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Case Notes: Coda

March 23, 2012

My mother greeted them first, as she was meant to.  To some extent, she lays more claim to them than I do.  They were there in the beginning, in her beginning, before my sister and I were.  “If I passed them on the street, I wouldn’t know them,” she said matter-of-factly, relinquishing memory to the four decades that had passed since we were all together.  But after they crested the stone steps in front of my house, my mother threw her arms around their shoulders, uttering cries of recognition, while I hung back in the blank of my own recollections.

In the early days, one of them advised my mother to say the words, “I’m so glad we adopted you,” every time she lifted us from our cribs.  And so, before those words framed any real understanding in our minds, she did.  By the time we understood the word adoption, it had already become a familiar echo, tied to her happiness.  I’m so glad. 

By the time we understood the word adoption, we also knew Bunny’s name.  She was the Lutheran Child & Family Services caseworker assigned to my parents, the one who watched my mother and father rise to the top of the agency’s list of prospective parents as my sister and I also rose on the list of soon-to-be-born babies.  She prayed hard that we would all arrive at the same time, and we did.  Bunny left the agency shortly after our parents brought us home, and Judy took over, monitoring the remaining home visits until our adoption was legalized.

As a child, I whispered Bunny’s name with the reverence due a saint.  The only history I knew began with Bunny.  She was not my beginning, but she was the connection to it, the person who linked me to my birth mother.  I didn’t know what Bunny looked like, so it was her name that took shape and became the body that I clung to in the darkness of my past.  In one hand, she held the woman who gave me life; in the other, the woman who nurtured it.  It was a case of mistaken metaphor, I learned only recently.  Bunny never knew my birth mother although they attended the same college; my birth mother had her own caseworker, whose name none of them remember.  But over the years, my misunderstanding about Bunny’s role provided me solace, much as the untruths about my parents consoled my birth mother.  What wasn’t true gave us more peace than what was.

When Bunny and Judy arrived at my home for a visit last weekend, I no longer thought of them as conduits, perhaps because I no longer needed to hold onto them in order to touch my birth mother.  Now, they were something of an organ transplant team, the ones who had carried me from the arms of my birth mother, not dying but definitely disappearing, to my parents.  Maybe they didn’t orchestrate the procedure, but they certainly played a vital role.  What they wrote in their case notes mattered, so much so that even now the agency director will not release them, even to my mother.

Bunny and Judy, whose husbands were both Lutheran pastors, remained close friends over the years.  I never reached out to either of them although it would have been easy to find them.  There was a cowardice to my silence but also a resignation.  I never considered asking them to lead me to my birth mother.

Judy could have.  She and my birth mother were friends at Valparaiso University where they were both students.  They lost touch in January 1969 when Judy graduated from Valpo, shortly before my birth mother moved to Chicago.  Only later, while working as my parents’ caseworker, did Judy discover that the woman who gave birth to the twins she was observing in their new parents’ home was, in fact, a good friend.  That knowledge, when Judy discovered it, made her feel dizzy, devastated.  Her role at the agency made her silent.  One day in 2006, she was reading an article in Guideposts magazine that my sister wrote.  In the article, which describes her life as a war correspondent in Iraq, my sister mentions visiting the grave of our father during a visit home.  Judy gasped in recognition when she saw our father’s name, then flipped to the front of the article to read the byline.  The author’s name belonged to one of the twins from long ago; she was sure of it.  Then she remembered: She knew our birth mother, too.

On my back patio where we all sat last weekend warming ourselves in the mid-March sun, I asked Judy what she would have told me if I had contacted her.  I thought of all those records sealed away, moved just out of reach, the ones I cannot have even now.  “What if I had asked you about my birth mother?” I wondered aloud to her.  “What if I had come looking for you, asking you what you knew?”  She didn’t hesitate for a second.  “I would have told you.”

The next morning, after Bunny and Judy left, I opened a small gift from Judy.  Beneath a twist of pink tissue was a round glass magnet with a bright green paper dragonfly inside.  In an accompanying note, Judy wrote about her love of dragonflies, about how young dragonfly nymphs remain nearly invisible under water as they grow.  Only when they emerge into the light do their bodies glow with color.  Their compound eyes allow them to see better, farther, than any human.  They’re not only beautiful; they’re visionaries.

As we sat in the sun on my back porch, more real to one another than we have been in years, I watched as my own infant body took flight, emerging from a dark, invisible past, into womanhood.  I was no longer the baby they last held.  They were no longer the mythic shadows I could not, would not reach.

I was flying.  I was shining, free.

Jenny and Judy, Philadelphia, March 2012

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Grandma Jo permalink
    March 31, 2012 6:40 am

    I am blown away by the spider weblike connections of case workers, your birth mom, your adoption, your dad’s grave and Jackie’s article. Full circle…..of intricate, fragile lines in life stories that actually happened……you could not have plotted a better fictional book……and you know who the real author of this amazing story is……..God. I certainly hope this becomes a published book too. Your story is amazing and so is your writing ability.

    • twinprint permalink*
      April 5, 2012 12:03 pm

      Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m working on a book proposal right now. We’ll see!

  2. March 24, 2012 1:21 am

    Extraordinary.

    • twinprint permalink*
      March 24, 2012 1:23 am

      Thank you so much! I have such respect for your writing that your comments mean all the more to me. I appreciate the encouragement!

      • March 24, 2012 3:29 am

        Wow – you are reading my blog?

        When I your post came up on my email, it was another instance of wanting to have time to really read it because unlike most of the blogs that come through, I actually want to read every word of yours.

        I am very much into stories. And the story that you tell and the the way you weave the details together – so engrossing and compelling. Plus I like the ‘what you thought to be true’ vs. what turned out to be true – how the assumptions shaped your life but the reality was ultimately ok.

        What’s next for you with your story?

    • twinprint permalink*
      March 24, 2012 5:40 pm

      I do read your blog, every post. You’re a great writer, and funny (your rats posts had me rolling). I need more funny in my story; I’m getting there. 🙂 I’m making my way toward a book proposal and have a fabulous agent. We’ll see!

  3. March 23, 2012 3:47 pm

    Thanks, Jenny. It was lovely to be with you. I will be always grateful for the day.

    • twinprint permalink*
      March 24, 2012 1:25 am

      By the way, Jackie reminded me that she has a tattoo on her ankle–a ring of dragonflies. I’d totally forgotten! We are linked in so many ways that we have only begun to see. Gratitude indeed! Thanks so much for coming!

  4. March 23, 2012 3:32 am

    As always, your writing is beautifully crafted and your story both heartwarming and unbelievable. What joy.

    • twinprint permalink*
      March 24, 2012 1:22 am

      Thanks, Cat. I feel the same way when I read your blog. And then I get all warm and fuzzy, feeling privileged to have worked with you as a student. You make me proud. 🙂

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