The man they think was my biological father died in his home office of a heart attack.
How I even came to know of Kenny Townsend is another story I should save for another post. But I did come to know of him. They said he was a tall man, dark skin, loved to laugh and was a recovering alcoholic. He founded a club where men and women could safely meet and talk. His picture hung on a smoke-tinged yellow wall and his smile was brilliant. I have a picture of a picture of him. A picture of a picture of a man who shares my love of laughter, of friendship, of movies, of 2nd and 3rd chances. I wish I would have had a chance to meet him. I would have claimed him as my father,skipping the dramatic Maury - type paternity tests. It would be enough to know that he did at one time love my birth mother and that I could be the result of a happy time they shared. It would be enough that there was a possibility that a part of me existed because of him.
When I was younger I told stories. Some of them were true - most of them were fantastic lies I convinced myself (and any audience I could capture) were true. I thought it would be great if my mother and father had another baby, so I told people my mother was pregnant with what I knew was my baby brother. I needed to have someone to look like me so I created my twin, Kimberly, who no one could ever meet but was always there. My friends would never know if they were speaking to me or my twin - that's the way it worked. I lied about who my parents were - my real parents, who would come to find me one day and rescue me and take me home. My parents had to finish the tour they were on, I told my captive audience. It was the best thing for me to stay here with all of them but really my life was in Hollywood with my REAL parents. They had a big house, a mansion, with a pool. I never had to make my bed and I had people who would wait on me day and night. I could eat macaroni and cheese for every meal and pancakes with real maple syrup - not the homemade kind my stand-in mother made for me. They actually made a song about me - Reunited - written one evening by my father Herb about the time when Peaches and Herb (my parents) would be reunited with their darling daughter (me.)
When I threw myself into the search for my family, I forgot to remind myself of the lie. I arrived in Milwaukee expecting Peaches and Herb and found that both of my parents had already died. There were no hit records. No celebrities. There were two imperfect people who despite their best intentions or their dreams of what they hoped their lives would be, turned up to be... well, human.
I have high blood pressure. I've had high blood pressure since I was young. I remember being in high school and having my pressure checked by my Auntie who was in medical school. I remember the feel of the cuff around my arm and the familiar hiss as the air slowly let out measuring the gift my biological parents and their parents gave me. They kept their heart disease (for now) but handed me their addictions that I conquer only to be tempted again when I need a vice (cigarettes) or avoid because I know I will love it too much (drugs and excessive drinking.) I need to be careful. I watch my salt intake and I take my pills.
I haven't made peace with Peaches (Gloria) yet. But Herb, or Kenny as I call him, I embrace when I can get around the lump in my chest. His imperfect blood, I am sure, flows imperfectly through my veins. He founded the friendship club, a testament to his giving and loving nature that I catch glimpses of in myself. I imagine his smile and laugh filled any space he entered and I know that I also have that trait. I think we have the same heart. To know him in these ways... it is enough.
It has to be.