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Archive for December, 2010

The conversation went on for over twelve hours, locations and topics changing throughout the day, but always the steady stream of words offered between us, sharing ourselves and offering materials from which to build a bridge from one woman to the other.  The joy that Sarah, my birth mother, wore that day seemed to perfectly fit her as if she had worn nothing else all of her years of living.  Her aliveness seemed to exude from her physical movements, the cadence of her speech, and the readiness of her laughter.  She seemed to sparkle like the essence of her fairy spirit.  Yet throughout our hours together, the presence of a dark and ominous shadow lurked, revealing  itself only in fleeting moments at first, but more pressing and solid as the evening unfolded.  It was as if the power of the darkness coerced its demand for prime space from Sarah and she gave credence to its persistence as she had so often done before.  It would be in my later retrospection upon those numerous scattered pieces she shared that day that I would formulate my own understanding of the disruptive, oppressive blackness that had lulled her allegiance in the past.  I would wonder, too, about her present well-being and the current impact the darkness emitted now. 

Sarah had been born a twin and like so many paired births, she shared a unique connection with Kenneth despite their gender difference.  She talked of outdoor play they pursued together as well as serious conversations undertaken at an early age regarding allegiance pledged to one another.  Her childhood seemed to have been carefree despite the economic challenges faced by her family of seven.  It was during the Christmas of her tenth year that Kenneth died in a tragic house fire while staying at a friend’s home.  Within the following week, her grandmother would also die leaving Sarah’s mother  wrapped in a shroud of heavy grief.  Sarah recalls the resumption of life “as usual” and yet the loss of her “soulmate” left an unaddressed emptiness in her own soul.  She had no recollection of focused attention on her emotional well-being during this time of loss and attended to her immense sadness within herself alone.  Her outward concern was for her parents, especially her mother, who she tried to comfort by “staying out of trouble” and “keeping herself busy.”

Around this point in life, Sarah’s remembrances become hazy, recalling brief pieces of experiences but finding it difficult to weave them into a narrative.  By the age of thirteen Sarah was disinterested in school, relishing instead the socializing with friends, particularly older friends who enjoyed partying together rather than playing silly childhood games.  Watching Sarah’s charm, quick wit, and talkative style in full swing, I could readily imagine these same gifts in action during her early teens, easily engaging herself with an older crowd who would find her captivating.  Already her use of alcohol was frequent, being moderated only by its access.  I wondered how Sarah’s parents, who she reported to be loving and attentive, were not alarmed by her growing pursuit of the party scene.  Perhaps they had wearied from the raising of the other children and the challenges of simply managing their daily lives, leaving little energy to focus on the last of their brood.   Perhaps Sarah was the master of disguises and was cleverly able to conceal the increasing space alcohol was demanding in her life.  My wondering left me a bit unsettled with it all. 

By the following year, Sarah would drop out of the eighth grade and head to Oklahoma to marry an older boyfriend, her mother accompanying the pair on this escapade.  Again, I am perplexed by the telling of the story…of a calm mother who wants her daughter to be happy and participates in what seems an ill-advised pursuit.  It was a different day and time where marriage was most often seen as the defining moment for a young woman’s future, yet Sarah was still just a girl and I simply couldn’t imagine her mother supporting this decision and not advocating for Sarah’s education.  Sarah interpreted her mother’s actions as demonstrative of her love and care and her familiarity with Sarah’s headstrong nature.  Perhaps it was the best response her mother could offer, preserving the relationship between mother and daughter while a disastrous course of action was undertaken.  Within months the marriage would be annulled with Sarah channeling her energies into what would eventually become a blur of drinks and the men who would pour them for her. 

Sarah can recall little of this period of time, reporting days spent recovering from the previous night’s effects only to repeat the vicious cycle again and again, days collecting themselves into weeks, weeks into months, months into years.  While her parents and siblings attempted to calm her chaotic lifestyle, she resisted their efforts, running away into the world of liquid numbness.  Appearing the life of the party, she was never physically alone, yet constantly engulfed in a loneliness that ate away at her soul.  Sarah referenced a “blackness” that surrounded her and a growing disconnection with any dreams for a brighter future for herself.  She saw only a repetition of these dark days as reflective of her actual worth and she gave herself over to the inner demons who shouted for her demise.  The blackness became consuming, the drinks providing momentary reprieve from its crushing power, the sex the necessary commodity exchanged for the numbing elixir, and the self-loathing the residual remainder from this exhausting and frenetic dance.  Her eyes, when momentarily sent in my direction, reflected the hollowness she must have experienced during these years.  It was a vast difference from the energetic fairy that had bolted from her car to gather me into her grasp.

