On a quiet midweek afternoon in early June 1997, I received a phone call that almost destroyed my life.
"Is this Anne Grady?" the caller asked. It was a man's voice, unfamiliar.
"Who is this, please?"
"My name is Don," he said. "You don't know me, but I'm related to you."
I immediately knew who he was. As an adopted child, this was the day I had been praying for, and dreading, my entire life. I was about to meet my biological family, and that family included three brothers I hadn't even known existed.
One of those brothers was Scott Peterson.
At the time of that fate-changing call, I was working at Cubic Corporation, a defense contractor in San Diego. Cubic does a lot of work for the U.S. government, and my father, Tom Grady, was president of Cubic Videocomm, the firm's high-tech division. Only two months earlier, in late May, I had been living in San Francisco, but I had a job I didn't like, no boyfriend, and a landlord who suddenly decided to double my rent.
So I returned home to Point Loma, in San Diego, to stay for a while with my parents, the people who adopted me at birth. I was adopted in 1965, when I was just a few days old; my brother Stephen was adopted three years later. My mother had been diagnosed with cancer, and she'd been told it was unlikely she'd ever have children, but five years after Stephen came along she became pregnant with her first child, Susan, and three years after that she gave birth to a son, Michael.
We lived in San Diego until I was twelve. Our parents loved all four of us equally. They had led a charmed life long before we came along. My father got his BA at Berkeley and his MBA from Harvard. After he graduated he became a navy officer and was stationed in San Diego. My mother, Jerri, was a teacher in landlocked Galesburg, Illinois, but she had a yen for the Pacific. One day she was talking to recruiters about teaching jobs out west, and when they mentioned San Diego she jumped at the chance. It was a good job, and San Diego was a navy base; she thought she might meet a man in uniform. As it turned out, she was right. One sunny afternoon not long after she settled in Mission Beach, she saw a tall, tanned, handsome man strolling past with a surfboard under his arm. He was exactly the kind of man she had hoped to meet, so she had the good sense to invite him to dinner. They were married in 1960.
Not long afterward, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease. They got through it, however, and they even found a way to deal with the news that they might never have children of their own.
"You can adopt," the doctor said.
"Where would we start?" my father asked.
"I think I may know someone," the doctor replied.
He did know someone. He had a patient called Jackie Latham. She was unmarried and pregnant for the second time, and once again she didn't feel capable of caring for the child. The doctor told her about my parents' desire to adopt, and Jackie was tempted because the doctor described them as terrific, salt-of-the-earth type of people. When she heard about my mother's illness, she nearly changed her mind. She didn't want to give her little girl to someone who might not be around to care for her. But my father sent word back through the doctor that, if anything happened to Jerri, he was both willing and able to care for me by himself. Reassured, Jackie handed me over.
When I was six years old, my parents told me I was adopted. They explained that my mother, a nice lady, had felt ill equipped to care for me, that they had wanted a little girl just like me, and that they felt very lucky to have found me. I wasn't sure I understood what they meant, but I wasn't at all troubled by it. As far as I was concerned, they were my parents and always would be.
I never felt strange, different from, or less loved than other children, and I remember only one occasion where my history had any impact on me. I was in second grade at the time, and the class had been festooned with flags from many countries. We were told to stand under the flag of the country of our ancestors, and of course I had no idea where to go. When I noticed a large crowd under the British flag, I just joined in, and no one objected. There was safety in numbers.
When I went home I told my parents what had happened and asked them if they knew anything about my ancestry. "Well," my father said, "from what I recall, your mother had a little French and English on her mother's side and some German on her father's side."
"So did I stand in the right place?"
"You sure did," my mother said.
My parents are very grounded people. They have been married for almost forty-five years and have lived in the same house for nearly all that time. They seldom argue, they love to travel, and they're still friends with most of the people they knew when they were first married. In short, they are solid, reliable, and steady, and I can talk to them about anything.
I had a comfortable childhood, which bordered on privileged. We went on many vacations. We took road trips all up and down California—the beaches, the deserts, and the mountains—and often traveled to Mexico. We also went to Berkeley from time to time, to visit my paternal grandparents, and we loved to visit San Francisco. We also loved visiting my mother's parents in Illinois. In March we'd go to Yuma, Arizona, to watch the Padres play. My father bought some lemon groves there; to this day he refers to that investment as his one big lemon. Sometimes we'd have to go back to Arizona in July, at the height of the summer, to check on his lemony investment, and all I remember from those trips is the almost unendurable heat. To compound matters, my father didn't believe in air conditioning. "Roll down the window," he'd say. "Feel that fresh air!"
When I was nine, my mother discovered, to her great surprise, that she was pregnant, and a short while later my little sister, Susan, came along. I adored her. I treated her as my own personal doll and insisted on helping my mother with absolutely every aspect of child rearing. By the time Michael showed up two years later, I was less interested in changing diapers, and he didn't get anywhere near the attention I showered on Susan. I've been trying to make up for it ever since. But we all got along beautifully; we were a big, happy family, and each one of us was treated as special. I couldn't have asked for better or more loving parents, and as a result it was years before I became even mildly curious about my biological family.
