Returning . . .

I haven’t had the time to plan returning to the scene because I haven’t left it.

–Mick Jagger

I’ve left you all alone for so long. Please understand that despite my absence from the blog, I appreciate you all so much! I have heard from so many of you while I’ve been in this “retreat” phase. I’ve been happy to help some of you with the CABI, and answer your questions about search, reunion, rejection, contact and more.  I’m glad you’ve found my blog and you’ve been able to find some hope and connection with my story. And you all must know–I want to hear your story, as well. Every adoption story, whether it ends in a successful reunion or not–remember, I understand it all. And I want to hear it.

family-027_origAs for me, I’ve been busy meeting more family members–wonderful aunts on my maternal side, and more cousins on my paternal side–who have all been so wonderful in opening their hearts and sharing stories.  There is so much rich history that I am still learning. And I am thankful. It’s been a journey with surprises that I never expected. I’m loving it.

The book is coming. Jackson, my bio-Dad, has been reading my memoir and his approval of the story and the details makes me happy. I’ll finally be able to reveal his true identity and his awesome accomplishments. I am so proud of him and can’t wait to share my pride and his awesomeness.

editing-ratesI’m still editing and rewriting. It’s a big job. It will never be perfect, or just right. I am thankful for my editor, who has been guiding me and punishing me (just kidding), so that I know where to go with my story. Thank you for hanging in there with me.

It’s all about the positive.

Dear Adoption, You Are Everywhere

Diving deep into the thoughts of one adoptee.

unnamed-2Dear Adoption, You Are Everywhere

I grew up with the idea I could blame you for nothing. Because you didn’t exist in the minds of my parents who adopted me, you didn’t exist in mine.

Hold on, those aren’t the right words.

Because you didn’t exist in the minds of my parents who adopted me, I learned to keep you hidden and to only occasionally take you out, as a kid might pull a pocket knife out in front of friends and strangers.

“You look just like your mother.”

I pull out the pocket knife, open the blade. You think you know me, but you can’t because even I have no idea who I am. This is my greatest power. I’m like mercury: you can’t pin me down. Because if you did somehow get me trapped, you would see the terrifying truth I run from 24/7: There is nothing to…

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Who Are You?

I had lunch recently with a friend of mine who also happens to be adopted.  We hadn’t really talked in quite a long time.  You know the story–we’ve both been busy with our families and all the adventures and complications of raising teens and hustling them off to college and watching them blossom into young adults. But something amazing happened to her recently that changed her life.  Literally, it changed who she was (er . . . is).

My friend (let’s call her Linda) has been following my story here on the blog, but she confessed to me some time ago that she never had the desire to search for her own biological family. She explained that “one family is quite enough.”  Linda’s childhood with her adoptive family was not exactly idyllic, but she’s in a very happy family situation right now with her husband and grown kids–why complicate things?  Because really, who knows what you’ll find?  I get that. The decision to search is a personal one, for sure.

But Linda’s husband is big into genealogy.  He’s done quite a bit of research on his own family tree.  He’s not adopted.  He’s just a guy who’s into his family history.  He even invested in a DNA test to dig deeper into his ancestral history.  Linda did one, too . . . just for the fun of it.

Linda had always been told by her adoptive parents that a big part of her biological ethnicity included ancestors of Mexican heritage.  Well, guess what?  When she received the results of the DNA test (she used AncestryDNA at Ancestry.com) she was shocked and fascinated to find that she has no Mexican blood in her at all! Instead, she found out that a substantial part of her ancestry is actually Native American.

Linda hasn’t changed her mind about actually seeking out her biological parents, but she is definitely interested in defining her family’s biological relationship to Native American heritage. In other words, which tribe?  Were her ancestors here in America before Europeans made their appearance on the continent?  I would find that prospect fascinating, too!

Linda’s husband is helping her build her family tree by reaching out to matches on Ancestry.com.  She still has no real interest in searching for specific people or uncovering her adoption story, per se, but she’s hoping to discover more about her Native American heritage.

While we were sitting there at lunch chatting about the wonders of technology and DNA, an old-fashioned light bulb went on over my head.  Discovering more information about her Native American heritage may be as simple as getting her hands on her non-identifying information! I explained to Linda how she has the right to receive the information. I explained to her how she could request her non-identifying information from the county where she was placed for adoption (she was born and adopted in California).  It is entirely possible that the information would include the name of the tribe.

