The message said “Mary, this is your mother. I’ve been waiting for so long to talk to you. My number is ____. Please call me when you get this message. I love you.”
You see, for a lot of us, the search, although arduous and fraught with fear and anxiety, is still our “free time.” We can imagine so many things about what our birthparents are like. Once we find, that’s it. Whatever we get, good, bad or otherwise, it’s what we’ve got. No more imaginary birthmoms, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins. Let me tell you what I imagined my birthmother might be like:
1. I thought maybe I was actually an alien baby, left on earth to be raised among humans. Eventually, when I was old enough, the mothership would come and my “real” family would get me. When I was real young, around 5 or 6, I would design imaginary radio receivers on my Fisher-Price easel, hoping to eventually build them so I could pick up whatever signals my family was sending me from space. I figured they’d probably route them through Atlantis, so I also spent a lot of time imagining what Atlantis might be like.
2. As I got older, and realized that I was going to be a lot taller than my adopted mother, I imagined my birthmother as very tall. I pictured her as an attorney or maybe a veterinarian, sleek and long-legged. I imagined her being proud of my grades in college and my aspirations to be a writer and my love for all things furred and four-legged.
Those were the good fantasies. The bad ones ranged from drug addict to axe-muderer to institutionalized whacko.
So here I was, with this phone message sitting on my answering machine. I played it over and over, trying to get a picture of the person behind the voice. She had a whiskey voice, and she spoke with a slight lisp.
I was terrified of calling her. All of a sudden there was a whole new pressure in my life, a whole new group of people to try and please while still trying to please the current group under drastically altered circumstances. I worried that my mom was going to feel bad about me finding my birthmom - in fact, every time I thought about my mom during that time, I cried. I felt so bad, as if I had somehow betrayed our relationship by searching. Never mind that she'd always told me it was okay to do it, never mind that this search was about my need to know my genetic and medical background and not really anyone else's business. As a "good" daughter, I honestly felt really guilty about searching. However, I also knew that this need to search was my right and my choice. As bad as my parents may or may not feel about it, they couldn't tell me not to, nor would either of them have ever asked me not to. I had a burning desire to know my origins, to see if I really was a human being like the rest of the population, a changeling, an alien or just something somebody found under a rock. Until I had those answers, nothing else about my life was going to make sense to me.
I was too on edge to call her right away, so I called my parents and a couple of friends to get some support and to give me time to compose my thoughts. I wrote down a list of questions that I wanted to ask her, and poured a glass of wine. Finally, I picked up the phone and dialed.
I wish I could remember even a word of that first conversation. We talked for hours, trying to fit 32 years of history into that first phone call. I learned that Sylvia had been an alcoholic for many years, but had stopped drinking almost 16 years earlier. She had gone back to school, earned a psychology degree, and worked as a counselor in drug rehab. Her last job had been as a director for an inpatient rehab program. Five years earlier, however, her whole life had changed. Two aneurysms in her brain had broken loose, and she had nearly died. She had brain surgery which saved her life, and had been on disability ever since. I was floored – I had so nearly lost her before I ever found her.
On the phone with Sylvia that first night, I was elated. I was consumed with curiosity, and the questions and the answers fell so fast upon each other that I can't remember what I even said. I was delighted to be wanted. I was pleased that when I told my birthmother of what I'd done in my life so far that she was impressed with me. But even in that first conversation, there were things I learned, little revelations of huge dysfunction that made my heart sink. I wanted to love Sylvia just as she is, without reservation. But from early on I wondered just how easy that would be to do.
I learned that I had another two siblings that were younger than I. Sylvia had divorced her first husband and remarried shortly after my birth. The second marriage produced a younger brother and a baby sister. I now knew the names of all of my five siblings –which I frantically wrote on a notepad as she listed them off for me so that I could remember them all. It was completely overwhelming, going from one sibling to six. I also learned, to my horror, that Sylvia’s second husband had been a very abusive man, and for at least ten years my siblings had suffered indescribable torture at his hands. The news left me heartbroken, and feeling very guilty. I had escaped because I was given up. I had a childhood any one of my siblings would have given a limb to have.
It was a lot to absorb, and in many ways, I’m still working through it.
Sylvia and I made plans to meet – I would drive to Oregon, about five hours from my house, and we would spend a couple of days together. I would meet her current husband and two of my siblings, and they would meet my husband. And Sylvia and I would finally know what each other looked like.
NEXT: Part 3: Up Close and Personal
Reunion Road Home
Angel on a Harley - Doug's Page