You know what I’ve found? Writing from the cheap seats of unfiltered bitterness and rage is easy. Give me Racism, or Narcissistic Abuse or Spiritual Abuse, or Sexual Abuse and the volcano will flow. Novelist James Baldwin said that clinging to our anger and hatred is easy because once it’s gone, we’re left to deal with the pain. I think that must be true, because as I write, and the laws of energy (Can’t be created. Can’t be destroyed) turn the anger into something else—hello pain. Which makes it all that much harder to sit down and write again. It’s an unexpected cycle that I didn’t see coming: the closer I get to those coveted front row seats of letting What Is and What Was, live as a mostly peaceful whole, the words and emotions get stuck. Because that’s what pain does. Gets stuck in our minds and bodies like gum in the sole of a waffle bottom shoe, picking up so much lint and dirt along the way that we can barely tell what it is. At times like this, I sort of miss that ratty old low end seat with it’s peeling upholstery and half chewed taffy stuck all up underneath, because the story I’m about to tell is still riddled with scabby sores and bruises. It’s also full of indescribably joy—but to feel it, to own it, to make it mine and mine alone—I’ve learned that pain has to take the first swing if I want peace to be the last batter up.
When I don’t know where to start, I open up a book that I bought on a whim at a New Age crystals and voodoo shop in NW Portland. I think it’s funny that we call anything “New Age” because the tricks we use to make sense of the fact that we’re spiritual beings, having a human experience that can be downright terrifying, aren’t new at all. We just keep reviving them like an old 80’s sitcom. Or giving them a new and improved poster child with whiter teeth, a better car, a bigger house, and a Ted Talk.
The book I found in the Not-So-New-Age store is called “A Year of Writing Dangerously—365 Days of Inspiration and Encouragement”. I knew I needed it from the moment I saw it because every time I sit down to write this blog, that’s exactly what I feel: DANGER. As if my stories are captive children who have been chained in a dark basement their entire lives, relentlessly begging for light. If I let them all out at once how can I keep them safe? What if they accept candy from a stranger or go wandering into the street. An entire book of encouragement from other fearful and doubtful writers brings me a comfort I can’t describe.
The pages that spoke to me this time were #187 and #188. They have big letters across the top titled “Owning your story” and “An Army of Doubts”.
“A writer’s duty is to register what it is like for him or her to be in the world” says Zadie Smith.
“I wish I had written more” laments Cynthia Ozick. “I wish I had been more prolific. I wish I had had less fear of writing, more self-confidence, less terror of it.
I’m on it Zadie.
Me too Cyndi.
So I guess this is it, Virginia. After 49 years, our story is about to unfold. Are you afraid? I’m afraid. But I’ve got you and you’ve got me, so lets be afraid together, and see where this thing goes.
Virginia is my birth mom. My only mom now. I used to have two moms. Then I had no moms. Now I have Virginia. She’s with me all of the time, which is weird since she’s dead. I call her Mama in my head because that’s what my daughter calls me. I like to pretend that’s what I would have called Virgina if the Mother/Daughter cards we were dealt weren’t from the trick deck of life, stained with tobacco and meth and shame.
I wanted to write this back in May, and publish it on Virgina’s Birthday, but here we are Mid-August and it’s still eeking out slowly, in 20 minutes here or there. Timing has never been our thing. It took us 41 years to meet after all. She was only 15 when she got pregnant, and since they hid me away the minute I popped into the world, May of 2010 was the very first time she ever held me in her arms, or looked into the eyes of her first born.
The way I just said that sounds dreamy doesn’t it? Like one of those TLC shows where good looking entertainers with botoxed faces and teary eyes nod in approval as long lost family members run across flowery fields and fall sobbing into each other arms. That’s not how it happened for me. I met my mom on an overcast day on the Oregon coast in a run down park filled with dandelions and dog poop and a gummy eyed Tabby with a crooked tail yowling at my feet. She was mostly drunk with rotten teeth, sores on her face and the remnants of a botched surgery to remove a melanoma on her nose. The hole that was left gave me a whistling black view, clear into her right nostril.
