Day Going By

She wheeled the wire shopping cart piled high with belongings further to the side of the road, a smile on her face. She was happier than she’d been in days. Earlier in the day she’d found a black plastic dust pan with a long handle–what she’d heard them call a lobby dust pan the time she’d had a Motel 6 cleaning job–behind a house near the back alley. It didn’t look beat enough to throw away. Maybe someone from the house had just used it to clean up around the trash and then forgotten it, but there it was, by the trash can. A throw away for sure. Now it was stuck, handle down, pan up, in the corner of her cart and she was smiling. She had plans. They were great plans. She had a purpose. She arranged her belongings again in the cart, shifting the blanket around a bit on top. It was a nice clean blanket, almost white. She smiled more sweetly to herself. I don’t have to go back to that place tonight. Too much noise. Too many people in my business.

After a while she thought she’d get busy.  The friendly girl was talking again, but it was just pleasant jabber. She could keep it in the background if she got going. The Nasty Man hadn’t put in a word for the last couple of days since she’d left the downtown shelter. She’d found a nice place across from the dump, sheltered and flat, surrounded by trees. No one else was there now, although there was a bit of trash and a torn, wet ragged shirt on the edge of the cleared spot. Other people came there for sure but for tonight it was probably hers, private, her own.

She crossed the busy road to the side where cars and shiny pick-up trucks pulled in the road to the recycle. There was lots of debris by the side of the road, stuff that fell off loads, blown bits from the last wind storm. She took out the stubby old broom she’d found a week ago in the dumpster and pulled out the new treasure. She stopped to admire it for a minute. Black. Solid. The hinge at the bottom of the handle let the pan swing down just right. Looking down at the gutter, she thought my, it’s dirty. Really needs attention. She began sweeping things up into the pan.  There was a nice song in her head.  Seemed like the Other Woman was singing in the background. She hummed a bit, sweeping. Cars went by.

Soon the pan was getting full and she started to think where she’d dump it. She looked around for a trash can, a dumpster. Nothing out front of the industrial buildings on this side. She stood the lobby pan on the asphalt next to the grass, making sure to move the handle so it balanced, just so.  Look how nice it just stands there, waiting for me, so polite. She rummaged in her cart. There it is. My garbage bag. She pushed down the crumpled chips bag and the mushy remnants of the buns from the food bank. Opening out the top of the bag carefully, she made room for the wider opening among her other belongings in the cart.   She picked up the dust pan and tipped it carefully into the bag, the way they’d taught her at The Agency before she got that motel job. The chunks of trash and the dust slid nicely into the bag.  She made sure the cart was propped safely on the grass within reach, taking her time.  The song was nice now. Slow, the voice mellow. The Uncle Guy started to shout at her once when she was sliding the dirt into the bag, but she told him, loud, “No! It’s not like that,” and he shut up. She picked up the pan and the broom she’d propped against a tree by the road and kept up her work.

A couple of times she got so absorbed in making sure she got the bits of bark that had blown onto the asphalt that cars honked at her, thinking she was walking into their path.  She’d look up and see the driver shaking his head. Once the driver shook a finger and looked like she was saying something nasty.  Once a woman in the passenger side waved her hand through the open window and smiled at her.  A guy riding by on his bike, racy helmet, orange tight shirt, gave her a thumb’s up and shouted “Good work!” as he zipped by.

The Uncle Guy was starting to criticize her work. “That’s stupid! Why’re you doing that! Who cares! You’re worthless anyway. Never make a dime.” She kept shaking her head and muttering things under her breath back at him, but he wouldn’t stop.  The friendly girl had gone away and the singing had stopped. Every once in a while there was a hissing voice, maybe coming from under the bush near the trees. Something watching her? She was starting to feel the old sense of dread in her gut. Time for a break.