Sarah’s self contempt was evident as she would speak to this twelve year period of time in her life, changing the subject frequently as if she could only hold her thoughts there a few minutes at a time before the weight became too burdensome.  Her eyes would focus anywhere but upon my face as she offered these pieces of history, expecting my repulsion and rejection of her.  I would take her hand in mine and rub her palm lightly as if to say, “even though you cannot look at me right now, I am still here and I will not run away from you because of your past.”   In time, she would use humor to alter the mood or simply move to a new topic, creating a disjointed rhythm in her storytelling, but perhaps offering an insight into a coping style that had helped her survive these dark years. 

It would be during this dark era of time that Sarah would conceive six children, all encased in alcohol infused fluids during their gestation.  Even while in the maternity home awaiting my birth, Sarah along with several of the other residents would sneak out to party on most evenings.  I was stunned to learn of this component of my own history, assuming that the home offered a more regimented health care option for my beginning.  As Sarah spoke to the frequency of the imbibing, I marveled that I am not faced with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome!  Her drinking was altered very little while staying with the Volunteers of America.  The same would hold true for her next two pregnancies with her son who she would raise and the second set of twins now known as Dale and Gail, placed through the same maternity home.  An earlier set of twins were miscarried due to domestic violence suffered by Sarah, an all too frequent occurrence in her life.  Such abuses are common for lives embroiled in drugs and alcohol, becoming easy targets for violent outlashes and sexual predations.  Sarah had endured all of them, a list horrific in its completion, taking responsibility for these men’s actions toward her as if her drinking literally evoked their criminal behaviors of assault, rape, and theft.  She readily excused their behavior by assuming the liability for all involved.  Her contempt for herself and this portion of her life was apparent.  She believed that it was understandable why she had been treated with this abuse…she deserved it by the way she was living her life!  I was stunned and appalled!  Here was a woman who had endured and survived repeated violence, believing that she had actually instigated its presence in her life!  She wore her shame visibly and my heart broke for her and other women who cloak themselves in abdicated responsibility others should bear but all too willingly concur with their abuser’s twisted ways of thinking….”If you would only act differently I wouldn’t have to get so mad.  You know better,”  or  “You know you were asking for it.  Look at the way you dress,” or “ It serves you right.  Who are you to say no to me!”   She had spent years wishing she would die.  I shuddered and looked at her aging face wondering how many women at this point in their lives are weighted down by holding the responsibility for their perpetrator’s behavior.   The aging process is challenging enough on its own…this unnecessary press of these repeated horrors creates an unending emotional burden from which there is no escape.        

In time, Sarah would leave the constant presence of the darkness, but its scarring would walk forever with her.  She would rally for the “sake of her children” and fight off its constant hold, but at times it would drag her back into its blackness, squeezing out any light from her very soul.  Somehow, she would find her way to hold only the light emanated from her children faces, the three that she had found the strength and energy to raise, and she would live for them when there was no other reason within herself to go on.  They were her saving grace and she adored them, treasuring each one for his or her uniqueness.  Her very countenance changed as she spoke of them.  Her heaviness somewhat lifted and I could catch faint glimpses of that fairy spirit hidden within and I marveled that it had survived at all.

Sarah’s description of intense, overarching, severe depression was classic.  She would have met all of the nine criteria listed in the manual utilized by mental health care providers to diagnose her condition of major depression, a condition I suspect emerged shortly following the death of her twin.  She had coped in common ways, through numbing the feelings with alcohol, surrounding herself with a social outlet that appeared to be enjoying life, minimizing thinking about the horrors surrounding her, getting lost in someone else’s physical comfort, and isolating herself from friends and family who encouraged a different perspective to her present reality.  What was amazing was that she had survived the years of blackness to re-emerge at all.  She had found some way to “pull it together” for the sake of her children and in time her balance had grown more steady.   Today she was certainly not that young woman she described, the one her three children had never heard about.  She looked nervously in my direction as our evening drew to a close.  “Are you sorry you opened this door?” she asked.  “Sarah, there is nothing you could tell me that would make me sorry I have looked for you, “ I replied.  Worried that I would be disgusted with her, I struggled for words to express my awe and wonder at what she had endured and who she had become.  She was a living miracle manifested by the power of love for three shining faces who broke through her darkness.  They were her saving grace…and it was an amazing grace indeed.    

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There are those moments in time that no matter how much they have been worked toward, dreamed of, imagined about, their actual dawning still seems surreal and hazy, like shadowy images trying to emerge from a heavy fog.  The miles between Texas and Arkansas had offered plenty of preparatory opportunity, yet I simply could not maintain the intensity of my focus to sufficiently release the possibilities for tomorrow to coalesce into a formed picture.  I could only see brushstrokes, like an impressionistic rendering of a beautiful countryside, not fully appreciable without some distance for perspective.  I was standing too close to envision the panorama that could be evolving, each possible stroke captivating my attention and impeding my comprehension.  “Can you believe this is actually happening,”  I heard myself blurt out any number of times as the miles accumulated.  It seemed the best analysis I could offer…stunned joy and wonderment, with no sense of what images would emerge from the mystery of it all. 

