Lost and Found: Meet Virginia Part 2

So hey. I’m back. I never expected almost six months to pass before I’d feel ready to step inside of this story again. You know how it is when you’re so invested in a movie, you think you’re one of the characters? I remember the first time I saw Pretty Woman. I spent the rest of the day trying to fling my gorgeous mane of auburn curls back and forth over my shoulder. Never mind that the hair I actually owned was a double processed mass of shellac covered straw that spent the late 80’s and early 90’s being completely un-flingable. That’s kind of how it feels to step in and out of my own story. In a way I am that character, but I don’t always feel like that character, because even though the experiences I had were real, they changed me into someone else after the fact. Remembering the past is more than just telling what happened. It’s taking the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and beliefs that made me who I was, and weaving them together with the ones that make me who I am now, and then getting acquainted with the new person who inevitably shows up after that. Which leaves me feeling like a carton of Fruity Pebbles after a toddler gets a hold of the box. Dumped upside down and emptied out, with not much left besides some crunchy bits and pieces of myself scattered across the floor.

If you’ve just stumbled across this blog, and are wondering what’s going on, here’s where we’re at: I’m an adoptee, who went in search of my birth mom, Virginia, at 41 years old. And it was beautiful. And awful. And disappointing. And amazing. And heartbreaking. And heart healing. And soul wrecking. And soul saving. And all sorts of other mixed descriptives that I may never fully know how to express.

If you want to start with “Meet Virgina Part One”, you can find it here. Fair warning though, it’s long. And it reads a bit different than Part Two, because Virginia was with me the entire time, even though she’s dead. For whatever reason this time though, she still hasn’t shown up yet. 

(Helloooo? Earth to Mama. You said you’d be here when I was ready again, but I still can’t feel you at all. For now I’ll just picture you at our lunch table in Heaventhe one you promised to save for us that day when we figured you’d be getting there first)

When I left this story last, I was at the Oregon Coast, on an annual trip with my 4 closest friends at the time. I had already found names and addresses for my birth family, and had reached out to an aunt on Facebook Messenger hoping for a response:“Hi! I was adopted and I’m looking for my birth mom. Don’t worry though. I don’t think it’s you (haha).”

Making jokes while I wade through the awkward is my go-to coping tool, but when I got no response my ability to laugh died too. I became flat. And morose. And was fairly certain they were circling the family wagons and sticking signs all over their yards that said “Beat It Loser!” in case I was dumb enough to show up.

Of course they weren’t doing that.

At that point they still had no idea I was lurking in the background, poking through Facebook and public records and asking complete strangers personal questions in hopes of finding the smallest bits of information. My Aunt Sue never got my message because she was rarely on Facebook at the time. What I did is called Catastrophizing. Simply put, it’s when you bypass the most likely, non-dramatic scenario in exchange for the least likely, most dramatic scenario and then react as if it’s real. I still do that to this day, except now I’m more aware of it, which I’ve been told is the first step in changing any habit that makes you that miserable. Although in my case it seems to be the first step in saying “I know this is mentally unhealthy but it makes me feel safe in some inexplicable way so I’m going to keep doing it anyway.”

My friend Michelle and I had driven together that Memorial Day weekend to meet our other 3 friends, Nika, Jenny and Niki. We usually arrived on a Friday night and came home late the following Monday. This year, I had asked Michelle if she would leave early Monday morning with me, and drive the 2 hours down the coast to Florence and Mapleton. These were the towns my family was from. I had planned to go myself so I could put a letter in my grandparent’s mailbox because I didn’t trust the mail person.

Remember the C Word?

No, not that C Word.

The other C Word. Catastrophizing.

Well here I go again.

What if it fell out of their bag and landed on the floor of their truck and ended up a waffle bottom boot stomped mess under their seat along with some old hamburger wrappers? Of what if a big gust of wind came along and my letter flew out of their hand and they were so hung over from the night before they didn’t even bother to chase it? Or what if they tripped and fell and hit their head and forgot what they were doing and accidentally put it in the Poodle People’s mailbox who lived down the hill?

So at the last minute I asked Michelle if she would go along with me and knock on their door and hand it to them instead.

And then run.

Or not. 

Maybe she could say that she happened to be wandering by when she noticed that the mail person looked injured and confused, then she saw a letter with their name on it floating in the wind so she ran after it and brought it to them.

