I was a little tipsy on an empty train heading back into London, my ribs aching from laughing harder than I had in years.
It was the first day of 2018, less than two months since I’d found out I had a half-sister. It was my third time meeting her, and it would be another month before I told her I loved her. And another five before she said she loved me.
I had been imagining this scenario for almost a decade and a half, ever since my parents told me it was likely my dad wasn’t actually my dad. I was 13 when they sat me down, facing me across a small kitchen table that felt like it spanned miles. They floundered with phrases like, “It doesn’t mean he loves you any less,” without explicitly getting to the point.
“So,” I remember asking with fear and childish impatience, “Dad’s not my dad?”
“He is,” Mum replied. And for a second my heart fluttered with hope. “But probably not in that way.’’
I felt as if the room was disintegrating around me. Her words hung in the air as I tried to make sense of the nonsensical. I sat mostly in silence. Mum did most of the talking. It was only the second time I’d ever seen my dad cry.
They had struggled to have children, she explained, so my parents made the choice to undergo IVF using both his sperm and sperm from an unidentifiable donor. (Just a few months after I was born, the legislation changed so that all UK sperm donors became traceable — timing that leaves me feeling somewhat hard done by.) But the use of two sets of sperm floated an inevitable possibility, a 50/50 chance that my dad could be my biological father. The hope almost made it more cruel.
That night, I fell asleep in my parents’ bed, sobbing occasionally between both of them, but mostly staring unblinking and glassy-eyed at their wedding photo hanging on the wall. Lying between them, I suddenly felt like the odd one out. At an age when I was just figuring out who I was, half of my identity had been torn away. And the family I belonged to didn’t take the shape I’d always thought it had.
I began to call my mum by her first name but continued to call Dad “dad.” It was a strange rebellion — an attempt to reclaim some familial connection with the father I’d believed to be mine.