She took her lobby pan and the broom and went to sit down in the shade on a big rock.  She muttered at The Uncle some more and then decided she was hungry. Her stomach was rumbling gently.  She thought about what was in her cart and remembered the loaf of white bread and a bit of cheese left over from her trip to the food bank a couple of days back.  Getting off the rock carefully, still holding her tools, she went to poke through the cart. She found the bread, squished but not yet moldy, the cheese in an old plastic bread bag, just a little wet since she’d put a half-eaten apple in with it. She tossed the apple that was now brown and bruised and brought the bread and cheese back to the rock, the bags in one hand and the tools awkward in the other, dragging.

She sat for a while and ate some bread and the rest of the cheese.  It was pretty quiet. Not too many cars. A bit breezy, but not cold. The zippered sweat shirt she’d found was enough to keep her warm in the shade. The fir trees towering around her were dark but they felt strong, protective. The crows that had been hopping around on the fir needles under the big trees by the road now came hopping nearer to her, cawing. She threw a bit of bread and two big ones converged on it, squawking, wings beating, beaks parted at each other. They both flew off a few feet, cawing. The smaller one came back to the bread while the bigger one jumped up to a branch and preened.  She watched for a long moment while other crows came and went, noisily.  Soon her interest wandered, her mind blank. She thought about the black lobby pan. It was still there, propped next to her against the rock.  I’d better get back to it. The Uncle Guy crankily told her she might as well give it up, she was so useless. She decided to ignore him. Someone had taught her that not too long ago, a case worker. You could just ignore him sometimes. It was hard, but if she got busy it might work.

With her lobby pan and broom, she went back to her cart and checked to make sure everything was still there on the top as she’d left them. I’d better close up this bag a bit, she thought, ‘cause of those crows. They’ll just hop on up here and start pecking around.  She looked around on the side of the road. Yup, still a lot of mess. She rolled the lobby pan behind her, the smile returning, the broom in the other hand, and moved out towards a pile of bark and debris on the edge of the asphalt.

A car honked loudly, startling her badly so she jumped back and dropped the handle of the lobby pan with a clatter. The car–she saw it was an old red one, new paint, maybe a Buick–went up to the next drive, pulled in and backed up quickly, coming back on the other side of the road. The driver was rolling down his window, hard, she could see. As he pulled up across from her he shouted at her out the window, “You fuckin’ crazy woman!  I could have fuckin’ killed you!  I could have killed you and then where’d I be? In fuckin’ jail, you crack head! Jail! Fuck you!!”  He jerked up his window as he floored it, engine sounding like a race car, back to the turn-off to the dump where he squealed in, gravel popping and then backed out fast, driving towards her again.  She watched, frozen. as he passed, close, stretching his arm out over the passenger seat with his middle finger emphatically extended. She could just barely hear the  “Fuck you!” through the closed window.

She shook her head, arms loose at her sides, tears starting in her eyes, her chest burning. The Uncle Guy was yelling at her. “See!  You’re fuckin’ stupid! You need to just kill yourself. Hang yourself on a tree. It’s easy. Just do it! You need to do it. You know you do!”  Her head reeled. She sat down where she was on the grass and then yelled “Fuck you, too!”  as another car passed, a girl in the passenger seat looking briefly at her and then away, as if there had been nothing there.  Yelling had made the tears stop. She crooned to herself for a moment.  Oooh.  Ooooh.  Aaah.  She remembered suddenly she hadn’t taken her noon med.  She still had a few they’d gotten for her at the shelter.  The small ones. She got off the ground, feeling a little stiff, picked up her tools and went over to her cart. Moving aside the garbage bag, she found the box under her blanket.  It’s Thursday she thought. Yeah, and opened the one marked Th.  She rummaged around some more and found the half bottle of water she’d saved and downed the pill. I’d better get back to work, she thought. Yeah. There’s lots to do. She smiled as she picked up the lobby pan and the broom, pleased at how nicely that hinge let the pan swing down as she lifted the handle to carry it back to the next pile. “Maybe I can get that cleaned up before it starts getting cold. She’d like that. She would.”

Taking Tea

Then there was this dream I had the other night.

