I forget how far we’ve come sometimes. Before Cathy and I were reunited in 1989, impossible questions left me aching empty handed. Now, twenty-seven years after our reunion, our connection and the memories we’ve made together, have slowly filled the empty well in my heart.
My connection – and sometimes disconnection – with Cathy still echoes with cacophonous guilt that niggles me to reenact my relinquishment and the cost to both of us. That teenager’s decision was the hardest, one that I could never take back. Forty-five years later – twenty-seven years into our reunion – breakthrough moments in our connection have tied our deeper selves to each other. Our real selves have replaced the fantasy people we had in mind in the void before reunion. Our times together have knit new nets across deep holes of sorrow and the truth has made supple the tightrope we walk between our hearts and the days of our lives. We are still vulnerable and susceptible, but we know each other now and there is real love between us.
Today finds me filling out Medicare forms in between music work, while Cathy finishes up her double masters degree, raises two sons and works full time at the university. Her family life is full. We live two turns down the road. We are not what Cathy deems “core family” but we are part of the family nevertheless. It’s an awkward incongruity but we’ve adjusted to our roles as outsiders inside her family circle. My husband, “Uncle Grandpa Steve” has arranged and made himself available to take our youngest grandson to guitar lessons, and he gives the older grandson rides to judo in a pinch. I am Grandma Kate who bakes treats and lets them run freely on my piano, showing them a little at a time, before their fingers take off on adventures of their own. I muss their hair with affection and throw the ball around. It’s joyful to be with the grandchildren this way and it is always filled with tender care, love and fun. I’m not Nona nor Nana. They know who I am, and in their bones know that we love them as our own and they feel normal with us.
The complexities of my daughter’s busy life, the widowed mother she is now responsible for, and the demands of her family, keep her running at full speed. Cathy recently moved her adoptive mother from Florida to Portland to set her up in a comfortable apartment on an eldercare campus nearby. On the other side of the country, my mother passes her time in eldercare assisted living near Boston. My mother is six years older than Cathy’s adoptive mom, who is twenty years older than me. The age gap has put Cathy and I on common ground – as we care for, and eventually lose, our parents – and the irony has deepened our bond in unexpected ways.
After fifty years as a non-practicing catholic, I resumed going to Sunday mass at a church behind our house in Seattle a few years ago. New to town, a new job, parents in declining health, and my own mortality, made the few steps up the block to mass a moment of retreat on Sundays, to say my prayers and listen to what the big Kenyan pastor with the heart of gold had to say. It was good for me. Since our return to Portland, I’ve tried out different churches to see if there is one that feels like home. No one else I know goes to church, so I go by myself, a rogue bee looking for its hive.
A few weeks after Dotty came to Portland, I asked her if she’d like to go to mass with me. She doesn’t drive anymore or have a way to get out on her own. I told her I could just pick her up and we could go together to the church near her apartment. She didn’t want to “be a bother” but then I told her that the companionship would be nice for me, she’d be doing me a favor. In my heart I thought, she could carry on in her own tradition in this new town with someone she knows – me. Cathy liked the idea and it gave her one less thing to worry about or do on weekends packed with kid obligations.
This small chance to take Dotty to mass – that I couldn’t do with my own mother from so far away – has grown our bond as friends – and as mothers to one daughter. We sometimes go for a bite after mass and it’s fun to bring her to places in Portland that play a part in Cathy’s history here.
“This is where Cathy got her first job bussing tables after she came to Portland – and decided that she wasn’t going to work in the restaurant business!” I ribbed as we breakfasted at the Cup & Saucer on SE Hawthorne.
We laughed, and the chuckle in the air was full of all that is our daughter in that flashback to Cathy’s heroic journey to Portland (and me). Our unadulterated love for her shone brightly as we smiled over our breakfast, knowing we were sharing a very good secret.
To read my daughter’s counterblog, please visit ReunionEyes.