Real:

Four months after I get married in 2006, my mother passes away from leukemia. It is yet one more thing I know about her medical history that doesn't affect me in any way. I feel slightly guilty as I watch Georgia fret over the possibility that she could develop the cancer in the future, or that she could have done something—donated blood or marrow?—to help our mom before she died. I just stand there knowing that there was absolutely nothing that I could have done. I'm completely useless in this family when it comes to genetic information.

Patty comes to our house on the afternoon after my mom has died and makes a bunch of food. The huge pot of chili she makes is ridiculously good, and I can't believe that I never knew she was a good cook—I definitely didn't inherit that trait. I realize that there are a lot about her that I don't know. I have my chance to ask her questions about her and her family, but I don't. I just go on knowing what little that I know.

When I introduce my husband to Patty, it's slightly awkward. I don't know what to call her. So I just refer to her as "our family friend" and she seems okay with that title. When no one is around, I explain to him that she is my biological mom, and he nods in understanding. I later notice him comparing the two of us, and I can tell that he sees the similarity in our eyes. My family is known for their blue eyes, but I have the distinct, large, dark brown eyes—it's very obvious that Patty has them also. If Will had been here, he would notice that similarity as well.

As we're driving home from the funeral, my husband comments that he thought it was weird about Patty showing up. I ask him what is so weird about that. He says that he thinks it was poor taste, after my adoption and all—parents who have given their kids up for adoption aren't supposed to stay in contact with their adopted families. "She hasn't been a mother to you before, why should she show her support now?" he questions.

I think about that Little Mermaid game she gave me for Christmas all those years ago. But her relationship as my biological mother isn't what is important here; that's completely irrelevant to this situation. Our situation is nothing like normal.

"She's been friends with my family for almost her entire life," I explain. "I don't think it would make sense for her not to come. Just because my family adopted her child doesn't mean that she can't have anything to do with them ever again." I sarcastically mimic a hypothetical comment that Patty would make, "'I've known you forever, and you're an even better family to me than my own. Well, here's my baby. Sorry, I can't be friends with you anymore.'"

My remark comes across as rude, but I make my point. My husband recognizes that he has a hard time understanding the situation because he's never been in that kind of of arrangement himself. I agree, and we let it drop.

Two months later, my dad begins to break down, both psychologically and physically. At one point in time, he actually ends up in the neurological ward in the hospital because he claims that my mother has been sitting at the end of the bed staring at him at night. Another woman, he says, has also been in his room with her three small children, and they just keep watching him while he's trying to sleep. With all of these people in his room, he hasn't been able to sleep in days, and the fatigue has caused his mind to start wandering even more. We later find out that these hallucinations are a result of stress and his Parkinson's medication being out of whack. However, that still doesn't account for the physical problems.

My dad has had kidney issues for much of his life as well. He had one kidney removed when I was in the sixth grade—my mom let me miss school that day, and I sat in the well-lit lobby of the hospital reading a book while my dad was in surgery. His other kidney worked fine until all of the trauma with my mother's death assisted in it's decay. Dialysis did nothing to help him.

Suspecting that a kidney transplant may be warranted, the doctors turn to the obvious sources: his children. There are three of us to choose from: my brother Jay, Georgia, and me. The doctors ask if we would be willing to donate a kidney if needed. I think about speaking up that I don't actually qualify for the position, as I am adopted and am not actually a blood relative.

But I keep silent for a moment, and neither Jay nor Georgia says anything as a nurse takes a small blood sample from each of them to test blood types for compatibility. I wonder what it's like to know that I have the biological power to help someone I love. The nurse finishes taking a sample from a queasy Georgia, and my sister gives me a subtle nod.

I hold out my hand to the nurse and allow her to prick my finger. Even though I know that I won't be of any help, it's nice to know that they have given me the opportunity to try.

Several days later, Georgia and I are in the hospital visiting my dad again. He seems completely unaware of who we are or where he is, and he keeps nodding off into sleep. Sometimes he wakes up and announces something random, like that we need to go soon or everyone will get to Michigan before we do. We have no idea what he's talking about, except that he used to live in Michigan before Georgia was even born.

A nurse informs the doctor that we are there, and the doctor comes in with my dad's chart. He informs us that Georgia does not qualify to donate a kidney to my dad due to their different blood types. However, the doctor claims, both Jay and I are eligible to consider a donation. There are pros and cons for each of us, however. I am younger, so my kidney would be better than Jay's; however, because I'm so young, I have more time to develop my own medical complications that may require me to need that kidney later.

I just sit there and stare at the doctor who obviously doesn't know what he's talking about. "Wait," I finally speak up, "I don't think this is right. I don't think I can do this. Does it matter that I'm not biologically related to him?" I indicate my dad lying in the hospital bed.

The doctor gives me a confused look and then looks down at the chart. "You're not biologically related to him? I thought you're his daughter."

"I am, but I'm adopted," I confer.

Without looking away from the chart, the doctor hums thoughtfully. "Well, that shouldn't really matter," he says slowly. "Any other donor wouldn't be biologically related, so DNA doesn't play a big role in these types of transplants."

He stares at the chart some more, and I begin to think that maybe this guy is the one who needs to be in the neurological ward.

"You said you're adopted?" he asks suddenly.

I nod.

"And how are you related to Jay Peters?"

I have no idea what these questions are all about. I respond cautiously. "Jay is my adopted brother." I point to my dad. "He and his wife had him. I was adopted from a completely different family." I wave my arm toward the wall opposite the room from my dad to indicate that I am from a entirely separate gene pool. Perhaps my gestures will make sense to this man.

He still looks at me blankly before returning his gaze to the chart and humming again. After a moment, he looks back at me and Georgia and questions, "Are you going to be leaving soon?"

