60 Years and 1,738 centiMorgans: How I Found My Father’s Biological Siblings

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This weekend my mother, father, and I traveled to Asheville, North Carolina for a once-in-a-lifetime event: we are meeting two of my father’s biological siblings.

My father is 59 years old and will be meeting members of his biological family for the first time thanks to something many of you may have tried: a commercial DNA test—an Ancestry.com DNA test to be exact.

I found out my dad was adopted at a young age—I don’t remember just how young but certainly before 2nd grade. Beginning in earnest around 5th grade, I attempted to find his biological family—this mostly consisted of combing through digital copies of newspapers or making posts on discussion boards.

I’m a naturally curious person and have always loved to do research but I can’t really tell you why I wanted to find his biological family. I know a big reason was my desperation to have a culture. Growing up in Hawai’i I always felt so, so left out and lesser than for not having a culture, language, or group to belong to—I thought if I could find my dad’s family that would be the key to unlocking my culture and all the amazing things that come along with having one. I was in 5th grade and obviously didn’t understand the larger implications of this but none the less it motivated me back then.

I was extremely close to his adoptive parents, even closer than I was to my own maternal, biological grandparents. They liked movies and music and were well educated. I was able to go to their house and listen to cool records, read interesting books, watch films, and hear all about politics and history.  My father’s adoptive father died when I was in 5th grade and his adoptive mother came to live with us shortly thereafter. She was dying of brain cancer at the time and was also suffering from several chemical dependencies. During her time living with us and during end-of-life care she told my mother and father details about his biological family that no one had known. She told us his biological family was from South Carolina, that his mom’s husband was a Postman who had been killed in an accident, and that she had several other small children to care for alone.

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My father was born at Saint Joseph’s hospital in Savannah, Georgia on December 28, 1959. His adoptive mother was a nurse at the hospital and after struggling with infertility she and her husband began the adoption process through the Catholic Church. The hospital contacted them immediately when my father was born and they were connected with a social worker who relayed details about his biological family and finalized the adoption. During that time, the State of Georgia “blacked out” all birth certificates of adoptees so there was no way for anyone to gain any information about my father’s biological family.

After adopting my father, his parents relocated to Athens, Georgia, finally settling in Carrollton, Georgia in the early 1960s.

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Throughout my life, I begged my father to find his biological family but he was never interested in doing so. He never presented any objections beyond saying he felt he had a good childhood and didn’t need a new family.

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When he became a grandfather in 2009 I asked again and he relented. After a couple of years of back and forth, he agreed to hire an agency to find his family. The agency successfully found his 80+-year-old mother. He was permitted to write her a letter and he did so but her response wasn’t what he had hoped. She responded to his letter and while the agency would not pass the letter on they agreed to read the letter to my father: his biological mother was not interested in establishing a relationship with him. They relayed a few other details over the phone but since my father didn’t have a way to record, reread, or take down the details, that was the end of the line.

I had been pushing him to follow through with this process for 20 years and when he finally agreed he was met with further rejection from someone he’d never met. The one friend I confided in said I should have just left things alone and that things happened the way they were supposed to in the past so I shouldn’t have pushed to change them now…I felt extremely guilty.

A year or two afterward, I asked my mother to buy DNA tests in a last-ditch effort to find some additional information. My mother and I ordered Ancestry.com DNA tests. My father lives and works overseas so we planned to get him one at a later date. We spit into the tubes and mailed them off.

My test came back and noted that the migration pattern for my ancestors ended in South Carolina. My first connection was a cousin who contacted me and said that we were descendants of the Lumbee Tribe and that we had family who had migrated from Robeson, North Carolina to South Carolina. I gave the few details I had about my dad’s biological family but it was another dead end. This cousin put me on to GEDMatch.com and gave me some additional information about the migration to South Carolina which was very helpful.

When my father was able to complete his test some months later, I loaded all of our results on to GEDMatch and let it be.