My mother's sister Judi lived next door with her husband, Al; her other sister, Janice, lived a few blocks away with her husband, Larry. My mother had urged her sisters to move out west from Galesburg, tempting them with stories about handsome navy officers, and before long they were both living in San Diego with officers of their own.
Judi and Al had two daughters, Marci and Kristi, one of them a year older than me and the other a year younger. They couldn't have planned it any better. I was surrounded by wonderful, loving people.
I loved my life. I was always happy, almost relentlessly so.
When I was twelve, our family moved to England. My father's company had started a division in London, and he was asked to be the managing director, which is the British equivalent of a CEO.
As soon as we arrived, my parents bought a manor house just south of London, in Dorking, Surrey. The Cedars, as it was called, had three kitchens, two living rooms, various sitting rooms, a library, six bedrooms, a conservatory, and an outdated bell system to summon the servants that was great for playing hide-and-seek. Our neighbor told us that the Cedars was a "proper British house, complete with ghost." He said the ghost was actually the original owner of the house and assured us that she was a nice ghost, but we were still a little freaked out. Thankfully, none of us ever saw her.
We were always discovering new and unknown places at the Cedars, especially in the basement, which was damp and smelled of coal and was great fun to hide in. The yard was enormous, with a large fountain in the center and roses erupting in every direction. There was also a vegetable garden at the very back, with actual, growing vegetables, and a little outhouse tucked at the property's farthermost corner. However, the outhouse was surrounded by stinging nettles, so it was a little tricky to use.
It was a fascinating place and an interesting time. My mother hired a nanny to help with the two younger kids, with the garden, and with the shopping. This was a long way from Southern California. There were no tortillas with melted cheese. In their place were boiled potatoes and "mystery meat," as well as scones and other pastries. I didn't miss home, but I sure missed the food.
In September my parents sent to me a finishing school, and it almost finished me off. The following year, I transferred to the American Community School, which was just like the schools at home, only better. We were happy expatriates, enjoying life abroad. Many of the kids around me were from Texas, and their parents were in the oil business; for a while there I think I picked up a bit of a twang.
In my junior year, we returned to San Diego. I found myself attending classes at Point Loma High School with some of the same kids I had known four years earlier. It was as if I had never left. I was me again, but an enriched version of me, with four years' worth of incredible experiences behind me.
One day, I found myself at the San Diego Public Library—I'd come with my lifelong friend Jim, who had some research to do—and as I wandered around, bored, I found myself in front of the California Room. There was a sign next to the door that read, "Birth Records, Death Records, Marriage Records."
I knew my birth mother's name, Jacqueline Latham, and I was curious, so I went in and one of the employees directed me to the correct filing cabinet, then parked me in front of one of those ancient microfiche machines and showed me how to use it. There I discovered that Jacqueline Latham was married to Lee Peterson, and that they had two children, and the moment I saw that there were other children involved I stopped looking for more. My birth mother had another family now, and I had no business poking my nose into her life. Plus, I'd heard enough stories about adopted kids showing up unannounced on their birth parents' doorsteps, and these stories didn't always have happy endings. I didn't want to be part of someone's unhappy ending.
Still, I was growing more curious about my background. How could I not be? As an adopted child, you wonder about everything. Was my mother a nice person? Why did she give me up? Did I look like her?
Sometimes, as I made my way through the world, I'd see someone who looked a little like me, or walked a little like me, and I'd think, Are we related?
And of course even at home anyone could see that neither Stephen nor I looked even remotely like our parents, while the two younger kids—tall, thin, attractive—could have passed for clones. Then again, I wasn't quite as exotic-looking as Stephen. He was 100 percent Italian, and his story is a lot more interesting than mine. His real grandfather, Midge Renault (his real name was Salvatore Annunziato), was a ruthless mobster on the East Coast, but he crossed the wrong people and got tossed off a bridge. His son, Stephen's father, was also in the mob, and when his mistress became pregnant she ran off, fearing for her life. She ended up in San Diego, at her aunt's house, and six months later little Stephen showed up at our place.
Stephen and I are very close, in part because we're both adopted, and throughout our lives we have always looked out for each other.
I went to Pine Manor College, an all girls' school in Chestnut Hill, near Boston, and got a BA in communications. Then I went back to England and spent a summer at Oxford University.
When I returned to the States, I found a job in public relations at the Golden Door, a family-owned spa in Escondido, not far from San Diego. They also own another spa in Tecate, Mexico, and I was always shuttling between the two. I loved my job. I met a great number of celebrities, but I won't name names.
When I started working there, both spas were operating well below occupancy. By the time I left, you couldn't get in during the high winter season, and I was very proud of myself.
I also fell in love while working at the spas. Or I thought I fell in love. The marriage lasted eight months. I'm less proud of that.
