One and a half years after finding my family, August 1980, six year old Melody and I headed for Galveston to meet my Aunt Helen, Uncle Sonny, Karen, Stephen and cousins for the first time. Lawrence and Kathy and her two kids would also be there. Was I ready for this?
It took several weeks and many visits to the Mental Health Services to prepare myself for this trip. I was overwhelmed with joy at the idea of being able to look at, touch and talk to these strangers who were my family, but the emotional strain was tremendous. What if I didn’t like them? What if they didn’t like me? Also, I had learned from Kathy that they were a pretty rough bunch of people, poor and living in poor conditions, and I wondered if I would spend most of my time repelled by their living conditions and in fear for our safety. I didn't know what to expect. And we would be hundreds of miles from home! My therapist and I tried to work through all my fears and anticipations, but if I could have packed her in my suitcase to take along, I would have.We met Karen first, stayed at her apartment, and my hopes of our hitting it off were more than fulfilled as we had an instant rapport and feeling of kinship. She was a good deal younger than me, and I really played it up with the sisterly advice and wisdom, and loved every minute of it. And what was nice was that she seemed to enjoy having a big sister to talk to and share things with! She had a lot of pent up and confused feelings about our mother, our family situation, and, by talking about them, we realized that we were no longer alone.
We drove together to Aunt Helen’s house, and came very close to turning back. We even stopped before we got there to muster up our courage and get our feelings under control.
She hadn’t seen Aunt Helen, Kathy and Lawrence since a brief visit more than a year before, and hadn’t seen Stephen since that morning long ago when she had gone to school. Is it any wonder that we were both almost sick with anticipation?
When we finally got the courage to go on to Aunt Helen’s, it was almost more than I could bear. I felt very awkward and 'out of the loop', totally spaced out, and spent most of the time just listening and looking. It was especially hard to listen to my siblings reminisce about when they were kids, reminiscing about our mother, even looking at photos of when they were young kids together ... feeling like an outsider because I had not been there. Many of the stories they told, especially about our mother, were not pleasant. Stephen, who I'd only just met, stuck around this get-together for a few minutes before he disappeared - I guess it was too much for him, as well, as he had been too young to share their memories. Aunt Helen was wonderful, very maternal (she had something like thirteen kids-only a couple of whom were there), and had many stories to tell about my mother, grandparents, and great-aunts. She was also able to tell me more about the time period of my conception, and a little about who she said my father was (and no, I never found him).
As I look back on my short time there (only one day and two nights), three events seem to stick with me:
One, my meeting with Uncle Sonny, my mother’s blind brother. (Aunt Helen said their dad, my grandfather, had thrown him against a wall when he was a toddler, causing the blindness). I had shown very little emotion during the reunion with the others - remaining aloof and unemotional, uttering the expected greetings and responses - until he walked in from work. As Aunt Helen introduced us, he reached out to me without hesitation and wrapped his arms around me and cried. I choked up and almost fell when he released me, and Lawrence was next to me and grabbed me before I fell on the floor from the impact of my emotions at that moment. I think in that few short minutes the full import of the situation really hit me.
Second was the time we were sitting around the kitchen table of an old lady who had been like a grandmother or second mother to my mother. She had been walking down memory lane with the other kids and not finding much to talk to me about, and I was getting a little more than ill from watching the cockroaches crawling in and out of the food containers laying on the table.
Then, during a pause in the conversation, she turned to me and said that my mother had sat at that very spot many a time - especially when May 15 rolled around - drinking and crying about the child she had given away. What was so emotional about this to me was that every May 15 I would be thinking about the woman who had given me away, wondering what kind of mother she would have been. I think I felt closest to my mother at that minute than at any other time since I had “found” her, knowing that in some small way I had been a part of her life. What a strange feeling, remembering how I had always wondered on my birthday if my mother ever remembered me, and now finding out that at possibly that same moment in time she had been thinking about me!
The third thing I remember is when Aunt Helen gave me a very strange “remembrance” of my mother - the ribbon that was on her funeral wreath. It’s a soft pink ribbon that says “OUR LIL”. Maybe a morbid thing to give me, especially since I hadn't known her, but a reminder to me that she had lived ....and she had died.
As we left Aunt Helen’s house, I was filled with so many conflicting emotions - joy that I had met and touched my real family, regret that I couldn’t stay longer, anger with myself that I hadn’t been able to overcome my emotions long enough to ask more questions, relief that it was over and I could go home, guilt that I didn’t especially like some of my siblings, and sadness that I might never see them again. But I had found my “blood” family, and I had found a part of myself that had always been missing. And now all that remained was to fit that piece into my whole being, put it into proper prospective, and get on with my life.
I had spent so much of my life looking for “me” and wishing that I had someone who was related to me by “blood”, as if that would make a difference, would make everything better, would make me better. And I guess it did - it helped me to put my discontent to rest, and it made me see that I already had a family - I had David and Melody. A small family, but mine, and one that meant more to me than any other. They were my present and my future, and with them I could fulfill every dream I ever had about what a family should and can be.
But, the story's not over yet. It's been twenty-nine years since that summer day in 1980. A lot has happened since then. More stories have unfolded, relationships have changed, other family has emerged, lessons were learned, loose ends need to be tied up. (to be continued...just one more time)