Facing into the wind and finally a face….

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There are 100 counties in North Carolina,
and I begin trolling through them all,
searching the obituaries for a place I’ve got a homesick longing to see.
I have to do something,  my hunger to know gone so long unfed
and I’m given over to the kind of desperate that makes you clutch and grasp and make a fist.

I want to find her hometown,  walk down her childhood streets,
see where she spent her long ago days
– to feel the traces she may have left behind.
And to find the grave of the mother she mourns.
I won’t barge into her space uninvited,  but I ache to quiet the rattle as my mind
circles ’round the lot looking always for a place to park.

But I don’t want to wreck this for either of us.
God help me please,  I’ll wait.
She’ll say when she’s ready.  She will.
I pull up,  unfold the clench of my jaw, release again the strings,
and another year goes by.

She is bright and accomplished and can find me if she wants,  I am positive.
But why doesn’t she?
Is it because she can’t hear the all of my heart?
Or because she can and doesn’t want me?
The un-knowing makes me feel small.  A mouse. My imagination on too much catnip.
And Edith,  please,  what do you actually say to her?  And how do you say?
Because,  for the love,  why doesn’t she write back?
I wrestle like this for years.
I can be minding my own business,  living as wholehearted as I know how,  and then
this roque breaker will clap down sudden like thunder and I’m splintered by the silence.

I sit down hard on every grabby impulse;  I want her to know she is free.
She doesn’t owe me anything – this I believe.
I can touch my own scar and remember vivid when they wheeled me down the halls
and away from her small body left still beneath the bilirubin lamps to make her better.
I bear down on a hope that I’m leaving her to something better,
but I can feel it inside where something tears sharp with each door they pushed me through
that I am the one who is leaving.
And as I go,  I know it like I will come to know this pain that never leaves,
that there is no way she’s not gonna feel this.

Does she feel it now,  I wonder,  and it unnerves the holes of me.

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It’s been almost eight years since the tide rolled in with a bottle on a wave
and brought me first news of my girl.
One busy afternoon in September the agency rings again
and I grab on like a rope sweeping past.
She’s talked with Amanda and has some things to share;  do I have the time?
The orbit of everything grinds to a halt as I drop to the floor to listen hard.
Edith’s words come like giftwrapped punches.  My daughter’s whys.
I hear from a long ago place and can’t remember how to breathe.
The grown of me defends Amanda’s right to take whatever time she needs,
to feel whatever she feels – even if it’s abandoned.
She’s smart and feels deeply and her process is beautiful and valid
and I get behind her choices like an angry mama bear –
 thanks for calling,  really,   but please don’t call again unless there’s a letter.

I hold this fresh jumble of not-knowing for five minutes,  maybe a little longer,
and then lunge for my laptop,
prying open the lid long forbidden.
A newspaper in the eastern part of my state whispers the name of a woman,
survived by a daughter,  that offers an “Amanda” in the cluster of those related.
There it is.  Their family name.  Her hometown.

I know enough from Edith to be sure that she’ll have a web presence
and my fingers fly across the keys as I google the magic box
and a string of images appear.
It’s her.
Oh God,  it’s her.
I know them at once,  those honest,  hazel eyes.
I’m glad to be alone as I rock backwards on my feet and bolt from the room,
suddenly overcome by emotion that I still can’t name or figure.
My throat goes dry even as I type this now.
I return and look again,  scrolling through several images,  all so deeply familiar
and overwhelmingly and achingly and astonishingly her.

I’m head over heels,  peering through tears that gush from somewhere deep,
as if my belly recognizes what my eyes can just now see.
I can’t quite keep breathing,  but I love this face more than air
and I stand for a long, long while in the bright window of her smile.

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“If I chase your echos down the hallways
long enough,
if I just get ahold of them once,
just once,
will it bring you back to me?”
– Tyler Knott Gregson

This Summer series.  My story finding it’s way into the light.
It’s been peck and crack and struggle and I appreciate your kind patience
as I wobble along.  If it reads smooth and clear,  then I’m not telling it true.
I can feel your questions like I’ve keenly felt mine.  I’ll answer them around the bend.