I moved to San Francisco shortly thereafter and got into investment banking. Working with money was a lot less interesting than working with people, and when my landlord told me that my rent was about to double I took it as some kind of sign—don't ask me what kind of sign—and went back home.
There had been a guy in San Francisco, Tim Bird, but I was getting mixed signals from him, and after my bad marriage I was in a cautious mood—perhaps overly cautious. Tim and I went out a few times, and I enjoyed his company, but I wasn't sure if it was going anywhere, so I didn't wait around to find out if I was wrong.
Now here I was back in San Diego, working for my father, on that fateful June afternoon that altered the course of my life. I got two calls in quick succession. The first was from Stephen, who was calling from home.
"Some guy just called who thinks he's related to you!" he said. He was excited. Stephen has that underlying curiosity about who you are and where you came from that so many of us adopted kids have; it isn't something that ever goes away. The thing about it is that it's less fun to do the looking; you'd rather be found. You want to think that there's someone out there who abandoned you and still cares about you and wants to explain everything and answer every question. That's the dream. To have to do the looking yourself, only to run the risk of finding that maybe you're not wanted after all, that you're not even welcome—well, that's a pretty scary prospect. You can live with the feeling that your mother didn't love you enough to keep you, but it would be too hard to survive making it to adulthood and finding her only to be turned away.
"Did he leave a name?" I asked, a little wary.
"No," Stephen said. "But I gave him your number at work."
At that moment, I saw that my other line was flashing. I said good-bye to Stephen and reached for the flashing line.
"Is this Anne Grady?" the man asked.
"Who is this, please?"
"My name is Don," he said. "You don't know me, but I'm related to you."
"I was born two years before you, on April 2, 1963, and we share the same mother. She actually lives in Morro Bay, up the coast a ways, but she has a lot of family in San Diego."
"Oh my gosh," I said. I didn't know what else to say. I felt a little winded, to be honest, and Don sensed this, so he talked a little about himself. He told me that he lived back east, that he worked in the airline industry, and that he was married and had three kids.
"I was out in San Diego last year, and I met our mother, Jackie Latham, and it was a really wonderful experience. She's married now and has a couple of boys. I don't want to just drop all of this on you, though. I want you to have time to absorb it."
"I knew she was married," I said.
"I once saw her name in the county records. She was married to somebody named Lee Peterson." I was surprised that the name had stayed with me.
"That's right," he said. "I'd like to come out and meet you sometime. And I'd love for you to meet Jackie. But I don't want to be pushy here. I want you to take your time and think about this and let me know how you feel."
I didn't know how I felt, so I let him talk for a while and realized that his situation was very different from mine. Both of his parents had died, and he was estranged from his sister, who was also adopted. He had been seriously motivated to find his biological family because—outside of his wife and three children—he had absolutely no one else. I, however, had a wonderful, caring family, and I had always felt I belonged. Don was alone in the world; I had always been encircled by love.
"I don't know," I said. "I'm not sure about this."
"I'd be surprised if you were," he said. "It's a big step. But you should know that Jackie and Lee are terrific people. They have two wonderful sons together, and Lee has a couple of children from a previous marriage. They are a really great family."
"Okay," I said. "I'll think about it."
He gave me his various phone numbers, and I hung up. I felt like I had vertigo; the world around me seemed oddly muted out. The woman in the next cubicle had just poked her head over the partition, and she was bubbling over with excitement, telling me that some cute guy had answered her ad in the personals, and that they were about to arrange a date. I caught only half of what she said and sort of nodded at the appropriate intervals, trying hard to smile, but I felt like I was under water. I finally excused myself and made my unsteady way into my father's office.
"I just got this really amazing call," I said.
"This man from Pennsylvania says he's related to me."
"Really?" he asked.
My father is not a guy who gets easily excited, and sometimes he can seem a little distant. In fact, sometimes he is a little distant, but that's just his manner; his heart is in the right place.
"That's really interesting," he said, but not exactly with unbridled enthusiasm.
When I got home, I told my mother about the call. I had this whole big family living right here in California, all up and down the coast, and suddenly I was very curious about them.
"I wonder if I look like my mother," I said.
"I wouldn't know," my mother said, but she said it with feeling, with enthusiasm even. "I never saw her."
"Not even when you picked me up at the hospital?"
"I didn't pick you up," she said." We sent Aunt Judi and Uncle Al."
"What did they say about her? Did they say what she looked like?"
"Judi didn't remember much," my mother replied. "But Al said she had amazing legs."
"That's it? A pair of legs?!"
"I'm sorry," my mother said, laughing, and I laughed right along with her. "That's the whole story. It's all I have."
"What should I do?" I asked.
"What do you want to do?"
"I don't know," I replied. "But I'm curious. I'm thirty-two years old, and I've got to admit it: I am really very curious."
"Maybe you should talk to her," my mother said. "What's the worst that could happen?"
Plenty. But neither of us knew it then.
The foregoing is excerpted from Blood Brother by Anne Bird. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022