I had one promising lead a few months afterward when I sent out messages to all of my first and second cousins on Ancestry.com containing a few details about my dad’s biological family: did they know anyone living in South Carolina in 1959? Did they have a relative in their 80s living in South Carolina? Did they know a woman widowed in South Carolina in the late 1950s? I received one response from someone who said they had relatives from New York who moved to South Carolina and on to Florida during this period. We exchanged a few details but they didn’t know anything about an adoption and I hit another dead end.

Finally, in the early spring of 2019, a new match showed up on my father’s DNA matches (I manage my parents’ tests so I can always see/correspond with my father’s matches while he is overseas). We both had a new first-second cousin match. To this point, my father had only matched with second-third cousins and more distant relatives. I reached out to the new match via my account and immediately relayed a few selective details about my father’s connection to South Carolina and relayed my excitement about the fact that my dad finally had a more closely related match than ever before.

To my pleasant surprise, the match responded immediately. Since Ancestry.com said we were first cousins I didn’t pay attention beyond that fact and we began exchanging information. A few days went by and after looking at my father’s other matches I realized this match had thousands of more telomeres in common than any of my other first cousins so I messaged the match and said I thought we might be more closely related. They immediately wrote back and said we needed to talk on the phone—I was speaking with my half-uncle.

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On April 23rd, around 11:30 AM I went into an empty office at work and took a call from my recent Ancestry.com first-cousin match. The following story was relayed to me: my biological grandmother was born and raised on Staten Island to an Irish father and Slovakian mother (my fifth-grade self was quite happy about this!). My great grandfather lost everything on Wall Street during the Depression and my grandmother went to work at a phone company in Manhattan at the age of 14. She met my grandfather in New York City while he was serving in the Army and when his service ended they relocated to South Carolina where they had 4 children. He was a rural mail carrier and was killed in an automobile crash in 1959. A few months later, my grandmother became pregnant. Her other children attended the local Catholic school and she contacted the Church for help. Having told her 4 children they were running away from bill collectors, the Church relocated the family to an apartment in Savannah, Georgia where a social worker (we suspect it was the same one who met with my adoptive grandmother and saw the adoption through) regularly visited.

After his birth, the children and my biological grandmother returned to South Carolina. The nuns teaching at the children’s school told the oldest sibling they had a little brother but that was the only mention of the situation that ever gave any indication to anyone that my father existed at all.

My father’s half brother was eager to establish a relationship and after asking my father for permission I put them into contact with one another. They corresponded at length and we exchanged pictures that left no doubt about the DNA connection.

Earlier in the year, we were invited to my dad’s adoptive family’s annual reunion—which happens to take place in North Carolina. Since we were already planning to visit the area, my father, his half brother, and one of his half-sisters agreed to meet while we are here. This is my first time coming to the reunion, meeting any of my extended family on my dad’s side, and my first time meeting my dad’s biological family. Within a few days, I went from being an only child with one surviving grandmother to getting to know two completely new family groups from North and South Carolina. It’s pretty wild.

So, as you are reading this, after 59 years and 7 months, my father, mother, and I will be meeting members of his biological family for the first time. There are still mysteries to be solved and research to be done as we have not determined the identity of my father’s biological father but none of this would have been possible without the commercialization and popularization of commercial DNA testing.

I am very thankful that I have been able to meet and establish relationships with my father’s adoptive family for the first time and I am thankful I was able to help him find part of his biological family as well.

I have only spoken about all of this with three close friends and I am extremely thankful for each of their support–they listened, shared their own stories, and were each so kind. It was an emotional experience for me because I pride myself on being a lone wolf of sorts. Navigating the hurdles, fears, and emotions related to my own relationship to my father, his relationship to his adoptive family, and worrying about hurting people, was very challenging (and of course, it coincided with a few other life events which compounded the complications that emerged).