 

Rippling waters and many moons …..

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Maybe it’s just the noisy crowd of this big wide earth –
this thought takes hold of me as I barrel into having a website built.
My first blog.  I stumble eager onto the web so that she can find me if she wants.
Maybe she feels the imposition of  eyes at the agency as deeply as I do;
I’m gonna stand up,  wave a sign,  and make some noise.
Clueless,  inspired,  and boistered by the strong winds that are often mistaken for courage,  I dive.

I have no camera and no agenda;  not sure what to do but I want to be real.
I’d been earlier asked by a gardening client if I would make some notecards to sell,
like the little bites of art that I sent out with each invoice.
Making and sending them out on the waves of my days has poufed fresh breath back into some
places grown thin and now an idea bubbles up like a song:
I’ll write a little something and show a picture of what I make
– I think it’s the most childlike thing I’ve ever done:)

I walked into this room looking for her and found you.
And my voice.  And my own way home.
This is pure gift and I know it.
I was jumping up and down so maybe she could see,
but in the way of serendipity,  God was dancing me back to me.

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In the years to come I send her bites of art that I  feature in the images on my blog
with a tiny “Ripplespeak” sneaked in here and there,  like a secret code that will lead her to me
if she wants.
It’s why I don’t use my name.
I laugh at this now,  so deliciously silly and unnecessary,
but it empowered the joy that buoyed me.
She can find me if she’s looking and I take comfort in this as the years pass.
Five of them,  busy and full.
Always challenging,  often joyful,  but deeply painful,  too.
I reach and let go,  grieve and hold on,  riding the waves with my arms stretched mostly wide.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
March is always crazy-hard and it’s March again,  2014.
Edith calls just before her birthday and I hear sorrowful news in her voice.
“I’ve heard from Amanda; she’s asked me to let you know that her mother has died.”
Her mother.   One of the most influential women in my life.
She has been this mythical tower of intimidating virtue to my 16 year old parts,
the one who bested me,
and I’m 35 years grateful and jealous and altogether curious of this woman.
Now she’s gone,  her memories and stories with her.
Years earlier I’d asked Edith if I could write her;  would she please forward a letter?
No,  I’d been told.
I respect.

Now she has died and I’m so sad for my girl.
For this family that I’ve long loved and longed to know,.
It is a strange and dizzying pain to long to comfort the child you bore
because she has lost her mother.

Keep writing,  Edith counsels;  it’s lifegiving,  Amanda says,
and I’ve only ever wanted to give her life and so I do,
careful to only offer,  invite,  welcome and accept –
resisting hard the urge at times to push or press or plead,
and this feeds my life,  too,  in a way I can’t even understand.
But I feel it like a cold wind blowing,
my place in the storm,
outside.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Grief is a casserole best served warm and in good company.
Cold and unnamed,  it’s ugly business to swallow.

026

“Was she strong enough to allow both of them to be themselves?
Bahama had instilled in her an honoring of promises,
but she could not keep her promises unless she was willing to allow Nik to be Nik,
not a projection of someone who could fill her empty spaces,
heal all her wounds.”
– Madeline L’Engle

Thanks for sharing this Summer series with me;  it’s a tall glass of water to have you along.
I needed to take a smaller bite this week;  my heart is wrestling this out as best I can.
I appreciate your patience.

Love letters and the long way home….

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Shame is a psychopath with a fake badge.

Guilt – it has some value.
Guilt says,  “hey,  that was a bad call.  So not you.  Go apologize.”
It’s crisp.  Clear. Put things right because you’re not gonna want to haul this around.
“Acknowledge. Own. Forgive. Learn. Grow,” Guilt counsels.  Go clean off and get back in the game.

Shame doesn’t care about you or what you carry.
It serves no redemptive purpose;  it’s there to punish you for being.
And it will use whatever raw materials it can sieze from your untidy life
to assault your sense of worth with trumped up charges about your circumstances
until it hijacks what it’s after:  your identity.

