By the south shore of the Sound, tidal waters came and went, salty and teaming with life in motion. High water from record snowfall rose and fell under the 4th Avenue Bridge in Olympia and stories of otters, heron and marine life returned with my husband’s daily walkabout on his errands to town and back.
My back injury would take a while to heal. Fall turned to Winter, and with it a season of stillness held my body in place as my mind traveled across far-reaching deserted memories I had left for lost.
Chapters for Kathleen~Cathleen tap their feet, waiting to be redressed. I’ve only told my side of the story in starts and pulls. Finished, it awaits refinement. The story begs to be told – the way only Cathy and I can tell it. Our story is held private by all but ourselves, even from each other. As we approach the tale, we find our own truths embedded in pearls of synchronicity and along the edges of conflict. The glue that binds us together is a gooey mix of pain, hope and surprise. There is tenderness but that is kept in a safe place where none from outside can touch or steal it. What we have is ours, it belongs to us and we have come a long way to claim it, in each other and in the world. It is our love.
Cathy is my firstborn child. I am her original mother. She joined the physical world through me, if not with me, when I was eighteen. She was delivered from my body to another family through adoption. We met eighteen years later. Our overt relationship began then but we have always been in relationship. Cathy was part of me and I was part of her, we were invisible but keenly felt in each other.
Now we are working, together and apart, to tell the story. In between the husbands, children, jobs and quirks of daily life, we steal to our corners and write our sides as we can in hope that we will deliver the story as it was delivered to us in time to help the people it’s intended for.
One of our mutual topics is dealing with the holidays. I’m not sure what hers will say but I’d guess her version might contain a similar mix from her end…
Christmas holidays came and went. It used to be, before we met, that we thought of each other with wist and wonder, imagining how the other might be celebrating. Now, twenty-two years into our reunion, we still think of each other wistfully and wonder how it is for the other. The main irony between before and after our reunion is that the invitation that was impossible before is still left unexpected.
When we lived close by, there was possibility for more spontaneity and sneaking time together in-between plans with adoptive parents and in-laws didn’t interfere with the mainstream of life. Offers to babysit were always grabbed with excitement and gave us a place to be with our grandsons – beautiful bits of time. Now that we are a hundred miles north, opportunity thins to rare phone calls and occasional emails. Attempts to connect spin outside the chaotic chase to keep up with life at hand. Her parents come out from Florida every Christmas for a couple of weeks. Her in-laws live nearby. Even when we were down the street, it was complicated to drop by uninvited and invitations didn’t come often.
The birthmother is still invisible on the official list of celebratory characters and the experience of the past many years tells me that it’s awkward for my daughter to include me without struggle. As thick as the rope might be between us, the sinewy threads that twist us together are not readily mixed with the fibers that make up the rest of our lives. Her primary family is counted without me. Just because I count her as a member of my family (better late than never) that doesn’t mean that the reverse is true. I claim her as my firstborn daughter but in light of her family hierarchy, that holds no weight or semblance of expectation in her plans or her life as she knows it. Our relationship is a sideline to everything else and it’s optional. She calls the shots. I mostly wait.
The question of knowing where to include her and be included by her agitates in rough silence before holidays, summer vacations, school plays, birthdays, graduations, hallmark days, weddings and funerals.
It’s not that we don’t mix with her family members, we do. We are a varied but likable mix and Cathy is the common denominator. We all played a part in their wedding. We were all in the waiting room when each of the grandsons were born. Three sets of grandparents, hers, hers and his, respectfully waited together in anticipation; cajoling, knitting and looking at the clock. We all came because we wanted to be there and took our place to share in our part as Cathy’s family-in-waiting. Even her birth father was welcome.
Season after season of holidays, birthdays and family events later, I find myself fighting urges to become recluse and to take expectation out of her equation. I don’t expect invitations anymore and stopped looking for it a while back.
I know there’s a place for me somewhere in this. We do have a relationship. It seems so natural when we are together. In it’s way, it’s motherly and daughterly. I struggle for equilibrium and wander through oceanic feelings that toss and recoil as I reach and pull my way back and forth from where we were nothing to where we are something, from where we come together to where we don’t. I’m never sure where I stand. Sometimes takes mock strength to move forward. It’s still better than nothing or not knowing who or where she is. It’s hard not to want more but I’m lucky to have a turn at all.
She seems to feel close to my husband at times, he is genuine and their relationship has a ring of affection and authenticity. There is no barrier of grief or loss between them. I can’t help but envy how easy they are together. Our grandsons love him and that love is safe, warm, fun and natural. My husband’s voice resonates with stories as he reads from their favorite books. I am tongue-tied but so happy to be near them. It is a gift worth more than gold.
I look on with longing, not sure if it’s okay to love them as much as I do. I cling to their innocent acceptance and affection. Underneath the question remains whether they will shun me later when they learn what I did? What will allow them to trust me when they learn the truth, that I let their mother go? I was young, not evil, but the consequence was grave, important and permanent. Even if she forgives me, will they? If I’m not on the family list of the invited, then I don’t belong. I’m an anomaly. That’s the kicker and it’s not her fault, it’s mine.
I would rather be their champion. Instead, I carry a terrible role in a tale that must wait until they are old enough to hear it so they can bear its meaning. In order for them to understand who I am and where their mother came from, they will need to know the truth. This is true of all my line; in the beginning it was my siblings, family and friends, and now my children’s children who will need to grow old enough to hear the story that is as sad as it is good. The story is its own riddle and it is my pass from invisibility to having a relationship. That makes it worth the trouble.
Hope rises in spite of myself. I blame this on optimism that seems to refuse to go idle in spite of myself. My daughter’s love and acceptance, or not, is what my grandsons will know, feel and respond to in time. I would like their hearts to find love inside the complicated truth. I hope for the best.
My fingers drum simpler questions into my knee as I wonder how school is today and whether they have colds or need their jackets zipped up to their chins. I wish I could walk them home like grandmothers do; like a mother would have walked their mother home when she was their age.
“Love is the answer” a mantra whispers as one foot follows the other on a recent walk around my brother-in-law’s block in New Jersey. I called Cathy on my cell phone from our mutual childhood stomping grounds to tell her where I was, that I was thinking of her and that we would be coming to Portland soon. She asks if we’ll stay over when we come and I think I hear a hint of hope in her voice. I grin and say yes. My heart flutters. We will.
To view my daughter’s blog on the same topic, please visit ReunionEyes.