All this is to say, if you are looking for your biological family or perhaps, like me, you think you don’t have a real in-group, don’t give up. It may take 30 years or it may take 60 and of course, things are often out of our control but know that a completely new set of circumstances can arise at any time no matter how long it takes. Biological or adoptive, chosen or born-to, it’s up to each of us to establish the connections and relationships we want to have in this life.

**I will edit/expand upon this blog later this evening when I return from the meeting and have further details.

 

OSCARS+Lent

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So, I gave up social media and texting (my phone in general except for emails, video+audio, finance stuff, and calls) for Lent.

So far I’ve messed up on the texting thing once when I had to respond to my brother about something, but except for that I have been good. Only about 27 days to go!

I’ve looked at WhatsApp and my texts to make sure anyone who didn’t know hadn’t messaged me…but alas, of course, they hadn’t, HAHA!

I was using my phone as a security blanket at times when I should have just been facing the uncomfortable situations around me and it got to be too much. I was checking my phone constantly and using it for everythinggg.

I chose to give this up a week or so before Lent but I went to my favorite bar on Mardi Gras and some grumpy, drunk old man was loudly making fun of me and this middle-aged lady sitting next to me about being on our phones…she told him off but I just sat there wondering why people have to be assholes–and bathing in the irony of the fact that I was set to give up my phone in a few hours and he had no idea. *I still think people are assholes…

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I’m legit dying tho. It’s super isolating and lonely not being able to reach out to people. I miss Instagram the most, by FAR! I find myself wanting to send people memes so bad 😛 I don’t miss Facebook at all, oddly, although I did realize all of my news was coming from there. Not like, I was reading news from people’s likes or my timeline, but I follow all of my favorite news outlets on there so without that platform I’m not reading any news. I have since fixed that by shifting completely to BBC and radio news shows/podcasts. Also, watching TV without Twitter/IMDb is certainly overrated, tbh…

That said, I have been sleeping better (it’s definitely affected my dreams!) and have been more productive at work. I have been better about getting exercise and grooming too. Not that I wasn’t doing that stuff before but I am more focused and have more energy to dedicate to those things now. I’ve also taught myself some new skills in my free time too: logo making on Adobe Illustrator as well as creating and enabling “canned messages” and filters in Gmail. Worked on more Adobe stuff too. I’ve been reading more as well. I definitely hope to keep my phone usage to a minimum after all this.

I keep forgetting and eating meat on Fridays so I guess it’s all kind of pointless anyway, haha >_<

I’m going to a concert on Friday and that’s probably going to be the most challenging. I will take some pictures to share on IG at Easter.

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As is tradition, here are my picks (first and second) for all of the categories in tonights OSCARS! What are your picks?

BEST PICTURE

  • Call Me by Your Name
  • Darkest Hour
  • Dunkirk
  • Get Out
  • Lady Bird (1)
  • Phantom Thread
  • The Post
  • Shape of Water (2)
  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

  • Timothee Chalamet (2)
  • Daniel Day-Lewis (1)
  • Daniel Kaluuya
  • Gary Oldman
  • Denzel Washington

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

  • Sally Hawkins
  • Frances McDormand
  • Margot Robbie (1)
  • Saorise Ronan (2)
  • Meryl Streep

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

  • Willem Dafoe (1)
  • Woody Harrelson
  • Richard Jenkins
  • Christoper Plummer
  • Sam Rockwell (2)

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

  • Mary J. Blige (1)
  • Allison Janney (2)
  • Lesley Manville
  • Laurie Metcalf
  • Octavia Spencer

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

  • The Boss Baby
  • The Breadwinner
  • Coco (1)
  • Ferdinand (2)
  • Loving Vincent

CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Blade Runner 2049 (2)
  • Darkest Hour
  • Dunkirk
  • Mudbound
  • The Shape of Water (1)

COSTUME DESIGN

  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Darkest Hour
  • Phantom Thread (1)
  • The Shape of Water
  • Victoria & Abdul (2)

