Thursday, February 26, 2009

My Daughter's First Visit: Barriers fell and our bond strengthened

Jane's post got me to thinking about my daughter's (also named Jane) first visit to my house on Long Island. She had just turned sixteen; it was April; we had met the previous fall at her home in Madison, Wisconsin, with her parent's blessing. Yes, I know, I had done the unthinkable by searching--and finding--a minor, but that is what I did. The year was 1982; the World Trade Center was an icon of New York City. My daughter Jane had never been to Manhattan, so I arranged to us to stay at a friend's apartment there while we took in the sights. Here's a snippet of what I wrote for my upcoming memoir:

(Please excuse the way this looks but I can not fix it without retyping the whole thing. Sorry.)

Copyright (c) Lorraine Dusky 2009

It’s funny what sticks in one’s mind about any event. Sometimes the smallest detail, like the glint of a diamond on somebody else’s hand, is what you recollect, not the size of the rock. And it’s often the gleam that turns out to be the essence of the thing. Like what I remember about the three days Jane and I spent in Manhattan that spring.

She had never been to New York City. We took in all the usual tourist highlights— we shopped in Chinatown for cheap gewgaws, visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, lunched at the historic Fraunces Tavern near Wall Street, cruised around Manhattan on the Circle Line, sat for a half hour on a bench outside at the top of the World Trade Center and watched the helicopters, rode the Staten Island ferry, even had one of the ladies at the cosmetic counters of Saks Fifth Avenue give us the full treatment. I mean, I crammed in everything I could in those three days.

All that was fine fun, of course, but what I remember best is what we shared at the Statue of Liberty. We took the first boat in the morning from Battery Park, and without speaking of it, made sure we were among the first people off. Then together we raced straight for the elevators, not quite running—because that seemed too crass—but almost. Another family made the first elevator with us. When it stopped, we trotted lickety-split out the door ahead of them, trying not to break into an out-and-out sprint. Without so much as sharing a look, we had, each of us, wanted for us to be the first up the steps of the statue. (We had already discovered that we both loved heights.) Once we reached the steps, we clambered up them quickly, wanting to speed ahead of the other family. Only after a couple of twists and turns did we slow down, look at each other, acknowledge our single-minded quest, and giggle like teenagers.

You might dismiss this as not so unusual, lots of people would do this, you can say, but we knew—wordlessly—why it was important to be first up the steps. Just because. Years later, if we ever spoke of that day, Jane would say, “Remember how we had to be first up the steps of the Statue of Liberty?” and smile. I’d nod and smile back. Our particular shared silliness. No one telling the other to “slow down,” or “Hold on, what’s the rush?” Being first up the steps that day was far more important than the view once we got to the crown. That was nice too, yes, but the best part was being first. Standing there just the two of us, looking down over Manhattan, the first of the day to get that view. She knew that too. She was my daughter. Those were magical times, there seemed to be no self-consciousness between us those days. Barriers fell and our bond strengthened.

Because I had written an Op-ed piece for The New York Times about finding my daughter and the sealed-records statute in New York state, the photographer Jill Krementz wrote and asked if we would be willing to be included in a book for children and teens to be called How It Feels to be Adopted. She’d photograph us and tell Jane’s story in her own voice. Jane immediately agreed to the project. She was going from simply being a kid in an L.D. class to someone special, someone with something to say that others people wanted to hear.

In her essay, Jane reveals that though her mother was pleased that I called, she was “especially nervous” once I was on track to visit because she was threatened. Jane says that most of her own friends were pitted against me, saying things like “I wouldn’t let her just walk into your life. You should tell her to buzz off.” The story is mostly a straight recollection of events after I phoned.

Of our days in Manhattan she says…“What I liked best was our just getting to know each other…. Now I understand the problems she had before I was born and why she put me up for adoption. Being adopted had always made me feel a little insecure, and even though I loved my parents, I still had a lot of unanswered questions and stranger fantasies. Actually, one of my fantasies turned out to be true. I’d always imagined my birthmother was a writer….”

Yes, she would go home to her other life in a few days, but we had these days. However she felt, to me we were mother and daughter then. It didn’t matter that she called me Lorraine. She mostly called me Lorraine—there were a few exceptions when she called me mother, but they would be later, and always rare. Mom was always the woman who raised her; Mom was back home in Wisconsin. But she also called herself my daughter, when it proved expedient. However I really didn’t have equal rights; if I called her “daughter,” she bristled.

We were in the little supermarket on Henry Street--now it's a fancy take-out emporium called Espresso--but then it was a small grocery story, Federico's Market, located practically across the street from the two-story colonial Tony and I were renting. I introduced her to the woman behind the counter--This is my daughter, I said simply, not explaining further, knowing that the woman already knew the whole story. Jane smiled and said hello, but told me once we were on the street that she did not like being introduced as "my daughter."


Then what should I call you?" I protested. She didn't have an answer. Neither of us came up with "birth daughter," for the term wasn't in vogue then, and besides, it implies that the daughter is a daughter only at the time of birth, as if the ties of blood and strings of DNA matter for naught and had been dissolved with the signing of a paper soon after birth. But here we were, sixteen years later. Jane would always be the daughter of two women: Ann, who raised her, and me, who had given her life.


2 comments:

Being Me said...

Good times. Well written.

yourstruelysincerely said...

Lorraine,

As a mother of an adoptee and reunited. I understand the bond, the love, you shared, with your daughter. She felt it too, I know, probably felt like she could be herself, and not have to please, anyone in her life.

She was mirroring her mom, looking and acting just like her mom. Must be exhiliarting feeling, beside being on the Statue of Liberty!!!

my son is almost 43 now and he have I have shared so many firsts between us.