Joanna picked me up from the airport in Waterloo, Iowa, the town I was born in, where Eileen lived. It was a cool crisp morning in September of 1995. The leaves started falling and stirring on the ground, adding beautiful colors to the landscapes.
The drive to Eileen’s was only about 10 minutes, but it seemed like an eternity. Then, finally, we pulled up in her driveway, and I was anxious but on cloud nine simultaneously. I had no idea what to expect, but I know I had fantasized about this day my entire life. I was hoping for an immediate connection, a long motherly embrace to compensate for the lost 21 years together. I silently wished for a reunion as we see on all the television shows, you know, the warm fuzzy ones full of emotion and warmth.
We pulled up Eileen’s driveway, and I got out of the car with Joanna. My heart was racing. We both walked to the side door of Eileen’s house on Wilson Avenue. Joanna knocked, and the door opened a few short moments later. A thin, frail woman appeared before me who looked nothing like I had fantasized about my whole life. I didn’t feel the connection I had always thought I would.
Eileen had a short haircut curled back with sandy blonde hair. She wore blue jeans and a red sweatshirt that had mickey on it. She looked slim and slender, not over 100lbs. She stood about 5’10 and met me with a grin as she opened the door. However, she wasn’t warm, she didn’t hug me, and she wasn’t emotional in the slightest regard, more like standoffish.
“Come on in,” Eileen said with a half-grin as she held the screen door open for Joanna and me. We walked up the stairs, and I followed Joanna into the dining room. We met Nan, Eileen’s sister, and Barb, who was Eileen’s best friend. They were already sitting at the table waiting on Joanna and me.
We all sat down, but first, Eileen asked if I wanted a drink as she had already prepared hers ahead of time. I said, “Sure, I will take whatever you are drinking.” Joanna settled with some water.
She came back from the kitchen with a “Rum and Coke.” I thanked her. At the time, this was a dream come true. Finally, I was sitting face to face with the woman who gave me life, and we were having a drink together too! My prayers were answered, and my dreams finally came true.
Aside from giving birth to my daughter, this was undoubtedly the best day of my life. We all got settled, and Eileen lit a cigarette, took a drag, and said, “So, how was your life?”
All eyes were on me. Later I would learn this was a “make it or break it” moment. Everything was on the line.
I had no idea that this experience and conversation would forever change the trajectory of our interactions with one another. If I knew then what I know now, I likely would have shared a lighter version of how my life was up until that moment.
However, I am a genuine, raw, and honest person, so I only prepared ahead of time to share the truth about how my life had been up until that point. No one expressed the implications of sugarcoating the truth with Eileen, so I went all in sharing my life as I experienced it up until that moment we came face to face.
“Well, my adoptive parents divorced when I was one year old, and I was raised in a single-parent home, on welfare with my adoptive mom, who was addicted to pills and had untreated mental health issues. We have never had a good relationship, and I have never bonded with her as a mother and daughter should. She was emotionally and mentally abusive and tried to commit suicide in front of us many times, and used this as a weapon to control us. She also tied us to chairs and wouldn’t let us go outside to play,” I said.
I also expressed, “I have an adopted sister that was adopted a year before me, and my adopted dad remarried, moved over an hour away, and I gained a step mom and three step brothers. He took us for summer vacations and saw us every other weekend. Until I decided I no longer wanted to go in my early teens because the oldest step-brothers molested me repeatedly when I was young. I haven’t seen them in a long time. My adoptive mom got a job in Kentucky, so we moved when I was 17. “
On a lighter note, I shared some things about my daughter, Keila, Eileen’s biological granddaughter, who was genuinely the happiest part of my story. I also shared that I went back to school to graduate, and I had plans to go to college one day. However, I felt like I was on the spot and didn’t have many warm fuzzy pieces to tell her.
So instead, I told her I dreamed of her every day of my life and that she was the only thing missing. Everyone got quiet as if they didn’t expect to hear these things. I am confident that my birth mother and others had hoped to hear a wonderful and happy life story, but my story was quite the opposite of the picture-perfect adoption story.
I asked Eileen if she could share a little about herself and her life, and she did. However, she kept her sharing at the bare minimum, giving me tiny pieces of who she was and what she liked to do, almost as if it was enough to satisfy my curiosity, but nothing more.
The rum and coke were needed to calm my nerves after sharing these personal details of my life with four essential strangers. It was tense, but somehow I got through it. Eventually, I got up enough nerve to ask my birth mother about my birth father again.
She said the same thing she told me on the phone, “He didn’t know anything about you, and he wouldn’t want to know.” One thing was for sure; she wouldn’t tell me who my birth father was if her life depended on it. She was taking that secret to her grave with her.
Joanna shared a personal piece of her life on this day that she, too, was a birth mother, and she had a full-blood brother to her five-year-old son and gave him up for adoption. I found that this news took me back a bit. I always hear stories of our kids following in our footsteps, but this took it to a new level.
Joanna said she wasn’t aware that Eileen had me and had given me up for adoption because she was only four years old. However, she had her baby and gave it up for adoption also. It was almost a celebratory vibe behind them both giving their babies up for adoption. I wasn’t sure what to think, but I was taking notes in my mind and trying to retain all the details I had learned about my newfound family.
We sat together for approximately two hours, getting to know one another. Once our visit seemed to wrap up, we all took pictures together. I had more hopes that we would see one another again and keep our lines of communication open. The naive adoptee in me believed this would be the beginning of the relationship I always dreamed of. Little did I know, I created more adoptee illusions in my mind, and the hardcore reality would soon set in.
Most adoptees form fantasies and illusions in their minds about their biological families, especially our birth mothers. What does anyone expect us to do? When our reality is hidden from us, we have no choice.
The illusion that my birth mother was some beautiful woman from Hollywood, California, was shattered. Sadly, I didn’t feel like she was pretty like I always dreamed she would be. Instead, she looked like alcohol and cigarettes had taken a toll on her life. She looked far beyond her age of 50, more like her upper 60’s. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly built up a fantasy in my mind of the magical, mystical, flawless, and embracing birth mother. I was greatly disappointed to have the reality be a stark contrast to my fantasy.
It’s similar to when a family has a child snatched up off the street, and they are frantic searching for them, but they have been abducted, nowhere to be found. That feeling they have searching for them everywhere they go, never giving up or giving in, plagues them and creates a never-ending internal torment until they are found. But they can outwardly express their grief, loss, and sadness. Adoptees can not. We keep it all locked inside for an entire lifetime, but most of us never stop wondering or searching.
While I was over the moon to finally have my dreams come true and see the woman who gave me life, I will always wish I would have kept my sharing to a bare minimum regarding my heartache and heartbreak. I will always regret that I didn’t ask more questions, take more notes and stay longer.
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