During their reigns, Khrushchev and Brezhnev had teas made of special herbs related in rather occult ways to their respective names.  On visiting their rulers, people were made to drink this tea, which was, in both cases, foul.  Sometimes still, Putin brings them out and serves tea to those who cannot refuse to drink it. He watches them gleefully as he leaves his untouched.

“Delicious, no?” he enquires with a handsome smile.

Getting Back

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It’s tough, but we learn, bit by bit. It doesn’t go forward in a linear way. We keep going back over the same lines as if carefully etching a drawing onto the paper of our mind.

At least it’s that way for me. If this holds,the length of the life stretching behind us has real effect. Pain is a particularly good etching tool. Joy too, its etching more colored and nuanced,  working not so much as a guide in our movements through life as the provider of its texture, its warmth, its tone, hue and fragrance and the ground of all wisdom.

There are times when the richness and beauty of life flow along for some period of time, never, of course, without difficulties, but without real obstruction. Pains are more easily tolerated. Joys permeate further.

As humans, we know these days are not without their number. They’ll flow into other times when nothing feels right and obstructions appear in every direction.  They’ll flow into times when pain permeates everything, the oblivion of sleep eludes you and all you know seems washed away.  One wave dies and another rises, all the same salty, vast water pulled by different moons, stirred by different winds.

As we wait to move to France, there are moments stretching lazily together when the elements of time, wind and gravity seem to be pulling us smoothly forward. We get up each day with the confidence we’re on course and the current is with us.  We sleep soundly and sweetly and wake refreshed. Then there are times when a strong gale we hadn’t noticed brewing to stern suddenly is on us, grey and deeply unsettling, buffeting down to the keel and threatening to throw us off course entirely if we don’t use all we know to keep the whole venture from being smashed to pieces. Small troubles gather together and swarm around so thickly that we can barely think straight for all the noise.

We seem to be coming through one of those swirling times. The weather isn’t really settling so much as somehow we’ve gotten a firmer hold on the tiller.  I could be wrong, but I think we’ll make it through.  The farm will sell eventually. We’ll figure out all the details of what to take and what to leave. We’ll figure out the health insurance, the visas, the banking, the tickets, the place to stay while we house hunt in France–all that. We might have to swim to shore the last mile, but we’ll make it.  Meanwhile, back to writing.

 

The Work

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A move of five thousand miles is both big and small. When it is not being done, it seems small. It is a place in your mind. You can see one thing, imagine another and then the expansion stops. The imagination circumscribes itself with the limits of your own sight–the limits of your senses both physical and essential. It is, in fact, enormous in its scope.

I had been taking it one small chunk at a time. I allowed myself only one variable at a time, trying to push aside all the other possibilities of the failure of ventures, large swings of fate. The way seemed clear. Getting rid of all the clothes that were not absolutely essential. Trying to sell and then giving away hundreds of books, winnowing, winnowing down through the levels of friendship until there were five or six boxes–still too many.  Unpacking all the boxes, full of mildew, where I’d stored the leavings of my children’s childhood, reading, discarding, treasuring, crying with joy or grief at its passing, saving what I could not part with for the moment, sending some to my children,  going back to some after weeks and finally throwing them quickly in the trash. Giving away so many little treasures, things I’ve held on to through moves and phases of life.

Getting estimates for shipping things to France, it becomes clear that unless the emotional connections to things, to their history, have true value, something beyond the mere presence of stuff, unless they add to some crucial continuity of social life, then they will need to be left behind, gone or perhaps delayed in storage. Even photos. Even childhood treasures. What is really needed to maintain the connection with the past of family and the history of love?  All those who have left behind everything to save themselves and their families—amidst all the grief of loss, alongside the anguish, can there somewhere be a deep sense of relief, a deep settling-in to what is?

I will continue to lose sleep until I understand this calculation deeply.  It never ceases to amaze me where the true work of life lies, day after day, moment after moment.  This evening, a pair of young eagles have alighted in the cottonwood tree at the top of the hill overlooking our back field, perching for hours in their strong, solid way and looking out over the surrounding sky and landscape. Maybe they are examining a new territory, experiencing with their expansive perception where to make their new home. They have brought nothing with them except the dust that gathers on their feathers after flight.

