A Few Months Prior
It was early evening on a Thursday in November, the later that year in 2015, when I called a phone number listed in the packet the PI had given me just a few months before and heard the voice of my paternal biological grandmother for the very first time before. Though I didn't reveal who I was, I finally was able to ask the question I had been wondering for so long: “Is my biological father still alive?”
With her answer being yes, a breath escaped my lips and all I could do next was hang up the phone. She would pass away several months later just before I was ready to call again so I never met her. But that was all the push I needed, time of essence now, to go to find my birth father.
By this time in my life, I had just returned back to Los Angeles from a six month stint working on music splitting my time living in Nashville and New York City, making a live record with mixing engineer Rob Matson and Guthrie Trapp on guitar then driving back and fourth between cities to meet with Steve Greenberg of Scurve Records in NY about eventually liscencing it after planning to have it mastered back on the West Coast by my favorite mastering engineer Eric Boulanger. But as soon as my songwriting mentor AJ Masters passed away from cancer alone the exact night I had decided to leave his home early for my routine drive to New York after having been staying and writing with him, I decided to move back to LA, at least for a while. And when my third attempt at another chance in love once back in LA started again to fail, it seemed time for me to focus on something different - maybe learn more about myself and where I came from to figure out where my life should head to next.
On a whim, prior to getting the news that my birth grandmother had passed I drove by the several of the addresses listed in the PI’s research that documented where people in my birth family had once resided to mind-map the path of my paternal bloodline past.
I also discovered in the notation that my birth mother had once lived in a few of the dwellings too, even passed away near one, and through deductive assessing between the court documents I had and the packet from the PI, I came to realize that I had even been conceived in one of them listed there as well.
The final address on the list correlating to social security numbers documented the most recent place of my living paternal relatives whereabouts. I still was very hesitant to open a door to a part of my story that so many people were urging me to keep locked, the first time I drove past without stopping.
Over the next few months, I occasionally wondered how the people in that dwelling were doing, and moreover, who in fact were they really. One morning, I felt a deep nagging inside of me: the thought “you must call that number” would not leave my mind. For a few hours, I called and called but to no avail; no one answered. Being that I’d always been a very intuitive person, something about her not picking up felt wrong to me. I searched through the legal documents I had obtained from the PI to find another phone number and I called it.
The person who answered told me that my biological grandmother – who I had spoken to just months before - had died, but that my biological father Don, Uncle Jimmy, and a half aunt, nephew, and half uncle were still alive. I was told that they were all to be avoided, labeled as unwell outsiders still embroiled in legal issues involving crime and drugs.
That phone call could easily have been an indication to walk away from all of this, but instead it motivated me more. The very next day I got on the Metro with nothing but a house key and id, dressed in a plain shirt, with a sweater for warmth, and my bell bottom jeans; I got off the Metro at the exit that would take me to where some of them lived.
My Uncle Jimmy
I walked up to the house and there was a man outside cleaning. From a distance, I couldn’t quite see his face. Could this be Don? Or maybe it was my Uncle Jimmy? I thought to myself, Is he dangerous? I decided that criminals can’t be imminently dangerous and threatening if they are in the middle of cleaning stuff up, so I approached. He glanced my way briefly then returned to his cleaning up.
I asked softly, “Are you Don?”
“No; what do you want?”
“So would that make you ... Jimmy?” I knew from the court papers he must be one or the other. This made him stop in his tracks. He looked up at me but but he hadn't figured out who I was yet.
I realized that I was about to enter into all of my biological family’s lives without any indication yet if I'd be granted their permission. So I asked, “How would Don feel if he were to meet a family member of his?”
Jimmy replied, “What do you mean? What kind of family member? We know everybody in our family…” His voice trailed off and he squinted his eyes so he could look at me a bit closer.
Before he could say anything more, I said, “Well …yes, but do you think that Don would be okay with… I mean how would he feel about.. you know, I just mean… would he be ok with the idea of meeting his biological daughter?”
Jimmy didn’t miss a beat. He said to me, “Wow - you're Mary Lou's kid! Come in, come in!”
And I did come in: deep in this dark dwelling was a small space for the living just beyond the dead. Hidden in the darkest of darkness of this hallway were 24 sets of cat eyes, stacks of music everywhere, and music posters and drapery along the wall. The drapery and a collection of crates separated the hallway into two makeshift bedroom areas. And that was just once side of the space.
As I waited for Don to arrive, I listened to Jimmy’s stories for hours, quickly discovering his musical talents and that he – like me - was left-handed. I learned that my biological father was also an excellent musician. Living as a musician, I had always suspected that my talents were in some part a biological inheritance: now I realized that they most definitely were.
Jimmy told me some stories about his and Don's childhood, constantly assessing my intellect, awareness, and assessing my understanding. I later discovered he had intentionally left out certain harsher details of my biological father’s past that he wasn’t sure I was ready for. I found his concern and care for me particularly touching. But during this first visit, Don never showed up.
Breathe, Dust to Dust
I returned to visit with Uncle Jimmy a second time, sharing with him selected pieces of myself but never revealing my legal name. I offered him some more information about what I knew about my biological family to encourage him to open up to see if his stories matched what I had read the legal documents I had seen. They did. This established our first line of trust. Hours upon hours I spent there with him sifting through photos and letters while he blasted heavy metal songs for me to hear, and a deep bond began to form between us. In one letter written by Don from jail to Jimmy that my birth uncle showed me had me in tears for when I reads through the lines with the misspellings of words I could see a human being and a bout of kindness. I learned that my birth father was very much a free spirit; in love with the freedom of the outdoors; such a deep contrast to much of the rest of his life, as he was most often locked up incarcerated for petty and grand theft, as well as numerous drug-related crimes. For Don, living in the bushes between casinos or under freeway underpasses meant that he could double his welfare money and take his drugs in privacy. He later told me that he equated this freedom with the most incredible peace of mind he had ever known. Yet, as much as I enjoyed this time with Jimmy, I had come to find Don, and still he was nowhere to be found.
