On a wintry weekend about a month after my birthmother and I first spoke, my husband and I packed up the car and the dog and drove to the Oregon coast so that she and I could finally meet face to face.
I looked forward to our first meeting with anticipation and trepidation. Perhaps at some level I was thinking that until I met her face to face, none of it had to be permanent. You know, "If you're not satisfied after thirty days, your money back!" Birthmother-O-Matic. Meeting her would nullify the warranty. You break it you buy it, that sort of thing. Once we touched, I couldn't return her for a refund. The whole drive down, I felt like I was going to crawl right out of my skin. I tried to read, couldn't. I wanted to drive, but was too distracted. And I couldn't smoke, as my then-husband despised cigarettes. I glanced through magazines, played with the dog, looked out the window, drummed my fingers, and somehow made it through the 5-hour drive.
We arrived in town, and did a drive-by of her apartment building. To our amazement, she lived less than a half mile from a bed and breakfast where we had stayed on our honeymoon 4 years earlier! We checked into the hotel, and I unpacked and then paced while I tried to think of what I should wear. After trying on and discarding everything in my suitcase twice, I finally settled on the clothes that made me look the least fat.
We had arranged that she and I would meet first, alone, and have some time to ourselves. I had spent some time putting together a photo album to give her, gleaning pictures from numerous family albums so that she could get a glimpse of what my life had been thus far.
Clutching the photo album tightly to my chest, I walked up to the entrance of the restaurant, scanning the faces of everyone around. Then I saw her, dressed all in black, standing at the entrance. She was SHORT! At 5’4 and large to my 5’11 self, Sylvia blew all of my fantasies right out of the water. We had the same dark hair, same cheekbones and chin, eyes and eybrows. She held me tightly to her and cried. I stood there in her embrace, trying to figure out how I felt. Oddly enough, I felt nothing but numbness. I think I was afraid to feel anything then, afraid that after all I might be rejected again. That numbness did not go away that first weekend, and it lasted for a about three months.
Finally, we went inside and had lunch, and talked for two hours. We shared pictures and stories, and got to know each other. Later that day, my husband and I went to her house and met her husband and my younger sister. Jennifer was (and is) something else. Short like her mother, with hair lighter than mine, but with the same eyes, the same wayward curl and all of the intensity that I know so well in myself. She scared the hell out of me.
My husband and I took the entire family out to dinner, at which point I also met one of my brothers. Over the weekend, more of the family history unfolded, and it was not pretty. All over again I felt the guilt for having had so much, when they had so little. And I was overwhelmed by them, all of them. I’ve always been a very aggressive, intense person, and here was my personality times 3, staring right back at me. I just wanted to hide – it was too much.
Saying our goodbyes and promising to all talk and get together soon, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I couldn’t wait to get home and find some space to myself to try and begin to process everything that had happened.
I’ll admit, I ducked all Sylvia and Jennifer for a while. I need time to think and to get used to the idea of these new additions to my life. And there were still three more siblings yet to meet. I was still really numb, closed off from my feelings. Eventually, they would manifest. About three months after the first meeting, I started to find myself crying for no reason at all. I would be doing simple housework and suddenly be enraged, seemingly without provocation. I eventually sought counseling to help me work through all of the pressure I was feeling. It helped to have someplace safe and structured to sift through the myriad of emotions my reunion had pulled forth. I was angry at having been relinquished, yet at the same time relieved beyond measure that I had escaped the upbringing my siblings had been subjected too. I was terrified of the new people in my life, and yet wanted to be close to them. It was a terrible pushme-pullyou time for all of us - I'd call a couple of days in a row, then not answer my phone for two weeks. I was every womans worst boyfriend, the guy who shows a ton of interest at first, then never calls again.
Over time, despite my efforts to the contrary, Jennifer and I got close, through phone calls and a couple of visits. I think I just needed to figure out that she was not going to hurt me and to see that this was a person who was very much like me. Jennifer and her boyfriend came to Seattle later in the summer, and met my parents for the first time. It was a special moment – Jennifer, shy and awkward, my parents reaching out to gather her into loving hugs.
There was still an element missing from this reunion, however. My big sister, Vicki. The person I had waited for so long to meet.
NEXT: Part 4 – Princess Victoria