which is basically how much DNA you have in common with someone else…”
Jessi and I smirk. “Yeah, I know all about that,” I start. And then just as quickly, I tense up. “Keep going,” I say, “but I’m gonna grab my computer while you do.”
I hear everything Leah is saying, but my mind is on fire with a number that I now recall with haunting clarity—1,509. The number of centimorgans that Morgan and I share with each other.
We have more DNA in common with each other than Leah does with her newly discovered half-sister.
I flip open the screen on my laptop to confirm it, while Leah continues, and then concludes with the news that she’s communicated with her half-sister — Sabrina. They have plans to meet in the near-future.
And as the night falls, I know that my plans for the near future have just changed too.
Two days later, on September 17, Morgan and I speak on the phone. I share with her the details of Leah’s story, and the obvious discord it’s brought squarely into my lap — not to mention Leah’s.
If Morgan is sweating this the way I am, she isn’t making it obvious. But nearly six months since discovering the other, we make a pact with one another on this call. We are going to solve this mystery together once and for all, regardless of the truths that might disrupt our respective lives.
Admittedly, with as little as I know, it’s not something I fear. Or frankly, even consider.
A couple of hours after the call, I flip open a message from Morgan on a walk back from a stop at Crema Gourmet, my favorite local coffee shop on the beach.
If I’m up for it, she says, there’s a way that we can uncover some greater detail about our connection without having to ask my uncles or parents any questions.
This sounds like the perfect path to uncover the answer in this game of Guess Who? It’s a website called GEDMatch.com, and there, you can upload the raw data from any DNA website for a deeper analysis. At a minimum, it can tell you if you share maternal or paternal DNA with another individual.
For tradition’s sake, I call my parents to tell them about the site. I’m sure they won’t give a shit. Though, to assuage their concerns, I assure them that no matter what I find on the other side, I promise to keep it a secret for the sake of all involved. And once again, they respond with the same lack of enthusiasm that has marked the nearly six months that have been filed into the rearview.
Morgan and I both upload our data to the site, and despite my yearnings for instant gratification, it’s in fact an arduous process, as the website alerts you that it can take up to 24 hours to process the data and show your results. Not only that, but you have to sit idly by while the data uploads in real-time to be passed on to the server for analysis, and that’s an hour-long process in its own right. It’s 11:00 p.m. and my eyelids are sinking to sleep. Finally, at 12:12 a.m., the upload finishes, and I head to rest with a next-day anticipation like I’ll have woken up to a room full of presents on Christmas morning.
The sound of gradually louder chirping birds — my iPhone alarm — alerts me to the dawn of my day at 7:15 a.m. It’s September 18, and rather than tap the Snooze button in my normal fashion, I instead stretch the sleep out of my extremities and walk to the living room to pop open my laptop.
It opens up to the GED Match site from the night before, and after hitting the refresh button, a new page shows up with twisting double helixes and complicated, text-heavy details. But one thing that’s immediately clear is that Morgan and I are no longer alone.
On a list of DNA matches, there is in fact a third one that shares the same DNA as Morgan and I. His name is Thomas Butler.
My eyes widen, now completely awake with shock or its closest accomplice. A pang of discomfort hits my chest.
A quick Facebook search only deepens the sentiment — Thomas was born 10 months after me, a mere six weeks before Morgan, also in Rochester, NY. Three of us on the receiving end of this DNA mystery, born within a single year of one another in the same city. Completely anonymous if not for the wonders of plastic vials filled with our saliva.
If Ashton Kutcher were to jump out from behind the bushes to tell me I am being punk’d, now would be the time. I even look around me, in the solitude of my living room, wondering with total sincerity if someone is pulling a prank that’s just reached its peak.
I immediately call my parents and again arrange for them both to be on speakerphone. As I dial, I weigh the explanations I’ve conjured in my mind over the course of nearly six months. Morgan being the single match, and only shared thread to this story, made the outlandishness of thinking she could somehow be my dad’s sister seem maddening-yet-plausible.
But another match has rocked me.
As the first dial tone makes its way through the line, I flash back to all of the stories I’d been told about how I was conceived. My parents had tried unsuccessfully for five years to start a family, and then I came along. If my dad hadn’t donated sperm in that time, was the truth worse? Had he had an affair that resulted in other children, and had he done it twice? The night before, Morgan had warned me, with great care, to consider it. I was offended by the intimation, but of course, I understood the biological explanations that now seemed to be staring us square in the face.
Both of my parents are home this morning. Dad picks up, once more with mom at his side, and I relay this new information to them — leaving out my ‘dad is the smoking gun’ theory — and they seem as befuddled as I am. “I promise if there’s a secret, I won’t say anything. I just need you to know what this information is saying,” I explain. But there’s no secret to be shared, they insist.
God, if it weren’t for the warmth of all their reassurances, and the 30-plus years of it that I was raised in, I’d have thought otherwise of their explanations. Yet and still, I’m shook; disoriented. I am related to two new people on my dad’s side of the family. My dad is the only son on that side who could father a child in the time frame, at least logically. And there’s no real plausible way to validate my cockamamie theory that maybe his own dad wasn’t his dad, and that I’m uncovering his long-lost siblings in real-time.
What in the actual fuck is going on?
As night falls and my thoughts poke and prod me like unwelcome strangers in a crowded hall, I go to bed, with these unwelcome bedfellows making rest a near-impossible task.