I remember the family tree as the pinnacle of all elementary school projects. A whole night of classmates calling up their auntie Ritas and cousin Jeffs to piece together their long lineages of war heroes and pioneers.
I thought my branches and leaves were all in order. But when I was in the sixth grade, my dad found out that the man who raised him wasn't his real father, or my real grandfather. That meant my last name wasn't supposed to be Brooks and that my genealogy was half made up.
My dad paid a private investigator to search for his "real" father. He discovered that his dad had passed away, but that he'd fathered another family. I have an additional three aunts, one uncle and a cousin on my dad's side. My father hoped I'd become a part of this new family — that maybe I'd change my last name and absorb their ways as if I had been there all along.
But at family barbecues and graduation parties, I couldn't relate. The inside jokes and traditions were lost on me. I felt like a puzzle piece that just didn't belong.
It seemed like I was waiting around for a feeling of wholeness that wasn't going to come. I felt bitter knowing my grandfather had left my dad and raised another family — giving them his devotion, his love and his last name.
It was then I had to come to terms with what "family" really means. Sure there's a bloodline, and that's important. But in my mind, family is more about the people who made me who I am, who helped me grow.
It turns out I wasn't missing much of anything. I'm independent and strong-willed like the women in my family, cunning and charming like the men. Caring like my Cherokee grandma, creative like my jazz trumpeter grandfather.
And as for my last name — Brooks — I've realized it's not about the name, but what I make of it.
With a Perspective, I truly am Bianca Brooks.