 

The Turn of the Season

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Yesterday afternoon, as I was weeding the strawberries, I got a call from my only remaining mother. Her name is Toni, one of the very few women in the universe with my name. I got it from her. She had thought it would be a faint thumbprint on my forehead, to inevitably be washed away by the flood of love from new parents when they adopted me. It stuck, maybe from a sense of gratitude, maybe compassion, maybe unknowing, but my new mother recognized it as my name.

It was right about this time thirty years ago that I met her.  My birth father had made the voyage out from upstate New York to Vancouver, Washington, a few weeks before. He had wanted to give her some time to absorb the impact through him. He had wrapped us in his large warmth and generosity, sealing the bonds all around, and had gone back to move forward with a life that included five children now instead of four and four grandchildren instead of two and to weave us into his life with Toni, his wife.

The anticipation of her arrival was immense.  When I was a child, I had looked at my mother knowing that, unlike other children, I had not come from inside her body. A sense of vertigo would overwhelm me, like Alice falling down the yawning hole. I had sung to this first mother, connecting to her love though the sound of my voice, wandering out in search of her.

Preparing now for her coming, the house was as immaculate as I could make it. There was a basket of primroses on the table. In addition to being a history professor, I knew she was a master gardener, so the garden was weeded. I had gotten a haircut for the event and the kids were all bathed and brushed.  We went to the airport early, I with my new camera in hand.  As we waited, I sat with my eighteen-month-old son on my lap in one of those molded plastic airport chairs of indeterminate brown, watching the sky and the clouds drifting by over the waiting airplanes.  I stood up, thinking I saw her plane taxiing into the gate.

As I turned back to gather my coat, I watched in a frozen moment as my son held my camera over the stairwell behind his seat and let go of it. An infinite moment later–the slight crunch. There are no family photos of my first mother’s arrival, of her first hugs, of the grace of her movement and the laughter, of standing next to each other to compare our heights, of looking for the similarities of eye color, chin, hair—of sweeping up her things and swirling to the car in a kind of awkward dance in which feet seemed to have difficulty making contact with floor and sidewalk. 

The next scene is at the house where I sat across from her at the wooden kitchen table with a glass of white wine. As we talked in rushes, full of questions, we looked at other furtively yet greedily, periodically lowering our eyes as if to shield from too much sun. Her speech was so familiar, yet new, like some perfected, more patrician version of my own.

As I watched her talk, I felt an uncanny sensation of familiarity that one sometimes has when seeing the face of your child or your spouse after a time of separation, and then the dizzying sensation of looking into a glass. As if watching myself in a shop window, seeing only some of the image but catching the reflected movement, I saw she moved her hands when she talked just as I did, with the same expansive gesture and the same gaze. Later, as we sat in the living room, I watched her sitting close to my son and daughter, with her arm draped over the back of the sofa.  In the way that arm found its comfort was the incontrovertible evidence of the ineffably subtle information passed on in the DNA. Her turn of phrase, her love of language, the music of her movement all emerged from the same place deep within those twists of adenine, guanine, thymine and cytosine. Somehow those things had persisted even through the immense force of the ocean of experiences that had shaped us.

As we stood in the kitchen, cleaning up after dinner, kids underfoot, she said,

This sounds really odd, but do you mind if I smell the top of your head? When each child was born, I smelled their heads and each time the fragrance was so deeply familiar, so sweet. It was such a treasure.  My grandchildren had the same smell. I would recognize it anywhere. Let me see if you still have that fragrance, even faintly.”

As I bent down to let her take in the smell, something passed between us.  She said,

Ah yes! That’s it.”

And then,

Do you know, ever since you were born I’ve felt something connected us like an umbilical cord of energy that extends from somewhere around my solar plexus to that same point in you.  I remember being struck that Jane Eyre spoke of the same kind of channel. She described it as a cord of connection that began from somewhere under her left rib and tied to a place in Rochester.”