Lying Rat Bastard Shows.
I used to meet with a group of adoptees, and not a one of us had the capped tooth, plastic smile, TV version of a birth mom meeting. Ok one guy did, but we managed to like him anyway. We weren’t the stereotypical sad-sack, poor-us lot who sat around in a circle singing “Somewhere Out There” in our tiny Fievel Mouse voices with our matching blue caps pulled low over our big teary eyes. We were a flippant bunch who inhaled frosted cookies and donut holes as we did backstrokes through black humor, and swam olympic laps in irreverent laughter while we joked about buying Bastard Bonds, or being that one unmatched sock left in the bottom of the Lost and Found pile. Looking back now, I think it was our way of declaring that we had survived, and of convincing ourselves that our pasts didn’t matter. And that it didn’t hurt to find out that your birth mom sold you and your 13 siblings for $300 a pop. Or that your heart didn’t break when you tracked her to another state, but were told she didn’t want to meet you, so you never got any closer than watching her thump a watermelon while you hid behind a tower of Pringles at her local grocery store. It worked in the moment, but it didn’t sustain me for long, because I still didn’t know the difference between the thoughts and feelings that kept me attached to trauma, and the ones that led to healing and peace. I don’t think any of us knew the difference, which is why the second our truths came up, we soothed the burn with camaraderie and laughter, and hoped it would be enough
In the beginning, I felt like I landed somewhere in the middle of the meeting-your-birth-mom experience. Drugs, alcohol and mental illness had stolen any chance for a relationship, but at least she hadn’t sold me. And she didn’t tell me to get lost when I showed up out of nowhere on that Memorial Day weekend with four of my closest friends, over 8 years ago now. But as time has passed, I don’t think I’m in the middle anymore. I think I’m one of the lucky ones. Not because the facts changed and my story became perfect. But because it didn’t—and I figured out how to stop needing it to be perfect to find the joy and purpose that had been waiting for me all along. And because almost every day now, I sit in awe of the miracles and the magic that led me to the exact time and place, with the exact people I was supposed to be with, to open the door to the family I’ve always belonged to, and begin the life I was truly meant for.
Even from my earliest memories, I knew I was adopted, but I don’t remember knowing I could have an independent thought or emotion about it. Looking back (from my own, limited perspective) it’s as if the Baby Brokers of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s gave everyone in The Triad a script that none of us knew to question. Birth Moms were to expected to schlep away quietly in their bad-girl shame, have their babies, and then curtsy dutifully back into their old lives as if they hadn’t just sacrificed their bodies to grow a tiny human. Adoptive Parents were encouraged to take their new lump of pristine flesh and mold it and make it into thine own family image—in spite of that pesky little intruder called DNA. Nothing a good beating couldn’t get rid of anyway. Adoptees were to supposed to sit like pretty little dolls in their matching dresses, with colorful yarnies that held fat pigtails in a perfectly sympetrical loop, and repeat “I’m a very lucky girl!” with a grateful smile every time the string on their back was pulled.
In many ways, I was “a very lucky girl”. And in many ways, I am also grateful. I had toys and dresses and dogs and trips to Disneyland and never wanted physically for a thing. But I also lived with the looming suspicion that I was terminally out of place. Like being piece 10,001 in a 10,000 piece puzzle: Not meant for that box. Not the right size or shape. But since the alternative was the garbage, I never stopped trying to shove myself in anyway. Until one day I did stop trying. Which is how I ended up where I am today. Even now, I find that deep sense of loneliness is easier to identify in books and movies than it’s ever been to put into words. Like when George Clooney floats off alone into the vastness of space in Gravity. Or in that Dr Sues Book “Are You My Mother” where the lost bird can’t find his mom. I still hate that book to this day. Before opening it when I was little, I’d shelter somewhere safe—usually under a chair in the corner, on a shag carpet that was olive green, I think. Even though I knew that Baby Bird would find his mom, watching him get rejected, page after page (“I am not your mother, I am a dog.” Of course the cat didn’t bother to answer) still made my insides shake like they were going to fall out. The part I dreaded the most came at the very end of the book when the rusty old backhoe picked him up dropped him safely back into his nest. In that moment I always knew there was no loud Snort coming to solve the mystery and take me home to my mom.