We arrived late Friday night into the sleepy, rural Arkansas hamlet.  After checking ourselves into our motel, a search for food ensued, but to no avail.  The few restaurants were long closed leaving us to enjoy M5 and C2 from the vending machine…peanut butter crackers and a hardened Snickers bar nine hours since our last meal.  Luckily, the bed was soft and the sheets welcoming and we had no trouble sleeping.  Perhaps more importantly, no Freudian dreams, either! 

Sarah and I had planned to make contact with one another on Saturday morning.  Unaware of many things about her, including her sleeping habits, I waited until after breakfast to phone.   Reaching for my cell phone, I retrieved a message from a worried sounding woman:  “Dana, this is Sarah.  I am just hoping you made it all right.  I haven’t heard anything and just wanted to make sure you didn’t change your mind or that you didn’t have car trouble!”  What is it with this mother role that brings out the worrier in each of us?  Already she had assumed the somewhat frantic protocol!  I phoned her back telling her that I had wanted to give her sufficient time to wake up before calling.  Laughingly she replied, “Sugar, I haven’t slept in two days!  I have been wandering around since 2 a.m.  Where are you?  I can be right there!”

I had assumed that Sarah would want us to come to her new apartment, but we had planned for a room with a sitting area just in case she felt more comfortable meeting on neutral ground.  I told her that my husband and I would stand in the parking lot outside the lobby doors and she offered a description of her vehicle.  Within seconds of reaching the asphalt, a green blur, later identified as a minivan, whipped itself into the parking lot, jerking into a stop.  With the engine still running, the car door swung open and a petite woman sprung from the car.  I walked toward her only to be wrapped tightly by strong arms and a head buried against my shoulder.   Sarah sobbed without reservation drawing me closer and then backing away to look at my face, repeating this dance enumerable times.  “Oh, Lord, oh, Lord,” she cried, the words offering a soothing balm, repeated like a mantra.  “This is the best day of my life!”  Her small frame rocked my body from side to side to the rhythm of her tears.  Catching a glimpse of my husband’s movement toward the car, she ran to him, hugging him to her and stating, “Thank you, thank you for bringing her to me!”  More hugging, more tears, more peeking at one another ensued, until the car door was closed and we walked arm in arm, hands clasped together, into the lobby.

My initial glimpses of Sarah’s tear streaked face saw no familiarity to myself.  Our statures were about the same, hair color for both of us a mystery of products over heredity, her eyes a darker brown than my own, and her skin tones on the olive side, but not as dark as mine, perhaps having been enhanced  by reading more than a book or two while lying in the sun!  There was something about her that exuded a palpable energy.  Her eyes twinkled and laughed, even in the midst of her tears.  She did not seem old at all, and somehow she reminded me of a mischievous elf or fairy who loved to surprise those around her.  I am not sure why this was the image that began to emerge from the brushstrokes being painted, but having always been intrigued with elves and fairies, I was rather enamored with this first impressionistic rendition of Sarah.  After all, who isn’t blessed by walking arm in arm with a tiny, magic character?

Kary, my husband, would later tell me that when he saw Sarah running toward me his thoughts headed in a vastly different direction than my own.  “Yes, that is her mother!  They look so much alike!  I know what Dana will look like as she ages.”  I remained open to that possibility, but I just did not see much resemblance myself.  As the afternoon would unfold, Sarah would tell me that I look just like she did at my age, claiming that she would have picked me out of a room full of people as her daughter.  She brought no photos of herself from an earlier point in time, so I remained unconvinced of the similarity.  Throughout the day I would study her face, looking for a reflection of my experience of me, but to no avail.   Our hands were identically shaped, but our faces seemed unconnected.  I do know that so often we do not see ourselves as other see us.  I recalled times when I have heard my recorded voice and I would emphatically state, “That doesn’t sound at all like me,” while those around me would confirm that the recording was exactly how they experienced my sound!  Perhaps we did indeed look alike and I was simply unable to gain the perspective I needed to observe it.  Maybe I was again standing too close to the brushstroke markings to fully appreciate the image they were blending together to create.

We headed for our second story room to afford us some privacy while we would talk.  I asked if Sarah would prefer to take the elevator or the stairs.  “Well, I am not dead yet,” she quipped as she bounded up the stairs with Kary and I following her dusty trail!  She had demonstrated her physical agility and I momentarily celebrated the potential heritable trait that could well be mine if I had been dealt that particular card from the deck!  She slipped her hand into my matching appendage and we walked toward the room, her steps bouncing along the way.

Sarah positioned herself in the middle of the couch, sitting upright and literally on the edge of the cushion.  This would be a stance she would maintain the entire day, never relaxing into the padded back of the structure, claiming she was plenty comfortable and a more than just a little nervous!  I nestled against one arm of the couch with Sarah less than a foot away, continually patting me or reaching for my hand.  The smile seldom left her face and she laughed frequently, perhaps nerves at work or personality on display.  I didn’t yet know, but either way, she was easy to be with and I was grateful for the quickly developing rapport between us. 

