|Jane and Lorraine, first weekend they met, 1981|
(Copyright Lorraine Dusky, 2013. May not be republished in any form.)
Summer. I go to Wisconsin to pick up Jane's daughter, Brittany, for her summer visit. Jane and Bill [Jane's husband] are living in his small cabin in the woods, and Britt stays with the Rhymers [Jane's adoptive parents] during the week, and attends the same elementary school as before Jane married. Though Britt had flown by herself from Madison to New York in the past, after fanatics in airplanes brought down the World Trade Center, the Rhymers ask that I come to Wisconsin to pick her up. I’ll fly in on Saturday, we’ll leave on Monday, and maybe I’ll be able talk to Jane and patch up whatever needed patching. They will try to broker this, Jane's father, Gary, says.
No dice. Jane tells them she does not want to see me—not for dinner, not for anything. They say they are in the dark about her reasons as much as I was. Gary shrugs—Jane. I think: What happened? What have I done?
Saturday evening the three of us—Gary, Ann [Jane's adoptive mother] and I—have drinks outside on their deck, marvel over a Scarlet tanager sighted across the narrow slice of the lake where their house sits, make pleasant chitchat. Britt is still with Jane and Bill, we’ll pick her up tomorrow at mass, where we will see them. Jane will not be able to avoid me. Despite the coolness I’ve felt from Ann from a distance, all goes well. After dinner, we watch television together. Hey, life is complicated. These are the people who adopted my daughter, and “our” daughter is rejecting me. Of course I feel like an odd duck---we’re friendly but not really friends—but there I am, enjoying their hospitality, about to fly back home with our granddaughter. The weekend is remarkable simply because it occurs.
|The view from the Rhymers deck|
In many ways our relationship is a marvel, considering open adoptions were still rare. [The year is 2002.] When Ann shares a story about Jane, she calls her “our” daughter. She says the neighbors know who I am, and that when asked, she tells anyone that adoption is better this way, that adopted people ought to know their other mothers early on rather than later. Despite the fact that her letters have been intemperate, how can I not feel a special empathy toward Ann? Jane is difficult. Besides her epilepsy, she specializes in uproar. And Ann sure as hell hadn’t counted on her epilepsy, and then me—coming back is one thing, but I obviously am there to stay.
As we file into church on Sunday morning, Ann sees to it that I am at the end of the pew, where there will be room for Jane--next to me. When she and Bill come in, Jane stops and greets ten people before she gets to the pew, obviously putting off the moment until she can no longer. Just as she is about to slip in, she quite obviously turns around to say hello to one last person. If Jane could have held up a sign that said: This woman means nothing to me! she would have. Ann is shaking her head. I am humiliated, for I am quite sure that most of the people she was stopping to greet know exactly who I am, and that they are watching this performance with avid interest—Ah look, she doesn’t give a fig about her birth mother. When at last Jane can delay no longer, she steps into the pew and looks at me, nods sternly, as if I were a teacher she remembered none too fondly. I nod back, and say the first thing that comes to mind: Your haircut is great.
She’d cut her long hair into a boyish bob. She looks pretty. Healthy too, as if this marriage to Bill has dissipated all the gloom of the past. She forces a smile, and opens her missal. Mass is interminable, as I sit next to my daughter who is acting as if I am a post. Except for these few words, we have not spoken for over a year.
Gary, always the calm patriarch, hoping to broker some kind of detente, gets Jane and Bill to agree to brunch with us afterward. In the car on the way to the restaurant, Ann confirms what I thought, that Jane usually doesn’t greet a zillion people on her way into church.
At Granny’s, which is as it sounds—hot coffee, hearty omelets and hash browns—this blended family takes over a big round table. Jane purposefully does not sit next to me. Ann is on one side, Britt on the other, both providing cover. Jane’s bored and petulant demeanor tamps down everyone’s mood. She does not look at me, or say anything to me, and sulks when Gary asks not to smoke. God when is this meal going to be over, when can I get out of Dodge? Improbably enough, I am being protected from my daughter’s wrath by her other mother and our granddaughter.
As we leave, Jane and Bill light up outside of Granny’s, and I force myself to stay behind and talk to them for ten minutes about what I do not know. She is on neutral; not painfully aloof, or snide, now that it is just the three of us, simply coolly civil. She speaks as she might to someone she knew, but not well. I walk away thinking, at least she talked to me. The Rhymers say nothing when I get into the car, and we do not discuss her coolness again. There is nothing to say. The next day Britt—always an uncomplaining traveler—is amiable as ever when we fly back to New York and get stuck in Milwaukee for several hours because of a storm. We have ice cream and I buy her a Harry Potter novel. I do not speak to Jane—other than to answer the phone and get Britt when Jane calls—again all that summer. Her voice tells me she wants no conversation. I am nothing but the go-between for her and Britt, and an annoying one at that. TO BE CONTINUED. ___________________________
For the previous sections of this story:
A relationship with my daughter goes awry. Reason unknown.
Part 2: A relationship with my daughter goes awry. Reason unknown.
Adoption and Recovery: Solving the Mystery of Reunion Evelyn Robinson has followed up the international success of her first book Adoption and Loss: The Hidden Grief (Revised Edition), by writing and publishing, in 2004, a companion volume based on her personal and professional experiences. This book explores the long term impact of adoption separation on people's lives and the meaning of the reunion experience. Evelyn is a first mother from Australia. To order either book, click on links or photograph of jacket.