For some adoptees, the non-identifying information is enough to answer nagging questions. Sometimes it’s a springboard to wanting more details.  Sometimes it’s a can of worms.  But I would encourage all adoptees who have any curiosity at all about their ancestral heritage to request their non-identifying information.  If you’ve been following my blog, you know that when I started my search I had my biological mother’s name.  I thought that was enough information to find her.  Turns out it wasn’t.  But once I had the non-identifying information, I was able to put together certain details and find answers quickly.

So here’s a primer on getting your hands on your non-identifying information.  When I got it some 25 years ago, it was a fairly easy process.  All it took was a phone call and one visit to the County Social Services Department.  Now you must make your request in writing. The information below is specifically for California, but the letter sample below can be adapted for other states that provide non-identifying information.


 

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS), or the licensed public adoption or private adoption agency that handled your adoption can provide non-identifying background information to adoptees. The information provided includes general facts about the birth parents and may include relevant medical information.You must request this information by writing directly to the licensed adoption agency, if known, or to CDSS at the following address:

California Department of Social Services / Adoptions Support Unit
744 “P” Street, MS 8-12-31
Sacramento, CA 95814

Your letter must include your name, birth date, and the full names of both of your adoptive parents. Also, your signature must be notarized by a Notary Public.

Non-identifying information is background information about the circumstances of your adoption.  When it is prepared, the preparer typically (but sometimes not too successfully!) attempts to remove all of the identifying information (first and last names of birth parents, last names of other family members, etc.).  Non-identifying information may include:

  • Age of your birth mother and birth father
  • Education background of your birth mother and birth father
  • Religious affiliations
  • Physical description
  • Medical history of your birth mother
  • Your birth family ethnicity, nationality or heritage
  • Professions of the birth mother and birth father and their birth parents
  • If the birth mother and father were single or married
  • Hobbies
  • Circumstances of the adoption—the reason given by the birth mother for why you were relinquished
  • Ages of the birth grand parents and information regarding other family members
  • First names of grand parents
  • Additional historical information or other information from the file that the social worker or preparer deems relevant

Remember, however, that the information that will be provided to you was originally obtained by a social worker (or other agency worker) from the birth mother (often under difficult circumstances).  The birth mother may or may not have disclosed the information you are looking for.  And it is quite possible that some of the information provided by the birth mother is false or untrue. She may have made up information or certain details out of fear or to protect herself or others.  The bottom line is: BE PREPARED FOR ANYTHING!

Here is a sample letter request:

Ladies and Gentlemen:

My name is ________________________.  I was adopted in _________________ County in [year of adoption] through the [name of county agency or private agency handling adoption].

I am an adult adoptee and find myself in critical need of the non-identifying information contained in my adoption file or other records regarding my birth parents and any other data available regarding my biological family’s history.

Please note that I am not requesting identifying information or an original or amended birth record or certificate.

Name as Adopted:  ________________________

Current Name:  _________________________

Current Address:  __________________________

                              __________________________

Date of Birth:  __________________________

Adoptive Mother’s Maiden Name (if available):  __________________________

Adoptive Father’s Name (if available):  _________________________________

[Provide here any other relevant information you may have regarding your adoption (court case no., date adoption was finalized, etc.)]

Thank you in advance for your assistance in providing this vital information.

Sincerely,

Sign Your Name 

REMEMBER—YOUR SIGNATURE MUST BE NOTARIZED!

It will take a few weeks (or more) before you receive a response from CDSS.  You may get instructions on how to proceed with the local agency where your adoption was finalized. Then, after following their directions, it may take several more weeks or even months before receiving your non-identifying information.

Have you received your non-identifying information?  What surprised you in the information you received?

Write what you know…but not everything you know…

I’m currently struggling with the concept of “truth” — who owns it? It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one.

Being the Blog of Rebecca Kuder

There was a lot of discussion at the Antioch Writers’ Workshop (AWW) about the chestnut, “write what you know.” Zakes Mda gave a lovely keynote speech, and talked about the idea of writing what you don’t know, or maybe more accurately, writing what you want to know.

