I will never forget the first time I saw her. It was August, and I was pacing back and forth in my parents' living room waiting for them to bring her over. I took a moment to straighten the stack of family photo albums we had gathered on the living room table. My mind was swimming faster than I could keep my hands busy:
Should I introduce myself when she gets here?
Are we supposed to shake hands?
I hope she hugs me when we meet.
I bet she’s a hugger.
I wonder if we have the same color hair?
I hope she likes me.
What if I disappoint her?
I want to be everything she hoped for and more.
Is this shirt okay?
Good thing I wore waterproof mascara.
I heard a car door slam and I raced to the window. Peering through the blinds, I saw my birth mother walk around to the front of the car. She was adjusting her hair the way I do, by pulling it into a ponytail and dropping it over her shoulders again. I watched her the whole way up my driveway. I took in every detail: the way she swung her purse onto her shoulder, the way she adjusted her hair again, the way she focused on her feet climbing up our hill. I stood in the entryway and counted the seconds until my parents opened the door. She stepped inside. My heart leaped up into my throat.
If you think you know what a bear hug feels like, you don’t. All the time I had spent wondering if we were supposed to shake hands or just go in for the hug became pointless as soon as she walked through the door. Instead of thought, something very close to instinct took over. I clutched onto her like she would disappear if I let go. It felt like I was trying to make my arms longer, to wrap more of my love around her in that moment. We hugged and cried and said nothing. Words didn’t matter. All that mattered to me was that she was real and for the first time I was holding part of my history. I was clinging to a piece of me.
She finally pulled away and held my face in both of her soft hands. The first words I heard her speak were, “Baby, I love you.” Her voice was shaky, but as sweet and southern as her own chocolate gravy. We hugged for a while longer while she said it over and over again in my ear, rocking me back and forth. With each "I love you" that she whispered, her voice grew more steady, and an air of serenity settled over us. I took in the way her perfume smelled, the way it felt when she combed her fingers through my hair. My eyes were so welled up I couldn’t open them.
For a moment, time ticked back two decades, and I had a vision of us in the hospital room, rocking together to her sweet coos of "I love you". Her voice became a melody that echoed throughout space. I imagined her smiling down on me with pride, stroking my cheeks with her fingers as she sang to me with ease. But with each ticking second, her smile became more strained and her song grew anxious. The countdown to my departure began the moment she saw me. And now, after 19 long years of silence, my birth mother was holding me again, not unlike the scene I imagined in the hospital.
After a few more minutes in our blissful embrace, I took the chance to just look at her. It was right then that I felt an overwhelming sense of familial familiarity- this striking image of resemblance was sitting right before me. I saw myself in her face, I was truly astonished. I had never seen someone that was physically so much like me, and now I was staring, dumbstruck, at this remarkable woman who gave me so many of my features. Her eyes are the same green blue color as mine. Her nose looked just like mine. Her lips are thin like mine. Her chin is the same round crescent shape as mine. Her hair was even highlighted like mine!
Once again we began to cry. My parents and brother, who respectfully stood idly by, gave us some tissues and hugged us both. They were going to get out of the house for a while and give us alone time to talk.