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.|
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.
It'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.
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