Thursday, January 14, 2010

Letters Lead to an Alternative Universe Daughter

Lorraine
By Lorraine Dusky
Coyright (c) 2009

Life has been good, fulfilling beyond any reason I could have imagined, dots connected that I did not know were still on the page, waiting for the right moment to be aligned. A few weeks before Christmas I got a call from a woman, Jennifer, who started out by telling me her name, but the second she got to her maiden name, my heart went KABOOM, I had a small panic attack, I'm flushed and pink--because her name was that of my first love, the one I did not marry, the one who if I had my life would have been--well, I would not be writing a blog called Birth Mother, First Mother Forum.

I would be an ordinary married lady, I presume, with a child who had not been given up for adoption. I might live in Michigan or Chicago or California. On one level, we were destined to be the kind of marriage that families might have arranged: both solidly middle class Polish Catholics. (To my mother's dismay, I did not even date another Polish Catholic in my entire life.) But there Tom was, and Tom was smart, attentive, charming, funny, loving--okay, he was also handsome, tall, slim. I was a journalism major; he, English. We were gears meant to mesh. In my mind, George Clooney would play him in the movie.

But so much intervened, including his mother. Lillian, his mother, was worried, I suspect, that since we were young--both of us college freshmen--and in love, I would get pregnant, her son would have to drop out of school, his life would be ruined. Wouldn't she have been surprised to know that we never went all the way? I think so. Tom indeed proposed marriage four or five dates after we met at my cousin's wedding on Thanksgiving Day, 1960. I said, Yes! Gladly, warmly, wholeheartedly. We were very sub rosa about the plans, knowing both our parents would have exploded.

Tom as I knew him. 
This and that and his mother and distance kept us apart--we went to school in different cities (Detroit and Cleveland) and lived in different cities (Dearborn, Michigan and Jackson, seventy miles away), and so getting together was always difficult, fraught, all too infrequent. Long distance phone calls were expensive; one had to rely on letters; he did not write often enough and his mother was always putting up speed bumps, making it impossible for us to see each other. I wanted more letters, more constancy, even though when we were together it was a glass all full. But still, back in Dearborn I had begun seeing someone else, and by the spring of our sophomore year, I broke up with Tom.

Bad idea. Really bad idea.

I let myself confuse constancy with the depth of my passion, soon realized I cared for him and him alone, but it seemed too late, our separation a done deal. Living far apart as we did, we did not run into one another, we had no mutual friends. More than a year passed; I'm now getting ready to graduate from college; Tom, not quite. My mother would tell me about hangups on some Saturday nights or Sunday afternoons--I think it's Tom, her eyes told me, as I was wondering the same. But who knew? No caller ID then. No email, no texting, no free calls on nights and weekends. Why wouldn't he leave his name if indeed the caller were him? I could not call him.

Then fate stepped in. My aunt, at whose daughter's wedding I had met Tom, was in the ladies room at another wedding in Jackson nearly two years later at the same moment that Lillian was there. "I shouldn't have broken up Tom and Lorraine," Lillian says to my aunt. Eventually, my aunt tells my mother, who relates the message to me, and when I think he will be home from school--Thanksgiving weekend--I send him a funny "thinking-about-you" card to be there when he arrives. He phoned as soon as he got it.

It was he who called, yes, he said, I used to drive to Dearborn on a whim, but you were never home, or you never answered the phone. I didn't have the nerve to leave my name, I was too embarrassed, you had to pick up, he said. We were back together immediately, almost as if we had not been apart, all passion intact. Now we even talked about what kind of furniture we would have when we married, what kind of car, how I would keep my name. We debated where we might live--not Dearborn, not Jackson, but--well, it's hard to know who was the main cause of our not marrying, in looking back we both were the reason, but marry we did not. Less than a year after graduation I left Michigan for a better job on a bigger newspaper out East, Rochester, New York. There I fell in love with my daughter's father, a married man; Tom married someone else back in Michigan. Five months before my daughter was born in 1966, Tom and his wife had a daughter. My daughter was relinquished; my life was inexorably altered. Here I am today.

But I did not forget. Who ever forgets one's first fierce love, when hormones run high and the wind blows strong and happiness seems to be yours for the taking?

In 1975, at the time I was divorced from my first husband, I heard through the family-and-friends grapevine (including of course, my aunt, the hairdresser who heard all) that Tom's marriage was on the skids, divorce was probable. Her best friend was the mother of Tom's best friend, so she was a very good conduit. In fact, as soon as I heard he was actually divorced, I was planning to call him. However, a week before the divorce was final, Tom died unexpectedly of an aortic aneurysm. And now it's more than four decades later and his daughter is on the phone, calling from Michigan...and I'm flushed with excitement and remembering that a couple of weeks before she called I had a dream about Tom, and woke up surprised because I had not thought about him for years. Years.

small-golabki2.jpgIt's about five-thirty on a Friday evening, I am actually making a very Polish dish--stuffed cabbage, or golumpki, to serve to very non-Polish dinner guests the following evening, great comfort food for winter nights, it's semi-dark in the living room where I take the call, the dim light is coming from the kitchen, and I am hearing a voice tell me that she found a stack of my love letters to him--about a three-inch stack of letters--along with cards and a few drawings--he saved them all, I'm thinking--and she had Googled me, and now was wondering/hoping if the daughter I had given up for adoption was her sister, she never had a sibling and she's somewhat distanced from her mother, they were alienated for an entire decade after she turned seventeen, she lets the sentence trail off.....