I think that the idea of writing what you know is too often taken too literally. People write fiction which is autobiography, veiled by the sheerest curtain: so that setting, plot, characters, dialogue, and just about everything else is (to borrow a phrase from the ubiquitous Law and Order TV shows) “ripped from the headlines” of their lives. When I talk to other writers about this, the more savvy people agree that yes, it behooves a writer to write from a basis of emotional or psychological truth. The idea of authenticity is everywhere these days, and the word is overused, but it fits…

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The Lies That Bind . . . and Other Truths

“People think that a liar gains a victory over his victim. What I’ve learned is that a lie is an act of self-abdication, because one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked…The man who lies to the world, is the world’s slave from then on…There are no white lies, there is only the blackest of destruction, and a white lie is the blackest of all.”
― Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

My story so far, provided to me by the great Mr. Witt, San Bernardino County Social Services, was my truth.  I clung to it.  It was mine.  I believed that it was all true.  Margaret, a beatnik wanna-be hippie, started experimenting with drugs at age 17 or 18.  She had a boyfriend, a couple of years older than her, who also dabbled in drugs.  It was the 60’s, after all.  Hell, it was her own mother who introduced Margaret to smoking pot.  But the party didn’t last long.  She was arrested, along with her boyfriend, on felony drug charges. And this was an interesting tidbit: it was Margaret’s stepfather who “turned them in.” Margaret’s mother had been married to Joe since Margaret was very young.  She respected Joe and considered him to be a fine father figure.  According to my truth.

Now I have a new truth. The truth as told to me by Jackson Summer, my biological father. The DNA evidence can’t lie–he’s definitely my father.  Unless he has a twin that shares his DNA, which he doesn’t.  Of course, with that DNA match, he could be my son.  He’s 70 years old–he’s my father.

But here is the troubling part:  I’ve been in contact with Jackson for months now via e-mail. We’ve been taking things slowly.  He admits that he’s an “old hippie” and dabbled in drugs back in the 60’s (some pretty powerful drugs, at that).  Yes, he lived in the same town as Margaret and her family (just a few blocks away).  Yes, he’s the right age, exactly.  But the description of my biological father and the information provided to me in my “non-identifying information did not describe Jackson (according to Jackson) at all.

In high school, your birth father was the editor of a literary magazine.  He was also on the debate team and participated in political groups.  He and your birth mother enjoyed talking about literature, intellectual subjects and and attended classes together at the city college in their community. . . Your birth father was also working at a pet hospital . . . and had access to narcotic drugs. . . .  Both of your parents were arrested on drug-related charges. . . . We have no record of your birth father after his arrest.

That’s the birth father I knew from my non-identifying information.  Consider, however, that all of this information was taken directly from the social services file on Margaret.  All of the descriptive information about what happened and who was involved is based on what Margaret told the social worker(s). Remember, Margaret told no one in her family she was pregnant, plus, she was in prison at the time, so no one spoke to social workers or prison personnel about Margaret except Margaret.  Margaret could have said anything.  She was 18, ashamed, up against a wall (4 prison walls, actually), and being questioned and pressured for information, and also to make a life-changing decision about the baby growing inside of her.  She didn’t name my birth father.  She said he “didn’t know [I] was pregnant, for sure.”  The information indicated that Margaret “signed sole custody relinquishments on December 20, 1963.”  Sole custody. My birth father did not know.

Or . . . perhaps Margaret didn’t know the identity of my biological father.  Maybe it could have been one of several?  Or maybe she didn’t remember the encounter.  Or maybe she knew, but she decided to describe something different in order to throw off the authorities. The fact is . . . the information provided to me in the non-identifying information did not describe Jackson Summer.  And not just by my comparison.  By his own.

I sent Jackson copies of the photos I have of Margaret. I also sent him copies of the letters we exchanged some 20 years ago (which were really no help at all, since Margaret said nothing at all about the time surrounding her pregnancy, except that it was a handicap that needed to be fixed). He contacted several of his long-time friends, including Marian Michaels, and told them about my contact and the “odd coincidences” (as he called them) of my story.  No one recalled a Margaret Michaels.