We hadn’t really thought that far ahead, but here’s what the letter said:

“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Smith,

My name is Alyssa Pedersen. I was adopted 41 years ago, and have been trying to find some information on my Birth Family. I was born on December 18th, 1968 in Eugene Oregon. By birth mother’s name is Virginia Lee Smith from Mapleton, Oregon. From the information I could gather, she is your daughter. If this is so, I was hoping you would be willing to share more information with me about my birth family. I would also like to know more about Virginia if possible. I have thought of her often throughout the years, especially after having my own children. I had difficult pregnancies, and I couldn’t help but feel for the girl who had to carry me all of those months, being so young herself. She did a good job of protecting me, which I’m grateful for. I’ve always been healthy and at the very least, I would like to thank her for that. Now I live in Tualatin with my husband and my two kids. My son Anders is 10 and my daughter Annika is 7. Eric, my husband, is a firefighter in Portland. I’m a paramedic with AMR in Portland. 

(True confession: I added the part about our jobs so they’d think we were helper-type people instead of psychos. Firefighters and medics can be psychos too. I’ve seen it myself, it’s true, but I was really hoping they didn’t know that.)

Please let me know if you, or any other family members would be willing to meet with me or talk to me.

Thanks so much,

Alyssa Pedersen”

Then I included my phone number, and my birth certificate, and the cutest picture of my kids I could find.

It wasn’t a perfect plan, because if no one answered the door and we had to leave it under a mat or in the mailbox, I’d still be left with the unknown.

Did they find it? Did they open it? Did I say something wrong? Did they resent me for reminding them I’d been born? Did they hate children and paramedics and firefighters? Did they already know that in spite of our jobs, we could still be psychos too?

While Michelle had agreed to my idea, what I wasn’t aware of, is that she and the other girls had been making some plans of their own. Instead of spending all day Sunday in our pajamas, eating bags of peanut butter M & M’s and watching movies by the ocean, without ever leaving the house to see the waves or put our feet in the sand—we were getting up early and leaving for Florence and Mapleton. 

“No matter what we find, you’re going to be ok, because we’ll be beside you the entire time” 

This is what my friend Nika had told me the day before as I was sitting on a bench at the outlet mall, trying to decide if I should soothe my misery with something salty or something sweet. The moment she said it, a tiny part of my Kevlar covered heart felt hopeful for the first time in months.

We took a picture before we left. Fumbling with the timer, and our positions, and redoing our smiles before we finally agreed it was right.

I think we look excited. And nervous. And determined. And like we better have packed enough Twizzlers and Red Vines and Peanut Butter M & M’s and Chicken in a Biscuits to get us there and back with our emotions mostly intact. 

In the final click of the shutter, I remember thinking that this was the last picture I would ever take of the person I used to be. Because I knew. I knew. That by the time this day was over, I’d be different than I was before.

By the end of that day I would be a person who saw faces that looked familiar, even though it was the first time we’d ever met. And I’d hear the laughter and the voices, that up until then, had only been echos in my dreams. And I’d recognize mannerisms and reactions, that I thought were unique to me. And the emptiness I’d always felt, like I was The Farmer in the Dell’s lonesome cheese, would somehow feel less intense. And I’d be so turned upside down by the door I’d just opened, I’d spend weeks and months afterwards, wondering if I had done the right thing.     

Spoiler alert: I had. But in the middle of the unexpected pain, and loss, and internal conflict that would need to be reconciled over the next several years, I wasn’t always so sure. The botoxed hosts with their glistening eyes and Chicklet teeth don’t tell you that part on their pretty pink packaged adoption shows.

My friend Jenny drove, while the rest of us slept, and talked, and distracted ourselves from the complete unknown we were winding 60mph towards, down highway 101. Mostly we laughed, because when we were together, we did a lot of that. But we also sang. Which we had never done before. Old songs from the church that most of us had been raised in, and that we would all eventually leave. Our church was known for singing acapella only, and if you’ve read my prior posts, you’ll know that it could be cult-like and abusive in it’s legalism. (P.S. My opinion on this is not meant to reflect the opinions of anyone else in this story.) Instrumental music in worship was a hell-in-a-hand-basket-no-no in our world, so under normal circumstances, I might take the opportunity to make a snide comment or two. But not this time. I don’t want to ruin it like that. Because it was beautiful. And comforting. Like we were speaking a language of our own. And the peace it brought to hear our voices together, with glimpses of the sun on the ocean as we wound our way through the trees, is something I’ll treasure as long as I live.