“I have a mother” said the baby bird. “I know I do. I will find her. I will. I WILL!”
Yes Baby Bird. We will.
It’s not like I was ever told I couldn’t find my birth mom, but since I knew my role (indebted adoptee and family dumpster. Hate something about yourself? Toss it to me!), and was given a way to think about being adopted, and to talk about being adopted that kept me from knowing how I felt about being adopted, setting out to find my birth mom, wasn’t something I seriously considered. Most adoptees I knew at the time were raised with a similar ideological framework: “Your birth mom couldn’t take care of you, so she loved you enough to give you away” or “Other parents are stuck with their children, but we picked you so we’re luckier than them”. It clearly wasn’t an era known for it’s psychological awareness, but I believe the heart behind those messages was good: You were loved not rejected. You were chosen, not an accident. Then there was me. My messages, while similar on the surface, were more like “Lucky you! We picked you! But never forget that you’re damaged goods and our perfection is all that can save you. In return for this salvation, you will supply our ego until the day you die and do everything we dictate without question or we’ll disown your thankless, broken, disrespectful, mentally ill ass. If it weren’t for us, you’d be ‘nothing but a druggie in a ditch’, anyway. So remember that, darling. Ok?“. I had the added bonus of being told that they initially wanted to adopt 5 kids, but having me made them not want any more. And that adoptees who looked for their birth parents were “Selfish” and “Intrusive”.
Fast forward to May of 2010: Selfish, damaged, un-savable adoptee who belongs in a ditch and makes adoptive parents hate children, intrudes on drug addicted birth mom. What could possibly go wrong? As it turns out, a lot. But after an almost nine year journey that began as a secret—paved with guilt and shame, and pockmarked with fear and doubt—I can finally see it for what it was: Absolutely. Positively. Exactly where I was supposed to end up.
We KNEW it Baby Bird. We KNEW it.
In January of 2010, the life and the family I used to have, had essentially disappeared. I won’t explain it all now, but if you read my older posts (Yes. Parts of them are angry), you’ll probably get the gist. But you know what? I refuse to turn my back on a single line that I wrote. That anger motivated me and protected me while I learned to have healthy personal boundaries for the first time ever in my life. I may not be the same open sore who wrote those stories when I began this blog, but they’re still who I am. And I love them. Because who I was then, who I am now, and where I’m going in the future have all agreed—we never want to be apart again. One day I hope my kids will find this blog, and read it cringing and crying and laughing and understanding with a great big bottle of wine. Because like it or not, my story is their story too.
In the beginning, people assumed that I found my birth family as a reaction to the one I’d lost. That simply isn’t true. I’d had the request for information from Waverly Baby Home for almost 10 years before The Great Escape from Cult Religion and Narcissism. Up until that point, all I felt was guilt when I wondered about my mom. But after my son Anders was born, and I was socked in the head with crippling morning sickness, a 60 lb weight gain, and an all encompassing, borderline mental, stab-you-in-the-eye-if-you-even-LOOK-at-my-baby, kind of love (followed by a month of postpartum depression. Ya think?), I had an overwhelming desire to thank the person who had done the same for me. At the time, I was seeing it all through the lens of a new mom who had planned her pregnancy at 29 instead of someone who did an Ooopsie at 15 years old. I would have died for my son. I couldn’t imagine giving him away to someone else, let alone never know what happened to him. If there was someone out there, still carrying that burden, then I wanted to release them from it if I could.
At a distance mind you. Like in a letter. Where we may or may not ever exchange names.