DIRECTING

  • Dunkirk
  • Get Out
  • Lady Bird (1)
  • Phantom Thread
  • The Shape of Water (2)

DOCUMENTARY (FEATURE)

  • Abacus: Small Enough to Jail
  • Faces Places (2)
  • Icarus (1)
  • Lost Men in Aleppo
  • Strong Island

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT SUBJECT)

  • Edith+Eddie
  • Heaven Is a Traffic Jame on the 405
  • Heroin(e) (1)
  • Knife Skills
  • Traffic Stop (2)

FILM EDITING

  • Baby Driver (1)
  • Dunkirk
  • I, Tonya
  • The Shape of Water (2)
  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

  • A Fantastic Woman (1)
  • The Insult
  • Loveless
  • On Body and Soul (2)
  • The Square

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

  • Darkest Hour (2)
  • Victoria & Abdul (1)
  • Wonder

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

  • Dunkirk
  • Phantom Thread (2)
  • The Shape of Water (1)
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

  • Mighty River
  • Mystery of Love
  • Remember Me (2)
  • Stand Up For Something
  • This is Me (1)

PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Blade Runner 2049
  • Darkest Hour (2)
  • Dunkirk
  • The Shape of Water (1)

SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

  • Dear Basketball
  • Garden Party (1)
  • Lou
  • Negative Space (2)
  • Revolting Rhymes

SHORT FILM (LIVE ACTION)

  • DeKalb Elementary (2)
  • The Eleven O’Clock
  • My Nephew Emmett (1)
  • The Silent Child
  • Watu Wote/All of Us

SOUND EDITING

  • Baby Driver (1)
  • Blade Runner 2049
  • Dunkirk (2)
  • The Shape of Water
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi

SOUND MIXING

  • Baby Driver
  • Blade Runner 2049
  • Dunkirk (1)
  • The Shape of Water (2)
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi

VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Blade Runner 2049 (2)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  • Kong: Skull Island
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • War for the Planet of the Apes (1)

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

  • Call Me by Your Name (1)
  • The Disaster Artist
  • Logan
  • Molly’s Game
  • Mudbound (2)

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

  • The Big Sick
  • Get Out
  • Lady Bird (1)
  • The Shape of Water (2)
  • Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Cleopatra’s Nose: Our Micro History as a Rube Goldberg Machine

“Cleopatra’s nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed.”-Blaise Pascal

Early in 2017, a friend sent me an article about Egon Schiele. I am not interested in art in most cases but I decided to read the article and it struck me. It was not until the end of the year after reading The Stranger by Albert Camus that I began deeply thinking about the interconnection of everything in our lives with those around us and ultimately the history of our era. 

The article explained that records from Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts show that Egon Schiele was chosen over another candidate. That candidate? Adolf Hitler.

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Egon SchieleFemale Nude on Her Stomach1917Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna

The Stranger begins with a scene in which a son, Meursault, journeys to his mother’s nursing home to attend her wake. The story ends with his behavior at the wake-having a cup of coffee with milk, smoking cigarettes, and dozing off-causing him to be condemned by society.

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These two recollections, one fictional and one actual, show how seemingly innocuous things can lead to grave events.

It is anxiety inducing to think that everything we do (and do not do) and everything going on around us has consequences that we are not in control of nor can foresee. People often ask me why I am serious or why I do not actively participate in things or interact with people beyond the necessary professional obligations I have and this is why. I do not want to be the grain of sand that turns into the snowball rolling down the mountain.

The admissions officer at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts who admitted Schiele had no way of knowing that the rejected candidate would go on to help orchestrate the genocide of over 6 million people. Just as Meursault, nor any of us, would ever imagine that having a cup of coffee or taking a nap could go on to seal our fate.

