I wasn’t really planning on talking to her today.
When I first called my birth mother back in 1986, it was a Sunday afternoon. I was bored, broke, there was nothing on TV and all my flatmates were out. But I had her phone number and what better way to liven up my evening, fuelled by cigarettes and a can of cider.
I had no fancy back story, no clever disguise, I’d barely considered what I was going to say. A man answered the phone and when I asked for Sandra he sounded surprised. Of course he was. No one had called her by that name for 20 years. When Sandy came to the phone I said “hello, I was born on December 30th 1965 and I think you’re my mother”. It was a short conversation but she called me back three times that evening and we arranged to meet.
For the last few days I’ve been thinking about sending her an email. At best she has weeks to live and after Thursday’s revelations about my Armenian father I felt that I should say something to her. But what do you put in an email that’s going to be read out loud to her? And really, an email? Could it be any less personal? Why not send her a quick text – ‘hope ur ok :)’.
So it was somehow agreed between them all that I would call today. Ingrid had forewarned me not to expect too much. Certainly no death bed confessionals and more likely a lecture on Armenian history and the singer Charles Aznavour. You probably don’t know him. British readers of my age and older might, but if not he’s a French singer – a chanson who has been writing, performing and acting since the 1940s. He just turned 90. He is also a famous Armenian. Who grew up in Paris. Hmmm.
Ingrid said her/our mother had talked about Charles Aznavour yesterday and wanted to give me her copy of his album. Ingrid thought she was just a bit loopy from the drugs.
I didn’t call Sandy to talk about my father. I didn’t prepare a script, I just wanted to tell her these three things:
1. I’m glad to hear your voice.
2. I’m sorry this is happening to you.
3. I wish we had found a way to stay in touch
I hadn’t even made it through my second point when she brought up Charles Aznavour. Look for photos of him she suggested, because if your father is still alive that’s probably what he looks like. M. Aznavour is now 90 and looks like this. My alleged father, Dicran Haratian would be 82-ish. Here are more photos of one/or both of them,
Perhaps it’s because she’d already mentioned the nose, but when I look at photos of him that’s pretty much all I see. Well that plus the eyebrows of course. But hell I do not have his nose thank you very much.
She went on to explain that the likely resemblance comes from the fact that the Armenian genocide of 1915 wiped out much of the population, thus reducing the male gene pool down to only a few different looks. Admittedly my knowledge of Armenian history is limited to a quick Wikipedia search but I don’t believe that an entire generation was eradicated and resulted in a flurry of babies who all looked like Charles Aznavour. But I didn’t really like to question her research and hoped we could just get back to my point number 3.
But of course I now can’t help thinking the very obvious question.
IS CHARLES AZNAVOUR MY DAD?
What if I am the love child who has been kept a secret for 48 years. Is Charles Aznavour the swimming, reading French man in the adoption report? Oh Dicran Haratian, were you just a poorly conceived cover story?
This I believe is the giveaway to the whole thing – a photos of Charles Aznavour in 1965, the year I was born. Doesn’t he look just a little too smug? Like the man who got away with it? And what is that right hand covering? Could it perhaps be a sticky out right ear?
We talked a little more. I told Sandy I thought Ingrid was a great kid, to which she replied ‘of course’. It struck me how very ‘non-British’ this response was. I’d expect this of an American, but a more normal British response might be ‘yes, not sure how that happened, haha’ or something equally self-deprecating. Was she trying to make a point?
Somehow we found our way back to my father/Charles Aznavour. Her words were starting to slur by this point but she again suggested I look for those photos. Maybe I could still find some of my father’s relatives she said, but not in Syria because they’ve probably all been blown up. Lovely. So now I know where I get both my nose and my pessimism from.
Back in 1986, it was the beginning of the end for Sandy and I when a conversation about my adoptive parents ended with her telling me I’d probably feel differently about her after they were gone. I’m sure it was more about my guilt than anything else but I suddenly felt very protective of Mr and Mrs Gallant.
Shortly after talking with Sandy today I got a text from the Activity Director at the alzheimer home where my mum now resides:
“Mum coming on outing to the circus this Thursday!! Everyone very excited!”
Just a timely reminder of whose circus I’m really part of.