When we finally reached the town of Florence, it wasn’t unfamiliar anymore. I’d already been there twice before, and hundreds of times after that in my mind. We passed the Safeway, and the Fred Meyer, and the St Vincent De Paul, and the Abby’s Pizza where unbeknownst to me, my niece Ginger was working at the time. Then we made a left, down Hwy 126, past the old steel bridge and the slough, and stopped in the sand dune surrounded parking lot of the Three Rivers Casino. After 6 months of trial and error searches, I only had two addresses left. My Grandparent’s place in Mapleton, and a house back in Florence that was listed under the name Daryl. I didn’t know for sure, but I was fairly certain he’d been married to my Aunt Sue.

My Grandparent’s house came first, so me, Jenny and Niki were dropped off in front of the casino, while Michelle and Nika took the car up the hill to my grandparent’s house, several miles away. There was a covered area in front of the casino that had two alcoves with built in seats and a fireplace burning between them. I frothed and paced like a rabid dog as I made up every disastrous story I could think of. Niki and Jenny did their best to distract me, but I was already too far gone.

Death, Derangement or Rejection. It would clearly end in one of the three.

Scenario 1—The girls would show up on my Grandparent’s doorstep, and just as they said “Good afternoon. Would you like to buy a vacuum cleaner? Or meet your 41 year old long lost grandchild?” my Grandparents would drop dead in unison.

Scenario 2—My birth family would be the psychos, and Nika and Michelle would be knocked over the head and tied back-to-back in a moldy wet shed while a bunch of hillbilly cousins who’d come to Granny and Gran Paps for possum and grits had a stump grinding contest with a case of Coors Light and the most bitch’in chainsaws in the county.

Scenario 3—My Grandparents would tell them they really weren’t interested (did she not see the signs in our yard?) and ask my friends to say piss off on their behalf.

An hour passed before we heard from the girls. It was two before they came back to the casino. No one answered the door at the house they said, but they’d found a beautiful yard full of flowers (“that’s when we knew you belonged there for sure!”)  along with a huge pair of man shoes, and a tiny pair of lady shoes, side by side on the front porch. They’d also been to the cemetery looking for my Uncle Jack. There was no luck finding him either. Even my dead relatives didn’t want to be found, and I felt like giving up.

At that point, I only had one hand left to play: The House of Daryl—my hopefully not violent, possibly ex-uncle. 

We made our way back towards Florence, to the address I’d scratched out at the very last minute on the back of a crumpled up sticky note. When we turned into the driveway of a well kept mobile park, it felt completely wrong. I was looking for the home of a maybe disgruntled ex-husband, but ended up in front of a pretty yard with flowers and do-dads and the name Hillcrest on the front of the house. I immediately started to whine. “This isn’t it. It’s not angry and manly, it’s friendly and girly and it has the wrong name on it too” I’m guessing my friends wanted to choke me by then.

Nika and Michelle jumped out of the car and told me they’d be right back. I was shaking and crying while Niki pet my arm like a dumpster cat getting it’s first bath. Then at some point I looked up and saw the mobile home right next to us. And the one after that.  And the one after that. And the one after that. They all had the name Hillcrest on the front.

“Is this the Hillcrest Family cult compound?” I wondered. “Do we have 20 pairs of asymmetrical eyes following our every move from misshapen heads that say things like “my what a pretty mouth?”

Then I had another thought. A less catastrophic idea. Maybe Hillcrest is the name of the home manufacturer, and not the name of the residents. Which means the person with the last name we were looking for, could still live in the home in front of us.

The feeling of completely wrong, then began to feel absolutely right—and that’s when I saw Nika walking towards the car with her eyes full of tears. She paused for a moment, as if deciding what to say, and said “Would you like to come meet your Aunt?”

That same wind rushed through me. The one I’d felt the day I walked through the doors of Mapleton High and found pictures of Virginia and Uncle Jack. It carried me off again in a fuzzy warm dream, that even though I lived it myself, I’m still not sure is real to this day.

Later that night, Nika and Michelle said when they first knocked on the door, the person on the other side only cracked it an inch, so all they could see was an eyeball. 

“Yeees?” came a woman’s voice. “Can I help you?”

“Hi!” they said as brightly as they could “We promise we don’t have any pamphlets.”