We stood for a moment, feeling the warmth in that place where the ribs come together, over the heart.

Yes. I know it,” I said.

I have never dared to speak of the next part of this passage in which she expresses the fear of the bleeding within that would happen if he were to leave her. And then the terrible abandonment of his eventual forgetting. It was not just I who was abandoned.

It had become a forbidden love for her, I thought.

Now, after we have churned through all the years of initial joys and family complications and my birth father has died, we speak as friends who are still somehow a bit shy of the deep connection, who know where the hurts lie. We skirt around them, delicately, sharing our passions for politics (just to the edge of divergence), gardens, and most important, family, still connected by a vibrating cord of energy, fueled perhaps by those nucleotides of DNA and the empathy they have lent to all the movements of life that have worked to pull us apart.

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A Trip to Indiana (Part 2)

Returning from the voyage to my son who will turn thirty in a week, I watch the images of our last hours together drift across the sky outside the window.  After having coffee that morning, he drove me to a spot in the outskirts of Bloomington where suburban houses gave way between to woods. I’m no longer used to deciduous forests.  The twisting black forms of the oaks contrasting with the lighter ash and the understory trees, clinging to their brown and whitening leaves is extraordinary to me now.

My son was driving and we were bathing in the kind of comfortable companionship we haven’t been able to experience together for many years. We had spent hours together relaxing in his rented house with his girlfriend and without her. Unwinding the time, there were the right moments to ask questions, the right moments to say things long unsaid, the right moments to dive in to answers long unarticulated, to cry some, to laugh some. We talked about the way we experience things. We even meditated together. There was enough time for it all.

It was my last morning with him. After we went for coffee and pastry at his favorite coffee shop, I suggest there’s time for a walk before he drops me off at the bus to the airport. He thinks a bit and says he knows a place he’d like to show me, a place nearby he hasn’t been to yet. That was why we were driving now through these forests of twisting dark winter bark.

He thinks we are close. We see a wooden sign with colorful letters saying “Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center.” He explains he had heard about this place from a friend, with its peaceful walks on the grounds. Some sense like the quickening of pregnancy touches me–that this man, my son, the economist, the rationalist, would chose this place to come with me. A curious tickling thing awakening somewhere inside the vastness of my mind.

We drive in slowly past a shrine in the trees and prayer flags draped through the woods.  As we park in front of a brick building decorated with dark red, green and yellow paint and with golden figures perched on the roof, we look at each other briefly, seeing reflected a bit of surprise and wonder. Getting out of the car and walking towards the entrance, we take in the surrounding grounds, with stupa, grass and walkways.  In a state of unknowing, we wander in through the entrance. As we look at the displays in the hallway, a young monk, dressed in maroon robes, passes by into the gift shop. We follow, nodding hello.

My son is captivated by the sacred paintings and artifacts in the shop. As I look around, I find he has lingered over a wall of prayer beads.  He says “I want to buy something. I feel like contributing to this place.”  He lifts a set of black beads off the wall and asks what I think.  Somehow, clearly, he has made an important choice. Something had drawn him to these. My son has recognized something. The connection is evident as he holds them in his hand. He pays the young monk who makes the transaction quietly.

We leave the building and to take our walk around the rest of the center. We examine the prayer wheel and spin it together, walk around the Stupa, feel the calm. At the far end of the stretch of grass is the temple, topped by golden figures. We take off our shoes in the entry hall and walk into a room of splendor, walls painted orange and covered with Tibetan sacred paintings, topped by intricate green and maroon designs. A golden Buddha presides over a large alter with paintings, flowers, a photo of the Dalai Lama. Icons of other religions are placed around the hall. Abundance. A spontaneous mood of generosity, of bounty.  We leave donations in the envelopes, wherever they go. Again in calm, we retrieve our shoes in the entrance hall and walk out together, connected by fronds of silence.

