My Journey Begins with a Reunion
By Deborah Danielski
Ed and I, and his son Chris, were vacationing in my home state of Missouri, spending our nights at my mother's house and most of our days fishing on the banks of Mark Twain Lake. It was the first time I had been "home" for more than two or three days in many years.
We were driving the 60 plus miles to the lake for the third time that week when Ed decided to take a different route. I wasn't paying much attention until I saw a sign indicating we were quickly approaching Monroe City. Twenty-seven years earlier, I had made a conscious decision never to visit Monroe City, Mo. I could have asked Ed to turn around, but with 12-year-old Chris all ears in the back seat, I couldn't possibly explain why. Before I could make up my mind what to do, we were there.
As we drove through the town, I looked up and down every street, searching for someone I knew in all likelihood wasn't there, someone I would probably never recognize even if he were. I imagined what it would have been like to grow up there, to hang out in the stores downtown. I looked in vain for a school, park or baseball field. The trip through town took fewer than five minutes, but its features remained indelibly inscribed in my mind the remainder of the day.
I imagined a small boy holding his adopted mother's hand as she visited the shops. I knew there must be a park somewhere. I envisioned her pushing him on the swings, waiting outside the school to walk him home and later, sitting in the stadium cheering as he made his first touchdown. He was 27-years-old now, my first son, David. Before his adoption, I caught a glimpse of an official paper I wasn't supposed to see. On top were what I thought were the words "Monroe City." I assumed that was where he was going.
Over the intervening years, I thought of him often -- on his birthday, Christmas, Mother's Day. Many times, I wanted to look for him, but felt I had no right. I always thought he would begin his search for me when he turned 18, but that had been nine years ago. I had just about given up.
After driving through Monroe City that summer day, I could think of nothing else. Perhaps I should search for him after all, I thought. If he was still alive, he'd be 27 years old. Surely my introduction into his life would not be terribly disruptive at that point. Several times during the day, Ed asked me what was wrong. I just wasn't myself. But we were never alone long enough for me to try to explain.
We returned to my mother's house at 10 that night. When we pulled up and saw my sister, JoAnne's, van parked outside I thought something was terribly wrong. Once inside my fears subsided. JoAnne seemed quite relaxed and happy, but she did want to talk to me -- alone. Sensing no urgency to the request, I made myself a sandwich and started to sit down. "Let's go for a ride," JoAnne, said. "You can bring that with you."
We had hardly settled into the van when she turned to me and asked, "When was your first son born?"
JoAnne had no way of knowing we'd driven through Monroe City that morning, or that thoughts of my son had consumed my mind the entire day. What an incredible coincidence that she would be asking me that particular question on that particular day, I thought. "January 14, 1968," I responded.
"That's what I thought," she said. "His wife called Mom tonight."
I was too stunned to respond. JoAnne proceeded to tell me all she knew. All I remember hearing was that his name was Don, he lived only 60 miles away, had two young children -- and he wanted to meet me. He wanted me to call him the next day.
When we returned to Mom's, I immediately took Ed upstairs where we could be alone. I told him what I had just learned and as he took me in his arms, my shock began to wear off just a little and the tears began to flow.
"I always knew this would happen some day," Ed said. "Are you happy?"
"Very happy," I said through my tears.
I was up by 6 a.m. It was 6:30 before I could make my way to a chair by the phone, where I sat another half hour, reaching my hand out to grasp the receiver and then pulling it back. What do you say to a 27-year-old son you've never seen, I wondered. Hi, this is your mom? Hello, this is Deborah? Yes, that was probably better, but then what?
Finally, I dialed the phone. It rang and rang, but no one answered. I probably waited too long, I thought. They've left for work.
Ed and Chris were still sleeping. I rejoined my mother downstairs. It was the first time we had been alone since I learned about Don. From the day the decision to place him for adoption until that moment, Mom and I had never discussed my first-born son. Even now, our conversation was not about how either of us felt about his finding us, but was focused entirely on my attempts to extract further information from her. She had spoken with Don's wife, Terri Joe, for more than an hour the night before. I was sure she knew more than she had told.
"Do they both work?" I asked. "Were they going to be home this morning?"
Mom didn't seem to know any more than I did.
Half an hour later, I was back upstairs with my hand on the phone again. This time, it took only about 15 minutes to build up enough courage to dial the number his wife had left the night before. And this time the phone was answered, but it wasn't Don who picked it up, it was Terri Joe.
"Hi, Terri? This is Deborah," I said.
"Oh, I am so glad you called," she said. "Do you want to talk to Don?"
"Well, yes ... I do, but I'm not sure what to say to him."
"Just a minute, I'll get him," she responded. I could hear her then, calling to him from the phone. "Don, it's your mom!"
At the sound of that word -- mom --- my heart turned over and leapt up into my throat. I wasn't sure any words could get past it and when the time came, very few did. But it didn't matter. I had barely said "hi" when he took over.
"Thanks for calling," he said. "Your mom didn't know how you would feel about this and she didn't know if you would call me or not, but I'm so glad you did, because there's something I really wanted to tell you, even if you don't ever want to meet me or get to know me, that's all right, I'll understand, but I just wanted to thank you for giving me life and to let you know you did the right thing. I've had a good life."
What a wonderful young man my son had grown up to be. I felt totally unworthy of him.
Two days later, on my new granddaughter Lainy's third birthday, I held my 27-year-old son in my arms for the first time. Even after the wonderful conversation over the phone, I'd been nervous about the meeting. What would he be like in person? What if he didn't like me? What should I do, shake his hand, just smile? I had no answers, but when the moment came, I don't believe either of us gave a second thought to proper protocol. We just rushed into each other's arms and held on for dear life. It was "joy unspeakable."
An incredible journey had begun.
My reunion with my son could have happened any number of ways, good or bad. But what actually happened and the way in which it happened, left both Ed and I scratching our heads in wonder. There is a power greater than coincidence at work here, we both thought. I suspected it was God. Ed didn't have a clue.
© Deborah Danielski 1997