Read the previous part of this story here: Should We Shake Hands? The Day I Met My Birth Mother.
Upon my family’s departure, a few “Oh my Gods” and “Wows” settled between us. The woman who gave me life was finally in my childhood home, and I was at a loss of words and gutted of my tears. Where do we even begin? How do I try to recount the years of my life, and how do I respectfully ask the questions that have haunted me so? 19 years of separation, a lifetime, stood between us and the foundation of our relationship.
We agreed to share a cigarette first, and stepped outside. She took a seat to my left on the front steps. I watched her take out her cigarettes, Marlboro Lights, and put one between her lips. We were both still so rattled by the extremity of our introduction that the only sensible thing to do was breathe in and exhale.
“This is the house I have lived in my entire life.”
It was the only fact I could state easily. My birth mother looked up and down our street. I wondered what she thought of the neighborhood, and who my neighbors thought this woman was, sitting next to me. They had no idea the monumental moments that were taking place just a few feet from their leisurely walks and gardening rituals. It felt comfortable. I was at home.
“Yeah it’s so crazy,” she said, “because I live right through those woods over there.”
And so began our first conversation.
I was once again dumbstruck. The fact that she lived in Little Rock was one thing, but it is something entirely different when you learn that you drove by your birth mother’s house every day on the way to school, that the kids at the bus stop on the corner of her street included my little brother and that he was about to arrive at the same high school I attended. For 19 years, our families existed on two different planes, but lived less than two miles apart. We basked in the irony and the “small worldliness” of it all.
After we tossed our cigarettes, we went back inside. I took her upstairs to my old bedroom, still decorated from the years I slept there. On my walls were collages of my friends, framed pictures of my family, and stuffed animals strewn across my bed. Marilyn Monroe observed us from the far wall. I started with the pictures and recounted stories from school, outings with friends, family vacations and holidays, and the age-old tale of a little girl and her beanie babies.
I took her around our entire house. I explained how I got the bedroom I slept in (my brother wanted the room with the attic), I showed her the door frame with pencil marks documenting Ryan’s and my growth, and I even showed her the faded stain on the wall where I had dropped an entire gallon of milk on the tile floor and added a new texture to our kitchen walls.
A year and a half earlier, I had written a catalog of questions. I spent over 365 days meticulously rereading and revising my list of memories, curiosities, and heartache. I had made a promise to myself that when the day came, I would be ready to share those questions with the ears that burned for them the most. I would finally have some closure.
We made our way back to the living room and sat together on the couch. We held hands as I mustered up the courage to get to the tough stuff. I listened as she told me about my older sister and younger brother, whom I’d get to meet later that week. My palms began to sweat and I looked at her with teary eyes. I felt like the only way for her to understand the love and loss that I felt was to share this list I had so carefully composed. It wasn’t just that I wanted to share it, but that I needed to. How could I meet my siblings, my aunts and uncles, my grandparents, before I had an understanding of how our situation came to be?
And so, the time came for me to pull out those two pieces of paper and read them with her. I told her it probably wouldn’t be easy, but it would be worth it. She squeezed my hand with reassurance and told me she loved me. She was going to answer every question I had, because for many years she had longed to calm my fears and wipe away my self-doubt.