Jackson did not back away; rather, he opened up considerably and told me everything he could remember.  I believe what he told me. He has absolutely no reason to hide anything.  If he had a secret to hide, why would he continue to tell me his story?  The odd part was that Margaret Michaels was not a part of his story.  He was also never arrested, as claimed by Margaret. He was not interested in literature or politics and he did not attend any classes at the jr. college. Jackson and Margaret didn’t even attend the same high school!  Margaret had claimed that my birth father was the editor of a literary magazine in high school.  Nope.

Jackson's Art . . .

Jackson’s Art . . .

Jackson was known for his art.  He was a jewelry maker and metal worker.  He used to sell his art and jewelry at the beach every weekend. He had a small studio/shop on the corner near the beach and hung out with other artists and “creative minds,” as he called them.  He told me stories about how his community was a great artist mecca back in the 1960’s and there were even some artists who traded their art for real estate and other valuable items.  He never worked at a pet hospital. That’s not where he got his drugs.

Jackson has been very open with me about the drugs.  He admitted that from about age 15 to 23 he went through a period of rebellion against his mother (his mother raised him alone; his father had died when he was very young), exploration, and searching for the “truth,” or meaning of life. He told me stories of experimentation with mescaline and LSD, inspired by his reading of Alex Huxley’s The Doors of Perception.  He was, and still is, great friends with Dale Pendell, a contemporary poet, author and expert on pharmacology, ethnobotany and neuroscience.

The 1960’s.  What a decade, right?  The pharmaceutical industry exploded with research into new drugs. Drugs were legally developed for every ailment.  Thanks to the industry’s aggressive media campaigns, every medicine cabinet filled up with drugs for every sort of ailment. The phrase “better living through chemistry” actually came from a legit DuPont advertisement. Drugs were portrayed as wonders of modern technology. In the early 60’s, drugs were not seen as evil. So, of course, young people, as young people are want to do, experimented. Jackson wrote to me about his drug use and experimentation with mescaline and LSD. For him (luckily), it was all a positive experience.  Except for one thing: he believed his drug use was the reason he lost the love of his life: Marian Michaels.

He and Marian went to the same private high school (not the same high school as Margaret). They met when she was 14 and he was 16.  She was 1 grade below him in school.  They fell in love as teenagers–Jackson tells a sweet story of their young love. Jackson’s drug use continued into his late teens (and escalated) and this is where the problem started between Jackson and Marian. I believe that Jackson was being completely honest with me when he wrote:

The sad part to all this was that because of my drug use I broke the trust which I had built between Marian and I.  I was no longer the person she had grown to love.

Jackson explained to me that at that point he “went into the mountains” and stayed there for several months until he was “no longer addicted.”  But when he returned home it was too  late.  Marian had moved on.  She eventually married and had 2 children. Jackson also eventually married and had a daughter.

Later communication with Jackson revealed what “into the mountains” may have meant:

You were born when I was 20 and looking back at that time I was in Big Sur living and working at Deetchen’s Big Sur Inn. I think I had started working there sometime in 1962…… at least I have a few photos of me there which are dated 62.

My math indicates that I was conceived in April 1963 (born mid-December, one month premature), so perhaps it was a fleeting encounter (possibly drug-fueled) with Margaret in the Big Sur area.  My “non-identifying” information indicates that Margaret “moved to San Francisco for awhile, and then returned to her parents home to finish high school.” There is no further detail about her move or visit to “San Francisco,” but remember, the information in that report was put together from the interviews the social worker(s) had with Margaret while she was incarcerated.  She could have said anything, true or not.

Jackson and I are still communicating, although it has slowed down a bit.  He had indicated a desire to submit DNA to another company (or resubmit to 23andMe under another name) and to ask his daughter (who is 37 years old) to also submit a sample to see what kind of a match is revealed between the 3 of us.  I understand his trepidation.  But DNA doesn’t lie.  I believe he is my biological father.  He’s not so sure.

Laureen . . . I want you to know that I would be proud to have you as my daughter… I have no negative feelings but I am very confused about all of this.  It seems so unlikely that our DNA would be so close and then the connection to the community where I grew up . . .
What I would really like to do is talk to Margaret . . .  That would settle things . . .

Even back then I doubt I would have been drawn to someone like that. All of the women that I had any relationships with (there were not many) I still know and we are still  friends, including Marian.