When my daughter Annika was born a few years later, I was overwhelmed with thoughts of my birth mom again. What must it have been like for her, enduring the panic and pain that I found so hard as an adult, when she was only a child? Then one day, I read an article about a man who was adopted from the same agency that I had been: Waverly Baby Home. We were referred to as Waverly Babies back then. He and his Birth Parents had put their names on the agency adoption registry and were gifted a fairy tale reunion. Adoption registries were still fairly new because up until the early 1990’s, adoption records in Oregon were sealed. The battle between the rights of Adoptees to know their origins and the rights of Birth Parents to keep their privacy resulted in gnashing of teeth and grief. Oddly enough, I voted against Adoptee rights, and in favor of the Birth Parent’s privacy. Not that I had a choice. Not only was I told how to think and feel—I was also told how to vote. The information in the Waverly article told me how to put myself on their registry, but the feelings of guilt won again, along with the fear that my Birth Family wouldn’t want me. So it sat in a mental file labeled Selfish Intruder, and I didn’t touch for several years. Then in 2007 when I was cleaning a drawer, I ran across the article again. On the verge of throwing it away, I reconsidered at the very last moment and sent a request to the agency for registry paperwork instead.
It came within a week. And then sat for another 3 years.
All of this is to say, that the journey to find my family had been in motion for many years. Slow motion is still motion. I was just waiting for the right catalyst to move me forward again. In my last post, I introduced The Whisper. You can read more about who that is to me here. But that post is long (who am I kidding. They’re all long.) so for now I’ll just say it’s the way I hear God. From here on out, the voice of The Whisper becomes a central part of this story. You’re welcomed to believe it, or not believe it, but it won’t change my truth either way.
“You’re out of time” said The Whisper’s powerfully soft voice in my dreams. “If you ever want to find them, you have to do it now.”
Then one morning, bleary eyed from another night of tossing and turning through urgently spoken messages, I knew what I needed to do. Which is how I found myself standing in the medical marijuana line down at the Multnomah County Court House. I was so anxious and disoriented, it took me 20 minutes to realize that the window to request a pre-adoption birth certificate was on the other side of the room. When my certificate came in the mail a few weeks later, it was like the Secrets of the Universe had been revealed: I was white. And even more astonishing, my mom had signed her name Virginia Lee Smith in the most elegant handwriting I had ever seen. Then right below that, she had written “Mother”. I stared at that word for the longest time. Even if it was only for the few seconds it had taken her to write a name and a title, I had been someone to her.
From there I sent the agency my birth certificate, along with a request to be added to their registry. I fully expected that my mom had been writing me letters, dropping them like breadcrumbs through the woods for the last 40 years so we could find each other one day. I knew that’s what I would have done. But isn’t our own lens the one we look through first when we don’t know any better yet?
March became a blur as I waited for a response. I spent countless hours searching the internet and didn’t find a trace of her. Sometimes I thought that was good. At least she wasn’t an axe murderer, which was one thing I had going my way. On the birth certificate she listed a home town on the Oregon coast called Florence. My friend Crystal showed up towards the end of the month, to drive the 3 hours there to help me begin my search. We were careful in the beginning, not wanting to raise suspicion, as if members of my bio-family were going to pop out from behind a bush and run me out of town with their pitchforks and rakes.
“Git’ on out you mangy rat! Run back to that ditch you just crawled out of!”
We went to the Pioneer Museum first. The people who worked there were exactly her age, and had lived there most of their lives. Not a single one of them had heard of Virginia Smith, and oddly enough, the year books we needed to find her high school picture were the only ones missing that day. From there we went to the library, city hall, and pretty much any business that was open and would let us in. At first I tried not to seem pushy, but after hours of having no success, I was bleeting like a baby goat to anyone who would listen “My mom is Virginia Lee Smith. Do you know her? Do you know her?!?!?”.
No one did. It ended up being a 6 hour drive to find nothing but two so-so lattes and a junky chair from an antique store that we crammed in the back of my van.
