Friday, June 6, 2014

The Phone Call

When Bob got a position at Greensboro College, a small Methodist school of modest reputation, I thought our worries were over.  I'd always heard good things about North Carolina, and Greensboro turned out to be a delightful place to live and raise kids, even if all we could afford was a crappy house  in a crappy neighborhood.  This was not the life I wanted —living across the street from convicted felons and backing onto a strip mall--but we were out of my parents' garage, and I was home with the kids.  After a year, I began graduate school and started the slow process of reclaiming my life, while Bob continued drinking and was fired from his job.    

When Tanner was fourteen, Dabbs eleven, and Saskia eight, Bob and I divorced.  Once I believed the boys would be better off with him out of the house, I asked him to leave.  We told the children at the dinner table, and they were taken utterly by surprise, because Bob and I didn’t argue in front of them, only in the dead of night.  It was a horrible, painful moment, and I will never forget the shock on their stunned faces.  Tanner went to his room, lay down on his bed, and turned his face to the wall.  I'd always heard that expression, but now I was watching my own son crumble into himself.  Dabbs and Saskia cried, and a few  days later, Saskia asked me if I still loved her daddy and wanted to know if I would ever love anyone else.  

I  never imagined I'd put my children through the trauma of their parents' divorce, but I truly felt I might die if I didn't get out of that marriage.  I was terrified and impoverished, but that felt like an improvement.  I poured myself into my work, taught my classes, and made do financially with my graduate assistantship.  In the end, I stayed at UNCG for nearly thirty years and was Associate Director of the Honors College by the time I retired, but I never felt like a “normal” person.  There was a huge gulf between how I imagined I appeared  and my inner reality.

Always in the back of my mind was the hope that someday I might see my lost son again, and once I was divorced I wrote a letter to the adoption agency that had placed him.  I gave my Greensboro address and included my brother's contact information for good measure.  David was 15 when I wrote that letter, and I assumed that when he was eighteen, if he wanted to find me, he would be given that letter.  New York has strict laws about keeping adoption records sealed (legislation is now pending that could allow adult adoptees access to their original birth certificates), and the odds of David and me ever finding each other were even longer than I knew.  

Years later I would learn from David that when he was nineteen and a sophomore in college, he had tried to search for me. 
He asked his adoptive  parents for anything they could tell him, and Bill said he thought his mother (I) had died.  Bill said they didn't have any information about me, which can't have been true, but he told David there was a Mrs. Pettingill who “might know something.”  David never spoke with her, but he did call the hospital where he was born.  A clerk who must have been new to the job looked up the records of the babies born on David's birthday and discovered two boys, both given up for adoption.  She read David the first file, thinking it was his.  The mother had committed suicide ten days after the birth.  For the next 25 years David lived with that loss.


My husband likes to tell people he waited to marry until he was 55, because by then he was just too tired to fight.  My rejoinder: “Third time's a charm.”  Mark is my third—best—husband, and without his support nothing about my life today would   be  possible.  I don't know why I decided to begin a search for my son or precisely when idea became intention, but in the fall of 2012 I knew it was time.  When I told Mark what I wanted to do, he was all for it, so I decided I'd better tell Tanner and Saskia they had a brother and ask if they had any objection to my trying to find him.  I waited until after Christmas to give them the story—abbreviated--and all through the holidays I scoured the internet and sent out feelers.  I knew nothing about what resources might be available, what the adoption laws in New York were, whether I'd have to hire a private investigator, or how many other birthmothers were also searching or had been reunited with the children they'd lost to adoption.  Both Tanner and Saskia encouraged me to search, so I forged ahead.  I discovered a wonderful group of women, called Search Angels, who volunteer their time and efforts to help reunite families disrupted by adoption.  The internet is such a blessing, as without it I doubt I'd have ever found David, let alone find him as quickly as I did.  

I never met my Search Angel Joan.  She lives in Arizona, and I live in North Carolina, and she was a godsend.  It took her no time at all to find David's name, and she told me to look it up on Facebook, which I did.  There it was, a photo of a young man, wearing a black-leather jacket, boots, and sunglasses and holding a cigarette.  Was it possible he might look a bit like me?  He had the same dark hair, but with the sunglasses and the inscrutable expression it was hard to say.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I wrote him a brief message, asking if he'd been born in Ithaca, NY, on January 25, 1968, and was he adopted.  I heard nothing back for three weeks and figured David Eastbrook, whoever he might be, probably wondered why some random woman was asking such odd questions.  I continued searching and, since I was prepared for the process to take a long time, I wasn't anxious.  It was early days.

Mark, the world's most indefatigable sports fan, was out at a UNCG basketball game.  I liked to take advantage of quiet evenings like this to go to bed early and settle down with a book, but at a little before nine o'clock I decided to check my Facebook page one last time before turning in.  Someone had instant messaged  me: “Who are you and why are you asking me these questions?”

“On January 25, 1968, I gave birth to a baby boy in Ithaca, NY, and gave him up for adoption.  I'm wondering if there might be a connection between us.”  Could this be it?  Would he answer?  What was even happening here?

“What time was your son born?” came the answer.

“I don't remember exactly, but it must have been late afternoon, because by the time I got back to my room dinner was over and the nurse had to bring me a tuna sandwich.”

“6:10.  Hi Mom.”  He included a phone number.  “Call me.”

The one fact David knew about his birth was the time, and that detail was all the proof he needed.  It was January 26, the day after his birthday, and he'd gone online to check for birthday messages.  He rarely went on Facebook, which was why he hadn't seen my message until that night, just when I happened to be on Facebook myself.  I was on the phone with David when Mark got home, and when I silently mouthed, “I found him,” Mark knew exactly what I meant.