The Mistress’s Daughter

Posted by Lizzie on 05/30/07

mistressdaughter.jpgMost New Yorker readers from 2004 will be unable to not recall A.M. Homes’ essay “The Mistress’s Daughter,” a painful portrait of the relationship the author forges with her birth parents when she finally meets them in her early 30’s. The essay has now grown into an autobiography of the same name, published in April 2007, and The Mistress’s Daughter is not only the story of Homes’ meeting her birth parents, but of her family at large–both the one who raises her and the one she makes.

The redesign of The New Yorker’s website kicked the original essay off the site, but Viking has graciously consented to allow us to reprint a portion of the work here–Yes! the notorious ‘ass’ section–and has given us one copy for a giveaway. First person to email us at “theoldhag AT theoldhag DOTT com” with “Homes” in the subject line wins–good luck. J. Khaler is the winner.

“You have to sign the tubes.”

They are warm in my palm, filled with the chemical sum of who and what I am. I sign quickly, hoping not to faint. I am holding myself in my hands.

Norman is next. He takes off his jacket, revealing short shirt sleeves, sad-old-guy style. His arms are plump, pale, almost fluffy. There is something so white about him, so soft, so exposed that it is perverse. He lays out his arm. The technician ties it off, swabs it, and I look away unable to watch this strange genetic striptease.

I am sickened by it all. I wait in the hall. I do not watch him holding his blood, signing his tubes. He comes out of the room, puts his jacket back on, and we are out the door.

“I would have liked to take you for a nice lunch if you’d worn something better.” He says when we are in the hallway.

I am dressed perfectly well—in linen pants and a blouse. DNA testing is not a black-tie occasion. I am tempted to say, “That’s okay—I would have liked you to be my father if you weren’t such a jerk.” But I am so stunned that I because stupidly apologetic. I am not wearing what he wanted; I am not wearing a dress. I am not meeting his fantasy of his daughter.

We go to a less-than-mediocre restaurant down the block. People seem to know him there. He introduces me to the maître d’ as though that means something. We sit down. The tablecloths are green, the napkins polyester.

“You don’t wear jewelry,” Norman says.

I am single, I live in New York City, I am not wearing a dress. I know exactly what he is thinking.

I say nothing. Later, I’ll wish that I’d said something, I’ll wish that I’d told him the truth. I have no jewelry, but if you want to throw some diamonds I’d be glad to wear them. I come from a family that doesn’t do that sort of thing. I grew up boycotting grapes and iceberg lettuce because they weren’t picked by union workers.

What kind of father makes his child travel to another city to prove that she is his child and then criticizes her for not wearing the right clothes to the blood test, for not wearing jewelry she doesn’t own to the lunch she didn’t know she was having?

“How will you feel if the test comes back and I’m not your father?”

You’re my father, I think. I wasn’t positive before, but now, seeing you, seeing your ass, my ass—I’m sure.

The heat is stupefying. I am being twisted like pulled taffy. I walk as though I have been hit with something, blasted. I have become a stranger to myself.

To be adopted is to be adapted, to be amputated and sewn back together again. Whether or not you regain full function, there will always be scar tissue.

Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from The Mistress’s Daughter Copyright © A.M. Homes, 2007

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