I had given in to that eerie pull to the town on the coast. I had obeyed the relentless whisper in my dreams. But the way people were acting felt like The Smiths had never existed, and the door that felt so open, had been slammed in my face as if a mean little kid with bucked teeth and a smirk said “Hey, want some candy?”, and handed me an empty wrapper instead.
I spent the rest of the month searching the internet, looking for names on Facebook, and sending messages to strangers who either ignored me completely or were flat out insulted at times.
“NO. I won’t ask my dad if he fathered any illegitimate children. Don’t bother responding. I’m blocking you right now.”
But there was one woman named Rose, who was also an adoptee, and had found her birth family as well. She wasn’t a relation, but she did become a key encounter that kept me from abandoning my search.
“I’d like to encourage you not to give up” she wrote. “Finding out the truth gave me a stronger sense of personal identity. I really hope you find her. It’s been over 3 years for me and so far I have no regrets. I’m grateful for even the painful knowledge: it’s a true part of me somehow.”
I still tear up at those words. And I’m still amazed that it was the kindness of a stranger who gave me the strength to continue when I was so overwhelmed with disappointment and doubt. Then again, she was Facebook friends with her dog (Bruno Isadog) so I knew she had to be a good person. She may not have given me the information I was looking for, but her empathetic words of encouragement ended up being equally as valuable in my search.
As I continued punching different combinations of people, places and dates into the Internet Oracle, I was also getting help from someone I’ll call A.D. I didn’t know if she’d want me to use her name, but without her, this story would have ended right here. She had an Ancestry account and was nice enough to use it to help me with my search. We had both come up with several leads, but in my heart I knew they were wrong. Then came late April when a response from the adoption registry finally arrived in the mail. I sat in our laundry room for over an hour, with that unopened envelope in my lap. I’ve had some of my best breakdowns on that floor. It connects directly to the family room and if I braced my feet just right, I could hear the kids in case either of them were dying, but they still couldn’t open the door. The envelope I wanted was thick. Like the one I would have been given on the lying-rat-bastard TV show. It would be stuffed with letters, and pictures of my birthday that had been celebrated in my absence, with hats and gifts and one of those You-Are-Special plates piled high with cake, because they had never forgotten I was theirs.
The envelope I held was thin.
I rocked back and forth and screamed “It’s thin. IT’S THIN. IT’S THIN!!!” from the depths of my innermost core, without ever saying a word. It wasn’t the envelope of a little girl who was loved and remembered. It was the envelope of a ghost.
When I eventually opened it up, I already knew what was going to be in there. The same worthless page of non-identifying information that I’d read a million times before. My mom was 5’3″ with blue eyes. My Dad was artistic and his father was a drunk. My Maternal Grandmother was a tiny 4’11”. My Maternal Grandfather was a giant over 6 feet tall, and he was a lathe operator at a mill. But here’s what’s interesting. That last bit of worthless, non-identifying information that I’d read a million times—about my grandfather and the mill—would make all of the difference soon.
My kids were thankfully gone for Spring Break, because after opening that envelope, I became a foot-dragging, snot-wiping, middle-finger-flipping, shell of a person for 3 days straight. The only time that I wasn’t crying was when I was sleeping, except when I was crying in my sleep. There was nothing. NOTHING. That would keep me from my child. How could my mom not feel the same way? Yes, I knew there were situations that could prevent someone from looking. Like being dead. But I knew she was alive because I could feel she was alive. Not well, because her energy seemed sick and weak, but I knew she was still in this world. Then one night while my husband Eric and I were watching Animal Planet, it all hit me at once. On the show, a mama mountain goat lost her baby. With a hand over my eyes and sweaty palms, I watched her risk her life as she separated from the herd to go back and find her child. As the realization sank in, I turned to Eric with a beer in one hand and a tissue in the other and said “Holy shit. That’s it! My mom may not have the maternal instincts of a freaking mountain goat……..”
We both started laughing. Me hysterically at first.
