The Day My Whole Life—and Past—Changed
"She was 5 foot 3 inches and 118 pounds, with large brown eyes, a small upturned nose and a wide, large face with high cheekbones," Amy reads.
It's the first description I've ever had, and it enables me to picture her: petite with big, dark eyes in a moon-shaped face. It's surprising to learn that she's 4 inches shorter than I am—I'd always imagined us as the same.
"She also was adopted."
My brain jams...
"She was 3 years old when her own mother died of tuberculosis. She told her social worker that she remembered going to the hospital to visit each day. She would stand on the lawn, her mother would appear at the window and they would wave to one another," Amy reads.
I envision a tiny brown girl with chubby legs and a short dress, her braided hair tied with ribbons, standing alone on a vast lawn, waving up at the shrunken figure of her dying mother, sequestered and untouchable, in an asylum. I want to cry, but don't.
"Not long after her mother died, her father killed himself, leaving her an orphan. Her aunt—her mother's sister—and uncle adopted her."
The report is dense with disjointed information including observations made by my birth mother's caseworker regarding her upbringing ("strict...privileged"), demeanor ("articulate and refined"), personality ("colorful...dramatic...and moody"), and popularity (as "a leading figure with the other residents"), as well as her relationship with my biological father (a "very bright" student with a "great deal of potential" who was nonetheless "too immature to assume responsibility" for the two of us).
I don't know what to feel. I don't want to feel any different from how I always have felt. I don't even understand exactly what is happening. Whatever it is, though, I'm hungry for more; at the same time, it's all too much.
I felt sorry for my birth mother. Her own biological mother died and her adopted mother may have loved her, but based on what I was hearing, she didn't love her well. I thought of my parents and felt a pang of intense gratitude for them, fused with guilt. What was I doing here?
My birth mother's father adored her; she cast their relationship as "loving and close." The report put him at 45 years old in 1964 and a trim 180 pounds at 6 foot 1 inch tall. It said he was a college-educated "show-business professional" with a deep brown complexion, brown eyes and black hair. The family lived on the West Coast (Los Angeles, I presumed, given the show-biz connection) but traveled often, not just throughout the States, but also around the world. When her parents were away (which my birth mother stated was often), the children were raised by "the household staff," said to include multiple nannies as well as a chauffeur.
The report described the family's four other children at the time of my birth. There was a "brilliant and musically gifted" 15-year-old daughter; a son of around 6, who was also adopted; and a set of twin girls, back then considered late-in-life babies, who were giddily celebrating their third Christmas as I was taking my first breath. It's clear that they lived well—extremely well.
"Yes, I have a question," I venture. "Do you have any way of verifying this story? It sounds pretty far-fetched, don't you think? These are black people. In 1964. Maids, mansions, chauffeurs, prep schools and debutante balls...what are the chances that this is all true? I mean, how many white people even lived like that back then? And, if they had all that money, why would I have been given up?"