the inheritance

First they told me I was inheriting the biofather’s art supplies and his own paintings.  Biofather was a Chinese painter.  Then they found a new copy of the will, and next to my name was one word, in his handwriting — with an arrow to be clear:


is what it said.

And I thought, well okay.  There was no reason to expect anything.  Didn’t he always say he’d be damned if he’d leave me anything?  I do wonder what that was about.  I always just chalked it up to his being what he was and that it had nothing to do with me.

But it did have something to do with me.  I just can’t work it out.  It should be simple.  It should be clear.

Before he died, I asked if he had any memories of me from when I was very small.  Since we didn’t have any contact after that until much much later when I tracked him down.  Maybe I shouldn’t have looked for him at all.  Probably a big mistake.

One of his memories was giving me my first and middle names.

Names I never used.  Names I won’t even mention out loud — they are so inappropriate.

He got a big smile on his face.  Huge.  The pain in his phantom leg receded.

“They were supplied by the government,” he said.  “Those women.

“They gave us anything we wanted.  Just so long as we didn’t leave.  Great food.  Wines.  And those women. This was at the University of Chicago.  It was part of the Manhattan Project.  They just wanted to keep us happy and well supplied.

“Those women,” he said, his eyes misting over.  “Those were the best days of my life, those women at the lab. They were grad students at the University of Chicago.  Not just bimbos but smart.  Smart whores…”

He described both of them in great detail.  Blonde.  Curvey.  Smart.  Is all I’ll describe.  And they did whatever you wanted.  Just don’t leave the lab.

There was an accident in the lab.  Some idiot had built and installed a thick lead safe for the radioactive materials.  The idiot had attached the safe to the wall of the first lab.  Only thing is, the idiot only enclosed the box on three sides.

So.  The radiation leaked into the next lab.  And the next one.  And the next one.  All the way down the line. Biofather was in the first lab exposed, and therefore got hit with the most radiation.  They were told to get checked out by a doctor — but to keep quiet about the accident.  Don’t say anything about radiation, they were told.  And so he had hinted pointedly at how the M.D. ought to treat him.

He was sterile, the biofather was.  From this little accident.

And so.  When my mother became pregnant, he was appalled.  He just wasn’t expecting it.

“You know.  She wanted to abort you,” he said suddenly.  Big smile again.  Thank god he stopped talking about how skillful those women were.

Did I tell you?  He named me after those two women.  Whore one.  And whore two.  Best memories of his life.  That’s what he gave me to start off mine.

“She said it was you who wanted to abort me,” I said.

“No, no.  It was her.”

He didn’t mention the radiation as a cause.  My mom had told me of their concerns of what the radiation might do to me, since he wasn’t even supposed to have intact sperm or motility.  It had all sounded reasonable to me.  I would have been concerned if it had been me.



I think OMIT was my default setting.

His wife of 50 years changed their will.  She stipulated that all his art should go to the Asian Art Museum where he studied painting.  They didn’t want any of the stuff.

So once again I got the paintbrushes.  And some ink.  A very cool stapler and a lot of staples.  His own engravings of naked women.  When he was still in his Western art phase.  And all those Chinese paintings. He was a really good painter.  And chemist.  He made his own suntan lotions.  Liquers. His own machinery parts.  Renaissance man, they said. Gardener.  One of the things he grew was bamboo.  To make his brushes.  Then he’d paint pictures of bamboo growing.  And eventually worked his way up the great chain of being, with more and more complex paintings.

Which I just stacked in my garage.  Along with his brushes.  They gave me his photo albums.  Nobody wanted them.  His photo albums are filled with pictures of his art collection.  Not family.  Not travels.  Just art. The art collection that goes to auction next month.  That somebody else inherits, I don’t remember who.

I’m not really sure why I’m alive.  One of those cosmic jokes, I guess.  The little sperm that could.  That was all he really needed to give me.  It’s the only thing that really matters.  For any living person, the odds against life are astronomical.  That’s even more the case, I guess, for me.