I provided him with the address I have for Margaret.  He told me not too long ago that he started to write several times, but started over.  He wanted to say just the right thing.  I know the feeling.  I don’t think he has written to her yet.  I don’t even know whether he still intends to.

Next: We’ll explore the crazy possibilities . . .

Red Light. Green Light. And Sometimes it Stays Yellow for a Long Time.

“I look for a sign. Where to go next. You never know when you’ll get one. Even the most faithless among us are waiting to be proven wrong.”
― Jillian Lauren, Pretty

I know what’s happening.  I’m emotional.  Scared.  Afraid of what might happen next.  Or maybe I’m afraid that nothing will happen next.

Sometimes I just go full steam ahead.  Everything makes sense and things happen.  Not always good things.  Even when good things do happen in this crazy search, it can be scary.

I do realize that it’s all emotional on my part.  I have enough raw data and information (names, addresses, phone numbers, etc.) to power through and get the answers that I think I need.  What if I upset people?  Maybe I don’t need the answers. Or maybe if I just keep telling myself I don’t need the answers I can move forward and get the answers and not be affected by the consequences.

No way.  I know that I am fully attached to the outcome of this whole thing.  After my second attempt at contacting Margaret some 25 years ago, my desire to reconnect with my biological family had somewhat faded.  I’m sure it’s because of her letters and the impact her words had on my delicate psyche. But why did I choose to be so affected?

Frankly, I’m exhausted. I don’t know why I got a bug up my ass in 2013 to reignite my search. Because I turned 50?  Maybe. Emotionally, it’s an all-consuming project.  It’s been difficult to accomplish stuff on my normal day-to-day to-do list.  One day I am motivated by my progress and new connections and the next I am frustrated by a relative’s mere stranger’s reaction and attitude and the emotional doors being slammed in my face.

So sometimes I see a yellow “caution” light in my mind. I have to take time out to process things. Sometimes I have to press “pause.”  That’s why there are some long pauses in this blog. I apologize for that.  But it’s all happening right now.  It’s affecting me right now.

I did hear from my bio dad.  He responded within a few days of receiving my message via 23andMe.

Jackson Summer, a Father wrote:  

What is very strange about this is that I am from the same town as Margaret and although not exactly 50 years ago the love of my life was named Marian Michaels.  We met in school. I was 16 and she was 14. To make a long story short we were together for 8 years at which time the relationship broke up because of my drug use. Because I loved her so much, I went away and straightened myself out. Unfortunately, I had destroyed the trust between us and we went our separate ways. I eventually married and had a daughter and Marian married and had a son and a daughter. Years later, my wife passed away due to cancer. Marian’s husband had died one year earlier.

Today Marian and I are best of friends and often visit one another.

Laureen, your inquiry has piqued my interest. There are so many coincidences in our stories. I would enjoy geting to know you.

My very best to you,

Jackson Summer

So that was a little odd.  My bio mom is Margaret Michaels. The love of his life was Marian Michaels.  Is this some other weird piece of an even more twisted and fucked up puzzle? It didn’t make sense.  So I gave him more details.  I paraphrased all of the information from the non-identifying data I had received from the wonderful Mr. Witt (I eventually gave him a copy of the paperwork with all of the details). Now he would know that I knew that he had been arrested with Margaret.  It also gave him a bit of back-story about his relationship with Margaret. It’s what I knew. My truth, right?  He couldn’t deny it. The part about “going away to straighten himself out” made sense to me–that had to be the time he served in prison. Had to be . . . right?  Plus, what about the DNA?  I know Margaret is my bio mom. And the DNA is solid confirmation (to most of the logical world) that Jackson is my bio dad. His next response:

Hello again,

One of the reasons I am as open to helping you find your dad is that my father died when I was 6 and although I was raised by my mother, she never gave me much information about his family. I very much understand what is like to not know about those who brought you into the world. There are so many coincidences about all this–to say nothing about the genetic match!

