Feeling regret at 'what could have been' is not one of the things that I'm very good at. Never have been. I know it's part of the reason that I occasionally take more risks than I should, but it also means that I do my very best to live my life to the absolute fullest, no matter what.
It's also why, about 15 years ago, I started trying to find my birthmother.
The search was odd. It took me to the basement of a county courthouse and to the top of the World Trade Center. I had search angels in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Key West, Ottawa, Washington, D.C., and Portland. I met people on my search that I've stayed in touch with for all the years after, and of course I met one of the two people I hoped to find.
Pam. She was 12 when she got pregnant and 13 when she had me. She doesn't know or can't say who my father is. And as the years have gone by, I've gotten to the point where I'm a little better at saying that without bitterness. The things she told me, that she told me for years after, are horrible. And they're inconsistent. She uses information as a weapon and plays me off against my half sister. Our relationship was short, quietly acrimonious, and mostly uneasy. I don't know what I wanted when we met, but this wasn't it. Perhaps a little honesty? Instead, I got hugely overblown stories that on the telling sound like a poorly-written sitcom. Implausible doesn't begin to cover what she came up with. I was able to fact check some things, peeling back the embroidery to find the canvas, but I never got anything confirmed from the only person who could.
Thanks to the identifying information from the agency, I found out who my grandparents were. And when I tried to find them, I was told that they didn't want to talk to me - they thought I wanted money. I didn't, of course, and I tried to explain that. I wanted some semblance of the truth from someone. A story that didn't shift and sweeten every time we talked would have been nice. And I thought (wrongly, it seems) that they might be a route to that story.
Charlotte was the grandmother I never met. Never talked to. Talked around, yes. Spoke of, certainly. But I don't know what her laugh sounds like. Don't know if she took her coffee black. Don't know what she liked to read.
A memorial service for Charlotte ---, 76, will be Sunday, August 3, 2014, at 3 p.m. at --- Church. [Charlotte] died Monday, July 28, 2014, at her residence. She is survived by her husband, J.; her son, R.; one brother, D.; a nephew, D., and a sister-in-law, J.. --- She was preceded in death by her parents, C. and L. ---.
There's more to the obit, yes. But I've excised bits from it just as it describes a past with some names left out. Three people aren't there. In Charlotte's death, Jim erased Pam, he omitted Pam's young daughter, and he erased me. Maybe it's the historian in me, but I'm troubled by that omission. Charlotte had another child, maybe by a previous marriage. She had a grandchild - not just me, since I don't really count in that sense by most people's estimation - but Pam's child. Maybe children.
I wish I could have met her. I didn't want to ask the tough questions... I'm not good at confrontation, anyway, and so I never got good at those conversations. But just to hear her stories and tell her mine. It would have been nice. It could have been, maybe.
In a way, I'm grieving this loss. I'm not sure why, but I am. I don't feel any real loss of what was, so it's a disappointment in what might have been. But I feel guilty about it, too... this being sad about someone I never knew and who clearly didn't want to know me. It's all very confused and confusing.
I still hope that one day I'll know. I talk with students about tolerating ambiguity all the time, but the biggest chunk of ambiguity in the world is right in my own past, and it bothers me. I pick at it sometimes, when it's started to heal, because I can't stand not knowing. And now, this avenue for answers is closed. I never knew her, and now she's dead.
Tue Aug 05, 2014 at 7:15 AM PT: Community Spotlight and Rescued to Recommended? Thanks, y'all, as always, for giving me a safe place to vent and your collective shoulders to lean on. This is an amazing group of people - a remarkable community that I'm proud to have been a part of for many years, through Katrina and the death of my father, BP's disaster in the gulf, and many less harrowing events as well. Thanks for your perspective and your advice, but mostly... thanks for letting me bend your ear.