But her hands on the steering wheel offered proof of what I couldn’t seem to grasp. They were, unquestionably, my hands. She caught me looking and held up a hand. I held up mine and we marveled at their sameness.
At the cemetery, she walked me to my father’s grave. I placed a purple rose on his headstone, tears of disappointment streaming down my face. It would be one of the few times I saw her cry. She quickly retreated to the car. I could feel her wanting to run from this place but, instead, we shared probably the most honest exchange of our reunion. She told me she felt angry with him for dying before this reunion. She told me she’d dreamt of him the night before, and he’d raged at her for not telling him I’d come back some day. And then she’d told me how much they’d loved each other; how hard it was to live without him.
Standing in the cemetery, it all seemed like such a waste. My parents loved each other, had even married following my relinquishment. Twenty three years later, we were back together – my mother and me, standing at my father’s grave. She told me she wished they’d made a different decision; she wished she’d known he wouldn’t relent until she accepted his proposal. “We should have never given you up,” she said.
Our reunion continued for over a decade. She eventually found the courage to tell my siblings about me, but the strain of being kept a secret from my father’s family took its toll on me. We were wired differently, my mother and me. She tried not to feel, I can’t stop myself from feeling. I suppose I got tired of “understanding” why I should be kept a secret without receiving any empathy for what it is like to be the family secret. And we suffered from what most reunions suffer from; there is just no way to bridge the gap of all those lost years, no matter how much we cared for one another. Maintaining relationships under the strain of all the issues of reunion is emotionally exhausting.
So our reunion fizzled, and years slipped by. I’ll never know what those years were like for her, if she missed me or if it was simply easier on her. Strangely, I don’t doubt that she loved me in her own way.
On August 6th, my mother succumbed to cancer. She’ll be laid to rest next to my father and, someday, I will visit both of them there, at the cemetery where my mother and I had our first real conversation. No matter how illogical it is, no matter how well I know the realities of relinquishment, adoption and reunion, at times I cannot breathe with the thought both my parents are gone, taking with them the hope of a little girl who once thought she’d find the contentment of a real family.