I send Amanda several letters and packages that first year and don’t hear back.
Edith assures me that this happens sometimes.  A testing period.  To see if I’ll stay or leave again.
This idea stings deep,   not because I don’t understand,
but because it escalates the beatings my heart’s been taking for years,
blungeoned by a single blunt word:  Abandonment.
There.  I said it.
I remember the first time it was used to describe what I’d done.

It was the Summer after.
I’d turned in an article to a little publication and was eager to read my words in print.
I wanted so badly to write and this editor had contacted me,  interested in teen pregnancy stories.
I froze as she skimmed through my copy and slowly stabbed,  “wait, you gave your baby away?”
I could barely remain inside my skin while she red-penned my heart in disapproving silence.
I’d felt fried in hot oil by “your baby deserves better than you,”
and now here was the  flip-side:  “who abandons her child?”
A shame sandwich.
The girl I used to be gets snuffed out in the squeeze.

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In the years that followed I would put away my typewriter and pens and wordy dreams
and decide I didn’t fit with the fresh faced girls at the beautiful college campus where I’d won a second chance
with an essay and a visit to the dean to explain why my high school transcripts
bled with red pen as well.
I found my place instead in the world of nature and greenhouses and flowers and fields,
places that didn’t look too hard beyond the dirt and clay of me.
I would build a life with my limp and keep to the edges,
always a little on the outside.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Now It’s March 2010 and I’m driving to Greensboro through the slushy white of a rare late snowfall.
I hold on my lap a birthday gift for Amanda that I’ll deliver to Edith in person this time.
I need to walk through those doors and put my eyes on the voice at the other end of the line,
on the one who reads and approves and mails off my packages to Amanda.
This is the voice that has assured me that she still welcomes my offerings,
doesn’t find them intrusive – I’ve asked and Edith says keep writing.
She relays Amanda’s gentle words of thanks.
She is still not ready to respond.

I’m learning to keep my palms up and the openness hurts like a wound unbandaged
but something free is happening in these wild and vulnerable places,
coming back to life as I unpack my love for her and these shards of my soul shut down.
Each time I dive down to find another pearl to send her,
I recover a part of myself as I pick up my pens again and really,  really write.

And as I pull into Greensboro,  I’m looking for something that I can’t define.

Edith meets us in the parlor and and I find myself searching her face for traces of Amanda’s.
I ache to see it.  A picture?  Something in her file?
It’s been over two years and I haven’t heard back.
I wonder what I thought I might discover by coming
and pull some air back into the hollow of a powerful heartache
as I realize I won’t find it here today.
I’m still knocking.

I want to come inside.

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“You thought you’d left it all behind
You thought you’d up and gone
But all you did was figure out
How to take the long way home.”
– Roseanne Cash

I won’t leave you here,  I promise.
Thanks for coming along for the ride;  this summer series is setting something loose in me.

Cheesecake with cherries and I won’t go away….

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I want a quick time-out to say plain what this story is not.
I’m not moralizing;  don’t have an agenda.
If I ever carry a sign,  it would be to champion hope
.
Women face impossible decisions and need a tender grace,
not oversimplified,  whitewashed shoulds.
I’m pro-life.  Pro-choice.  Pro-solution.  Pro-people.

There isn’t a whisp of politics about any of this;
I’m just telling my story with tender care to offer some hope and healing.
Yup.  That’s all.  Back to the story;)

Now they’ve gone silent.
I email the address they’ve given,  eager to know how she is.
I don’t hear back.  For days I reach and get no reply.
A week passes and something rumbles hard inside – an ancient, angry ache.
I make a bold phone call and finally get a person who will take the time.
Her name is Edith and  her voice is soft as I tell her,  gentle but firm,  that I won’t go away.
She hears me and my voice grows taller.  They have their politics and I will respect
but I want them to know that I’m here.  For her.  In whatever way she welcomes.
She  is no longer a child and I won’t go away.  Not unless Amanda says.