We take photos of each other against the background of the bare forest and the prayer flags, forgetting the rest of the walk we came for.

Now I am at the airport again, watching the sky through the large windows, feeling the presence of my son who hugged me, got back into his car there in front of this airport and returned to his home and his computer, and later to make dinner with his girlfriend, following out the threads of a life hidden to me, like the lands beneath the clouds.

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A Trip to Indiana (Part 1)

I had decided to go see my son in Bloomington, Indiana just before his thirtieth birthday. There I was, waiting for two hours at the airport for the flight to Chicago. In the large airport hall in Seattle people were seated in almost every seat, waiting for flights all over the country.

As I settled in to a seat comfortably spaced between groups of travelers, I began to notice a loud, sharp barking sound from the corner of the huge space. A small dog, I thought, caged and panicked. “How could someone inflict that on a dog?” I thought, and buried, in that place where self is stored, “Why would they inflict that on a crowd of people?”

It repeated, over and over, becoming an annoying random break in consciousness.  The most remarkable thing was that no one else in the large space appeared to notice. No heads turned, no one turned towards a companion to remark. Perhaps there were one or two furtive glances in the direction of the sound that were quickly modified, as if they had really intended to look at the planes taking off or at the reservation desk.

As it continued and no one else seemed bothered, I began to question my interpretation. Under cover of walking to the restroom, I turned to look in the direction of the sound. In the corner where the sound seemed to originate I could see nothing but a woman and maybe a child or two. No sign of a cage or a dog on someone’s lap.

The barking continued intermittently when I’d returned to my seat to continue my wait. As I sat, looking out at the sky through the endless windows, it began to dawn on me that it must be a person making these sounds. As my interpretation shifted, the sounds seemed more and more like human utterances, though wildly sharp and piercing.  A child with a severe case of Tourette’s? A person with autism?  The lack of response from the waiting crowd was now a gesture of compassion, of empathy or perhaps of embarrassment mixed with a desire to avoid the shame of being the first to acknowledge. Maybe the cries are becoming fraught with the anxiety of being in this strange, stressful place. Perhaps it’s an expression of what we all feel. Perhaps as this person settles into some acceptance of the difficulty, as we all have had to do, the yelping will begin to subside.  One of the cries takes on more shape. “Aiy! Aiy! Fuck you! Fuck you!”  No one turns towards the sound.  I look at the weather in Bloomington on my Smart Phone and think “Who is this human? What is the story?” not asking, not acknowledging, experiencing the collective mind of all those gathered in this waiting space.

Later, as we fly, the clouds below are a continuous floor of cotton, like the rolls that come in a box.  An occasional rent in the fabric reveals, almost equally white, mountains and then squares of fields. These places are receiving the sun. The unseen are not.

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Memory

 

Struggling up from muffled night

was hard enough.

What would it be to rummage in the dark

for sweaters, pants, socks

tie shoes

And walk out into the darkness of

Buffeting rain and hidden, blurry moon.

 

Only the knowledge that

halfway up the hill

Ego would awake,

Pushing back layers of

gauzy film

Taking over the steering

and lighting  mitochondria with

the sound of a pilot light

clicking on.

 

Only then

do the particles align

with the known world

after flying around forever

over plains of waving grass.

 

Eagle screeches penetrate

Through long tunnels

to the electric networks of neural tendrils.

Dire thoughts ooze from

houses where glowing early lights

transmit poisons soaked up by days of boredom

and dreams of endless black freight trains

then blow off

in rushing

gusts.

The Burn Pile

Last night the wind was still and the weather mild so we lit our burn pile and pulled up a couple of chairs to tend it and sit together to watch the life in the fire.  This time we were burning some of the last of the combustible pieces of the eleven years of accumulation here on the farm.

