Robert flipped over a bucket of sand as he dropped the bomb. “You had another mother,” he said. We were four years old.
I patted the top of his castle. “Yeah, my GRAND-mother!” I laughed.
“Nooo,” he said, green eyes grave.
I didn’t know what Robert meant. I tossed the idea around as I dug a moat. When his mother called him, I went inside and asked my parents. We sat around the table and my mother said, “Yes, Honey, Robert is right. We adopted you.” They told me the story. My “Other Mother” was 17 when she had me, and because she was so young, couldn’t care for me, so she gave me up and my parents had hand-picked me. “We wanted a girl, and you were Greek, too, so you were perfect for us.”
I had another mother. I wondered what she looked like, where she was, if she cared about me. As I grew, I developed a picture of this swarthy teenaged girl in the hospital, her face sweaty and strained, pushing. “It’s a girl!” the doctor said.
“Ok, take it away,” she waved her hand.
Although my parents strove to convince me that they wanted me, I never grew out of feeling abandoned. My mom’s idea of affection was a dry peck on the cheek or a split-second hug. I can count the number of times my father’s met my gaze on one hand. We never said “I love you.” The closest my parents got to that was, “We love you, but…” when I was in trouble.
Growing up, I would cry in the dark, sending thoughts out to my “Other Mother.” Why did you have to give me up? You were young but didn’t you love me? You can still come and get me. I’ll be good. I’ll help you. We can do it together. Please come!
The woman who bore me became my own Greek myth. I never thought I’d see another face like mine, or unlock that door. That piece of me – Who am I? Where did I come from? – left a huge hole in my life. I thought if my “Other Mother” only knew what my life was like, she’d come get me. I used to imagine that she was famous – Jaclyn Smith from “Charlie’s Angels.”
Since I played Dorothy in our first-grade production of “The Wiz”, I wanted to be “A famous woman.” My parents talked about famous people all the time. I thought if I could be famous, people would listen to me.
First I wanted to be an actress. When I was nine, I wrote to ABC-TV in New York, asking them to put me on a show. They sent a very nice form letter explaining that production companies, not networks, sought actors, and that I should contact some of those. I bugged my mother to take me to auditions, but she said that she didn’t want to be a stage mother. I acted in school productions but nothing came of it.
When we stopped doing plays in school, I started writing them so that I could act. I showed the plays to my parents. My mom would get excited and share the plays with relatives. My dad would say, “Very nice, very nice.” But they read every word. When I tried to tell them something out loud, my father would interrupt. My mother would appear to listen, then reach over, maybe brush my bangs, and say, “You need a haircut.” But they focused their full attention on my written words, so I kept writing.
“Maybe you’ll be a famous author,” my mom would say. And way in the back of my head, I thought that if I became an actress or an author, my “real” mother would see me, say, “That’s her!” and find me. She and I would live happily ever after.
As I grew, my dreams became more realistic. Thanks to my high school English teacher’s dire warnings against studying English, I abandoned the idea and the practice of writing by the time I went to college. My experiences shaped me, and I revived the writing dream at 25, but I never abandoned the hope of learning my personal prologue.
Four months ago, my husband handed me an envelope from the adoption agency that placed me with my parents. It had been 10 years since I’d tried to search for my birth parents. At the time, I’d put my name on the New York State Adoption Registry, and they said if there was a match, they’d let me know. I didn’t get a match but they did send me a document that offered some details about my birth parents. I accepted it as a sparse but sufficient story of my life.
And now somebody was looking for me. I read the letter Saturday, and spent two days wondering who it was, hoping it wasn’t a scam, and if not, that my long-lost blood relative didn’t want a kidney. I called the agency and they said that
my birth mother wanted to make contact. Jackpot! My birth mother. My mythological heroine. Did I want to meet her? the social worker asked. “Absolutely,” I said. “I’ve been thinking about this all my life.” They would send a form for me to sign and then they would exchange our information.
I signed and notarized the consent form the same Friday I got it. It takes four business days for mail to get from Seattle to New York. I waited. I thought maybe my birth mother had balked. The following Thursday, I called the agency. I couldn’t wait any longer. Expecting to hear they were still waiting, my head felt numb as I hung up, looking at the name, address, phone and email I’d written on the back of an expense report. How did I want to make initial contact? they’d asked. Email was safest. If Brad Paisley is cooler online, I’m cooler in writing. This way I could think about what to say beforehand, instead of breaking into tears with a stranger on the phone.
I crafted a detailed email. Seeing my screen through the blur of tears, I told her all the things I’d want to know if I’d never met my daughter. Rose’s laugh is my favorite sound in the world. I told her that I laugh long and loud, no matter where I am. I told her my first word was “kiri” – candle in Greek, when I was a year old. I told her I got straight A’s in school and made the gifted program, then got ejected for writing a trashy teen soap opera. I told her I that I’d married the
love of my life and had a two-year-old daughter and a son on the way. And I told her that though I was happy now, growing up was fairly tragic. I told her not to feel bad, because I’d finally triumphed over the obstacles I’d encountered.
The next morning, I booted up and she’d already emailed me. She said she’d never stopped thinking about me, not for a day. She said she was so grateful for the gift of contact. She said she always loved me. I cried. I could not have hoped for a better introduction.
I sent her the email, and directed her to my blog as a convenient window into my life, past and present. I’d written about some pretty serious issues in it – sexual abuse, emotional abuse, my crazy family. I told her to focus on the positive, that triumph was my life’s theme.
During our first phone call, she said that she was nervous, but conversation flowed. She was just as emotionally honest as I was, and we talked and laughed. We had no awkward moments. She told me that she and my birth father had been high school sweethearts and planned to marry. When she got pregnant, her parents sequestered her in Queens, and then sent her to a home for unwed mothers uptown. They were Greek. He was Cuban and therefore unacceptable. She wanted to keep me but knew she couldn’t care for me. Her adopted best friend lived a charmed life, so she thought her baby would have the same great experience. She loved me since she’d carried me and she gave me up but never gave up thinking about me. All those nights I wondered if she was out there, did she think of me? She did. And if she’d only known, she would have come.
Since the first phone call, we’ve talked every few days. She says all the mom things I’ve always longed to hear. She’s proud of me. She loves me. She can’t wait to meet her grandchildren. My mother died last October after suffering 13 years of Alzheimer’s disease. I never thought I’d get a second chance at having a mother. But I did. And I’ve given her a second chance at being my mom.