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I have written her the first letter and Edith suggests that she wants to write back.
My heart can barely hold still when a week before Christmas they call to say that her letter to me has been mailed.
It arrives on December 23 – I’ve popped out for awhile and my husband phones to say that it’s on the kitchen table.
I get lost on the short trip home,  driving the wrong way up a one way street and stand up a lunch date
who will later forgive me and offer the name of a good counselor:)

She is beautiful.  More deeply,  genuinely beautiful than I can describe.
Her words paint  pictures that I’ve longed to see…..her childhood,  her passions,  her heart.
I wallow in the moment and linger between the lines,  finding grace in nooks and crannies.
Edith tells me that Amanda has said of my letter,  “She writes like I think,” and  I’m bowled over by hers.
She is so my girl:)
My heart swells with love and thanks and I’m eager to reply.
Christmas comes and goes like a dream and I send off a second letter,
this one typed up quick and scuttled off like a text.
I’ve loved these first shy lines to each other and I scurry to show that I’m in.
I’m in,  Dear Amanda.  So very.

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I await her response and Valentine’s candy appears on the store shelves.
I scoop up some chocolate  for her as I do for each of my lovies….will send some sweets her way
and it wows my heart  that I get to do this now!  It’s crazy joy:)
I don’t tell many just yet; these are tender beginnings and I sense the need to walk in whisper.
And I feel keen their shadow,  like a monitor standing over my shoulder
and I hope to wriggle free and reach out to my daughter on my own terms.
But I’m full up with gratitude and delicious hope and another month passes.
Her birthday is approaching;  I’m actually going to get to send
a birthday package for her 30th.  For the first time ever – my heart is turning sommersaults.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I’ve celebrated each of her birthdays.  Always with roses.  Rose – it’s the secret name I gave her.
And with cheesecake topped with shiny red cherry pie filling from a can.
It’s what I craved when I carried her and I imagine somehow that she loves it,  too.
I realize I’m new to her but she has been with me for all her days,
present in my heart at each family pray,  forever on my mind.
At night,  when my husband and I say our love over each of our kids,  she has been included in mine.
In a way I cannot understand,  we feel her.

When my daughter Hannah was 4,  she’d come to me and asked, “where is my sister?”
She’d sensed her, in the sweet intuitive way of a finely tuned child.
I’d gone pale and completely botched the moment; it was piss-poor parenting
and fresh fuel for the shame that often struck me dumb or babbling.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I try to side-step this same shame that hunts me now as I wrap my heart around her coming birthday
and wonder what I could ever give that would be enough for the first gift she’ll ever receive from me.
I’m haunted by all that I’ve missed  and feeling it sorely.
I’ve been 30 years warned to stay away. Leave her to those she deserves.
I feel like I’m high atop a building and walking a line;  one slip and I may lose her again.

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“I overheard the man whisper, ‘I am a lover not a fighter,’
and to myself I thought,  I am in fact both.
For is it love at all
if it’s not worth fighting for?”
– Tyler Knott Gregson

I’m posting this Summer series bite by bite
and I realize I ricochet all over and around with this story
but it feels real this way
and I want to tell it true.
I appreciate your kindness and your company along.
Just so much:)

 

The story of “they”……

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My childhood ended the night my water broke on a cold hospital floor.
Mortified, I quickly apologized to the nurse who walked in
and questioned,   eyes still on her chart,
“You’re still giving this baby up?”
It was brisk business.

“Yes,”  the word comes from the far back of my throat and I’m embarassed by the sound.
She raises a syringe to my arm and rubs vigorous with wet cotton
that smells like my pediatritian’s office.
“This will help dry up your milk.”
Dry up.  I know these words.  They mean don’t feel so hard.  Don’t say too much.
Stay small.  And sweet.  And agreeable.  A shot to help me be agreeable.
Let’s all just get through this as pleasantly as possible,  they seem to say.
But this doesn’t feel like Becky and Patty anymore.

I’d moved in across the street from their families
the Summer before second grade and we’d quickly become friends.
Becky showed me the picture of her home-going
one hot afternoon while we played inside with paperdolls.
There were two smiling parents standing on a white covered porch,   a baby safeheld in their arms.
“So you’re adopted,”  my mind wrapped around the idea as I took in the happy of her room.
“Yes,  and Patty next door,  too.”   Patty,  whose Mom’s quick smile filled the kitchen while she fried bologna slices and offered more tea.
I loved their home.  And the way my name sounded when her Dad said it warm,
like I was more than a guest at their house.
It hasn’t been so terribly long ago since he drove us to matinees and little league.