The problem for me right now is that I have no memory of being with anyone other than Marian Michaels during this time. I have written to her about this and asked her if she remembers any of the names you wrote about. I have not heard back yet. Also, I majored in Art and English, and although I helped teach a evening class at the city college, that lasted less than a month. I do not even remember if I took any classes at the  local junior college.  I was and still am an artist and I was well known for the jewelry and metal work I did. I used to sell my work at the beach every weekend.  I think most people who knew me then would have connected me with art and the craft of jewelry making. The description in the paperwork you provided simply does not describe me back then.  The area where I lived was very different then…..many artists, writers and creative minds.

It has been a long time and you have piqued my curiosity to no end. There is so much coincidence in time place and of course the genetic info.

My Best,
Jackson

I’m happy that he’s open and honest and willing to “help me find my dad.”

The First Pieces of the Puzzle

Sealed records?

Sealed records?

I returned home from the U.K. in the summer of 1986.  I still needed a few more units for graduation, so enrolled once again at my hometown campus.   I found an office job on campus and set to work.  I had done all the research I could do on my end–my parents had given me the “adoption papers” that they had saved all these years that bore my mother’s last name.  Funny . . . I kept hearing over and over about “sealed records,” however, no one mentions that the adoptive parents have copies of the court filings. At least mine did.  I had the first piece of the puzzle: “In the Matter of the Adoption of Baby Girl Michaels.”

This was 1986.  No one owned a personal computer.  “Research” meant a lot of legwork and a lot of phone calls.  I knew I had a right to receive “non-identifying” information from my file stored with the San Bernardino County Welfare Services.  I also knew that the State of California had a mutual consent registry.  A mutual consent registry is a method many states use to arrange the consents that are required for release of identifying information. A mutual consent registry is a means for individuals directly involved in adoptions to indicate their willingness or unwillingness to have their identifying information disclosed. In California, the registry requires consent of at least one birth parent and an adopted person over the age of 18 in order to release identifying information. Consent is given by filing an executed affidavit with the appropriate authority (in my case, the County of San Bernardino) consenting to the release of personal information.

The mutual consent registry still exists in California and in many other states.  With the advancement of technology and the evolution of the internet and its plethora of ever-growing information and databases, we’ve also seen a growing number of private registries, many of which have proven to be successful tools for adoptees and birth parents.  Some charge a fee to register, some do not.

My only option back in 1986, however, was the California mutual consent registry.  I thought I should at least sign a consent and have it on file, on the off chance my birth family is looking for me, right? I called the County Department of Social Services. I spoke to a very nice gentleman named Bill Witt.  I made an appointment to meet with him and to fill out and sign the Waiver for the adoption records.

Waiver - Signed, sealed, delivered.

Waiver – Signed, sealed, delivered.

I don’t really remember everything Mr. Witt and I spoke about on the phone.  I do remember that he asked me to bring a recent photograph of myself so that he would have it on file in case he had contact with my birth mother. I went to the County Social Services Department to meet with Mr. Witt.  I signed the Waiver. I gave him the photo. Then he handed me an official-looking envelope and told me he’d be in touch.  Huh?  He’d be in touch for what?  Surely he wasn’t going to search out my birth mother.  Why would he do that? In fact, the language of the Waiver confirmed, the signing of this waiver does not necessarily insure that a contact can be arranged  . . . the law prohibits the Department or agency from soliciting, directly or indirectly, the execution of . . . a waiver.   I just figured I’d sign the Waiver and it would get thrown in my super-secret “file” somewhere in the basement of the Social Services Department until (or even if) my birth mother decided to sign a Waiver herself. Which I wasn’t expecting to happen. Ever.

I walked back to my car in a daze, grasping the envelope.  Once sitting in the car, I took a deep breath and opened it. Mr. Witt had apparently read my super-secret file. The envelope contained every bit of non-identifying information–in painstaking detail–beautifully written on three pages of County Adoption Service official letterhead.  I was stunned.  Not just by the information he provided, but just the fact that he had gone to the trouble to tell me this story in such beautiful detail.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t even ask for the non-identifying information–I thought that what I already had was better than any non-identifying information he could give me.  I had her last name on the adoption papers.  I was wrong.

I read the story.  Over and over.  Sordid as it was, it was a beautiful story.  It was MY story.  At the bottom of page 3, Mr. Witt wrote: “Laureen, I have begun to search for your birth family . The trail, however, is 23 years old so it may take some time.  I’ll keep you abreast of my progress.”

He was actually going to help me.  Go figure.