Eight Years Later
Eight years ago today in 2009, my mom and I were sitting in a booth at Park Cafe on 7th avenue eating lunch before I had a voice lesson with Phil. It was the day after Thanksgiving, and mom debriefed me about the holiday as I chomped on a grilled cheese. My purple Blackberry buzzed in my pocket and I checked it. On Facebook, I had received a friend request from an Angela Duncan, a name I didn't recognize, with a message attached. Receiving a random friend request wasn't unusual, but then I saw that the three words accompanied the request: "My sweet angel."
My stomach dropped. Was this really happening? I did not expect this at all. Shocked and surprised, I looked up at my mother and realized I had to process this in private. I excused myself and walked to the bathroom.
I stared at the screen of my phone on the toilet as I shook in disbelief. Just the day before I had asked my father if there was a way to contact my birth parents. He winked at me and said, "consider it done," but I had not taken him seriously. I figured that the search would take time, that it would be a struggle to find them if I was able to at all. I had even pictured myself calling the adoption agency, digging through rows of file cabinets, and connecting clues on a cork board with string. It wasn't supposed to be easy, but there my birth mother was (even if only in a digital sense.) My dad had managed to contact her in less than twenty four hours. Found.
As I pressed "accept," I knew that my life had been forever changed. How was I supposed to handle this? I was full of fear but was distracted when I remembered that my mother was waiting for me and would suspect something if I dwelled in the bathroom for too long. I decided to wait to take any further actions until I could lock myself in my bedroom after returning to the suburbs from my voice lesson. I put my phone back in my pocket and took a breathe. "Hold it together," I whispered to myself as I walked back to the booth.
She continued to gab when I sat down, oblivious to my trauma. I inhaled my french fries. The hour long voice lesson that followed was agonizingly slow. Phil attempted to adjust my tone and breath control, but I hardly took note. The traffic on the West Side Highway didn't help my anxious state either. Mom prodded me about what I wanted for Christmas as I silently prayed for the traffic to clear. When I got home, I shut myself in my room and let myself properly freak out. It happened! I flopped on my bed and stared at the ceiling. What would happen next? The anticipation made me nauseous.
I sat down at my desk and typed up a message to her on my computer. An introduction felt necessary, but the task was quite tricky. How do you bring your birth mother up to speed on the last sixteen years of your life? I started by detailing my interests and values, and then thanked her for her sacrifice. This would be the first time she heard from me. Reading the note now makes me chuckle, with quotes like, "I'm not a party girl, though I do love to have fun," and "the University of Michigan is my dream school," but I took this first impression extremely seriously at the time. I desperately wanted to be accepted by her. I hit "send," once I was somewhat satisfied and anxiously awaited her reply. What would she think of my message?
I decided to check out her profile in the meantime. She lived in New Hampshire, not Houston, Texas where I had been born. She had a few kids, my half-siblings. Her profile picture was a lolcats meme. It was a lot of new information to take in at once.
To my relief, she replied a few minutes later before I could dig further. She was excited to reconnect and learn more about me. We messaged back and forth. We transitioned to phone calls and I heard her thick Boston accent for the first time. Questions were asked and stories were told. She found my birth father on Facebook and put me in contact with him too. The day after Christmas, my family drove up to her house and we met. She embraced me on the porch. My mom snapped photos of me with her, me with my new siblings. I saw human beings who shared my genetic features for the first time. It all happened quickly and any expectations I had disappeared.
It's hard to conceive that eight years have passed since I received that friend request. I turned twenty-four last summer and realized that I've known my birth family for a third of my life. My experience is unique and I fully acknowledge that. They knew me as a nerdy high schooler, a liberal arts queer kid, and a post-college workaholic. I came out of the closet to them. I watched my birth sister get married in October. They've heard me sing and watched me grow for eight years. My birth parents and siblings accept and love me for who I am.
I've had several adopted friends ask me for advice about reaching out to their birth parents. I hardly feel like a good resource in regards to searching, but I have plenty of experience with the aftermath. I tell them to forget about expectations, to have an open heart and mind throughout the process. I tell them to consider their adoptive family's feelings. "Take your time," is one of my biggest advice points. My reconnection was rushed and it might have happened before I was truly mature enough to handle it. "Get a therapist," is another suggestion I always mention. Sixteen year old me processed feelings in a far more chaotic way than I do now. Having a non-biased voice to air my fear and confusions to would've been beneficial. I don't have any regrets though. It happened when and how it did and I'm forever grateful.
Eight years later in 2017, my fiancee and I are sitting in my apartment in Harlem a few days after Thanksgiving. I noticed I forgot to thank my birth mother for the scented wax cubes she sent us as a gift. After I messaged her, I scrolled up to the very top of the message thread, November 27th, 2009, and read our very first exchange with a big smile on my face. As I looked at the thread, I remembered how scared I felt when I messaged her, how desperate I was to be accepted. If only Georgie knew what I know now.