I can see their houses from the window when I hear the results of my pregnancy test.

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The weeks that follow are a hard tumble on some heavy rocks and I agonize.
This is an impossible decision.  I don’t see a  win-win……there just isn’t one for me.
I call them – the place where Becky and Patty’s parents smiled.  I picture again their birthday parties
and scavenger hunts, shiny roller skates and the tree house that their Dad’s together built.
They of the porch sound kind on the phone and will become a strong voice in my ear
as my belly grows.
They are the matronly ones that knock on my door for the nine months before she is gone
and each week the last several of my pregnancy.  The ones sent to support my choice for adoption
with words like “unfit” and “unwed” – the ones who assure that everyone isn’t meant to be a mother.

They have come to harvest my baby.  At least that’s what I feel,  but I don’t say the words.
My own voice goes clinched like a fist holding on because I’ve made up my mind
and I hate them for trying to take what I’ve already decided to give.
A new family is going to be born and I won’t be a part.
I am the outsider;  they coach me on my role.
It’s my job to disappear.  They will not offer me a shot for this.

It’s a difficult delivery and I spend hours in recovery before I’m wheeled back into the room where they will come with the papers.
I cannot stop crying and send them away.  I read the impatient fear in their eyes and feel the push,
the press, the please don’t screw this up.
I can feel how anxious they are to not disappoint parents. Her parents.
But I can’t sign right now.  Come back tomorrow.  It’s not going to happen like this.
I won’t be stripped of her.  I call Brother B.

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This grandfatherly man is my pastor.  I haven’t known him long but right now he is my lifeline and I need him to come.
He does and pulls on gloves and gown and,  with him,  they roll her little bed out into the hall and let me take her.
B is patient as I push her cart,  carrying her with my eyes,  to the sterile room where I offer her my finger and she holds on tight.
He begins to pray out loud and I dig down deep to say my heart to the One who I believe is listening with love.
“I’m not giving her away.  I’m not,  dammit.  And they’re not taking her.  I give her to you.  Take care of her,  please.”
And so it is done.

I don’t meet their eyes when I finally sign.   I don’t answer later when they call to see how I am.
How do they think I am?  I’m bereft and between.  I’m counting days,  suspended;  I have 28 of them to change my mind
and I will myself through each one.
I want her waiting to be over…..for her parents to have and hold her wholeheartedly.
For her to belong.  I busy myself against the pain.
I have become in every way un-fit.  I don’t fit anywhere,  an outsider.
I avoid old friends.  I’m a face person and I read too much on theirs.
And I see babies everywhere.
~  ~  ~  ~  ~
Now,  29 years later,  they are calling again and they want information fast.
My head  swims and I buckle just a little with each wave,  but I’ll ride them in time and with joy.
I’ve been on the out and life has tossed me a line,  offering to pass her a note inside.
They’ve let me send an e-mail.  Medical advice.  But she needs more from me.  I know it.
She needs to know my whys.

“I want to write her a letter.”

I’ve held my love up quiet for three decades,
waiting for a door and it has opened.
I will be censored, every line scanned for approval,  but I’m free at last to write
and I begin to push my pen and shave off tender portions of me
to offer Dear Amanda.

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(So much back story,  I know.  But I can’t tell it any other way.  I’ll wrap ’round and ’round
the staircase until it’s told,  this Summer series.  Hold my hand if you get dizzy;  we’ll steady each other:)
Thanks for being along.)

“But what if the great secret insider-trading truth is that you don’t ever get over the greatest losses in your life?
Is that good news,  or bad news,  or both?  The pain does grow less acute, but the insidious palace lie that we will get over
crushing losses means that our emotional GPS never finds true north,  as it is based on maps that never mention
the most important places we have been to.  Pretending that things are neatly boxed up and put away
robs us of great riches.”
– Anne Lamott