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Telling

February 28, 2012

We went as far as we could to the top of the mountain that dominates the backdrop of my birth family’s life. On the edge of their house, their church, their work, the snow-streaked crag of Pikes Peak rises majestically against a deep blue sky. My birth mother and I had caught the cog train in Manitou Springs, riding as far as we could, just past Inspiration Point. At the summit, the winds were whipping over 120 m.p.h. When the train paused before it began its trek back down the mountain, the sky seemed to grow even bluer, and a sharp wind shot a mist of fine snow through the open window and onto our legs. My birth mother had been anxious that the weather would prevent us from getting above the timberline. When we finally cleared the Ponderosa and ancient Bristlecone Pines, she relaxed. “Look,” she said, pointing into the distance. “That’s Kansas.” Beyond that Missouri, then Illinois. I strained to see to the edge of everything.

On the way back down, we traded seats, and views, with the couple across from us. That meant my birth mother and I rode backwards both ways, the train taking us to someplace that was always ahead. It made me dizzy to turn my head to see where we were going so instead I kept my eyes on where we had been. As the train rumbled through Hell Gate and into the boulder fields, we exchanged small talk with our seat mates, asking simple questions that generally garner simple answers from strangers.

“Are you related?” the man asked us.

We paused too long and the question hung there awkwardly. I glanced at my birth mother.

“Well,” she began, searching my face.

“Daughter-in-law?” the man guessed.

“Take off the ‘in-law,'” my birth mother told him.

“Daughter?”

“Yes,” I confirmed. “But it’s complicated. We just met a couple of years ago.”

“She has a wonderful mother,” my birth mother offered.

I wanted to clear the confusion, to explain our hesitation and this game of words. My birth mother could say, “This is my daughter,” but I couldn’t say, “This is my mother.” Yet, I didn’t want to call her “birth mother,” either, to reduce her to this loaded label. I kept referring to her as “she” and “her,” the pronouns erasing her even more.

All the way up, she had been asking, “Do you see? Do you see?” And I kept looking, following the tip of her voice through the open window to the winter emptiness that still managed such beauty. We were a beauty amid words that could not hold us and I wanted these strangers to see, to hear, that, too.

As I struggled to find the right words, my birth mother began to speak. She, this woman who is not my mother but is, this woman who had only recently broken a 38-year silence, began to tell her story to these two strangers on the train. She has wonderful parents. I was there first. There are two of them. They leaned forward into her words, eyes wide in amazement. What was it like? How does it feel? What will you do? They looked at her, at me, trying to keep us both in view at the same time.

She kept talking. We kept talking. You see, her husband is our birth father. You see, he didn’t know until it was too late. You see, they had a son who is our brother. You see, we don’t know what to call this or where we will go, but we are here now. 

Twenty minutes later, the train crawled into the station in Manitou Springs. We had all stopped looking at the mountain. “That,” our seat mate said as he and his wife stood up to gather their belongings, “that was the most fascinating story I have ever heard on any train, plane, or car.” We ducked our heads to gather our own bags, smiling.

Out in the bright sunshine, my birth mother and I blinked, almost giddy.

“You just told your story to two strangers on a train,” I told her.

“I did,” she grinned. “Yes.”

“How does it feel?”

She paused. “Fine.” Her whole face glowed. “Wonderful.”

* * * * *

The next evening, my birth parents dropped me off at the airport so I could catch a late flight home. In the rush of last-minute talk on the ride there, I told them that my sister and I always say good-bye by raising two fingers into the air, the sign for “victory” and for “peace.” We did this when we left for college, when I left for my honeymoon, when she left for war, whenever we just left. I tried to explain that my twin and I transcend touch in some ways, that our connection is so spiritual that we rarely feel the need to hug. We speak with our eyes; we speak with our raised fingers; we speak without words into any physical distance that separates us.

But that is my twin. At the airport curb, my birth mother reached for a hug.

“Thank you for having me,” I said, putting my arms around her.

“Literally? Do you mean that literally?” she asked, her voice against my ear.

I pulled away, laughing at the accidental double meaning of my gratitude.

“Yes,” I said. “Thanks for having me.”

When I looked back one more time before entering the airport, she was standing there holding her hand in the air, two fingers raised.

V for victory.

V for peace. 


20 Comments leave one →
  1. May 7, 2012 8:51 pm

    Wow. You write so well and I’m so glad I had a chance to read this entry.

    • twinprint permalink*
      May 9, 2012 7:55 am

      Thanks so much for your kind words! I’m glad you found your way here, too.

      Jenny

  2. May 7, 2012 6:31 pm

    This is such a difficult issue. I know that one of my big hang ups when I first met my birth father was hearing him call me his “daughter.” It somehow felt that he was getting credit for parenting me, for raising me, and it made me angry, when his decision not to parent was a huge reason I was adopted.

