The clear, warm beauty of the Oakland weather belies the storm brewing in me. I'm waiting to meet Neome at the train station when I see her approaching on foot with a small boy. She recognizes me instantly and we embrace. She is tiny, thin, and not much taller than she was as a young teen. She still possesses flawless ebony skin and a radiant smile.
Her 7-year-old son, Josael, is biracial, with caramel skin and thick, curly black hair. He stares at me with his mother's almond-shaped eyes, shyly hiding behind her.
Neome and I have so much in common. Yet Neome still lives near her mother. They spend holidays together, visit often, and are fiercely loyal to each other. Neome even leaves her children with their grandmother so we can spend a few hours alone. How did two girls so alike end up so different?
I want to ask Neome if she would have accepted the opportunity of a better life, if one had come along, even if it meant leaving her family behind. But I'm afraid of how she might answer.
Teresa waited until the last day of my trip to call, which pisses me off.
"Hello?" I say.
"You sound like me," she says.
"Who is this?"
"Funny how our voices sound alike."
"No, they don't."
"So, how are you?"
"Well, I was just checking in."
"Great. I'm kind of busy. So...
A few weeks after my Oakland trip, I am heading out to spend Christmas with my Fonda family. After Ted and my mom divorced in 2001, we started spending the holidays at a ranch she bought in New Mexico. But this year we are celebrating in Los Angeles, because my mother has a new boyfriend-Richard, a record producer who lives in the Hollywood Hills. His home was originally built for Ronald Reagan and his first wife, Jane Wyman. I can't help chuckling at the thought of the Gipper spinning in his grave at the fact that Jane Fonda is now the lady of the house.
Al Pacino is there, and so are Kevin Spacey, Warren Beatty, Hugh Grant, and Sean Penn, who tells me about a rap song called "Jane Fonda" by a white rapper named Mickey Avalon. Then, to my surprise, Penn whips out his cell phone and calls Avalon, who lives nearby, and invites him to the party. Soon after, Avalon arrives looking shell-shocked at having been summoned in the middle of the night. But then he begins, riding a slow groove and rolling out his lyrics for the glittering crowd: I had a baby named Jane / She could shake that thang / Said her daddy used to hang with Johnny Coltrane...more junk in her trunk than a Honda / I know you wanna do the Jane Fonda.
As I'm watching my 72-year-old mother bumping and grinding on the dance floor with her new boyfriend, I can't help but marvel at the strangeness of it all-and the simple rightness of it, too: I'm just here with my loved ones, celebrating Christmas.
Time travel is tricky. You can't return without bringing something back or leaving part of yourself behind. I still feel the presence of my birth family like a ghost. No matter where I end up, I'll always have my families. And while I might reach out to Teresa again, right now knowing she's out there is enough. In the meantime, I do what anyone in my position would do-I take to the dance floor and do the Jane Fonda.
Author of the children's book Brothers in Hope, Mary Williams has contributed to The Believer and McSweeney's. She's currently writing a memoir and developing a television show about her work on a research base in Antarctica.
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