From Here to Paternity
By Sunny Bleckinger
Sleeping through the overnight flight from Amsterdam to New York City was delightfully forgetful. But the two-hour train ride to a small town north of the big city made an indelible impression. It was comfortable enough sitting on the rough new upholstery of the Amtrak seats, smelling the sour scent of air conditioning, and watching the gorgeous view of the glistening Hudson river on one side, and the lush, verdant landscapes on the other—altogether though, a strange garnish for the surreal sensations hovering about. At age 27 and 28, my sister and I were en route to meet our father for the first time in almost 25 years.
‘Did he say how many goats he has?’
‘I think five or six.’
This was last spring. We had found him a month before, communicated mostly in letters and a couple awkward phone calls. He had been searching for us for about 10 years. We had no clear expectations, hoped for many stories about our origins and looked forward to finding out what kind of guy he is.
My sister and I had already discussed everything we wanted to before embarking, and were hoping to simply relax on the train and not think about anything. But anxiety was hard to avoid, and I found myself looking for distractions.
‘I wonder why there’s no sailboats on the river.’
‘That’s a really good question.’
My sister seized on the topic. She was also looking for distraction. We came up with a variety of reasons, which kept us busy for a good 15 minutes. Behind us was an older German couple who spoke little English. Some woman got it into her head that she could help out by speaking to them like they were morons. ‘That’s a bridge. Yes, yes, over the river, we have bridges. Yes, yes. A bridge. Yes, yes.’ When that was finished, we opened the package of 12-dollar sushi we bought at Penn Station.
‘This better be good.’
Everyone’s got their sad song. Ours, unfortunately, was made into a feel-good movie starring Will Smith. Well, not exactly, but the parallels in ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’ are eerie—same city, same year, same subway stations used as makeshift hotel rooms. Though, it was actually our hippy mother trying to keep us alive and well on the streets of San Francisco. (We haven’t found her yet.) Where our father was at the time, we were hoping he’d explain. But we harboured no ill feelings. We didn’t exactly know what happened and, having been adopted at an early age, we spent most of our lives not really thinking about it at all.
‘You want the last yellowtail?’
‘Nope, it’s yours. I already had two.’
On the way, we meditated on the cute town names, like Yonkers and Poughkeepsie.
‘This is Poughkeepsie folks. Poughkeepsie. Last call. Poughkeepsie.’ The engineer announced it a dozen times, until an old lady with a duffle bag came rushing up the isle.
‘Scuze me. Scuze me. Hold the door please.’ How she missed the first 10 announcements, we could only imagine. And we did imagine, with several different scenarios. Then we considered the possibility of our father being freakishly deformed.
‘He looked alright in the pictures.’
‘Those were ten years old. Anything could’ve happened since then.’
We prepared for the worst. Lingering in my mind, however, was my girlfriend back home. I was hesitant to travel without her, but she persuaded me. ‘It’s only a week, I’ll be fine.’ She was five months pregnant with our first child. (In the year I met my father, I also became one.) She told me a story about an ape mother, whose infant was taken away shortly after birth and returned six weeks later to gauge its reaction (this was back when the humane treatment of animals was less of an issue). The young ape recognised its mother, and panicked. As a survival mechanism, he had accepted that he would never see her again. He soon became angry, throwing rocks at his mother and hitting her hard. She sat quietly, doing nothing. When he was finished, he started to cry. At this point, the mother took him into her arms, and they began to rebuild what was lost.
Naturally, I wondered if I’d react in a similar fashion. Train stations have plenty of loose rocks lying around. You never know. Lost memories could rush forth. Or nothing at all. Just a stranger standing in front of you. Like any journey, the mystery and magic of it all could climax before you actually reach your destination. And on arrival, everything you’ve anticipated might vanish the moment you behold the real thing, at which point a new mystery and magic could commence.
‘Well, this is it.’
We grabbed our things, stepped off the train and walked up the stairs to where he was waiting to say hello.
Five years later I wrote the sequel