She did not know my daughter had died.

I tell her the news, that a) my daughter was not her sister, and that b) she is dead. But I want to talk to Jennifer more, I want to know about those letters, I want to tell her how much I did indeed love her father, what a fine smart sweet gentleman he was. I turn off the cabbage steaming on the stove and we talk. And talk until I must get off, my husband is standing there with a quizzical look on his face, Who can that be? it's time for dinner. Jennifer and I email. She sends the letters. The love letters she's read. The marriage plans. The secret names we had for one another. My father's heart attack, days before I was to go to Cleveland to a dance at John Carroll, where he was going to school. Why we can't get together one New Year's Eve, will I see you next time, next week, will my family go to Jackson for Easter? And if we do, will you be there? A photograph of me wearing seemingly nothing but a sweat shirt from John Carroll. A few drawings. Silly cards.

Jennifer and I talk some more, we email daily. I cry, and cry some more, for lost love, for my daughter who was surrendered to adoption, for my daughter who is no more, for what might have been, and somehow it's all good crying, a vein gushing feelings that needed to be released though I did not know it. This is all happening around the anniversary of my daughter's death, Christmas, the death of a neighbor I liked very much. Jennifer wants to hear about her father, she was eleven when he died and her mother does not have many good things to say about him, of course, the divorce, and I tell her that after we were both married he and I did see each other--not once, twice--but we were not free, we lived a thousand miles apart now, and that was that. As I write, I'm still crying a lot, because it feels like somehow, some way, she and I are connected, ever so connected, an alternative universe mother and daughter. Amazingly enough, my husband is understanding. Don't you know why you are crying? he says. I shake my head, No. She needs a mother, you need a daughter, and you can be whatever you will be, he says. He believes in synchronicity; so do I; this is way more than mere chance.

The coincidences in our lives pile up--Jennifer does adoption searches in Michigan, a career begun after one of her friends relinquished a child and later sought him; Jennifer is married to one of my adopted Facebook friends, can you believe, we had actually emailed each other when I noticed the Michigan connection; his law office is a half mile down Michigan Avenue from my high school in Dearborn, and for a while Jennifer lived in Dearborn and worked as a reporter on a newspaper and that is exactly what I did when I was in college, work on a newspaper in Dearborn. In fact, she lived a few blocks from where I grew up. Her mother's mother was adopted; her mother's father is from--Wisconsin, which is where my daughter, whom I gave up for adoption, grew up. My middle name, Blanche, was her other grandmother's name. I want to send Jennifer something for Christmas, but I am not sure what, yet I keep fingering a green enamel dragon pin, purchased a year ago from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, but wonder if she will think it odd if I send her a dragon brooch. What is the proper present for someone you feel unusually close to through a weird coincidence of time and heart? A few days later she emails me a photograph of her collection of--dragons. That's just a start.

She is hungry for good news of her father, I tell her everything I can, muse I admit about what-might-have-been, it can't be helped, thank god my husband is so understanding, because I am still weeping a lot. I tell her how much her father wanted a child, we agreed to have One, how much I am sure that he loved her very much. She tells me her father was the cuddly parent, the hugger, the one who got down on the floor with her and played, the one who drove her and her girlfriends around, the one who taught her how to play chess. I tell her that is the man I knew. Things with her mother are not good, and frequently disappointing, she says. I tell her about my daughter, her epilepsy, her torments,the ups and downs of our quarter-of-a-century relationship. Life is hard, but this is easy. Pure and simple, this feels good.

Jennifer had no knowledge of me until she came upon these letters, which she grabbed  from her grandparent's house before it was sold, and they went off to a nursing home. She's had the packet for two years, but did not really look at what she had until recently. My daughter, Jane, died two years ago; had Jennifer called sooner it would have been too soon. Most of the letters only have a return address, no last name; only two have a last name--if those envelopes had been missing she would never have found me.

She's not my daughter, I am not her mother, but there we are, two women connected nonetheless, and everything feels right, warm and comforting, a blanket of love floating down that lifts us both up, together, as if our DNA was meant to come together and rejoice. I tell her something my mother told me only years before she died, and kept back when Lillian seemed hell bent on ruining our love: that she, my mother, briefly dated Tom's father, Walter, when Lillian and Walter broke up for a while. Aha! I said, so that was at least a part of why she seemed to hate me so much without every having met me. No way was Lillian going to have my mother for as part of her extended family--no way!