Blaise Pascal and many other philosopher’s have commented on this phenomenon too. The face of history changed because of the length of Cleopatra’s nose. The size of Cleopatra’s nose was determined by the unique combination of genes produced by her parents and on and on and on. This is an even more interesting example than the previous two because no person had the ability to change the size of Cleopatra’s nose. Chance-the unique pairing of her mother and father’s genes-caused her facial structure. Obviously, this is a simplification-she wasn’t a mute, inactive person who only affected other’s by her looks, but it does spark questions about public perception, attraction, initial actions, and ultimately the level of control we have.

Do the perceptions of and reactions to our looks, words, and actions have more control over circumstances than our looks, words, and actions in and of themselves?

Our lives and all lives are Rube-Goldberg Machines.

Each simple action influences a situation leading to another action. Individually, those actions-a marble rolling down a ramp, a comment to a person on the bus, a cup of coffee, eye contact with a stranger on the street-have no immediate consequences but they lead to other things that impact history, on both the micro and macro level.

This phenomenon can be responsible for good things too, of course. The conundrum is, we do not know how any action, positive or negative, will affect those around us. Of course, there are actions, good and bad, which have immediate consequences but largely our daily actions and conversations do not have immediate consequences. They are pebbles being dropped into a vessel of water, slowly causing the level to rise. However, we have no way of knowing how our actions will land. We are only responsible for ourselves, but even actions and words we perceive as positive and good can be perceived by others as negative and bad therefore leading to negative consequences.

When I was younger, I was much less self-conscious about how my life affected those around me. As I’ve gotten older my consciousness of my presence and the impact I could have has increased exponentially and I am often overwhelmed by the idea that something I do will change the perception others have of me and how it could go on to negatively impact my life or the lives of others. It is quite narcissistic. I know that I am not an admissions officer at a college nor am I on trial, but the fact of the matter is, other’s perceptions of us, our opinions and how we choose to voice them, and the minor choices we make, do in fact affect the world in uncontrollable ways.

I teeter wildly between the realization that my actions will inevitably affect the world beyond my control and therefore I should not fret about them and the idea that I alone am in control of the things I do and therefore am ultimately responsible for the consequences my words and actions have.

This stretches through history. Ignoring Cleopatra, publica fama or reputation and it’s incredibly important role in Medieval law (and therefore current law, as much as we may like to deny it) through the formation of the public sphere in the salons and coffee houses of Enlightenment and Industrial-Revolution era Europe as illuminated by Jürgen Habermas, were each impacted by public perception. Even in today’s formation of virtual reputations online, our words, actions, and demographic categories affect how we are perceived and the amount of power our words and actions have.

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A reading of Molière, Jean François de Troy, about 1728

With one viral video or one popular Tweet or one shitty comment to a coworker or one compliment to a stranger, we each can become Cleopatra’s nose, the acceptance letter, or the cup of coffee with milk.

My question this week is how do you handle this? Are you fearless and indifferent to the perceptions of others? Do you act according to your own personal moral or religious code without worry? Do you stay up at night paralyzed by how your actions or words may have affected others? How do you deal with the Rube-Goldberg Machine that is your daily life?

Talk to y’all next time!

Goals, Goals, Goals

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How is everyone’s 2018 going? Mine is going pretty well so far. I didn’t realize until talking with a friend on Friday night that I haven’t made any resolutions for the year. I jotted a few down on my phone on the 2nd but never made them public or fully developed them.

I accomplished several of my resolutions from last year. This year I only have a few:

Use my phone less. I have turned off all of my notifications which has helped a ton but I’m still really bad about using my phone as a security blanket when I either don’t want to or don’t know how to interact with people. It’s a really bad habit because it’s distracting and takes me out of the present moment.

Exercise more. This is always a given but I’d really like to do it. I walk 40 minutes a day on my journey to and from work, but once it warms up I’d really like to start running and hiking more often.

