Everything that came before ——— everything that is to come
Thursday April 6, I walked into the lobby of the Millennium Harvest House in my home town of Boulder, Co where Shirley and Arthur were staying after a 15 hour drive from Shreveport Louisiana and my life was forever changed. There is a line that exists now.
Everything that came before ——— everything that is to come.
The thing about meeting your birth family is- how does one prepare? Anything might happen. There is no rule that says you will identify with or love them, or they you- just because of your shared blood.
It seems almost silly, after all, I have forged my identity on the very idea that blood is not what matters, but the family of your choosing, the family you create. While I still believe that to an extent - I was unprepared for the wonder, the utter, complete, boundless awe of holding my blood relatives in my arms.
After the excitement and flurry of emails and phone calls the reality of face to face contact is intimidating on so many levels. Something stirred in me; in the deepest reaches of whatever makes me me when my older brother Dwayne and his family drove from California over the Rocky Mountains - Colorado bound for one day, just to meet me.
That initial hug, how to describe it? Awkward and profoundly sweet. We sat in my bestie Lisa Bell’s backyard at her black metal garden table with a pitcher of water between us, shyly wondering how to begin. Watching my nieces and nephew and Rose, Dwayne’s wife, as they stared back at me, I felt such joy. Dwayne pulled out two photograph albums he’d brought and I sat rapt as he talked me through them. He was so insistent on bringing me up to speed on his childhood. “This is me with my Mom, wait no OUR Mom” he kept correcting himself when he referred to Shirley. It was infinitely endearing the acceptance of me as his sister inherent in that gesture, and oh that tug at my heart as he told me. “I didn’t know of your existence until a few days ago, if I had known I would have looked for you, I would have found you.” Staring into each other’s eyes, seeing all that was similar and all that was different. Both of us so open, so curious as to what may have been, to what was.
Then Thursday and my lunch date. Rolling up -Heart thump thump thumping...
Shirley is funny, smart, sensitive, kind, loving. When I saw her come into the hotel lobby and she threw her arms open the cliched expression of thinking my heart might burst was so apt. She's tiny and bubbly; we looked at each other and just laughed. She made me feel comfortable immediately , it was clear she didn't want to overwhelm me while being obviously so herself. Her husband Arthur, a miracle of a man, tall, lanky, effortlessly kind and funny with a Louisiana slow drawl that is warm maple syrup. I don’t know why I found it surprising that they are both so funny. The obvious closeness and love in that relationship was inspiring.
Arthur charmed me thoroughly and pronounced himself my stepdad from this day forward.
We shifted between talking about Boulder, she wanted to know everything about my growing up here, and her childhood as I wanted to know everything about her. Our first meeting at the Oak restaurant on the Pearl Street mall was 3 hours of switching between stories of her memories and stories of mine. She broke my heart as she spoke of going to the hospital to sign over the adoption and how she cried the entire way to the hospital and couldn't bear it, but at the same time didn't see how she could take on a fourth child living as she was without the father being a part of her life. She knew already how hard it was to provide for the three she had. That she loved me so hard, and wanted the best for me was so deeply moving. I felt something that had been rustling through my everything finally rest.
She regrets our separation so much and I just wanted to assure her that I turned out fine and that it was all for the best, that I like who I am and if anything had been different I would be such a different person. The love that is pouring out from the entire family is almost too much. It felt so from the beginning. How can they love me so unconditionally with no knowledge of who I am, but look at me feeling the same way.
At the end of our meeting, after she bought us matching bracelets from Nepal on the way to her car, which I was driving, we got deeper. We talked religion. She's a devout Baptist and her religion is a central part of her life and who she is. I told her I had meditated, that that was my prayer and that I had been thanking my ancestors compulsively over and over for a year before I found her. Thanking them for the opportunity to live this life, for the tools that they had passed down to me to forge it the way that I have.
After a brief rest I went back to the Harvest to collect Mom and Arthur in her car; which she had insisted I drive. We drove to one of my favorite childhood spots- Chautauqua Park. Our curiosity for every memory was insatiable and we chattered constantly. We laughed, giggled and chuckled ceaselessly.
Dinner with Lisa and Steve and my beloved brother-in-law Richard was a remarkable experience. There was a moment at the table when every eye was wet. If love were visible the light surrounding that table would have been incandescent. My mother was so vulnerable in her openness, in her truthfulness, in her love.
I realize that not every search ends so happily , and really I know also that there will be bumps on the path ahead, but oh how the very marrow of me feels new. Just heaving a deep satisfied sigh, as if I’ve been content all my life to peek on tiptoes through lighted windows from my place out in a snowy winter’s night, happy with my fortitude and resourcefulness, only to be invited in to sit by the fire.