They heard “Well then come on in!” and the door swung open wide, and the eyeball became my pint sized Aunt Sue.

Their conversation went something like this: “Our friend Alyssa was adopted. Her mom is Virginia Smith. Would you like to know more?”

“Virginia is my sister” she said, “So yes, yes I would.”

Not long after that is when Nika came out to get me. After months and months of brick walls and dead ends, I suddenly understood. While I was looking for my mom, all of the arrows had been pointing to Aunt Sue. For so many reasons that were confusing back then but are clear to me now, she was the one I was supposed to meet first.

The short walk up the pathway to my Aunt Sue’s front door felt like one of those dreams where you’re running and running as fast as you can, but seem to get nowhere at all. It was the moment I’d been waiting for—my entire life I think—but I was terrified of it too.

“I don’t want them to just see me. I want them to love me. What if they never love me?” This was the secret want, and the secret fear that had been digging deep painful ruts across my heart and soul for months.

“You’re beautiful!” said my aunt as she grabbed my face, kissed my cheeks, and wrapped me tight in her arms. I was thinking the same thing about her too. And it wasn’t just because of her copper colored hair and the brightness of her almond shaped eyes. Beautiful was how she felt. Warm and safe and like a home I’ve always missed but didn’t know existed until that moment. But most of all, she felt like mine. 

I didn’t wait ask about my mom.

“She’s lived a hard life” came the careful answer back ” and she really isn’t doing so well.”  Even then, I think I knew what she meant, which was good because she didn’t say much more. “But here’s a picture of your sister’ she offered and shoved a wooden framed photo in my hands. It was one of those shadow image exposures they used to take in the 80’s where we all looked like serial killer stalkers, lurking in the background of ourselves.  

The next thing I knew, she was on the phone. First to cancel a date (sorry Nick), and second to call my Grandparents.

“Dad?” I heard her say. “Remember the baby, that Virginia gave up for adoption?”

Long pause.

“Well she standing in my living room now.”

She hung up the phone, her eyes shiny again, and said “He wants me to bring you up to the house.”

Then she got in her car, and we got in our car, and retraced our steps back down Highway 126, in absolute gob smacked silence. 

About 15 minutes later, we rounded the corner of my Grandparent’s wooded driveway and just like the girls had said, there was a beautiful garden, and a covered porch with a long bench swing, and big shoes and little shoes next to the mat. The 20 steps I took from the car to that door felt like the bravest 100 miles I had ever walked. That’s only because I hadn’t met Virginia yet. 

My Grandma opened the door and I saw a teeny tiny woman with a puff of white hair who only came up to my armpits. She grabbed my face between her hands, stared at me long and hard, and gave me a hug like I wasn’t a stranger. She welcomed each of my friends just the same. Looking back now, she was in a dream of her own—and here’s what I know about that. It’s kind of like hitting your thumb with a hammer; sometimes the pain is so intense you can’t feel how much it hurts until much, much later.

Right behind Grandma, stood Grandpa. All 6 plus feet of him. He was full of goodness and kindness and looked at me with pride as if I was already worth something to him. I knew it was true, if for no other reason than it was the opposite of what I felt growing up. And in that one moment, I heard the “broken, unlovable, unsavable” me take a deep, gasping breath—almost as if it knew that in the light of this man’s truth, it was going to have to die.

“What’s your name?” he asked in a gentle voice.

“Alyssa”, I said and flung my arms around his neck like a lost baby spider monkey. 

“Well it’s nice to meet you Alyssa” he whispered through the wind blown mop of my hair. “I’m really glad you’re here.”

Then as if long lost Granddaughters showed up on their doorstep with four strangers every day, my grandparents led us to their brightly lit living room and we all took a seat. Grandma and Grandpa in their recliners. Aunt Sue pulled a chair from the kitchen. Michelle and Nika were on a couch across the room. And me ,Jenny, and Niki ook the big pillowed couch under a picture window that opened out into the trees. I told them a little bit about myself, but only the “Thankful Adoptee” parts that I thought they would want to hear. Even in the absence of the puppeteers from my past, I still played the role of “A very lucky girl”.

When the phone began to ring I saw a look on Grandmas’s face that told me she may have an idea who it was. And since the volume was turned on high, I could hear every word that was said after she reluctantly picked it up. 