For the 100th time that day.
In the following weeks, I painted the bathroom, rearranged the living room, made 62 batches of brownies (and ate them all) bought another expensive purse that I couldn’t afford, and tried to start my search again. My fire was virtually gone. I didn’t understand why the voices in my dreams and The Whisper in my ear kept telling me that this was my destiny, when it seemed like no one wanted to be found.
I prayed for answers. On my knees. In my car. Flat on the laundry room floor with my feet braced against the door. Not to the God of my youth, with the disapproving glare and the belt raised in anger, who hated me for being bad, and seemed to wish I was never born. I prayed to the God that I heard other people talk about, and hoped that he or she would like me better.
Later that week after working a shift with my friend Mary’s husband (I was a medic at the time) I told her I was ready to to make peace with the fact that finding my Birth Mom wasn’t meant to be, and put my search to rest, for good.
“No” she said, “That isn’t happening”, and spent the next week searching the internet and cold calling strangers with the last name Smith. Even I hadn’t been brave enough to do that. Then one day she sent me an address that almost matched the one that was on my Birth Certificate. It was a few miles up Hwy 101 in another coastal town called Waldport. Yes. I was tired. Yes. I wanted to give up. But I was also seeing a pattern. Every time I told myself it was the end, one more person was sent to say “No. No it’s not over. Now stop your whining and get back at it again.”
I called A.D. the very next day and asked her to go to Florence with me. I was willing to give it one more try. By this time it was mid May, and I knew the schools and offices would be closing for summer soon. When Crystal and I were there in April, Florence High said they didn’t keep year books. I didn’t believe them anymore. A.D. and I booked a room at the Three Rivers Casino, and put the high school library first on our list. I was ready to grovel, cry, stomp, beg, or do anything else to get them to help me.
When we walked into the High School, I could still feel the block that had been hovering for several months. “I hate you” I told it again, flipping it off under my coat. The staff were very nice, but told us we couldn’t be in the library during school hours. They said the only way we could look at the year books was if we came back at 3 when school was done—and that the library closed at 3:10. They were giving us ten whole minutes, and it wouldn’t be nearly enough time. Just about then, a student who had overheard us offered to go get the books we needed. After a bit of hesitation on the office staff’s part, he was finally allowed to go look. Not that it mattered either way. Just as we had found at the the Pioneer Museum in April—the only years that were missing, were the ones that Virginia would have been in. Another loud clunk, from another closed door thudded dully my mind. “I HATE you” I said again, and flipped it off double this time.
A woman at the High School, suggested we go to District Office and talk to her friend who had lived in Florence for most of her life. Even though I wasn’t looking forward to another dead end, we went there anyway, and talked to her friend for quite awhile. She couldn’t help us either, but not for lack of trying. Then right as I was about to shlep away and go have a good cry in my car, I heard a Whisper in my ear say “Show her the piece of paper from the hatefully thin envelope, with the worthless, non-identifying information that you’ve had since you were a child”. I handed it to her slowly, and after looking it over, and thinking for a bit, this is what she said: “Your grandfather worked at the mill? The biggest mills were Mapleton. They’re all shut down now, but there’s a school down there that I’d look at it for sure. They’ll still be open if you hurry.”
It was the moment that changed my world.
As far as we knew, Mapleton was no more than the little store by the river that sold flannel shirts, Copenhagen and fried chicken in a basket, that we had passed on our way to Florence. We would have never considered stopping there, but now we had a choice to make. Go to Mapleton or head to Waldport? We didn’t have time for both. We had an address to search in Waldport, that I already knew wasn’t a match, but it still seemed more promising than Mapleton.
I hung my head like flea bitten dog. “Even if we make it to the school, they probably won’t let us in. I just don’t know anymore….”
“Well if you won’t decide then I will.” said A.D. “Put your big girl panties on and get in the car, because we’re headed to Mapleton now.”
