BY KRYSTLE DICRISTOFALO
So you don’t know who your daddy is. So the cryobank closed down. So what?
The string of numbers stares back at you from the computer screen, flaccid. No ID found. The air let out of a balloon.
You are eight years old and you have a dog. It’s stuffed, not like a taxidermy but a children’s toy. When you go outside, you bring this dog with you, your fist clutched too tightly around its middle. It used to have long fur, prehensile synthetic fibers that wound their way into your cereal and your mouth, before you cut it all off playing hairdresser. Your mothers told you it wouldn’t grow back. Did you listen?
In your other hand you’re holding a shallow dish leaking water. It slops onto the grass of your front lawn and wets the buttercups there. A few more inches and they’ll drown.
Onto the dampening grass you set the bowl; a few inches to the left you set the dog. You forgot a ball. You fist a handful of onion grass and tear it from the ground, trailing bits of earth, and throw that instead. The dog can’t run, so you bounce it over to the grass and use its paws to pick it up. Pretending to be the dog, you throw the grass again for yourself to chase this time (this is how playing catch works, right?), dropping the dog behind you. Now, you’re pretending to be yourself.
By now you’re already enrolled in dance. People get weird about it. You have two moms and lesbians aren’t feminine so why would they put a kid in something girly like dance? But you like it. Your sister hates it, but you’re not your sister. You like dancing slow and controlled. You like the tutus.
Most of all, you like being in The Nutcracker.
You’re Lead Angel this year, which means maybe your moms’ll shell out for an extra feature in the playbill. All the girls who’ve danced at the studio before you started get big, shiny, two-page spreads, with a black-and-white picture of them dressed as Clara or one of the gingerbread, with big poofy skirts that they hold out to either side. Underneath, their parents fork over triple digits to say Good luck in the show, Ariana! We’re so proud of you! Love, Mom, Dad, Jason, and Riley, or Congratulations to our ballerina princess, McKaylee, from Mom, Dad, and the new puppy! It’s always Love, Mom and Dad. Mom first, dad second. Always both of them, always in English. There are no single parents or foreigners at your ballet studio.
In the wings during dress rehearsal, one of the other Little Angels asks you, “What’s your dad do for a living?” Her name is Kendall. She’s one of the ones who only come on the weekends, bussed in from another studio. There’s only a few of you who attend your studio regularly, with your tall, squashy teacher who smells of marshmallow perfume. You’ve never felt like part of a core group, though.
“I don’t have a dad. Don’t say sorry,” you add before Kendall’s eyes get big. “He’s not dead or whatever. I just never had one.”
“How’s that work?” asks another Angel. Elliana.
“I have two moms,” you say, and pick at a thread that’s coming loose from the hem of your long white dress. Under your arm is tucked a big plastic cherry. You’re supposed to present it to the Sugar Plum Fairy after she does her solo.
“How’s that work?” Kamri.
You shift from foot to foot and crane your neck to check if you can see beyond the curtain. You’ve had if you can see the audience, they can see you drilled into your head your whole life, but the curtain’s up even though it’s intermission, and the only people in the audience are your teacher, Ms. Claudee, and Ms. Jones, her grown-up daughter who always gets the best roles. The opening strains of your music should be starting to waft backstage, but you can see Ms. Claudee’s assistant, Mr. Wang, dressed in black and bent over the stereo, since the people at your studio have the kind of money to take out spreads in the playbills but not to hire a live orchestra. You scratch the back of one calf with your other, ballet-slippered foot and launch into your spiel: Mommy was too old to have her own babies anymore, but she and Μητέρα really, really wanted your sister and you, so Mommy’s friend from work donated her own eggs to Mommy, and then they got a sperm donor. The doctors combined you in a Petri dish and then funneled you into Mommy’s womb using in vitro insemination. You use the right vocabulary. You sound very mature.
“Do you call them Mom One and Mom Two?” asks Kendall. The other girls titter. “No. We call them Mommy and Μητέρα.”
