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Goings and Comings

September 24, 2012

Our birth parents are there waiting for us when we pull into the gravel parking lot of the old train station in Breckenridge, Minnesota.  We agreed to meet there before following them across the Red River into North Dakota and on to the farm where my birth mother grew up.

In many ways, it is a fitting destination for us to gather first, this place that holds the memories of countless journeys.  The train depot itself is no longer used for passengers.  Only freight trains pass by now, and the crumbling station serves as a storage shed.  My birth mother’s niece, who is also waiting for us, arranged for us to have a tour, and a kind railroad worker in overalls and a bright orange t-shirt opens the door to the station and beckons us to wander among the old signs and shelves of parts.

It feels significant, all of us being here together, mostly because we never were.  After giving birth to us in Chicago, our birth mother returned home to North Dakota.  The passenger train left her here, in the middle of the night.  Nobody knew anything about where she had just been, about what she had gone through, about what she had left behind.  This place marks her coming home, her starting over, her trying to forget.

She told us she doesn’t remember the train ride home after leaving Chicago, only the sadness, only the emptiness that became a darkness and blocked out the particulars.  After touring the station, we step outside to look around the yard.  My six-year-old son sits on the tracks in front of the station until they begin to rumble.  We back up to watch a long freight swoosh by, clacking and rocking on the tracks, as he jumps up and down in excitement.

During my childhood on the Midwestern prairie, I fell asleep at night to factory and train whistles blowing in the distance. Trips across town were frequently interrupted by long waits at railroad crossings as freights passed.  Trains remind me of home.  They also remind me of possibilities, of how my child’s mind raced after them, wondering where they were going, wondering if one day I’d get there, too.  I smile at the sound and tell my birth mother how much I love it.  “Not me,” she says, shaking her head.  No, trains remind my birth mother of loss.  They take people away from who, and what, they love.  As we watch the freight speed by, she describes her father, tears in his eyes, sending her off and back to college in the semesters before he died suddenly from a heart attack.  I understand her sadness, but it isn’t enough to tamp the excitement of my own memories, my own experiences.  As the train blows past us, I realize there are parts of this story we can never fully share.

Like this, too:  My birth mother never stood at these tracks with twin girls inside her.  The December after she conceived us, she couldn’t afford to go home for Christmas  The next July, her arms were empty.  I can’t imagine what it must have felt like, stepping off that train in Breckenridge and back onto the soil of her home after leaving behind the two lives she had nurtured in her womb for nine months.  I want to throw my arms around her in profound love and and grieve, mother to mother, for the loss that became my life.  But in this moment, she is the mother and I am someone else’s daughter.

So instead, I stand beside her, as close as I can without touching, trying to absorb a sorrow I will never experience.  As the train leaves the station with one last long whistle, I stand beside my birth mother with a baby of my own in my belly, one that I won’t even know about for another few weeks.  It’s a baby that I didn’t expect, that I didn’t plan to have, but one that I will not have to let go.

Four decades after my birth mother first returned here without us, we’re all together again, juggling our endings and our beginnings, our goings and comings, plus one more.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Elizabeth Roll permalink
    October 1, 2012 4:28 am

    A wonderful essay. So nice to see you getting to know your birth mother and learning the story of your birth. It is wonderful you can share this journey with your family and others.

  2. Susie permalink
    September 25, 2012 2:37 am

    Beautiful post. So haunting are these words: ” I want to throw my arms around her in profound love and and grieve, mother to mother, for the loss that became my life. But in this moment, she is the mother and I am someone else’s daughter.”

  3. September 24, 2012 9:54 pm

    So poignant, Jenny. It does make me feel sad for Lois and I am so glad that you are back in her life–you and Jackie and your wonderful children. And are you having another??? How good God is with her surprises!

  4. twinprint permalink*
    September 24, 2012 7:28 pm

    Thanks, my friend. And thanks for the W. cuddles and conversation last week. xoxo

  5. Dina permalink
    September 24, 2012 7:24 pm

    Just fabulous. Love you!

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