The moment I heard  the gravelly voice that mumbled and rambled on the other end of the line, I knew it belonged to my birth mom, Virginia. After Aunt Sue had called to drop the bomb that I was there, Grandma had passed it on to her. The gentle descriptions of “not doing so well” had given me and my denial a bit of hope that she wasn’t too far gone. But after 18 years on the ambulance this was a voice I knew, and any dream of a mother/daughter relationship completely disappeared. At least as far as this world was concerned. 

“Yes Virginia, she’s here” said Grandma. Then there was a click as my mom hung up the phone. 

Thirty seconds later, she called a second time “But Jody said she was dead!” 

Grandma looked at me and rolled her eyes with that exasperated expression that’s so familiar now–then there was a click as Virginia hung up again.

“Don’t worry about that” said Grandma leaning my way “Everyone knows Jody is a liar.”

Well apparently so, since I was sitting right there, and I seemed to be fairly alive.

The calls came and went for the next 10 or so minutes, along with mumblings of confusion and disbelief.

“Well give her my number” I heard her say towards the end, “And she can call me sometime if she wants”. 

“You know what?” I told Grandma. “I’m not going to call her, but when she’s ready, I’ll come to see her again.” 

Grandma relayed my message back to Virginia, and there was another click on the line. Then less than a minute later, the final call came in.

“Tell her I’ll meet her at the park in Mapleton. I’m walking there right now.”

The battle between avoiding the pain of her past and seeing the baby she’d never held, had raged on for a full 30 minutes or more.

The mom in her finally won out. 

There are so many moments that make me smile now that I know my family so well. One of them is when I turned to Grandma and Aunt Sue and said “You’re both coming with me, right?” Aunt Sue looked at Grandma with great big eyes and moved her mouth like a dying guppy. “Um Um Um” was all that came out. Grandma stared at Aunt Sue like “Don’t look at me!” and then both of them started to laugh. Yes, they wanted to support me, but NO they did not want to see my pain, or Virginia’s pain, or open up their own boxes of pain that from up until the moment I’d darkened their doorway, had spent 41 years mostly untouched. 

“Mom. Get your purse” said Aunt Sue when their laughter died down. “Let’s go support this girl.”

“Ok” said Grandma, in a quieter voice than I’ve ever heard her speak in since. 

I said a desperate goodbye to my Grandpa, Spider Monkey style again. My biggest fear, was that while I was all in, they’d be left feeling like they’d been to a mediocre movie that wasn’t terrible, but that you wouldn’t go out of your way to see again. 

This is the picture of me, Grandma and Grandpa that we took before I left. Behind those smiles, I think we all probably felt like we’d just stepped off one of those extra-fast roller coasters. Kind of dizzy. Kind of exhilarated. And kind of like we may throw up.

Then me and the girls piled into Jenny’s car, and Grandma and Aunt Sue drove off in hers. We were headed for the park in Mappleton, where I was about to meet my mom for the  first time—and break my world apart yet again.

Just like it had been on the drive from Florence to my Grandparent’s, the inside of the car was silent. Until we turned off of the highway, that is, and saw a lone figure pacing back and forth with the unmistakable gait of alcohol, drugs and mental illness. “Oh my friend, I’m sorry…..” Michelle’s voice cracked from the back seat. The mother she lost as a child, was like the mother I’d be meeting that day. The pain I was about to experience, was something only she would have known to grieve. 

If the walk to Aunt Sue’s door felt like running in a dream, and standing on my Grandparent’s porch felt like the bravest thing I’d ever done, taking those steps towards that gated yard where my birth mom stood, felt like I was walking towards my life’s purpose.

And the final moments before receiving a lethal injection.

As if I was being born, and witnessing my own death, all at the very same time.

My friends sat down at a picnic table while Grandma and Aunt Sue walked me up to the gate. I remember the sun was shining bright for the very first time on that otherwise overcast day. After taking a few steps past the fence, I reached back to grab an arm or a hand and found that Grandma and Aunt Sue were both gone. As awful as it felt in the moment, I knew they were right to leave. This was something Virginia and I had to do on our own. 

I kept my eyes down as I walked towards the figure that was waiting in the middle of the yard. I remember that the ground was wet and mushy, smelled like dog poop, grass and dirt, and there was an orange cat with a gummy eye, yowling around my feet. I guess I wasn’t alone after all. 

I didn’t lift my head until I stood right in front of her. This was it. This was it. THIS WAS IT. I was seconds from meeting Virginia. The 16 year ol girl who had sacrificed her mind and body to let me be a part of this world. 

