“It’s always best to start at the beginning – and all you do is follow the Yellow Brick Road.” – The Wizard of Oz
On a run up to leaving Boise in my Ruby slipper on the 3rd of August, I’m going to meander through parts of my backstory – stuff that I won’t have time to write about then.
Day One, Boise to Portland, is the first leg of a long-overdue journey. The purpose of the journey ostensibly is to attend a travel writing workshop in California, but the greater goal is to revisit the past and free myself from parts of it. You could call it a quest.
I have no intention of freeing myself from what awaits me in Portland. My birth mother, now my only living mother, has lived most of her adult life there. I was 52 when we met a decade ago in Portland. No, I’ll go to her house and it will feel like I’ve come home. We’ll stay up too late with Dad and sit and drink our morning coffee in our jammies. We’ll ask each other for stories and give them up readily. We’ll laugh a lot and when I leave, we’ll be sad.
Scary stories about adoption reunions gone bad abound. Ours is not one of them. After a lifetime of looking anxiously at faces on the street for a reflection, I found her. Marie looked back and didn’t flinch. She hadn’t sought to disrupt my life, but was glad I disrupted hers. She insisted it was time they knew and told her family. She said she couldn’t raise me, but she has always loved me. I believe her.
I found Marie through a website on the Internet that advertised, “We’ll find your loved one for $350. If we don’t find them, the search is free.” After a number of half-hearted searches growing up, I met an 18 month old orphan in Romania who helped me step past my fear of finding out who I really am. When I got home I was ready to look again. How could I lose? If they didn’t find her, it wouldn’t cost me. If they did…
So I sent off what I knew from a report in my file from the Children’s Home Society. I had no name and supposedly no identifying information. My birth mother was an Oregonian. Her mother had two boys, her, and then died when they were little. She was raised by her father and a stepmother. She loved horses and was musical. My mother married, had a son, and divorced. She wasn’t married to my father. She moved to California pregnant because she was concerned a scandal might cause her to lose her son – my older brother – in a custody battle. Women had to worry about those things then. She refused to abort me, but never intended to keep me.
Within three weeks I got an email from the search firm – all in caps – WE FOUND YOUR BIRTHMOTHER! Oh shit, I thought. What am I going to do?
I had her name, her address, her husband and children’s names. The email said my grandmother’s name was Della Belle – her death provided a trail of breadcrumbs that led to finding my mother. In the first of what I hear are common uncanny coincidences in adoptions, the Professor and I had a Basset Hound named Bonnie Belle, a cat named Nellie Belle, and a Jeep named Tallulah Belle. We married on April 2nd, the same day as my mother and her husband.
The search firm coached me through writing a letter of introduction – sent in a birthday card because unwitting family members would be less likely to open it. I asked for nothing but information and offered her my phone number. The morning she called, my daughter came running, holding out the phone like it might bite. “It’s Marie! It’s Marie!” she hollered.
The moment I heard her voice I felt a tug from her heart to mine, a silver chord, I call it. Not unlike the tug I felt when my own infant daughter cried. It was a primal connection. Somehow I knew her already. Some visceral part of me responded to her voice.
When she explained why she couldn’t keep me, I believed her. I wasn’t just an inconvenient embryo she wanted to be rid of. She loved me and let me go to give me a future and a hope. She blessed me, although I’d never thought of it that way before.
Several years later I was to learn how much. My daughter and I traveled to Oregon for a birth family reunion. When she was young her family lived in Jacksonville in a large rambling house that has been converted into a bed and breakfast. Our reunion filled the old house and several others nearby. As outsiders, my daughter and I were nervous to meet the family. We needn’t have been.
Marie’s oldest brother’s daughters were there – two from his first wife from New Mexico, and a daughter from his second wife, from Oregon. Her middle brother’s daughter from his first wife was there from California. My older brother and his family were there from Washington. My younger brother (Marie and Ken’s son) stayed home. A few of them had been together a handful of times as children, but they were as much strangers to each other as we were to them. We weren’t the center of attention. Most of them were outsiders too.
And it was then that I realized I hadn’t missed as much as I thought I had. Had Marie kept me, the large, connected, happy clan that I mourned my whole life never existed. Though my adoptive family was close when I was growing up, after my parents passed the glue that held us together was gone. Perhaps suspecting that, Rosemary, my adoptive mother, said to Marie on the phone, “One day, I will be gone and I’m glad Teri will still have a mother.”
Marie told me on the phone that first time we spoke that she had always asked her husband (now my Dad, Ken), “Honey, what will we do if my girl finds us?” He always said, “Why, we’ll love her just like we love the boys.” And they do.
Marie is is my beginning and a thread that is inextricably woven through my quest. She bore me in her womb and then launched me on a journey I might never have chosen, but that has blessed me nonetheless.
I can’t wait to get to Portland.