“Mommy and what?”
“Μητέρα. Me-terr-ah. Me as in me, terr as in terror, ah as in ahh.”
When Mr. Wang finally gets the music working and the stage fills with dry ice and Ms. Jones, who’s playing the Sugar Plum Fairy, beckons you out on stage single file, it’s a disaster. You stop too far away from her, and the Little Angel behind you bumps into your back and steps on the hem of your skirt. You end up having to throw your plastic cherry at the Sugar Plum Fairy, and it arcs through the air and nearly hits her on the shoulder. Ms. Claudee’s giving you the stink eye from the audience. You imagine: that eye spilling from its socket, running down her frown lines like yolk. Dirt underneath her nails.
Once, when you are nine, a girl from 4-H says her mother told her she can’t be friends with you anymore. She says she thinks it’s because you’re Middle Eastern. Are you Lebanese? she asks, and you tell her no but you understand what she means.
You love your parents. They love you, too, and they’re committed to making sure that if you or your sister ever have any questions, then you get the answers – in two languages, if need be. When you’re ten, they show you the paperwork your egg donor and sperm donor filled out. Mommy isn’t in touch with the egg donor anymore – she moved away, either to California or Colorado, before Facebook got big – and none of you know anything about your sperm donor, not even his name.
There are spaces where the egg donor and sperm donor could write something for their future progeny to read. A time capsule of themselves, to send back into the past for their offspring in the future.
Both of them are blank. The egg donor drew a line across hers.
“It’s because she knew I would tell you girls anything you ever needed to know,” Mommy says.
You’re in Mommy and Μητέρα’s room. Above the bed on the wall is the Shelf of Honor, where all your and your sister’s favorite toys retired to pasture after you stopped playing with them. You put your stuffed dog up there months ago, which made your sister throw a tantrum. You didn’t want it in your shared room anymore. There was something needy about its black
button eyes, something antithetical to the core of you, autarkic girl that you are; the expression hangdog came to mind. So you Konmaried the bitch. The dog’s your parents’ problem now.
“What’s the sperm donor’s name?” your sister asks. On the shelf, the dog watches you. You don’t meet its eyes.
Μητέρα ruffles your hair. When she lets go, you can feel curly wisps still straining towards her fingertips like static cling. “Let’s call him George.”
Your father may be dead.
Your father may be bald, may have hair, dark or reddish-just-add-sunshine. Your father may have curls like petals, like the Met’s marble statues, so when will you stop straightening yours?
Your father may be young. Your father is thirty-nine years old, maybe forty by now, because he paid for college by donating half of your double X. CryoFreeze lost the papers. Your father is every time a stranger says twins must run in the family and you cross and uncross your legs to hear it.
Your father is no hey-sport, no gone-fishing, no just-buying-cigarettes and no regrets. Your father is haunting the house, is no being held past the age of three, is no heading the ball in soccer, is no playing catch on the lawn and no shovel talks. Your father is your mother’s friend asking your mother hey, can your daughter stop bringing up that time my son said she was born in a Petri dish? He said he’s sorry. Your father is every word you can’t pronounce in Μητέρα’s native tongue and Mommy saying no dogs allowed. Your father is #notallmen and no single men in New York. Your father is an accountant and a vet and a clockmaker and a lawyer, is your aunt telling you you need a haircut and your grandmother telling you you need Jesus, is a letter from your uncle asking your mothers what right they have to sleep in his mother’s bed when they stay the night. Your father is a son of diaspora and you are twice removed. Your father is every time a child cries when they hear you have two mothers because the only one they ever had is dead and it’s not fair, is both of your mothers and how easy it was to come out to them and how hard it is to live up to how hard it was to bring you into the world, is James Bond and Spider-Man and Indiana Jones, and the only truth you know for sure is your father was Greek and that’s why they chose him, and then you were born in a Petri dish and now you’re here.