Read Part I here.
Mary Jo Simunovich remembers asking why she didn’t look like anyone in the family at the age of 14. She never got a straight answer. And whenever she asked about the circumstances of her birth, her mom said she couldn’t really remember. The family had lived in North Bergen, New Jersey, but she was born in Elizabeth, and she wondered why. Her mom claimed that she and her dad had been at the shore with their friends, and on the way home, they simply couldn’t make it the extra exit to Jersey City, so they got off and had her in Elizabeth.
Then, in 1998, her husband at the time gave her a copy of Weird N.J. magazine, which had a four-page article in it about the old Elizabeth orphanage, and she had a strong sense that her story was somehow connected to it. She decided to go back through all the old family films—her dad was obsessed with taking film—and when she went through the box, she realized there was no reel from 1963, the year of her birth. Yet, all the other years were there from 1959 forward.
After they were married, Mary Jo’s parents had waited eight years to have a child. Her father had battled gout in Korea, and there were complications that caused them to not be able to have children right away, or so went the story. Her mom came from a large Irish family, and her grandparents would always be fighting, separating and getting back together, and having another kid they couldn’t afford. For eight years to go by without a child was just unheard of in this family. There was sure to be more to the story.
This past year, in fact, Mary Jo found out that one of her aunts who had died at nine months old was not actually her grandparents’ child. It turned out that her mom’s younger brother had gotten a 17-year-old girl pregnant when he was 14, and his grandparents insisted on raising the child.
Then there’s another aunt who is 67, which is, coincidentally, the exact age of Mary Jo’s biological mother, according to her non-identifying information. When the entire extended family was finally told three years ago that Mary Jo was adopted, this particular aunt was hysterical and inconsolable for days, and her sons couldn’t understand why. Then Mary Jo found out that her aunt was missing from her yearbook in 1963 and 1964.
Mary Jo knows that her family is hiding the real story from her, but she can’t seem to get anyone to fess up. But she is optimistic. She has a good amount of non-identifying information from Catholic Charities to begin to piece her story together, and DNA technology has made significant strides in recent years. She will get to the bottom of it one day. And she knows that when the secret is finally unveiled, everyone in the family will be able to begin healing. Secrets are toxic, she knows, but not everyone in her family is on the same page about that. Yet.