The Narrative

Excerpts from Kate (Chapter Two: Backstory)
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Eighteen. St. Louis was supposed to be “what I did on my summer vacation,” not this. I called my parents and told them things weren’t working out and I wanted to come home. My car had stopped running and I didn’t have the money to replace it. They sent me money for a plane ticket and I packed my bags. My friend, Joan was sad and worried about me as we drove to the airport.

“Whatever happens, tell Woz the opposite of what happens, okay?” I said as we hugged goodbye. If I’m pregnant I don’t want him getting in the middle of it, I’ll deal with it by myself. Promise me.”

“Okay, I promise.” Joan looked like she was going to cry. We hugged hard.

“Don’t worry, it’ll all work out” she said as I turned to board the plane.

Our eyes met. “I hope so” I said and walked away.
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On the face of it, my parents teamed up and said they would support whatever I decided. They set up a time for me to talk with the pastor. Fr. Bill Sullivan had eaten many dinners at our house over the years and he was at home with our family.

My pregnancy was an awkward topic but I was open to some practical input. Fr. Sullivan told me about adoption services. He didn’t tell me not to have an abortion but he gave me the alternatives that he was familiar with and told me he knew people who longed for a child more than anything and couldn’t have one except through adoption.

As my dad drove me back to my apartment, I admitted that I didn’t want to be a mother from being with a man I barely knew, didn’t love or planned to ever see again. To begin a family from a beginning like this seemed stupid and disastrous. I didn’t want to have a child. Abortion seemed like the only way to deal with it.

“It’s really up to you, honey.”

It had always been easy for me to talk freely with my dad. He brought me home record albums of Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, The Weavers and Ian & Sylvia. He showed me how to play music, drove me to auditions and bought me my first guitar in New York City. He was interested in what I thought and didn’t pressure me to be anything but myself.

Life to me was magic. With my surname, I was teased with nicknames of “flower power” who wrote songs of internal struggles with happy endings. Love was my code. I’d been to Woodstock. Was this a call to love a complete unknown? How far do I go with this? It’s in my body, not my head. What do I do with it? I was eighteen years old.

In a gentle voice, my father began to tell me what it was like for him when my mother became pregnant for the tenth time. Each of us was special in our own way but my mother’s news of one more pregnancy put my dad into a crisis. He didn’t know if he could love one more child. He had worked hard and loved us all but he felt like his plate was full. There wasn’t any more room in his heart for one more.

As my mother grew with my baby sister, my father’s anxiety grew, unconvinced. Then Gina was born, a cheerful baby girl with the face of an angel, bright and spirited. We all vied to take care of her because she was the littlest one, named for the Blessed Mother – Regina Maria or Queen Mary. Our littlest sister became the apple of our father’s eye. He loved this little one so much.

“Now,” he said, “I can’t imagine what it would have been like without her. She was the last piece in the puzzle of our family. If I had turned away from my last child being born, life would have been different in a way I wouldn’t have wanted to miss.”

His eyes crinkled into a half-grin made me half-think he believed that I could do this – that it would be hard and not what I had planned for – but it might turn out better than I ever expected and I’d never know unless I tried … and that’s life, isn’t it?

I took in a breath and let it out. I guess I knew what I was going to do.

“Okay.”

I announced my decision to come to term and give up my baby for adoption. My parents accepted my decision and made plans with Sister Alice Faherty at Catholic Charities. Sister Alice was a pink-cheeked radical, peace-activist, post-Vatican II Sister of Mercy. She had handled five hundred adoptions and cared about every person she worked with.

I walked to the duck pond at the bottom of the hill in Morristown to meet her over deli sandwiches she brought with her. We sat in her car and as I unwrapped the white wax paper around my tuna sandwich, we began to get to know each other. Then she told me what I could expect.

A room would be reserved for me at the “Home for Unwed Mothers” in a small community north of my family’s town. I would pick an alias (to protect my given name) and within weeks of labor, I would go the home to wait to deliver. Everything else would be taken care of.

“Twenty years from now” she said, “a child may be able to see their records – and you can update the agency with your whereabouts if you want to be found. I think the laws will have changed by then.”

That could be good, I thought to myself. Twenty years was more than I had been alive. It seemed like a long time. Still, my baby could have a good home to grow up in. Maybe by some miracle we would come back together when the time was right. I would be mature and have my life together. If I did this for the sake of love and made the sacrifice for God, anything could happen. If the baby was born, everything was possible.

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My mother had conceded to a short visit on Christmas day so I could drop off gifts I had made for my brothers and sisters for Christmas. “Keep your coat on” she whispered, as my brothers and sisters followed her into the foyer to greet me.

My nine year-old youngest sister, Gina, stepped right up and stood in front of me and with an inquisitive expression said “What’s this?” She boldly ran her index finger down the front zipper of my cape from the neck to my waist.

I grabbed her hands with urgency and held them in mine as I smiled into her eyes, “This is my new cape my friend made me for Christmas? Isn’t it beautiful?”

She looked confused, unconvinced and dropped her hands.

“That’s nice” she said.

“I’ve missed you, Gina. Come on, let’s do presents!”

I took her hand and asked her to come sit with me in the living room and we’d hand out the gifts I had brought in my bag.

My mother paced nervously between the living room and the kitchen with tea and Christmas cookies and watched with a protective eye for her charges while I took out each present and handed it out; hand-crocheted hats, macramé beaded plant hangers, homemade jams and toys for the younger ones. A layer of worry underlined her motherly smile as she nodded to my siblings who showed her what they got. The gravity in her face told me to hurry.

Thirty minutes after my arrival I announced that I needed to deliver the rest of my Christmas presents and had better go. My cape draped around me as I stood with my empty canvas bag rolled up in my hands in front. After quick kisses goodbye, I backed out the driveway in my car. Tears broke hold as I shifted gears and pulled onto the road home where I would be a welcome sight, no matter what.

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Author’s comment:

After Cathy’s birth, I shared my story with those closest to me – mainly to ensure that if she ever came looking for me, my confidants would be able to tell her that I had been there and she would have a trail to follow. Little did I know that we would find each other the way we did!

The truth became public when we found each other. People were surprised by my openness but accepted it as part of my story – and some had stories of their own. Shared or not, this was part of who I was. It had always been easier for me to tell the truth than to hide it. My privacy and reputation had been protected for the sake of my family and my future. Reunion has forged a live reconciliation that continues to be ongoing, authentic and a source of love and strength for all of us, young and old, in the extended family we have become. ~ Kate

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To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.
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