It took us less than 10 minutes to get to Mapleton, and as we followed the signs to the school, my heart started to flutter. “This is it….This Is It….THIS IS IT!” I kept hearing, over and over again.
As I walked up the steps of Mapleton High it felt like the iron doors of a castle, were being blown open by a storm. Pictures of the graduating classes lined the walls. “I want to see if I can find her before they throw us out!” said A.D. as she took off down the hall. But for the first time since I had started my search, I wasn’t worried a bit. It suddenly felt as if the sole purpose of people I was about to meet, was to help me the rest of the way. Like the cruise directors of the S.S. Finding-Your-Birth-Mom. “Watch your step! The dining room is to the left! Shuffleboard and The Secrets to Your Existence will be starting on the poop deck at 4pm!” I went to the front office and stared the man behind the desk, directly in the eyes. “I’m looking for my birth mom. Do you have any year books you’d let me see?”
“Sure” he said without hesitation, “but you may want to talk to Connie first. She’s lived here all her life.” I walked across the hall in the direction he had pointed and stood in her doorway until she looked up. Then for the last time ever, I said the words that I’d been saying for months. “I’m looking for my birth mom. Her name is Virginia Lee Smith. Do you know her by any chance?”
She looked startled at first, then her eyes became teary and soft “Yes, I knew your mother. And your Uncle Jack too. You have their eyes”. From that moment on, it felt like floating through a warm fuzzy dream, in the center of a super puffed marshmallow.
We hugged and sobbed and hugged and sobbed and talked for quite awhile after that. Connie said that she was better friends with my Uncle Jack, because Virginia was only there a short time. “She disappeared one day and never came back—now I’m staring at the reason why.” As we talked a bit longer, I sensed that as much as she wanted to continue, she was also walking a very thin line between privacy policies and trying to help. While she couldn’t go get the year books we needed for us, she could direct us to the library, and suggest some years that may be “of interest” to me. We found my Uncle Jack almost immediately. He was handsome with a sparkle in his eye, and I couldn’t believe he was mine. Virginia, took a little bit longer to find, and when I did, it was only her name. There were 20 or so girls lined up on some risers and I tried to guess which one she was on sight. The first girl I picked had a striped sweater (I like stripes too) and features that I thought might match mine. Then my eyes landed on another girl’s face—second row up, second in from the left. We didn’t look as much the same, but she had a tilt to her head and smirk on her face that felt strangely familiar to me. I brushed my finger across the page, gave her an unsure smile, and said hello to my mom for the first time.
There were so many more questions that I wanted to ask—like the names of my aunts, and of my grandparents, and if she knew where any of them lived—but I could tell that we had worn out our welcome, and it was time to photocopy what we could and leave.
On the way back to the hotel, we decided to stop where the mill used to be. There wasn’t much left besides a big dirt lot and shack that said Davidson’s on the side. The man inside was talkative and friendly, but said that Jack and Virginia Smith weren’t familiar names. Then just as we were leaving, I paused for a moment and heard The Whisper say softly “Show him the pictures you just copied at the school”.
“Hey, that’s Jackie!” he said right away. “I know him! And his parents live right up the road. Their names are Cora and Harlan.I can get you their address right now”.
Less than 5 minutes away.
A.D. and I stared at each other in disbelief. After months of searching with nothing to show for it, we now had names, pictures and an address.
We said our thanks and headed straight for my Grandparent’s house, just to spy on them a little, without getting shot would be nice. After winding up a hill, I saw a little house at the top with giant plywood poodles stuck on the front. “These can’t be my people….” I told A.D. But as I creeped a little farther up the road, I saw a curved, tree lined driveway with my Grandparent’s name on a sign at the bottom and let out a sigh of relief. I inched as far up as I could without being seen—and managed to get myself stuck. Then instead of easing out of like I’d always been taught, I stepped on the gas and dug us in even worse. Gravel was flying and we were peeing ourselves laughing as I spun a crater so deep that yelling “Don’t shoot! I’m your granddaughter” probably wouldn’t have helped us that much.
