The first time I try to tell the future, I am 8 years old. I sit with friends around a table in the cafeteria and we make lists of the types of places we’ll live (mansion, apartment, shack) and the men we’ll marry (a who’s who of 90’s Hollywood heartthrobs) and the number of children we’ll have (zero never seems to be an option). We take turns drawing tally marks with our hand cupped around our pencil until the person whose fortune is being told yells stop. Then we count up each list, stopping on the number that matches the number of tally marks to cross off one future possibility at a time. When there’s one option remaining in each category, we are done; a life is displayed on the page.
None of those predictions come true (though I suppose I do, in fact, live in an apartment, a fate I’m sure was foretold at least once in the dozens of times we played the game), and but I never stop searching for a way to tell the future.
In sixth grade biology, we are assigned to create a family tree. We are to write down traits of our predecessors and trace them through the generations, determining which of our own came from where.
When I tell my teacher I am adopted, she thinks for a moment before telling me I should just leave myself off the chart.
As my classmates begin to piece together a past that would hint to them their future, I put together a map of what feels like someone else’s family. My assignment is to discover the future of someone who doesn’t exist.
We’re told the DNA strands inside of us look like a double helix, a spiral staircase. An adoptee’s body is built the same as anyone else’s, filled with those same spiral staircases that make up our genes, which form the phenotypical traits that define much of who we are — our eye shape, our skin color, the texture of our hair. Those genes carry diseases. Character traits. Even memories.
People pay a lot of money to understand those genes, despite experts advising against it for everyone, including adoptees. The tests are unreliable, anxiety-inducing. They might tell me I’m at risk for everything when I have nothing. They might tell me I’m okay when I’m not.