Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Sudoku and the inner bitch

Three years ago, I took up Sudoku. I was warned sternly against this by Jaywalker, author of the deliciously desperate Belgian Waffle, but I persisted. The most dire of her warnings did not come to pass, I do not do more than one or two a day, but there has been a side effect that makes me uneasy. Sudoku is just mindless enough to permit my own mind to wander while I fill in the squares, and my mind really shouldn't be going out unaccompanied. It strays into all sorts of nasty areas.

I blame this on my "inner bitch", and the unpleasant idea that my nice (ie, innocent, clueless, much happier) self is being drained away by the encroaching years, leaving a dried-up, toxic smear of witchiness with a 'b'.

Among my malevolent mullings of late have been a series of messages from a woman who first contacted me through Facebook last spring. It came in the form of "friend request" with a message saying she didn't know how to send messages through Facebook, but she named my late father, wondering if he was my father and was I his only child? If so, she said, she had information for me, and she gave me an email address. Her profile picture showed an attractive lady of indeterminate age on vacation somewhere tropical. I was puzzled that there was no way to send her a message back through Facebook, nor did she turn up in a Facebook search. I discussed this with the Resident Fan Boy. I didn't want to "friend" her because then she could see all the information on my profile, nor did I want to answer by email because that would give her my email address, and she really had told me nothing about herself.

I decided to create a "gmail" account for myself, and respond to her through that. I kept my message minimal. I told her only that I was the fourth of my father's five children. Yes, she said, giving his birthdate; she had information she didn't "think should be shared on email" and would I give her my phone number or phone her? That's when my inner alarm bells started going off. I could tell from the email address that she was in Canada, and by her phone prefix that she was in British Columbia. When I checked a reverse look-up, I found her house in the southern part of Nanaimo. (Coincidentally, she was about 5 km. from where we lived for three months before moving to Victoria when I was nine.)

Again, I checked with the Resident Fan Boy. He shook his head. "She sounds like a debt collector," he said, with his lawyer caution. (This is plausible, as my father ran up huge debts in Canada with his numerous failed businesses.) I also checked with my mother on Skype; she'd never heard of this woman, but wondered if it was someone who had known me at elementary school in Nanaimo. I pointed out I'd been there for less than three months at the tail-end of Grade Three, and besides, Dad hadn't been with with us in Nanaimo; that was after he ran away to Boston with his girlfriend.

I hemmed and hawed, suspicious that the little information she had seemed to come directly from my online family tree (which she never, at any point in our communication, mentioned). I'm the only descendant of my father on it; I had omitted any information on my siblings because this is basic family history etiquette; it's also illegal to publish people's names on the internet without their permission. I suspect that's why she thought I was an only child. I was also brought up to believe that if you contact a stranger by phone, letter, or other means, the impetus is on you to identify yourself. This woman had not revealed who she was, and I had to wonder why.

I finally decided not to respond, and to block her on Facebook. I left the gmail account to rot in cyberspace.

About a month age, I was checking Facebook one morning and noticed some numbers beside "messages" on my home page. When I clicked on them, there were messages that had been sent to me last spring. Normally, I'm notified by email when I get a message in the Facebook inbox, but after all, I had blocked her:
"I've thought and thought about this, the proper way to do it, or to do it at all..... do you have the right to know? do I have the right to tell you? I am (his) daughter too - on Father's Day it tugs at my heart...."

Oh, crud. Well, hardly a surprise, given my father's track record. I wasn't unsympathetic, but I found her Harlequin Romance prose a bit hard to take, and I still thought it would have been politer to say who she is (or who she thought she is) right up front, don't you? I tried being right up front myself:

I was not notified of the third message and only saw it today. I'm afraid I was so put off by the tone of your first messages, that I blocked you on Facebook after your cryptic contact last May. I checked around with other family members and the general consensus was that you might be a debt-collector. (Dad left a lot of debts behind when he left Canada.) May I ask if you have documentation that you are my half-sister?

Oh goodness no, not a debt collector, she replied airily. And yes, Dad's birth date matched with the information on her birth records. - Wait a minute, I thought. Since when does the father's birth date appear in the child's birth records?

She said she was adopted. Maybe that's when a father's birth dates appears, in adoption records? The only problem with that is that my father pretty consistently lied about his birth year until very late in life, the simple reason being his parents had been married only six months when he was born.

She was just a "regular gal", she said; didn't want to cause anyone any grief: "I apologize if the first messages sounded 'cryptic', it's hard to put down on FB or email whopping information like that, so I was trying to remain respectful."

- Respectful? I thought, incredulously. I was losing patience.

"The information is not as whopping as you might think," I retorted. "Dad was a busy boy. Eight years ago, I was in the position of explaining who I was to Dad's first family in England. They'd never heard of me; Dad had neglected to tell them he had a family in Canada. And guess what? I did not tell them I had information to share and could they get in touch with me? I did not write two more times without revealing the nature of my information. I said at the very beginning: 'This is who I am, and how I believe I'm related to you. I just want to wish you a Merry Christmas. If you don't wish further contact, I will understand.' They, of course, required proof of who I was . . . .Since you initiated this, the onus is on you to prove who you are. If you feel that is too personal, that is your privilege, and we can let this rest. I'm curious of course, but not that curious."

She replied that the way I'd handled the situation with my father's first family had been the right way for me, while the way she had handled the situation with me had been right for her, that she was only seeking information for her "little guy" who had a "profound syndrome" and that as "his mommy", she had had to seek what family information she could find. She told me to take care. I took this as "goodbye", and have not responded.

I sit with the Sudoku, and the sense of falseness and the feelings of being manipulated nag at me as I fill in the little squares. I'm not sure why I feel so irritated with this woman, but I have learned, time and again, that if I don't listen to those inner alarm bells, I will regret it. Something is telling me this woman is bad news.

Yesterday, I was listening to a podcast of BBC Four's Tracing Your Roots. It was full of half-sibling reunions. The resident genealogist recommended writing, rather than emailing or phoning suspected relatives, to send a picture, to furnish proof, and be prepared for rejection. When I screwed up the courage to contact my half-brother, and my first cousin, I sent a Christmas card with a family photo with my email and with the assurance that they did not need to respond. My Christmas card list has doubled. They have been open and generous, despite the genealogical bomb that I dropped on them nearly ten years ago.

I am not prepared to be as open with this woman claiming to be my half-sister. Something is telling me not to. Is it my inner bitch, or something deeper inside that knows more than I do?

Maybe I should switch to crossword puzzles.

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