It was November 1998, and I was on the train from Albany to New York City. It was my first day on the job with the New York State Assembly Ways and Means Committee, and it happened to fall on a semi-annual trip that the staff made to an advisory committee meeting on the economy and revenues in New York City.
Two of my peers sat in the seat across from me, and I overheard some of their conversation. They were talking about Mary Teetsel. It wasn’t more than ordinary every day chatter. But to me, that conversation had great significance. Less than a year earlier, I had found and met my birth mother for the first time. We had met in Saratoga Springs because she had traveled there for the wedding of her niece–Mary Teetsel.
It was my first day, so I kept what I heard to myself. But I wondered who she was and how she was connected to my new job. After a few days, her name came up again, and this time I asked. “Who’s Mary Teetsel?” “She’s your Senate counterpart,” one replied. “She got married recently, and her name is Arzoumanian now, but no one can pronounce it, so we all still call her Mary Teetsel.”
“How wild,” I thought. I was the new sales tax analyst for the Assembly, and lo and behold, my blood cousin was the sales tax analyst for the Senate. And I never would have known if she had married someone with an easy to pronounce last name! I couldn’t believe it, but I just kept it in, pretending that I had just been curious and not letting on about the real reason for my interest.
In January, the Governor released his budget proposal, and the legislative staff was invited to a meeting about what was included in it. When I entered the room, I sat at the table. There were probably 30 to 40 people in there, and I started discreetly looking around to see if I could figure out which one she was. Then it came time for introductions.
We went around, and my first few possibilities introduced themselves with other names. Then we got to her. She said her name and her affiliation, and I became absorbed in thought. I don’t think I heard the rest of the introductions, and I’m sure I missed most of the relevant content from the meeting. After all, I had just seen my cousin for the first time, and I had no idea how I was going to handle that little tidbit of information.
Time went by, and we saw each other in meetings and spoke on the phone about our work issues. Since we handled the same issues, that was just part of our jobs. Finally, I decided I was going to tell her. But I didn’t know how. I didn’t want it to be over the phone, I thought it would be much better in person. So I decided to ask her if she was able to meet for lunch one day.
We met at the big cafeteria in the concourse of the Empire State Plaza. We each got our food and took a seat. I wondered what she was thinking. It must have seemed awkward to her for me to want to meet up for lunch. But we were there, and I had to figure out how to break the ice. I was nervous.
So I decided to just come out and say it. “I’m sure you are wondering why I wanted to meet up for lunch,” I said. She nodded. “Well, I’m adopted, and your Aunt Peggy is my birth mother.” I don’t remember her exact response, but I know she was surprised. She seemed to take it all in stride though. We had a good conversation after that, and I was able to learn a little more about the family from a different perspective.
When I look back at the situation, I am just truly amazed. How did the paths of our lives lead us to a place where they crossed in such a direct way? Not only did we end up working in the same arena, we were direct legislative counterparts! The universe does seem to have some intricate order to it. Many of us may disagree about the reasons for it, but regardless, I think most of us hear stories like this and know intuitively that it’s there.