We began our conversation rehearsing the steps that had been taken to bring us to this day.  She shared her experience of receiving the calls from Lisa, the private investigator, and then my own call to her, with  the resultant  mix of joy and fear.  In her fantasy world, while she watched television programs featuring storylines of adopted children seeking out their biological parents, she would imagine her own response to such a longed for experience.  Such a reuniting for Sarah would only occur on our initiation, believing that she had no right to disrupt our lives by searching for us.  The maternity home personnel had instructed the young mothers to love their babies by respecting their new, adoptive lives through no further contact once they left the program.  They were taught that such attempts would, most likely, be detrimental to the children’s well-being and sense of security.   Sarah had  felt conflicted about released me for adoption, wondering if I would in actuality experience more love through this act of generosity or through her struggle to create a home for me herself.  Today, while joyful at our reuniting, Sarah fully anticipated the brushstrokes of my contempt to be painted across the cheeks of her face.  She stated that she would understand my desire to slap her or to spit in her face, projections I would come to understand in time as she shared her life story.  At that moment, I simply patted her hands as she wrung them in despair, offering reassurances for her decision regarding both of our lives and holding her only in the most positive of regard.   “You might not feel that way if you really knew what I was like then!” 

Sarah was now preparing to dip the brush in those dark, shadowy shades, leaving its marks deep and strong, prolific yet mysterious.  Sitting inches away from the artist herself and experiencing nothing but the airy, light strokes of her vibrant, elf-like presence, I could not imagine the space required for the intrusively, powerful blackness her brush would cut through the colors she’d once painted.

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With the expectation of time to process the journey of my soul, I entered the work week with a deep sense of awe and gratitude.  Opportunities that I had never imagined had come my way and I had been touched by the magnitude of it all.  I have been blessed that my daily work places me hourly, front and center with The Mystery in the lives of others, and as they make sense out of its calling to them, I am also given food for my own journey.  I have grown to expect to sense my own unfolding as the hours spent with others fosters a deeper listening to my own soul’s rhythmic movement.  Time, I assumed, would move me to a richer understanding of the impact of the recent events in my life. 

The serenity of that anticipated time was not to be!  Less than 48 hours after meeting Dale and Gail, the next chapter began its scripting.   In the middle of that afternoon, I retrieved messages so that I could return any necessary calls to clients.  The final message was that of a vaguely familiar sounding female voice stating, “Dana, this is Sarah.  I have a new phone number and you can call me anytime.” 

I was stunned!  I sincerely had not believed that I would hear from her again, ever!  I grabbed the receiver and dialed the new number.   Without pause, Sarah excitedly explained that she had left her husband, moved into her own apartment, acquired a new cell phone and was now free to talk at will.  WHOA!  This seemed pretty hasty to me, leaving her husband at this time in her life.  I wondered if she had somehow felt compelled to leave him because she couldn’t face sharing secrets from her past with him.  Was she feeling pressured by my contact of her to choose between her present and her past life, despite my repeated reassurances that I would not intrude in the life of her family?  Had my actions pushed her into something that I had never intended to evoke?  As she excitedly chatted on, talking of leaving behind all but the barest of her personal belongings, I began to feel anxious about the transpiring events.  Sarah proudly repeated telling her husband that despite their over thirty years of marriage, she wanted nothing but enough items to set up housekeeping in her new location.  He could keep the rest!  I heard her enthusiasm but I was feeling something akin to panic.  Here was a woman past retirement age throwing caution to the wind and for what?  Had she really seriously considered what it would mean to now take life on as an older, single woman?  She kept referencing that now we could talk freely, anytime we so desired.  She was leaving behind any assets and resources she might have to manage her life on in order that we might freely talk on the phone?  This was crazy!  She wasn’t asking my opinion, but somebody better do something here! 

Recollections from an all too frequently experienced dynamic from my adoptive home closed around me, projecting into the present moment while my birth mother excitedly chatted away on the phone.   The voice in my head seemed to press the very oxygen out of my lungs.  “Dana, you are responsible for our happiness.  You must take care of us so that we can finally feel loved and be fulfilled.  It is up to you to figure out what that will take and to then deliver it.  Never forget, we are counting on you!”     Was this woman expecting me to take care of her now…to provide for her well-being and happiness?    My internal questioning meant no disrespect to Sarah’s ability to think for herself, but I was afraid that she might see me as responsible for her choice and therefore as well for any negative consequences that choice might bring to her.    I had to do something to protect her…perhaps, more so, to protect me!