“You’re beautiful” she said, when I finally looked up, and I didn’t know what to say back. From the graduation photo that Grandma had shown me I knew she’d been beautiful once. “But she doesn’t look like this anymore” I’d been warned. “The drugs ruined all of that.”

Her teeth were rotted out, she had sores on her cheeks, and a hole in her nose from a surgery-gone-wrong that reminded me of zombies when their faces fell off.  Then I saw her clear blue eyes—like my son’s, but a little different. And her thinning brown hair had been combed just so, as if she’d taken special care to do it. But it was the look of awe that I saw on her face that caught me off guard the most—as if every last bit of the mother she had left, was being given to me in that moment.

Earlier on, I had told my friends that finding an addict would be my worst case scenario. Now I know that wasn’t true; it’s rejection that would have destroyed me, and Virginia had accepted me on sight. 

“You’re beautiful too” I told her back, and I really did mean what I said.

Then for what seemed to me a very long time, we stared at each other in that smelly wet yard as an orange cat wove back and forth between our ankles.

When the spell finally broke, I shared bits and pieces about myself, including my husband and my kids. “You got a boy, huh? I never had me a grandson. I always wanted me one of them.” Then she wandered the yard. Pace, stop. Pace, stop. As I followed one step behind her.

“I wanted to keep ya” she suddenly said, and finally turned to face me. “They told me you was dead…….but I knew you was alive, because I always felt this…..pull. I knew if you was alive, you’d come and find me one day so I been wait’in for ya ever since.” The repetitive hand gesture she used to describe the “pull” was eerily familiar to me. It was the same one I’d used to describe the The Whisper in my dreams, who had led me to that very moment. 

 “Wait. Dead…..?”

I wanted to cry but I didn’t.

It was one thing to be given away and forgotten, but left for dead felt so much worse.

“Who told you I was DEAD?” I wanted so ask. “And why would anyone say such a thing?”

I’ll never know exactly who said it, but a part of me already knew why. Virginia had suffered when I was taken away and she’d probably been begging to see me. The Powers That  Be: of the religious community; and the medical community; and of society as a whole, who expected little pregnant girls to go away in shame, give birth to a tiny a human, and then skip back to school the very next week as if nothing had ever happened—I’m guessing that’s who thought my death would bring her peace, at least until she was back home and not their problem anymore. Way back then, I suppose it’s not like anyone thought that the dead baby was going to show up out of nowhere. But surprise! Here I am.

“Giving me up was the right thing to do” I told her in all sincerity. “Because of you, I’m standing here now. Because of you, I have children I adore and a husband who loves me and the life I’ve always dreamed of. There are so many reasons I wanted to find you, but mostly it’s to tell you thank you.

So thank you, Virginia.

Thank you”.

“Humph” she said in that booze roughened voice that reminded me of snow tires on bare pavement. “You ain’t got one of them attitudes like some of them adopted kids got…..I’m really glad to see it.” Then she wandered across the yard, back towards the safety of her family and to the escape of that white wooden gate.

What I realized much later, that I couldn’t have seen in the moment, is that she didn’t have the mental, emotional or even physical capacity to stay with me for very long. But on the day that she met me, she’d come with everything she had, and it was mine until she had nothing left.

( If you’re there and you’re listening Mama, I’ll always love you for giving me that.)

By the time we made it back, Grandma, Aunt Sue, Nika, Jenny, Michelle and Niki were still sitting at the picnic table on the other side of the fence. It was late afternoon and the light was getting low, but it felt brighter than it had all day. Almost as if the sun and the clouds agreed that we at least deserved to finish in the warmth. After reaching the table, I introduced my friends to Virginia and I saw her trying to look away. But every single one of them grabbed her hand or her arm and stared her straight in the eyes, and told her how honored they were to meet her. 

“We have a family fish fry in August,” said Grandma “You and your family will have to come”  Then we hugged, and exchanged numbers, and headed back to our cars like we’d just finished grocery shopping instead of finding a family. Then right as I was about to close my door, I saw Virginia at the front of our car. “You’ve blessed me today!” she yelled waving her arms as Aunt Sue covered her mouth with a sob.

“You’ve blessed me too!” I yelled right back as the sunshine hit the top of her head. For just a second, her wiry brown hair was glowing like a halo.

