Sunday, July 08, 2018

This is Me: An adoption story, part 4

If you've been following along, this is part 4 of my adoption search story. While it reads very much like the end, truly, it marks the start of a new journey of discovery that is ongoing. Stay tuned!

If not, start at the beginning:
Part 1:
Part 2:
Part 3:

After I had my hard, ugly cry and caught my breath and washed my face, I was ready to call the phone number, ready to speak with my Uncle Paul.

With shaking hands, I called..

I honestly can't really remember much of that conversation. My whole body was trembling. I'm sure my voice was strained.

Part of me was still afraid he would hang up on me, or angrily insist on proof of my story. I half expected the same kind of hostility and rejection I had received from his mother, despite the email he'd sent.

Instead he expressed wonder and astonishment.

And he welcomed me.

As I quietly cried, we traded our histories - sketches of a lifetime compressed into an hour-long phone call.

I learned that he hadn't known of my existence. That his parents and sister had kept the secret all these years, and took it to their graves.

Paul was a year older than his sister - my birth mother. He was away in college when she got pregnant. All he knew was that his sister deferred her college acceptance for a semester, saying she had some kind of job or internship in San Francisco.

What she did, was have a baby and give her up for adoption.

Then she started college in January of 1964.

Paul gave me so much more than the answers to my lifelong questions. He also helped give me context for my maternal family.

My sketchy handwritten notes
As Paul describes it, my maternal family tree is less a tree than a vine. Part of that is because my maternal grandfather (Ben) was married and divorced multiple times and had children with several of his wives.

Ben was born in Eastern Europe, walked across much of the continent, got passage on a British freighter to Liverpool where he learned English. A self-educated man, my maternal grandfather became a British citizen and traveled to Toronto. He then took a train to Chicago, because he knew they didn't check papers. He married my maternal grandmother Phyllis and enlisted in the army in WWII, and became a citizen afterwards.

Ben was a poet and he worked as an advertiser. A man who came here as an illegal immigrant and self-educated, self-taught in English.

I told Paul about my experience with his mother, all those years before. After a brief silence, he expressed regret that she had reacted in such a negative way. That she had been a fierce family matriarch and he was sorry I had been rejected.

And he told me about Robin.

She was the one who introduced him to science fiction. Yes, my birth mother was a science fiction fan. She also was a writer, a theatre costumer and set designer, and was outspoken for social justice.

It hit me, then, and I think I started to laugh: Poetry, geek, and social action were, in part, genetic. My legacy. 

I remember telling Paul my greatest regret was that I never had the chance to tell Robin that I was okay. More than okay. That I had a wonderful upbringing and harbored no anger about the circumstance of my adoption. That I had two grown sons and a family and a life that I loved.

Paul was silent for another long moment. There was a sadness in his voice when he said how much Robin would have liked to have been a grandmother.

He also told me that she had been married and had had a child - a son. My half-brother. J (and I'll be using initials for some of the people in this story, first names for others, all to protect people's privacy) had estranged himself from the family decades before. Paul had no idea why. Only that when Robin was dying, J never responded to their emails and didn't attend her funeral.

She was divorced from her first husband, but had found happiness in her last years with her second husband, Ed.

Sadly, she died at 65, of cancer and I will never know her.

The best I can do is learn about her from the stories of those who loved her.

And that will have to be enough.

To be continued . . . 

(Read on to part 5)

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