Read+Write more. Last year one of my goals was to engage in a creative endeavor and failed quite miserably. I have a few episodes of a podcast written out and a few topics I’d like to write about. I also began reading more last year and was able to read some Camus, Jack London, and a few others. I’ve already started another Camus book (The First Man) and have a few others lined up so I’m on the right track. I would really like to get back in to going to see films as well.

Finally, I hope to explore the city more. I take living in NYC for granted and only spend my time in Riverdale and Washington Heights. I really need to get out to Brooklyn, Queens, and lower Manhattan. Again, when it warms up a bit.

This is a short post because I have something a little more philosophical to talk about in my next post.

Do you set resolutions? What would you like to accomplish in 2018?

 

Things Change but Life Remains the Same

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Hey everyone…keeping with tradition I completely abandon this thing when I get busy and boy have I been busy.

Let’s catch up, shall we?

So, if you’ll remember, this time last year I became homeless after my boyfriend’s religious community ousted me. Shortly afterward (like days), I went to Israel for a month before returning to slog through 6 months of unemployment while sharing an apartment with 5 other people in Washington Heights.

Other than a few reviews of Italian History presentations, a response to 13 Reasons Why, and a plea to help a friend in need, I have written nothinggg.

I will say now, this has been the hardest year of my life. No exceptions. Harder than any short stint of annoyance or major life shifting event (and I’ve been through some doozies). Hard. But maybe we always think that? I know during each of the previous difficult times in my life I thought that was definitely what would do me in. There was no way I could survive the hurt or sadness or anger or whatever emotional reaction a situation evoked. I simply wasn’t going to make it. But I did. I am this time too, day by day.

But this year has been such a prolonged state of sadness and anger and confusion and yearning like I haven’t experienced since I was 19. It took me almost 4 years to fix all the different parts of me that were broken that time. This time I really don’t know how long it will take. Certainly, longer than a year.

I keep hoping and being reassured that things can go back to the way they were but I know that’s impossible. And I honestly don’t want to go back because back there I was vulnerable to this pain and now, despite having to endure it, I can’t be surprised again.

cropped-img_2882.jpgI found a new career, I get to use my education daily, I have 3 side jobs (that’s 4 jobs total, hence the lack of writing), I have a safe place to live that’s mine, I have acquaintances, I have a routine and a budget, I am dependent on no one for anything, I’ve matured spiritually. I’ve recovered financially from my stint of unemployment and have been able to keep saving and making progress on my student loans (my biggest accomplishment this year). I found a fun place to hang out once a week after work where I can relax without worrying about spending a million dollars or people being mean to me. I have a lot to be thankful for in the sense that my life right now is calm and the only person who can screw it up is me. I am at the mercy of no one and while that is extremely lonely it is also comforting beyond measure.

My biggest problem and source of discontent this year has been impatience. I’m constantly waiting and wondering if things will return to how they were before the rug was ripped out from under me last year or what direction my new life will take. I know now that I am unwilling to allow myself to be hurt again or hurt anyone else and I certainly, certainly won’t ever depend on someone again, even if I fall in love. So, I’m in a holding pattern just waiting for the universe to push me wherever it wants me to go.

Things are finally turning around and I’ve been able to meet some really cool people and let loose a little bit. I’m excited to have some fun, get to know some new people, have some adventures, experience some romance, improve professionally, learn some new skills, and explore this crazy city some more.

I’m going back to Texas for Thanksgiving and then I have the entire holiday season here in NYC to work and find some cool things to do. I am going to MAKE myself write regularly because I really do miss it and I am planning on starting back up with my movie reviews and I definitely want to go to a few concerts. My resolution for 2018 is to go on another trip overseas, so we shall see! As usual, follow me on allllll the things @thatgingeranna and stay tuned for some upcoming independent lady adventures and less melancholia!

As usual, if you have any recommendations for things to do in NYC, drop them in the comments below! Talk to y’all soon! 😊

Currently Reading: A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

Currently Watching: LOVE (for the 3rd time)

Currently Listening To: RAI 2

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Have a wonderful week! ❤