By the time we made it back to the hotel my brain was crackling like a spider on a high-voltage web. Sleep wasn’t an option, so I spent the rest of the night stalking the new relatives I’d found. It wasn’t long before I realized that there was something off with my Uncle Jack. I couldn’t find him in any of my searches, and I couldn’t “feel” him like I did Virginia. Not that I could sense her that strongly, but with Jack there was nothing at all. Contacting him first had been my initial plan in case my Grandparents didn’t want to meet me in person.
On the way out of town the next morning, we stopped back by the mill. I just knew that guy had a little more in him. But when we walked through the door, Mr Information seemed a lot more reserved than he had been the day before. He said that he had talked to his wife (which explained a lot) who said that yes, she remembered Virginia, and reminded him that Jack had died back in the 90’s. He didn’t elaborate, and I didn’t push, so we stared at each other awkwardly for a minute. Then right as we were leaving he mumbled one last bit of information, with two names and a marriage, that ended up being the final piece of gold we’d been mining. On the way back to Portland, we made one last stop by the Marion County Courthouse to search for birth, death, marriage and property records. It was there, after matching those last two names to a marriage certificate, that I found my beautiful Aunt Sue.
“It’s her” said The Whisper. “She’s the one I’ve been leading you to all along”.
From what I could find, I knew she’d had several last names. I also didn’t know if she went by Sue, Susan, Susie or something else entirely. I sat down on Facebook the minute I got home and promised myself that even if it took all week, I wouldn’t move until I found her. As luck (not that I believe in it) would have it, I didn’t have to wait that long. I heard the name Susan B. whispered in my ear so I immediately typed it in. Even though page after page of stranger’s profiles popped onto the screen, I knew my Aunt Sue would be on the first one. Five faces down, I saw her. Her eyes (our eyes!) stood out to me first, but from the names on her friend list alone, I was absolutely positive it was her. I sent her a message the very next day. “I’m a normal person (if you don’t count the pound of chocolate and bottle of wine it has taken me to write this), and I don’t want to be invasive. I’m just hoping to make contact with anyone who could tell me about my birth family and help me find out where I come from….”
And I never heard anything back.
Now I know it’s because she was never on Facebook, but at the time I assumed the worst. They’re mad at me. They don’t want me. They’re too nice to say “Piss off you mangy rodent! Are you still not getting the message? We didn’t want you then and we don’t want you now. So GIT!” But then every time I focused my mind on my aunts and my grandparents, I felt nothing but incredible warmth. Like I’d been wrapped in a soft cotton blanket and rocked in a hammock in the sun. Which made it pretty hard to fully believe that they were cold or uninterested or mad.
The Blog Name for my therapist is Saint J. When I was a medic, people used call us life savers; but after being dead inside, and then brought back to life, I know the real heros are those who heal our hearts, souls and minds. I remember telling her one day that I sensed my family so strongly that it felt like I knew who they were. Then I told her that I had lied when I said that I only wanted to meet them. “I want them love me. What if they never love me…..?”
My 4 closest friends and I used to spend the Memorial Day Weekend at the beach in Neskowin, Oregon. On that weekend in 2010, I was distracted and depressed but was trying not to let it ruin our shopping, and eating, and movie watching slobbery, while we inhaled bags of Peanut M & M’s in our sweats. We’d usually drive over on a Friday and spend all day Saturday at the mall. I remember sitting on a bench in a sun spot, and telling the girls that I’d catch up with them later. With my eyes closed and my face turned upward, I felt my friend Nika’s arm go around me. “We know you’re not ok. We’re all getting up in the morning and driving to Florence tomorrow. No matter what we find, you’re going to be ok, because we’ll be beside you the entire time.”
That’s far as I can go for now Mama—I have to leave this here for awhile.
“I believe in you, Baby Bird. I believe in you. And I’ll be waiting when you’re ready again.”
Stay tuned for Lost and Found: Meet Virginia Part 2. Hopefully not too far away in the future.