In the October soon after we’d moved here, we sat together around a similar bonfire and listened to a pair of Great Horned Owls sing their love duet from the tall cottonwoods on the east side of the garden. That was a moment of magic and optimism. We dreamed aloud to each other about our future here, the farm stand we would have, the vegetables we would grow.  We named the farm that night. It was an inside joke. Now, we are burning the hand painted white, red, green and blue signs we made to direct passers by to the farm. We saved just one. We’ll leave it in the back of one of the stalls in the barn for the new owners to come upon when they’re exploring their new territory. F.A. Farm, they might wonder. What was that?

Now we are wrapping up our lives here, divesting of almost everything. We’re down to a pile of boxes in a stall in the barn, some essential garden tools, our two old bikes and the furniture we need to live until we leave the house and lock the door.  Orion has danced over the barn as the fire has burned lower and the coyotes are yipping off in the near distance, a pack of them after some mice or a stoat they’ve flushed. No owls tonight.

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The Reunion (Part 2)

The voice of my father. This is the voice of my father.

There is no distance in space now between us despite the weight of the receiver in my hand, the recognition of three thousand miles. His voice is sitting right inside me, the intensity wiping away everything else. There is no wall of separation. The wind of this energy is passing through us both.

“Yes, you’re my daughter!  It’s you! We’ve been waiting, hoping for this call for years. But we didn’t really dare think you would want to contact us; would find us. It was too much to ask.”

“Tell me about yourself? Where do you live?” he asks.

“I live in Vancouver, Washington…”

Before I can go on he says,

“Oh, yes! That’s marvelous. Washington State! Marvelous! Are you alright?”

“But of course you are! I can tell. Wait, let me tell you about you!”

“You’re tall. You’re blond with brown eyes. You’re beautiful and intelligent.”

Relishing this paternal embrace in a way I had never anticipated, I hear myself saying, “Yes! Yes, that’s right”, inwardly blushing at the “beautiful,” almost wanting to stop him.

“You were born at Lenox Hill Hospital. Your mother—her name is Toni—just like you — I can’t believe it — held you for three days. This didn’t usually happen if the baby was being given up, but the nursery was being painted. She was heartbroken to give you up.”

“How did your parents keep that name? How did they know? How did they have the generosity?” are his next questions.

“I don’t know. My mother said that it was just something she just knew, something she knew was essential to keep. She insisted, even though my father thought she was crazy to keep it. He bowed to her.”

“What an incredible act of intuition, of pure resonance! Your mother, Toni, gave you the name as a tiny thumbprint of her love for you.  She never expected your adoptive parents would keep it. Never. That was unthinkable.”

My God, I think, they’re married. They’re still together. These are my parents, together.

“And you have four siblings, three brothers and a sister. They all know you exist and they’ve been worried about you ever since they found out you existed. Your mother told them on your eighteenth birthday since we knew you were old enough to have access to records and could try to contact us. We talk about you. They’ve worried that you were out there and we didn’t know if you were alright.”

A molten volcano has been smoldering in my chest. Now I feel it begin to reach my throat, my eyes, the top of my head. I had never dared to imagine brothers, sisters, some kind of genetic compatriots.

“Let me tell a little more about who you are.”

He is rushing ahead, as if he, too, has thought out all he would tell me if he had the chance, as if the connection to my mother and history must be established immediately. We’re both a bit giddy with the silliness of this rampant story.

“Your mother’s family is pure WASP. She’s a Robinson. They go back to the Mayflower, for God’s sake.  Your direct ancestor was Cotton Mather, which may or may not be a good thing!”

Here began the surreal.  I already had had connection to a grandmother who was Polish, warm and fat and smelling of coal and butter from the kitchen–a peasant, whose lap I could sit on in a rocking chair. This new family seemed more foreign to my experience than if I were told they were Sami with a herd of reindeer still grazing back in the old country.

“And then there were the Knoxes of Knox Hats. You go back to Charles Knox who came over from Ireland in the early 1800s and started his own hat factory. They started with beaver hats and then came up with the stove pipe hats that became all the rage in the nineteenth century. They made a fortune. Abraham Lincoln wore Knox hats!  Their daughter married Hannibal Robinson who went off to the wilderness selling hats. And then somewhere along the way around Civil War times there was American Flag Knox.  You’re just swimming in WASP-y history. You could even become a member of the DAR! My God! I hope you don’t mind!”

