Four Days to Family-Unanswered Questions
Most people just have a family ~ but no~ I always must complicate things. Like everyone, I have the family I grew up with – that know everything about me – the things I want known and the things I’d just as soon forget. I have the add-on family by marriage, as well as the extended family; the surrogate family driven by the places I have called home, and then there is my mysterious birth family….
Sandwiched around the birth on my oldest son in 2004, I located my birth-mother’s family (I found out I was pregnant the evening before I would pick up my birth-mother at the airport and meet her face to face) in late summer 2003. Then while I was home on maternity leave following his birth in May 2004, I located my birth-father’s family.
All of my known birth family lives on the other side of the United States, so face-to-face visits are few and far between. On my birth-mother’s side, I am an only child with no cousins – the only one to carry on that bloodline, those soul stories. They have all been very open, accepting me into their lives after 35 years. On my father’s side, I have two half-siblings – a brother and a sister. My sister came to meet me as soon as she learned I existed, and we have worked on being sisters ever since – trying to make up for time we lost. I have also met my half-brother once, and my birth-father twice, and have hopes that as time moves on so too all these relationships will continue to grow.
As much as I would like to say at 35 I was ready to be accepted or rejected by either side of my birth-family, or even now 13 years later, it can still be painful to get an unexpected reaction. I think I am just better at hiding my initial hurt, and then finding a way to deal with it constructively.
In 2007, my birth-grandfather on my mother’s side was asked to give the Commencement speech at the college where he taught from 1968 through the 1970’s, and he invited me to go with him as a member of his family. Understanding how important it was to be invited as the commencement speaker especially as an emeritus professor, I was absolutely elated at his invitation. I also just happened to be the only one who was able to arrange their schedule to attend as his family member. Not only was he taking me as family, but I was to have what I thought would be his undivided attention! Thank my lucky stars for this good fortune!
The underbelly of this story is – this is the location where everything would have “went down” – where they would have lived when they found out my mother was pregnant, and sent her to a home for unwed mothers; where I would have lived until I was around seven or eight if they had decided to keep me … you can see where my mind was heading in all this.
To me, even after all of these years, not only was this about being accepted as family after 35 years MIA and being introduced as family, but it was also about seeing all the childhood “what if’s” that played out in my mind throughout my childhood whenever I daydreamed about my birth-family. I jubilantly accepted, and without hesitation adjusted my schedule to attend as his grand-daughter.
The time alone with my grandfather was a dream come true, however, I just couldn’t leave well enough alone. I do understand that
1968 was a different time, and yet, I had assumed that my birth-family and I all had the same day dreams at some time in our lives. While at the college, I met the attorney who instructed my birth-grandparents on how to “handle” my birth-mother’s unfortunate accident. I saw the picturesque campus where my birth-grandfather taught through the late sixties and seventies. I eventually asked my birth-grandfather to show me the house where they lived, and other places that would have been my childhood if only…
Caught up in the moment of feeling accepted, of being in this town as his granddaughter, of being with this member of my birth-family – I just couldn’t resist any longer. Four years after finding them, caught up in what might have been my childhood neighborhood and haunts, I blurted out one of the questions that I believe plagues all adopted children, “Have you ever thought about how things would be different if you would have kept me?”
Wind shield wipers moving, squeakily wiping the misty rain from our sight.
Dreadfully long silence.
Almost as soon as it was spoken aloud, I wished I could have stuffed it back in my mouth and swallowed it to some deep abyss never to see the light of day again.
After what seemed like forever, he finally spoke. His response was not what I expected, nor did I want to hear it, or accept it. It was brutally honest, whether I liked it or not … brutally.
We finished the trip. I dutifully pretended that nothing was bothering me and I was having a splendid time, all the while inside I just wanted to curl up and sob bitterly at his reaction (you know – the kind of crying you do in the shower so that you can just let it all out and no one notices your eyes are red and swollen). I returned home, then spent the next two weeks … silent (I am NEVER silent) and moping around my home, much to the surprise and concern on my family. They had expected me to return home still elated at going on a trip with my birth-grandfather as his granddaughter. I couldn’t and didn’t want to talk about what happened; it was more than I could bear. Then, finally I wrote this poem, letting go of the hurt – of what felt like being given away a second time — it helped to let it go –
Plaguing my mind
Weighing heavy on my heart
The ivy-covered white-shingled Colonial,
the winding beach along Lake Erie littered with green-bottle sea glass,
a childhood dreaming of “what if’s”
Wondering for a lifetime
Could no longer be restrained behind
The wall of silence.
Breaking through the barrier like warriors before they can be stopped –
“Doyoueverwonderwhatthingswouldbelike — ifyouwouldhavekeptme?”
The words blurted out
Before they could be stopped
There’s no turning back.
From the Deadening Silence.
While the road loomed ahead.
The windshield drizzle-glazed with light rain from the Lake.
The silence lengthens, if that’s even possible
Seconds feel more like lifetimes.
Then the answer comes , paralyzing ~“Of course not! That just simply wasn’t possible.”
Nothing more said – no explanation.
The doors of childhood fantasy slam painfully shut
Leaving only the scarred, brutal door of reality.
A mistake to be abruptly dismissed
The shadow of a child is not as easily erased.
The next “Four Days to Family” post – Chapter One draft