I repeatedly attempted to corral the conversation to the practicalities of such a move for Sarah, only to be shut down by her enthusiasm for the freedom she was experiencing.  When I cautioned her to think about her decision to leave, she reassured me that she had indeed thought about it long and hard.  When I recommended that she at least allow an attorney to direct an equitable financial settlement for her, she emphatically stated she wanted nothing from her husband so that he would peaceably let her go.  For each maneuver I made to direct her to reconsider, she politely moved the topic back to her evolving experience of joy and peace in her separation from him.  For one who makes her living being able to encourage others to address questions worthy of consideration, this woman was not following my lead at all!  She knew where she wanted the conversation to go and it was most definitely not where I kept trying to head it!  I conceded defeat for the moment, but promised myself that we would readdress this topic of grave concern soon.   She could not simply leave behind her present life so that we could, on a whim, talk on the telephone!  I had to get her to think reasonably!  Her joy, my fear, which would take precedence?

Oblivious to my racing thoughts, Sarah chatted on with ease, unaware that my breaths were coming only in shallow pants.  Her plan was to gather her three children together as soon as possible to tell them about the life she had once lived.  She wanted them to know the rest of her story and although she had some apprehension, she believed they would accept this previous chapter because “that’s just the kind of great kids that they are.”  Once they had time to get comfortable with the idea of their mother having “other children,” she dreamed aloud of gathering us together in one place, allowing her to experience fully her completed family.    Sarah sounded so incredibly happy, so full of life, and so enthusiastic about taking these next steps.   Yet, all I could feel was the oppressive shadow of Sarah’s potential impoverishment filling my office.  “Yes, “ I thought, “gathering  all of your children together for a meeting might be sweet, but it will not provide the elements essential for daily sustenance!  This is a disaster in the making!”

Despite the negative workings in my own soul, Sarah delightedly hung up the phone, extending the invitation for me to call anytime.  I repeatedly replayed the conversation over in my mind, eventually able to set aside my worry for her and for myself.  In that place of reprieve, I was able to tap into the wonder of this moment.  The woman I had been searching for the last 16 months seemed delighted in the turn of events in her life and she was not only relishing the contact from one placed for adoption years ago but also formulating a vision for the future incorporating “all” of her children together.  I wondered if her desire would be perceived in the same light by the children she had raised?  What if while she waited for the “right” moment to gather them together from their two state locations, months would again pass by?  And what if in those months, something were to happen to either one of us and we were robbed of the opportunity to actually meet?  We were so close to achieving that moment in time, I was no longer willing to allow life to unfold at its own pace.  I determined to follow my own advise to my children:  “Ask and you may well, receive.  Ask not, and you most likely won’t.”   

I exercised that new phoning freedom early the next morning.  The delight in Sarah’s voice was contagious.   “Hello, Honey,“ she excitedly offered.  I was touched by her term of endearment.  I told her that I had something I wanted to ask her and that I wanted her to be completely honest with me.  Without hestitation she agreed, “OK, Sugar. I promise to do that!”  A second term of endearment in less than sixty seconds.   Sarah seemed to be taking this new expressive freedom very seriously.  “If it wouldn’t put you in a difficult spot with your children, I would like to come and see you this weekend,” I stated.   Without pause, Sarah replied, “I think that would be wonderful!”  Some old habits will most likely be mine until I take my last breaths.  I needed to re-explore her certainty that she would not be compromised by saying “yes” to my request.   At the time, my double checking was intended as protective and respective of Sarah, but it dawned upon me Iater, just how disrespectful it could have felt for me to question whether she had fully thought through her response.  I made a mental note to myself to watch this annoying tendency and to be a more gracious recipient of another’s “yes” towards me in the future.  Already this birth mother was teaching me important life lessons!   Sarah reassured me that she would be just fine with her children, a polite way of saying, “Yes, Dana, I really can think for myself!”  Her struggle was of a different sort:  “Would you really make the drive to come and see me?”   Now who was checking out another person’s ”yes?”  “ Absolutely!  I will drive up on Friday and meet you on Saturday.”  I smiled thinking that I, too, can think for myself!   We both expressed our eagerness to finally meet one another, neither of us needing to check out the sincerity of that spoken sentiment.  We trusted the “yes” in each other’s agreement and in less than 36 hours, I would arrive in Arkansas!

As I wrapped up my work day, I envisioned the drive to Sarah’s new apartment building.  My previous spy mission into the “motherland” had prepared me for the bulk of the trek.  I had lurked outside her mountain home some months previous and while she was unaware of that visit…. My thoughts froze, was she indeed unaware or was there a possibility that she might recognize the vehicle that drove down her country lane any number of times and parked nearby while the “pseudo calendar photographers” captured some of the Arkansas’ rural scenery?   