Then the girls and I headed back towards Lincoln City, crying most of the way there. Even now, after all of these years, what we shared that day can’t be put into words. It’s like we co-starred in a movie that’s impossible to describe to anyone else, because we were the only ones meant to see it.

The notes that I sent them several weeks later couldn’t begin to show the depth of the gratitude I felt, but it’s the closest I ever got.

 

“Who lifts us to our feet when our spirits have forgotten how to fly”-Anon

Girls, 

I’ve been struggling to find the right words to say how I feel about the experience that we all shared together. Then I ran across this quote and I knew it was exactly right. God sent four angels to lift me up and remind my spirit how to fly. That really is what it felt like. I was overwhelmed to the point of shutting down and your faith in me and the unique experience we were about to share was the only thing that allowed me to move forward. I could feel your combined strength around me, and it made me feel strong enough to do one of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my life. Looking back, I can see how all of the events of the last 6 months came together for that one day. I couldn’t imagine four more amazing angels to share it with. Thank you for loving me and believing in me. God knew I couldn’t have done it without my sisters.

I love you all.

 

Niki,

I don’t know if you remember, but when we were all sitting in the living room at my Grandparent’s house, you asked them if it was ok for you to “brag on me” for a little while. Then you started telling them all of the things you admired about me. I love you for that! I would have never said those things myself, but it was so humbling to have them said on my behalf. You have always been one of by biggest cheerleaders when it has come to finding my birth family. I was so thankful to have you sitting there next to me.

 

Nika,

Thank you for seeing how miserable I was and taking charge of a situation that I honestly didn’t have the strength to handle on my own. You were so brave to go and talk to total strangers on my behalf. I have no doubt that you were one of the reasons that Aunt Sue was comfortable meeting me. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to make a first impression to my family for me. You are a true blessing to me.

 

Jenny,

I am so thankful that you were with me while we were waiting at the casino. I was so nervous. I actually thought I may pass out at one point. But you kept me calm and distracted and even made me laugh with your back rub in the surveillance camera. When Nika called to say that no one was home at my Grandparents, I was so incredibly deflated. I wanted to give up and go home. Then you said exactly what I needed to hear. You said “NO. It’s not over yet. I can FEEL it.” And you said it with such conviction, I knew it was true. Your friendship is such a treasure. I’m so glad God chose you.

 

Michelle,

DLF, from the very start, I knew you would be taking this crazy ride with me. Thank you for being willing to go to the door of a stranger, completely alone for me. I know how far out of your comfort zone that is and I’m beyond touched that you would be willing to make a first impression to my birth family for me. When you and Nika left, your sense of calm was so reassuring. You really are the best person during a stressful situation. When we were in my Grandparents house and I was all out of sorts, I kept looking across the room, and just seeing you there made me feel better. Your friendship is a true gift from God, and I’m so thankful for you. We are kin.

 

This isn’t where this story ends. It’s actually where it begins; because within every story, there are countless other stories that want to be told that just have to wait their turn.

I did end up going to the family fish fry. The one that Grandma invited me to that August. I’ve also been to births, and to deaths, and to celebrations and on vacations and to everything else that families do together. Like all real things, it’s been beautiful. And awful. And amazing. And disappointing. And heartbreaking. And heart healing. And soul wrecking. And soul saving. And all sorts of other mixed descriptives that I’m still not sure how to express. 

I always say that finding my family was like looking for breadcrumbs through the woods. Piece by piece I was lost and then found, when I followed the whispering voice I call God. My relationship with Virginia never became close. At least not until after she died. But that’s an entirely different story, for an entirely different blog post, that I’ll save for another time. Along with all of the others, about becoming a family, and finding the dad who wasn’t my dad, and finding the dad who is my dad that I’m never planning to meet, and discovering the 7 or 8 brothers and sisters that may never know I even exist (three of them are the same age as my own kids, and look just like them too). But those stories aren’t meant for this story. This one is just for my mom. Not because she was perfect, but mostly because she wasn’t. She didn’t need to be anything more than what she was for The Pull we both felt from her heart to mine, to finally lead me back home.

P.S. I missed you this time Mama. I know it doesn’t mean you’re gone. If you’re having lunch at our table with someone else, remember to keep your fingers out of their food.

 

*Just a note to any of the girls who may end up reading this one day. We talked about me writing this story at one point, and I was given the ok to use our names.  But that was a long time ago and if your feelings on it have changed, let me know and I’ll use initials instead.

 

 

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