Georgia and I give each other curious looks. "No, we'll probably stay for a little while longer. Maybe another hour to see if he wakes up and eats something," Georgia answers.

"I'll be back in a few minutes," the doctor says, escaping to the door. "I want to go check something quickly." He leaves.

My sister turns to me with the most confused expression I have ever seen from her. "What is wrong with that guy?"

"I have no idea what that was all about," I tell her. "That was weird." We try to laugh about it, but something about the situation seems too awkward. We can tell that more is going to happen.

And it does.

The doctor returns after a brief time period with a similarly confused expression and asks if he can take another sample of my blood. He explains that it isn't medically necessary, but he's curious about something—I don't understand his explanation; something about Jay's blood type versus Georgia's blood type versus my blood type versus my dad's blood type being indicative of something. I think he is just trying to find more things to add to my dad's medical bill.

But secretly I don't mind, because I am now curious as well. Also, Georgia hates having blood taken, but it doesn't bother me. I do it just to make her squirm and look nauseas. She has to look away from the needle at all times, but I taunt her by giving a play-by-play of what is going on, how far the needle is in my skin, and how much blood is coming out. She threatens to purposely throw up on my new shoes. Acting like children helps distract us when heavy things like hospitals and impending death are on our minds.

Later, the doctor asks to speak with me privately. He leads me into a private office stacked with medical journals and old mail, and I sit uncomfortably on a hard leather chair across from the littered desk. He explains something to me about DNA, but I've always been terrible at biology and don't really follow. But I understand his main point; the blood types of my brother, my dad, and me are enough to suggest relation—apparently parents of certain blood types can have children with only certain blood types. Of course, it could just be a coincidence, but the likelihood of all three of us having a less-than-common blood type is slim. The doctor has gone on to do some simple DNA testing and has discovered that my DNA is extremely similar to that of my dad's. In paternity testing, he explains to me, the similarities are great enough to confirm parental relationship.

My mind goes blank for several days, as this information is entirely too much to process. I have to call him back later and leave him a voice mail asking the obvious question: "So what you're saying is, there is a very good chance that my adopted father is my biological father?"

When he returns my call and confirms, I request another paternity test. Georgia doesn't protest this, and we don't bother telling Jay about it. My seventy-year-old dad is still off his rocker (both literally and figuratively) in the hospital bed and has no clue what's going on.

The paternity test is 99 percent accurate, I am told, when I receive the results from the second round. Positive match. There is a 99 percent change that John Peters is my biological father. I know for a fact that there is a 100 percent chance that Patty Carson is my biological mother. So what does this mean?

My dad cheated on my mom with my sister's best friend. It takes right at 24 years for anyone to figure it out. I wonder if my mother ever knew, and I assume that she didn't. Certainly she wouldn't have accepted me into her family if she had known. I miss my mom so much, but I'm glad she's not here to learn this information.

After so many years of wondering who my "real" father is, I finally know. But for some reason, I'm not happy about it. I think about my dad yelling, "I am!" when I asked my parents about my "real" father that day when I was eleven. I had assumed he meant "real" as in reference to being the one who raised me. Of course, he did mean that, but maybe he had intended those words to mean something else also.

I am furious at my dad. I want to scream at him, to let him know that I am ashamed of his infidelity—but if that had never happened, then I never would have been born. For a brief second, I wish that were the case, but then I see how pointless it is to think such things. I also hold back from screaming at my dad, because he is still in the hospital and completely out of his mind.

Georgia tries to be happy about it—we're actually sisters in more than one way!—but she can see how it upsets me. She's actually a little flustered by it as well; Patty never gave her any indication that her own father was involved in this. Jay becomes standoffish, which is actually quite normal for him, and we don't hear from him for a while; we assume he's upset as well. All I can think is, Does this mean I'm at risk for kidney problems, Parkinson's Disease, and psychological breakdowns also?

I was kept in the dark my entire life about my blood. The person who knew everything had been there the whole time. He could have said something—something direct without any cryptic meanings for me to decipher. I hate that I found out this way. Is that what a real father would do?

And now I have to decide what to do about this kidney donation situation. He gave me his blood; should I give him mine? Perhaps I should do the same to him as he did to me—not let him know anything and make him wait two decades before letting someone else tell him. But no, that would be cruel.

In the end, Jay volunteers to donate a kidney. For some reason, the thought of a female kidney going into a male's body disturbs him and doesn't seem natural. Personally, I am relieved because I don't know that I could do it myself—though I think that Jay's reasoning is stupid.

I visit my mom's grave before the surgery and have a long monologue, telling her about everything that's happened since she died. I think about all the ways that she was the victim, and I sob for her because she was too great of a person to deserve even an ounce of anything that terrible.

I miss her. Of everyone in my entire life, she's the only one who was ever honest with me. She told me the truth, no matter what it was. She told me about Will being my brother, about Patty being my mother, and about my whole adoption in general. No one else did that; only her. After discovering the true meaning of the word, I realize that she's the only person in my life who was genuinely real.


Author's Note: Well, that's the end! Okay, so I realize that pretty much everything in this chapter is completely unrealistic (I mean, come on! Paternity testing from a blood-typing test?! Yeah, right. Doctors wouldn't go through the trouble. Or would they?), but sometimes I just have to write things that way. Otherwise, it would be nonfiction instead of fiction, right? Anyway, so this started off as Patty's story, then switched to Millie's story, but in all honesty, it was indirectly a story about Gayle. "Gayle" is actually my mom, who adopted me from her daughter's best friend. And most of the rest of this was based off real events from my true life (I flubbed some stuff for simplicity's sake). So soap opera-y, isn't it? Anyway, my mom died two years ago, and her birthday was August 22, so I wrote this thinking about her.

Well, thank you all so much for reading! Please review and let me know what you think!