 Perhaps we ought to repaint the truck before leaving in the morning!  I felt sheepish facing the possibility that she might call my bluff, remembering  the day that she had grown strangely suspicious of the unknown pair in that red truck with Texas tags, repeatedly eyeballing her home.   If asked, I would confess …and hope that one who calls me Honey and Sugar would extend some mercy.  My joy, her fear, which would take precedence?  It seemed we already had a lot to work out, and we hadn’t even yet met!

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I did not sleep well that night following my meeting with Dale.  I replayed our conversation and the feelings evoked while getting acquainted with one another.  His words and actions had welcomed me into his life as a sister and I had remained guarded.  I think of myself as open and embracing of others, yet I observed a reflection of myself that seemed cautious and self-protective.  Through the night a specific thought repeatedly surfaced, challenging me to “soften where he was concerned.”  Internally I took issue with the directive and defended myself, to whom I am not sure!  “If I am anything, it is soft toward others!” I emphatically declared, hearing some whispered laughter in my head.  I was incensed and then perplexed.  Where was this voice coming from?  It sounded like my own but I didn’t recognize the words.  After a few more rounds of wrestling and with some level of fatigue, I stood in my corner of the ring and said aloud, “I am open to softening.”  Immediately, something viscerally shifted inside.  I don’t know how to explain it, but I felt different, actually softer.   From this new vantage point, one I didn’t even realize I must have needed, I saw a man who had been incredibly nervous and who had poured himself out trying to develop a spot of connection between us.  I had made that connection more challenging than it had needed to be and he had worked doubly hard to overcome both my resistance and his nerves.  I was touched and charmed again by his generosity towards our relationship and in time, I finally slept, sufficiently fatigued from many rounds of soul-searching.

The next episode of Unsolved Mysteries was destined for a bar-be-que restaurant in a small hill country town, a centralized rendezvous spot for Gail, Dale, and myself, this time with additional family members in tow.  Gail and her daughter, a competitive rodeo roper, were returning from the weekend’s event and had requested that we meet earlier than originally determined to allow sufficient time for returning home to tend to their livestock.  Despite their best laid plans, they were running late, allowing time for my husband and I to meet with this new version of Dale…or was it a new version of Dana?  He was so relaxed, engaging, and communicative with both speaking and listening activated.  He humorously poked fun at his previous day’s nervousness and wondered aloud if he had perhaps in response to his jitters, thrown back too many drinks during our initial meeting.  His self-deprecating humor was endearing.  In my “softened” state, I found our time easy and enjoyable, the hour passing quickly.  After numerous directional phone calls with Gail, Dale determined to personally escort the “lost” twin to the restaurant telling her to “just throw the truck in park and wait for him to find her!”  Their phone banter was entertaining, but after repeatedly misinterpreting his verbal directions to the restaurant, she complied and allowed him to personally navigate her to the hickory smoked diner.   I smiled identifying my first real resemblance in this new family tree:  a “sister” who runs late and who gets lost even in a rural town!  Yes, those are traits I can easily identify with!

Gail, her daughter, her daughter’s friend, her daughter’s roping coach and his son, all accompanied Dale to the picnic style table and benches.  Enshrouded in the aroma of smoking brisket, ribs, and sausage, we shared some of our stories, but mostly over the public noise, we studied one another for any semblance of familiarity.   Gail and her entourage were well versed as cowgirls and cowboys.  It was more than just a hobby, it was a way of life.  Caring for land, livestock, and rodeo training were the central components of each day, around which jobs, school, and socializing were incorporated, but more peripherally.  Gail was outspoken and direct with a no-nonsense approach to the world around her, yet she laughed readily and frequently…the kind of laughter that is contagious even if you don’t know what you are laughing about!   The twin relationship was immediately evident, with one twin finishing the sentences of the other, eyes twinkling all of the time.  Frequently there were references to “inside stories” that they shared and incorporated into our broader conversation.  They laughed with and at one another and seemed to be very current in the events of one another’s lives.  I was enthralled watching their banter and felt a bit envious.   They obviously had taken life on with one another and were confident in the strength of that relationship.  They were actively involved in the unfolding of each other’s paths and had been there for one another in times both good and bad.  I wondered if they truly appreciated what they shared?

There was little personal time for Gail and I alone.  Stolen moments sandwiched in between the chatter among the larger group indicated that she knew about my decision not to reveal our birth mother’s whereabouts.  Prepared for an angry response, I was surprised to hear her desire to protect Sarah and her family from any intrusion our presence might bring.  Gail had been concerned all along that Dale’s quest to locate his birth family could be painful and disrespectful to our biological parents, deciding not to participate alongside him.  She was, however,  excited about the location of the lost, older sister and already we were standing in unison believing that our birth mother  deserved to self determine any contact we would have with her.  And in true Gail style, she had no trouble in expressing her sentiments on this emotionally laden topic, allowing me to catch another glimpse of her pragmatic nature.  She did indeed cut straight to the chase, and I found her direct and concise manner of expression to be refreshing.  Perhaps it is that I so often must machete my way through my own verbosity that promotes my admiration of this “get down to it” style or it may more powerfully be the sway of my own muse begging me to pay attention and learn!  

