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 haunted me so? 19 years of separation, basically 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 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, too, was about to arrive at the same high school that 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. There were collages on the wall 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 and 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 (because my brother wanted the room with the attic), I showed her the doorframe 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 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, who 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.
The catalog of questions, titled “To the parents I have yet to meet”:
Where would I be if I had never left you?
Would I be rich or poor?
Would I even be in this city?
Would I be making good grades?
Would I feel loved?
Would I have experienced the pain I've experienced?
Would I have learned the lessons I've learned?
Would I know the basics?
Would I chew with my mouth shut?
Would I know to look both ways before crossing the street?
Would I know not to talk to strangers?
Would I be healthy?
Would I be comforted when I was hurt?
Would you have kissed the pain away?
Would I know God?
Would I love you?
Would I hate you?
Would you be like my mother?
Would you constantly drive me crazy?
Do you suffer from depression?
Would you be able to lift my spirits?
Would you see the more beautiful, simple things in life?
Would you be like my father?
Would you constantly be there for me?
Do you always have to be right?
Would you hold me in spite of my flaws?
Would you know how to help me with my math homework, or just let me fail?
Would you remember where my birth mark is?
Would you have taken me to the Emergency Room for my cough?
Would you have held my hand during the treatment?
Would I have this scar on my hand?
Would you kill spiders for me?
Would you encourage my love for Diet Coke?
Would you have tied our bikes together to help me learn how to ride?
Would you make my lunches every day for 13 years?
Would you take me trick or treating?
Would you cook scalloped potatoes on Thanksgiving just because I love them?
Would you give me a chocolate orange in my stocking?
Would we go camping for Easter?
Would you have let me keep my dog, Sierra?
Would you go to my volleyball games?
Would you laugh at my ‘teeny weenie flea’ joke?
Would you talk in funny voices with me?
Would you curl my hair for formals?
Would you buy me my first car?
Would you be there for my first heartbreak?
Would you remind me that Daddy was the first boy ever to kiss me?
Would you be mad at me for breaking countless jelly jars?
Would you yell at my clumsiness?
Or would you have helped me find grace?
Somewhere out there I know two individuals exist.
Are you together?
Did I break you apart?
Did I cause you much pain?
Do I have a sister or a brother?
Whose eyes do I have?
Where did my curly hair come from?
Are my small ears the same as my father’s?
Are the shape of my lips the same as your mother's?
Do our baby pictures look the same?
Do I have the strength of my dad?
Do I have the courage of my mom?
Are you beautiful?
Are you kind?
Are you happy?
Are you afraid?
Are you hurt?
Are you still out there?
Was it hard to give me away?
Did you treasure our three days together?
Did you cry?
Did you hold me close?
Did you even want me?
Did you know I would always be left with questions?
Did you love me?
Did you hate me?
Did you feel connected to me?
Why did you do it?
Do you think about me?
Do you even remember me?
Do you miss me?
I think about you all the time.
May 23, 1991... Did I change your life?