On my third visit, early morning July 26, 2016, Uncle Jimmy had new information for me. “Don is in the back. He is passed out sleeping, but soon you will meet your biological father.”
I couldn’t believe it. I was nervous and excited. I was ready.
Meeting my Birth Father Don
My biological uncle, Jimmy, led me to an outdoor dog run on the side of his house. Jimmy pointed to a sleeping man on the ground; his belongings scattered about; a partially broken tent over his head. Jimmy said, “Here you go: this is Don, your biological father” and he walked away. I sat myself down on a crate and I looked into the eyes of this man who was starting to wake up, - my biological father. Trash spewed all over the place, a broken tent showered over him like a creative umbrella, but charmed I so was as he rifled through piles for his glasses in order to see who I was.
The first words out of his mouth to me were: "God Damn you're beautiful!"
Don: “The night before, I was living across the street from a casino and getting high in the bushes. I went back to Jimmy’s house where I get my mail and occasionally sleep, and I passed out. When I woke up and opened my eyes, I was looking straight at my daughter.”
All my life I had so many names, in this moment I had to figure how this man might relate best to me. I had been named Jennifer ever since my first foster home when I was an infant but I didn't much care for that name. And for my whole life after that, I had been Jenni or Jen, Cindy and CJ, Tasmanian Texter, Menorah Jones the Jewish version, or poofnic the poof. But when Mary Lou, my birth mother died, I discovered that she had wanted to name me Cameron, and I wanted to honor that too. I had always felt that there was something a bit different about my past and my journey; as if my past ties had hoped my future would become more than they could provide me with. Now sitting with my biological father for the first time in my life, I realized that there had been a moment 30-some odd years ago, when I had been placed into the arms of a 16 year old ward of the state – my biological father - as Cameron, and that would be how he knew me. That moment must have seemed to be forever ago for him, and maybe for me too. That moment was what I had been chasing to understand my entire life. I decided before revealing my legal named self and all that was attached, to call myself 'Cami' a nickname for short, not too different from Jenni, to offer him a familiar semantic space for connect with me in - and to see what he might recognize before sharing much more about me.
“Hello, I'm Cami, your biological daughter.” I said, but I didn't have to say a word more, because the moment our eyes locked, we both simply just knew.
Don: I was a seemingly irreversible drug addict. I used heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, crystal meth, and pills of the worst kind you can get your hands on: Oxycodone, Demerol and a lot of others. As a retired grand theft criminal-turned-petty criminal, the only crimes I would commit at that time would be things like stealing from a shopping mall or a grocery store, like a couple of jars of coffee, food products, flashlights and batteries; odds and ends that I needed because I didn't have the money to pay for them. I needed to stop but it was either do without those things or steal, and my choice was to go about getting them the illegal way. In addition to that, I was on the run from my probation officer because I couldn't pee clean and stay sober, so I was in hiding and always on watch to see if any authorities were anywhere around and about looking for me. All of that changed when I met my daughter. Looking at her for the first time was like looking at about 78% of heaven. It was like an electrical charge; very much like a bolt of lightning of unbelievable and unexplainable happiness. That’s what it was like.
From that meeting on, I considered my time with Don timeless. We had no formal boundaries to speak of, only insightful parameters I slowly laid out as we got to know each other. There is was no schedule or plan. Time simply slipped by us as we relished in each present moment we had with each other. I began through observation and conversation to learn the details of his current life: he was running from the law and was very close to facing the possibility of being put behind bars again and what I didn’t yet realize quite possibly for the rest of his life. If prison did not take him first, there was a very real possibility that his addiction to hard street drugs and narcotics would. This did not overshadow the possibility for what I saw as the love he did not yet know could exist between two people which I was decided to offer.
Don: I thought that she was going to say, “Hello. Maybe we could take a walk to somewhere and get some coffee and donuts" or somethin. I figured that she would be checking out what kind of a person I am and that she would come to the conclusion that I'm not really worth too much of hanging around for very long. I really had nothing to offer. And then I figured she’d simply say, “Well, maybe in a couple days I'll come by and see you,” and then she would just get in her car or however she came and leave and not return for weeks, possibly months, or ever again at all. That maybe I’d see her once in a great while after for only a few minutes. If that would've happened I would've thought that sounded normal. But instead, what in fact happened is that with each passing day she returned for another visit. We started to care about each other and like each other which actually happened right from the very beginning - within the very first minute of our introduction really. That first day turned into hours and as the hours turned into days and one day after another was going by, we started opening up to one another. Cami would sometimes even find me late in the night and bring books in a funny little blue backpack for us to read. She had these interesting games we would also play so that we could get to know each other. We started talking about things that we like and things that we don't like. And then we started to feel more and more close it seemed.
I never had this type of experience before, except maybe with Heroin....
Homeless the Soundtrack, The Subjects
III. SUPPORTING MY HABIT
"If anyone were to read my Olson files and learnt about all the things I done in my life, they’d think to themselves no wonder this guy sticks to himself, who in their right mind would wanna hang around with him...."