As the call of the livestock pressed upon our time together, we walked to our vehicles, with Gail admonishing my husband to “take good care of her sister!”   I was amazed at her openness to embrace me as a member of her family.  The sentiments were touching and I pondered my own sense of connection with the twins…people I had enjoyed for a brief time, good and kind people, but not yet people that I could sincerely call “brother” or “sister.”  I had always believed myself to be so incredibly open and embracing of others, but in so many ways, these two had far surpassed me.   I vowed to continue to “soften.”

As we drove the numerous miles home, I silently philosophized about what really makes someone a brother or a sister.  When we are raised with a sibling, we are introduced to those terms by our family and the world around us.  But when we simply meet in midlife, we have no common history, no community guidance as to who this person should be in our life, but instead just an awareness of a shared DNA source.  Does that biological link produce a brother or a sister?  I guess the answer is both yes and no, depending on our level of analysis.  Through a strictly biological outcome, the reproduction of shared parents produces brothers and sisters.  Yet many biologically linked siblings do not feel particularly brotherly or sisterly towards one another.  Relationally, it seems to me, brother or sister denotes a far different use of those terms, speaking instead of a mutually and intentionally constructed relationship developed over time.   Gail and Dale share both uses of these terms.  I, at least for now, participate only in the former.    

The trip home is quiet, silently pondering the steps that I had taken over the past fifteen months to locate my birth mother.    The road had taken me to numerous towns in Texas and into the hills of Arkansas.  I had been able to write a letter to my birth mother, hear her voice via a telephone conversation, obtain a needed medical history for my daughter’s health, and meet The Romantic, Dale and The Laughing Pragmatic, Gail , my biological brother and sister.  Each of these steps had taken me to places, both physically and emotionally, that I could not have imagined.  Would there be more steps yet to take or had this journey completed its course?  I was at peace either way, confident that I could embrace whatever would come with complete serenity. 

48 hours later, my complete serenity would be vastly disheveled!

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On the appointed hour, I arrived at the designated rendezvous location, a very hip Austin spot decorated with fabulous architecture and art.  I rather suspect my West Texas awe was written all over my face as I gawked my way through the courtyard and into the foyer.  For some moments, I forgot the day’s agenda and simply soaked in the surroundings, turning my head from one work of art to another.  I was experiencing a kind of déjà vu, reminiscent of the old Mary Tyler Moore hat-tossing, spin around in joy stance (you have to be a certain age to know what I am talking about), when a female voice asked, “Are you Dana?”  The beautiful young hostess waited for my affirmative response and then indicated that I was to follow her.  She kept eyeballing me in a strange sort of way when it dawned on me that she knew the reason I was here and she was getting an up close version of Unsolved Mysteries happening right here at her workplace!  She passed me off to another young woman saying, “This is Dana,” while I was led further into the cavernous building.  “How are you doing?” woman number 2 inquired, studying my face perhaps for signs of nausea or panic.  “I’m good,” I replied and she passed me off to another young woman stating, “Here she is!”  I waited for the rest of the song to be sung,…”Miss America,…” but there was no chorus!  I know that I visible smiled, amusing myself while relying on one of my most frequently utilized coping mechanisms, twisted humor, to deal with nervousness or uncertainty.  As the third handler led me up the stairs, she said, “He’s waiting for you right here,” and I was led up to a balconied table overlooking Lake Travis, two long-stemmed roses waiting at my place.  I recognized Dale’s face from the photos in the biography he had provided for me and he rose in greeting, hugging me and then turning to the neighboring tables and proudly announcing, “This is my sister!  This is the first time we have ever met!  Isn’t she beautiful?”  Heads nodded, some light applause broke out, and thus we were ushered into this new phase of our relationship.  “Not too shabby,” I thought, rather overwhelmed by his orchestration for creating this noteworthy moment.  Pre-ordered drinks arrived at our table (this guy had thought of everything!) and the talking ensued…

…to be more accurate, I should say, the listening ensued…at least on my part.  While he talked on and on, I searched his face for any sense of familiarity.  Even sitting face-to-face, I saw none.  I studied his mannerisms, listened to his word choices with again no ring of familiarity.  There was one commonality, however, and I know that I visible smiled again as I focused my attention upon the vastness of its presence.  He did love to talk!  Those who know me well (and perhaps even not so well!) would be able to connect that dot of similarity and will wonder if I am overstating my analysis.  I am confident that I represent the situation objectively when I state that this man, my “brother” Dale, made me look quiet and unexpressive!  He talked about his life story, he shared tales about his personal interests, he educated me in realms I am not experienced, he critiqued some of my responses to his stories, and on occasion he asked me a question only to provide the answer to it, himself!    Perhaps he was nervous and just trying to talk himself to a place of comfort or perhaps I was so uninteresting that he was filling in the gap for me.  Whatever the motive, I recognized relying on the use of words as the answer to almost any need.  For those of us who talk easily, we can fill almost any space with words, hoping in time, we say just the right ones that bring about some profound impact.  I looked at Dale and saw some of myself, grateful for the reflection and touched by just how hard he was working to create a bridge between us.   