    People kept asking me how things were going with my “Dad” and I would get very feisty, saying abrupt things like, “He’s my progenitor, my ancestor. He didn’t raise me. I only just met him, he’s the stranger that gave me away to strangers.”

    But the truth is, his blood is my blood. He *is* my father, just estranged, with no parental relationship. I often wish there were other words for this crazy reunited relationship.

    Thanks so much for sharing your story!

    • twinprint permalink*
      May 9, 2012 7:55 am

      Thanks so much for sharing that, Carrie. I absolutely agree with you. We lack words to describe these relationships! We have to resort to hundreds and thousands of words in our blogs just to come close. 🙂

      Jenny

  3. May 1, 2012 3:40 pm

    It took me a long time to call my birthmother mother- or mom. I used to call her by her first name. As time went on and our relationship grew she became my other mother- a mother in ways a friend in others. The same as my relationship with my adoptive mother has evolved as well. I am very happy to have two mothers. Who could not be more different people! They come from two totally different perspectives who add so much to my life in such unique ways. They both love me- like a mother and I love them both like a mom.

  4. March 9, 2012 6:12 pm

    Jenny,

    I caught up on this entry along with reading your more recent one this morning, but my thought that you inspire probably belongs here.

    So often we try to “call” or name God’s creation something…like “mother”, or “daughter” or “birth”, or “cousin” (or are you a “cousin-in-law”?) or any relationship. We try to find the right words, when a word will never suffice to describe God or his creations that surpass our understanding. Why? Because naming that which brings us joy or sorrow, or more often both, brings it closer to us and allows us to preserve the experience.

    The best we can do is to tell our true story, to use more words that help us approach the phenomenological essence of our experience, our memories and hopes, and all the feelings, thoughts, relationships and naming that limits them.

    Anything that is eloquent and efficient in design needs no instruction manual. But I take great joy in trying to create the instruction manual for my own life to discover it’s eloquence and efficiency, and enjoy the fact you do, too. I am so glad you are doing this and sharing it with the world. I’m glad you and your family, regardless of how you name each of them, all adopt one another, if I may dare call it that.

    With Love…

    • twinprint permalink*
      March 9, 2012 6:36 pm

      Thank you, Mark, as always for your wisdom and perspective which add clarity to my own thoughts. I think we also name because naming helps us control/understand/package–not necessarily in a negative sense, though there are sometimes negative consequences, but because, as you say, these things we are trying to corral are too big for words. How can we look at them, understand them, interact with them, etc., when they are so vast? The name contains. But in containing, we lose some of the thing’s (the relationship’s) essence. There are language scholars who would say it, who have said it, far better than I. In the end, I hang on to the love that binds us all together, including me and you, COUSIN. 🙂

      • March 9, 2012 6:48 pm

        “The name contains. But in containing, we lose some of the thing’s (the relationship’s) essence.” Yes!

        And the name evokes. In evoking, we bring to mind some of the thing’s essence.

        “Cousin”, for example, brings to mind so much…

  5. Wendy permalink
    March 1, 2012 4:47 pm

    This entry brought tears to my eyes. What a wonderful, and I’m sure emotional, journey you are on. Thanks for taking us readers along with you.. Much love, xxxx

    • twinprint permalink*
      March 2, 2012 2:28 pm

      Thanks so much, Wendy! xo

  6. February 29, 2012 4:49 am

    I loved this. That you told this story to the rest of us.

    • twinprint permalink*
      February 29, 2012 1:03 pm

      Thanks so much!

  7. Cindy permalink
    February 28, 2012 8:20 pm

    I was wondering if you would write about our encounter on the train. How nice to see that you did indeed. I have shared our story as well. Good luck on your adventure. Cindy – Longmont, Colorado.

    • twinprint permalink*
      February 29, 2012 1:00 pm

      Cindy, Be wary of whom you sit next to on a train! You may end up in a story. 🙂 Thanks so much for leaving your comment, and for be an unwitting but gracious part of our journey.

      • Cindy permalink
        February 29, 2012 3:57 pm

        I am honored. You just never know what will happen from moment to moment. I really love that about life. I will never forget our encounter!

  8. J. Fermon permalink
    February 28, 2012 7:36 pm

    I’m so enjoying reading these, Tale-Spinner. Love you, my friend.

    • twinprint permalink*
      February 29, 2012 1:03 pm

      One of these years, I’m heading out to climb mountains with you, Jen! xo

      • J. Fermon permalink
        February 29, 2012 4:58 pm

        You have an open, forever invitation to wherever I am at the time. The Pacific Northwest is gorgeous, but I am also happy to meet you somewhere. xx

  9. Jason permalink
    February 28, 2012 5:40 pm

    Wonderful story. Well written as always =) Next time you go to the summit! Hope you had a great time out here. Looking forward to seeing you in April. Love you sis!

    • twinprint permalink*
      February 29, 2012 1:02 pm

      Next time, to the top! 🙂 Looking forward to seeing you again in April as well. xoxo

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