I still find myself crying sometimes, but that is all right. Her son, who is twelve, looks so much like my first love I internally still gasp when I see his picture on Facebook. I'll get through this and out on the other side, and I can not wait to meet her the next time I go visit my family in Michigan. I have met a friend for life; we send each other love. Life is full and good.--lorraine

19 comments :

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this story. We never know what's around the corner, how we may connect with another person and on what level it may occur, although, seems to me that true love is the most powerful. You're both so fortunate to have something so important to give one another. Awesome :D

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  2. Wow, that story gave me chills! Obviously you and Jennifer were meant to connect with one another and I hope that your friendship last many wonderful years:)

    ps. that cabbage dish looks yummy! now I'm hungry!

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  3. Nice to read this...
    I believe things happen for a reason and there are no accidents. Enjoy the journey.

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  4. What a beautiful love story Lorraine! I laughed, cried, and was humbled by every bit of it. Thank you.

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  5. Lorraine, sometimes when life shuts a door and opens a window, we just have to enjoy it. This is a great joy. I am glad.

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  6. Fantastic story - thank you for sharing. I am very, very happy for you, this is an emotional journey well worth the ride. Just loved reading it not once, not twice but three times! Now can I come for supper that dish looks yummy!

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  7. Thank you everybody. I wasn't sure whether I should post this story here because it's so unusual, so I doubly thank each of your for your warm thoughts.

    love to all
    lo

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  8. What is your golumki recipe?:-) I try to make them the way my mother did.

    Hoping to hear about your granddaughter.

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  9. Lorraine, you are a truly gifted writer...

    That being said, i wish you and Jennifer many years of close friendship. Journeys are always emotional...so strap in and continue to enjoy what life brings to you.

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  10. Whoa Issy, thanks for the great review...

    As for Golumpki recipe--Maryanne, I will post it here but tonight I want to write something about Haiti. The pictures, the devastation is hellacious. Ill get back to it, and I do use my mother's recipe., with one recent addition. It has somewhat less tomato sauce than that pix.

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  11. You made me cry. What a beautiful story. It is amazing how the universe puts somebody there for you when you need them. I never felt that way until I went looking for my son - it happened so many times it was spooky.

    I am so happy that you have this person in your life and that she has you. I think it was meant to be.

    UM

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  12. That is an amazing and touching story.

    My son's father tried to do the right thing by me. I guess I am one of the rare ones.

    My son's father was not allowed to see our son - when he couldn't make it to the birth (he was on the other side of the country at the time, earning money for us), the social workers swooped in and took our son straight out of the hospital before he had the chance to see our son.

    My son's father did not abandon me. In fact, he had rented a house so we could get our act together. He asked to make a statement of paternity when I told him that they would not let me name him on the statement of birth without it because we were not married at the time.

    When the social workers realised that he was willing to help me, they told him a pack of lies. They said that I didn't love him (lie), that I didn't love our son (lie), that he wasn't the father (lie), that I slept around and didn't know who the father was (lie), and that I had already signed papers giving our son away (lie). He believed their lies and left me. I thought I would never see him again. I was heart-broken and the social workers refused to return our son to me ("single unmarried mothers are not capable of raising children - we have better people than you waiting for that baby").

    When our son turned 10, my son's father managed to track me down. He started finding out about stories of corrupt adoption dealings and he had found out that he had been lied to. He begged me for forgiveness - and I did forgive him, as I felt he was a victim as much as myself.

    We had both married other people by this time but our spouses helped us to find our son. My husband has been amazing. He said he felt sorry for my son's father and couldn't imagine the guilt that he would have to carry for the rest of his life.
    My son's father's wife has also been equally supportive.

    We are still in touch with each other. My son spent 5 years living near me to get to know me better, then he moved to be near his father who has spent a lot of time with him. They got together for Christmas eve, and before that, they went camping last summer.

    My son's father has promised to never abandon our son or myself ever again.
    I am pleased to say that he has kept his promise.

    Do I still love my son's father? Yes.
    He still cares even now.

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  13. Dear Anonymous, your story touched me so much this morning when I read it...life is a long and twisting road.

    Both of us are fortunate to be blessed with understanding spouses. It's good that you and your first love and father of your son have this.

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  14. Thank you for such a touching and inspiring story.

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  15. wow that is one amazing story, I am just in tears, really touched me right in the heart!!! thanks for sharing with us!

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  16. Totally, absolutely beautiful - and truly amazing. Thanks for putting this online, Lorraine.

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  17. Family consists of those who live in our heart. Jennifer is now part of your family. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story.

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  18. If I can wipe these tears away I'll hopefully be able to attempt a seemingly understandable response. As a rejected adoptee twice over, by adoptive and birth, I truly understand the seemingly random union of strangers from which lives are changed forever. I too have, and have had, amazing relationships with mothers who have lost their children to adoption and who were rejected by them, longing to have their children in their lives for whatever reason these adopted children can not accept these woman...but I can. I don't claim to fill that spot that only your children can fill I only claim to know that there are people that come into our lives for a purpose and that help us heal and move on. I have lost two of these amazing woman in the last decade but I will never regret their impact in my life. Hopefully, they felt the same. And in this case your story magnified by the sharing of a person much loved by both is a heart and soul warming example of synchronicity. Thanks for the gift today of believing in something larger than my adopted rejected self.

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