Dale shared that he and his twin, Gail, had grown up knowing that they had an older “sister” who had been placed for adoption through the Volunteers of America maternity home, some years prior to their own births.  When the Adoption Registry was established by the state as a means through which biological offspring could be reunited with one another, Dale had driven to Austin to complete the necessary paperwork to begin that process.  His application had been completed for over 25 years and he had maintained contact with the agency through personal visits as well as phone calls, checking the status of his record.  He had been persistent, even without the success he had  hoped for.   This day was the culmination of a quarter of a century of hopeful anticipation that one day he might find that “lost” sister.  No longer lost, here we sat, looking over Lake Travis, using words to reach toward one another, and wondering what the other was REALLY thinking about this whole experience.    

He continued to share his story.  It would be an understatement to say that Dale adores his family.   The recent death of his father had pronounced his sense of loyalty and responsibility for his Mother and his twin sister, caring for them in ways his father would do if he were still alive.  He was protective, nurturing, and doting on these women who have his heart and he extended the same invitation toward me, to know with certainty that I could count on him in ways both small and large.  He offered refuge, should there ever be need for it, on land that he owns in the area.  He romanticized about excursions we might take in the future, pursuing outdoor adventures of one kind or another.  I was touched by his offerings of self to one he had only briefly known.  His gentlemanliness demonstrated his standard of attentiveness, rising to stand as I leave the table to find the restroom, and again as I return.  His eyes lit up as I resume my chair and I am touched by a sense of sweetness in him, emanating from someplace deep within him versus some carefully crafted style for self-aggrandizement.  He talks about his children freely, as if they are such a part of himself that I must grow to know them to fully understand who he is.  It is a style of referencing the placement of offspring that I intimately relate to, and one that I frequently see in mothers, but not so often in fathers.  I admire it in him and feel grateful for the privilege of hearing its masculine music.  He laughed telling me about the “hell” he caught as a young man growing up, being more sensitive while Gail was more direct and by many standards, more traditionally masculine.  His female counterpart would be far more likely to just “get the job done” and “cut to the chase” whereas he would be more concerned about the emotional ramifications of the manner in which the job was being done!    I liked Dale’s ability to laugh at himself and to be comfortable claiming non-traditional attributes as valuable components of the man he had grown to be.

In the concluding hour of our meeting, I would witness the depth of his sensitivity first hand and feel its tug at my own heart.  I had anticipated that Dale might inquire about my knowledge of our birth mother and while I wanted to be honest with him, I knew that I would, at all costs, hold to my honesty with Sarah.   I had promised her that I would not contact her again, turning over all power into her hands to initiate further contact if there was to be any.  For me, that promise meant that I would not provide the opportunity for anyone else to contact her, as well.   When Dale did eventually ask if I knew anything about our biological mother, I confirmed that I did know her name and where she was presently located.   Understandably, his next questions were to ask for her identity and how he could reach her.  His hopeful anticipation was palpable as he spoke of having dreamed of this day for a very long time.  I expressed my regrets at not being at liberty to share any contact information due to my own promise to Sarah.  Dale’s anger and frustration was understandable, and he expressed his belief that his right to know was as important as her right for identity protection.  He pressed for more information and I did share her first name, the number of additional children she had, and that she lived in another state.  From that point, I stonewalled any attempts he made to acquire more information.  When he realized that I would not break confidence, he cried, thwarted by this newfound sister who chose to honor Sarah over him.  I could understand his frustration, and I could feel his despair, but I would not budge.  I reminded him that there were other avenues open to him that would, most likely, result in successfully locating her.    He held out the possibility that he would pursue other avenues if she did not, in time, contact any of her adopted children.  He seemed to be clinging to that thread of hope that he would someday hear from her.  After 25 years, holding on a bit longer did not seem such a stretch. 

Not the best ending to our meeting, but it was the appointed hour for us to conclude.  Our plan was to meet the following day, this time with Gail in the mix.  I wondered how she would respond to me, knowing I had information that I was unwilling to share?  What kind of a beginning would that provide for us?  Dale walked me to the car and as we snapped a few photos, I imagined secret footage of Unsolved Mysteries being shot as we exited the scene of our first meeting, smiling while silently pondering the journey that was unfolding.  The next two steps were clear…get into the car and drive out of the parking lot and then show up tomorrow at the predetermined eatery for the next meeting. 

I took the first of those steps and as I drove away, I imagined the second one to follow.  I wouldn’t have to imagine for long.  Dawn would quickly arrive.

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