They joked that I’d have wheels instead of feet.  They joked.  Was that each of them?  One of them?  Both together?  Were they frightened?  Expecting a monster? It’s not something I’ll ever know for sure.  It’s not something I can ask.

Life is a pretty good inheritance, don’t you think?  Maybe it’s enough.  We, none of us, need have lived at all — but look at us, the lucky ones—we lived!  We got to see the sunshine and the darkness.  The stars and the oceans, the lakes, and the streams.  Muir Woods — which is one of my favorite places.  We cuddle our kitties,  and follow some of our dreams.  We get to take chances.  We try to mend fences.  We can run off together, like wayward young things.

Or.  I could sit and eat chocolate, could laugh at his obit. Husband and Father, Grandfather it reads.

For all that unpleasant stuff that we carry, we can let it all go and just see where that leads.

By mira

Mira Z. Amiras is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies and founder of the Middle East Studies Program at San Jose State University. She is past-president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and has served on the Executive Council of the American Anthropological Association. She is co-founder, with Ovid Jacob, of Beit Malkhut, a study group in Jewish sacred text. She's most attached to the creatures of her body and her household — first and foremost, her kids, of course: Michael and Rayna — and then the other folks large and small of various species, including Roshi and Vlad, a whole lot of hummingbirds, the old parrot who lives next door, and a beautiful garden that does what it will.

5 replies on “the inheritance”

From Facebook:

Rayna Savrosa I’m actually shocked you told this one. I always thought it was for my little ears only. It is SO well written mama.
13 hours ago · Like

Erin Vang I felt the same way, PD. I am repeatedly blown away by your amazing mom’s ability to write things like this for the whole world to read. Her encouragement and example have influenced me and enabled me to do some of that myself, e.g. my piece on domestic violence, but she still astonishes me each time.
8 hours ago · Like

Erin Vang Mira, your writing and thinking and worldview blow me away on a regular, delightful basis. This is me saying in front of God and everybody what an honor it is to be your collaborator.
8 hours ago · Like

Mira Z. Amiras Um — I just wrote a piece on collaboration on my blog. It’s for both of you. Michael, of course. Thank you puppy, for your sweet comment. Should I have kept that one just between us? Was I being too rude to that son-of-a-bitch?? Erin — as ever…
7 hours ago · Like

Hello! Maybe I shouldn’t even be here… however, today I attended an estate sale… I got hold of some the etchings and other things…. It is a habbit I have as I am my families “family” historian. Being such, I have a tendency of wanting and needing to look info on all names I come across. I liked the work I got to day at the estate sale and therefore I had to look up the creater of such work… no, i havent had a chance to look at all that I got… but enough… In typing his name… I found this…I found you… in so much of what you posted on your relationship with Mr Nobler or said person…. I could relate in a number of ways… I am “father” , “daddy” and more to my “GOD’ duaghter… as I am the only father she has known since she was about 2 yrs of age…

Your relation with your “biofather” wasn’t… however… [there was so much more I wanted to say… but now that I think about it… I suppose … it isn’t any of my business… ] allow any and all pain to go away… love your children and all those in your life…

I’m sorry…


Mark, welcome to Beit Malkhut and Kaddish in Two-Part Harmony! Please do not be shy!

He was an incredible artist! And if you have some of his works in your collection now, you are indeed fortunate. I feel that he left me (unwittingly) the best part of himself. And it was over art that we had the finest conversations.

Humans, like ivy, are neither good nor bad. But in their reach for the sun, they sometimes strangle everyone around them. He was arrogant and charming, brilliant and mean-spirited, talented and well — we’re back to arrogant. His wife called it his ‘sense of humor.’ But even that was hurtful beyond comprehension.

But even the tzaddik would acknowledge that any individual can bring something positive to the world. And he brought art. He was spot on when it came to beauty.

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