Somewhere along the way I had begun to laugh. Now we both were laughing. The absurdity of it all. His voice, deep and rich with a foundation of unwavering confidence, left no room for disbelief, just overwhelming joy at having found this man of such fluent intelligence, such wit, such generosity of spirit–qualities not unlike those of the father who’d raised me. It was a moment splitting with things to come, like a ripe seed pod with seeds ready to fly. But at that moment, the laughter gave me more of a sense of freedom, the headiness of delight. My senses were alive.

“And then there was my family,” he is continuing.

“Somehow, none of the kids look anything like them, thank God! You probably don’t either. They were Eastern European Jews who immigrated to this country in the early 20th century. They lived in New York and my father managed to buy a small grocery store he ran till his death.  My aunt (your great aunt) immigrated to Israel at the end of the war.  She ended up starting the first Kibbutz there — Kibbutz Don. She was quite a powerful character, with a face like a catcher’s mitt. The kids have all been to Israel at different times.”

Here was the upside down history. My adoptive mother’s lineage—Eastern European Jews coming to Brooklyn at the beginning of the twentieth century—setting up small businesses, getting through the Great Depression—this was also in my paternal genes, somehow hidden. What a funny man this was, de-ordering all I knew.

There was a pause just long enough for me to think of what else needed to be said. “You have two grandchildren.” I say.

“Oh, God! Really?  Tell me about them!”

“There’s a girl aged four and a boy a year old.”

“You’re kidding! We have two granddaughters about the same ages!  Your brother Evan’s girls. The youngest brother. He dotes on them. What about yours? Are they healthy? I would imagine you’re a wonderful parent.”

I told him a bit about each – my daughter’s pre-school, my son’s yellow curling hair. He asked about a marriage and I told him, yes. We talked a bit about my husband.

He proceeded to tell me a little about each of my siblings, three brothers and the youngest, a sister. Brothers. A little sister.

“They’ll all want to meet you as soon as possible. You will love them all. They are all unique, sharply smart and sensitive in their own ways. I’m sure you’ll find you have things in common. ”

It begins to dawn on me that I am actually being invited to become part of this family. Ah!

I ask, only partially in jest, “Will it bother David as the eldest that he suddenly has an older sibling?”

“God no! He’ll be so relieved to give up the position. It’s not an easy one! He can tell you.”

“It’s been a difficult stretch for your mother. This will cheer her no end. You don’t know what a wonderful thing you’ve done by calling.” Again, I blush and stammer something about how it was a force rather than a matter of choice.

He continues, more soberly. “You don’t know how long I’ve been trying to make up for your loss to your mother. All this time. So many ways.” There is a short pause on the line. A breath.

We began to discuss how we would be able to meet. He quickly insisted he would be the one to fly out to see me first, as the forerunner, as soon as he could arrange it.

“It will give your mother time to absorb things. I’ll be able to tell her what I experience and she will be able to absorb it first through me. Seeing you will have such an enormous impact for her.”

“Likewise,” I say.

This was the man I had sung to as a child, whose image I had created out of bits of story and intuition–whose love I had conjured up for myself.  It seemed in some way he was this man and not this man. There certainly was the experience of a powerful love, the importance of family.

I recognized, as my mind began traveling back from this intensity of moment to the practicalities of life, of children to be fed and retrieved, I had always shied from imagining my mother as deeply.  Now I had a mother in whom I might see something of myself. What was that?

As we gathered ourselves, made a plan for Toni to contact me later that day and, as my son began to cry in his bed where he was waking, I breathed in the impact, gathering my sense of self into my body, settling my mind, getting ready to move through the rest of the day. Something of great moment had happened. Something that was not only a shift in my own life, but a bigger shift.  We said goodbye, he adding,

“You don’t know how good it is to hear your voice. This changes everything.”

I wondered and then I thought, “It may. Yes, it may.”