Ring, ring, ring. My husband paused the movie and we sat on our couch waiting patiently to hear if anyone would leave a message and if so, who would they be? Someone important? Or just another telemarketer.
“Hi, Amy! This is Grandma Stella S—-.”
I jumped off the couch and weaved my way through my forest of plants that surrounded the landline, that hardly ever gets used.
“I’m sorry, it’s taken me a while to return your calls, but I’ve been bu-…”
“Hi, Grandma!!!” I yelled into the phone, out of breath, hoping to catch her before she hung up. I was so excited to hear from her and at the same time relieved, too.
“Hello! I’ve missed you so much! I apologize, again, for not calling you back right away–giggle, giggle–but I’ve been busy.”
“It’s okay. I’m just used to you picking up right away, when you hear my voice, and when you didn’t pick up the first time it was fine, but then the second time I started to worry and then the third time… I was worried that something might have happened to you or…SOMETHING ELSE.”
“Oh, well, you know I am getting up there. Giggle, giggle. I’m 83 now and my heart still goes AFib on me, but I’m still living a life!”
Grandma Stella is my biological grandmother, from my biological mother’s side. Her life has been spent in the entertainment industry, as a professional singer and actress. She’s 83 years old and still sings every week for her Catholic church services and with old-time bands. When I ask her to sing for me, she won’t, but if I tell her that I’ve never heard a song brought up in our conversation she’ll sing and for a glimpse, I get to hear what my lullabies might have sounded like if she had kept me like she wanted to.
I don’t talk to her much because it’s sort of exhausting and maybe it’s my fault because we don’t talk too much, but when we do talk, she talks a mile a minute and about her life. I try to hang in there, as I catch up on her life because I know that if I listen long enough, she’ll soon insert,
“So, enough about me, how about you? How has life been treating you?”
Then I’ll get my three seconds of glory and she’ll start back up again, but the longer we talk the more seconds I get and then they’ll turn into minutes and by the end, I’ll have a lovely conversation where we both have had equal amounts of stage time.
I’ve learned that if I want to keep my biological family in my life, just like with any relationship, you have to give and take. I think I took too much from my biological mother, Patricia. When I turned twenty-seven, I found her and reconnected with her for a year. It was the first time that I had done something really and truly for myself (searching for my biological parents) and I hadn’t realized that I had taken a pebble, thrown it into a huge pond, and caused a rippled effect. Finding my biological parents didn’t just affect me, but also, all my loved ones and their loved ones, too, both biological, adopted, along with my husband and son. Out of all of my biological and adopted family members, Patricia (bio mom) had been affected the most by my relinquishment and I knew this. But I was also greatly affected.
She asked me questions about my life and I was open and honest when maybe I shouldn’t have…just yet, anyway, because she couldn’t handle it. I wish I had known, but I didn’t. I would have lied and let her heal first so that she would still be here for me, but she shut me out and by then it was too late. There are no “how-to-do” books written. For two years, I mailed her updates on me and her grandson, along with pictures. I apologized. I stopped apologizing. When my husband’s job moved us within two hours of her, I offered to help her evacuate when the rainy season would come along and the river that she lived on would most likely threaten her life and her home. I heard nothing and my heart broke. To the little girl inside of me, she was abandoned again by her mommy. I had to stop trying and I did.
Birthdays are the hardest. January 1st to March 11th at midnight, I feel this dark shadow hanging over me and all I want to listen to is jazz music. I get lost in it. My biological grandfather (Patricia’s dad) was a professional pianist, with his own recording studio. He wrote jingles for commercials and my biological grandmother would sing them–Noxzema, Camel cigarettes, Campbell Soup, even for presidents. I think I know why I listen to jazz music, it was Grandpa S—-‘s favorite genre to play. Maybe it’s my way of connecting with someone I have never met. But I don’t know why my birthday is so dark.
A year ago, I met a friend who is also an adoptee and who works with “children in the system.” I shared with her and she suggested that maybe the darkness has nothing to do with me, but with my biological mom. Maybe I’m feeling what she feels, as January rolls around and Patricia knows that her due date is approaching. She’s sixteen and feeling pressure from the adoption agency to relinquish me because the sooner I’m relinquished the sooner they can find me a “forever home.” But she’s choosing to make this decision on her own because she’s mad at her parents for getting a divorce, even though her mother begs her to keep me because she’ll help raise me.
This year’s birthday was better. I only had three days of despondency. As my birthday drew near, I thought, let me call my grandmother and try to help the situation, if it is, Patricia, by letting her know (through her mom) that I AM okay. So, I called Grandma Stella, left my usual message, “I Grandma Stella. It’s me, Amy….” but no one picked up, so I finished my message and hung up. I did this again the following week with the same outcome, no one picked up. Then I called on my birthday, but I was met again with only an answering machine to converse with. As I left a message, thoughts raced through my head, “What if Grandma Stella doesn’t want to talk to me either? What if she’s had enough and was just feeling sorry for me? How long do I keep reaching out before I stop trying for my own sake? Amy, you need to protect yourself.” Unfortunately, frustration and the fear of rejection sounded in my voice as I left my third message on Grandma’s answering machine. I felt bad.
But Grandma Stella S— returned my call a few days later. And as we said our goodbyes, that night, she said to me out of the blue,
“Amy, I will never ignore you.”
I said thank you and we hung up because my reaction time is so slow. I hadn’t said what that SOMETHING ELSE was that I was worried about when she hadn’t answered the phone, for the third time, but she knew. I guess, my voice gave it away. But when I got off the phone with Grandma Stella and had time to digest what I had heard a flood of emotions stuffed tightly away, were released and I could feel again. I felt relief that I wouldn’t have to worry about losing connection with another biological family member, valued because my biological grandmother wanted to keep me in her life and I felt validated because she knew that my biological mom ignoring me all these years was hurting me and she didn’t want to hurt me, too. She gave me the greatest belated birthday present I could never ask for: the realization that she cared more about me than I had ever known. And for this, I am so thankful.