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An extraordinary memoir about an unconventional life: born to militant Black Panthers and adopted by Jane Fonda, Mary Williams spent three decades traveling around the world before she was ready to embark on her final journey home.
Mary Williams’ work has appeared in The Believer, McSweeneys and O, The Oprah Magazine. She is also the author of the childrens book Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan. She lives in the South West.
For years I kept my family life a secret from Jane. She knew that I came from a Panther background , but she knew nothing of my mother’s drinking, my shrinking family. When I was thirteen that finally changed. The first person I told my full story to was one of my camp counselors. The camp counselor told Jane. Jane asked me if what she heard was true, and for the first time I opened up to her about everything that was going on back in Oakland. Soon after telling her this, Jane invited me to come live with her year-round in Santa Monica. I did not ask my mom’s permission. I just left. It was a normal thing in my family to be here one day and gone the next. From my small, run-down house in Oakland, I moved to Jane’s hacienda surrounded by flower gardens and avocado trees. Landing on the moon would have been less disorienting. She sat me down soon after I arrived and said, “I see you as my daughter now. If you want, you can call me Mom.” I also had new siblings, a brother named Troy, and two sisters, Vanessa and Nathalie. Jane became my greatest friend, my cheerleader, and a dedicated mother. Despite being a busy actress and activist, Jane was home most nights and often cooked dinner for us. Everything was new. Even something as seemingly simple as dinnertime was fraught. I had to prepare myself each night for my confrontation with “white people food”—some of it good (baked Alaska), some not so good (artichokes). And I was shocked to learn that people could disagree or dislike one another and still be civil.