Monday, April 30, 2012

From the heavens...

As we neared the 9th floor I said, “Excuse me, but I think I found your grandson’s glider.”  We had lived there a year and I had only seen her once.  She was a petite woman impeccably dressed.  Her stunning black silk suit and Van Cleef and Arpel broach were amazing.  She snapped back, “I have NO grandchildren.  It’s just me!”

This was the beginning of an adventure.  I did not plan to take this fork in the road but it was fate.  I was quite happy with my life.  It was a comfortable place of dinner dates and long weekends away.  I had no idea how this chance meeting would change everything.

She stepped past the elevator’s threshold and waited patiently as I followed.  We walked towards our doors as she asked one questions, “Do you drink?”   Then without a breath she commanded, “Drinks at seven… bring your friend!”

Her caftan flowed as she guided us to the study.  It was a massive apartment and the study had a gorgeous leopard rug. The entire place was amazing and reminiscent of Jacqueline Onassis.  It was like stepping back in time.

Thursday evenings quickly became our night out.  We dressed and dined in sophistication as she told us her life’s story.  She had worked for Goodson-Todman in the early heyday of television.  Her elbows were rubbed with Barbara Walters and Ralph Schneider.  Chance meetings occurred with Donald and Ivana Trump at Roy Cohn’s Connecticut poolside soirees. This woman had even dinned with Boris Karloss at his famous Dakota Apartment.  She told of wild nights at Studio 54 and a childhood friendship with Fran Stark, Fanny Brice’s daughter.
We thought most of her tales were fiction but we were soon proven wrong.  The news clippings and personal photos overflowed from albums.  They also included W. Howard Lee with his famous wife Gene Tierney.  She stood beside MGM’s moguls and jet setting di Portanova’s.  There was a diamond solitaire smuggled between her bosom and a private meeting with Senator, John F. Kennedy. What an amazing life she had led.

The attendant on the phone said, “Can you get a wheelchair?”  It was mid-morning on Christmas Eve.  Jose’ and I were at Neiman Marcus picking up a hostess gift.  I said, “When will she arrive?”  Christmas was cancelled and our lives became a flurry of bedpans and walkers.  The driver delivered a helpless old woman to the building’s back entrance.  Her Spanish holiday was cut short from a fall and shattered heel.

The youthful appearance she maintained had faded.  What originally appeared to be a woman in her late 60’s turned out to be a woman of 85.  This had long been my suspicion but the scars behind her ears and her patient file confirmed my assumption.

It came to light rather quickly that our neighbor had no one in the world. She was a childless barren widowed with a few first cousins twice removed.  Her estranged family lived in Palm Beach and Boca but had not seen her in decades.
The entire experience tested the phrase, “God gives you no more than you can handle.”  She became the meanest and nastiest old woman.  She was a combination between the fictional characters Norma Desmond and Baby Jane Hudson.  The old crow fired 17 nurses, helpers and maids in five months.  She was nightmare and became the neighbor I wish I had never met.
The ones that surround you are the ones that shape your life.  They teach you about the important things.  This woman taught me so very much in such a short period of time.  Most importantly, she taught me how NOT to live my life.
I never wavered in my convictions and persisted through her recovery.  It was up me to help her because she had no one who cared.  I wanted to pay a good deed forward.  I knew one day I might need someone to show me the same compassion.  I also refused any compensation. I did this thankless job only because I truly cared.

I froze as I pulled the balsa wood glider from my desk drawer.  This small piece of wood changed my destiny.  This entire set of events had changed my outlook and future.  It made me look at my next forty years with a different set of eyes.  I had forgotten that I had disassembled it and tucked it away.  Agatha Christie could not solve this mystery. How did a toy plane land on my balcony nine floors above the ground?

I have always believed that everything happens for a reason.  A dime store toy and cantankerous old woman started this chain reaction. These events changed my path in life.  They changed my outlook, direction and purpose.  Ultimately, all that occurred led me to my son.

These events may have happened by chance or by God’s divine intervention.  You will have to draw your own conclusion.  The entire experience shaped me in unimaginable ways.  As I now look into my son’s eyes I see my reflection and how far I have come in this world.  All I know is… I would take nothing for my journey now. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Family Tree

That afternoon held a reprieve for me. My son was down for the count on the living room floor. I breathed a sigh of relief as I carefully placed him into his bed. I had about an hour of freedom before he rose from his afternoon nap. I closed Brase’s bedroom door and stared intently at the hall closet. This was my window of opportunity but I was too exhausted from a long morning of child’s play.

I still could not remember and it was driving me crazy. I did the math in my head but the number was a little fuzzy. The question had come to me as I lay in bed the night before. What was the year… 84, 85 or 86?

I turned my inquiry away from my closet of personal archives and refocused on an Internet search. I typed my father’s name into the search bar and it all magically appeared. He died in June of 1985. I even retrieved his actual death certificate with a few additional key strokes.

I had stumbled upon one of the many genealogy sites on the web. I snooped a little further and tracked down an endless line of relations. The parade of relatives ended in 1691 with William and Queen Murphree in Dublin, Ireland. I laugh out loud because how many gay men have a great-grandparent named Queen. I felt a little gayer with that revelations!

I then visualized the magnitude of it. All the branches were twisted and tangled. My adopted relatives, my birth relatives, Brase’s birth relatives and all of Jose’s people spread out across a huge piece of paper. Brase’s family tree would need to be the size of a mural to record all the names. 

This had all come to light because of an unexpected connection of sorts. The exact details are irrelevant but loosely consist of a letter arriving via post. It’s part of a story that has been on-going for almost 30 years. It involves relations from all corners of the map. Most of them I have not seen or heard from my entire adult life.

It's complicated to say the least. We have an endless supply of siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins. All of which are not involved in the life Jose and I have built together. Most of which I would not recognize if I passed on the street.  I am more familiar with Queen Murphree than most of my living relations.

This brings me to my point. What about all the others? The people who unconditionally love and care for my family. The ones Brase refers to lovingly as Granny, GaGa, PawPaw and Mimi. Where do we put these people on the map? Where do I place these individuals that are not linked by blood or adoption decrees?

Our family seems to have grown outside traditional boundaries. The names don’t match with search criteria in genealogy sites. Ours is an unconventional group of people bound by emotion. Love is the tie that binds and keeps us together.

Our family's tree branches are out stretched with old limbs; most of which have died or been pruned.  The roots that keep us stable are those people nearest to us. The ones that interact in our daily lives.  These roots may not be relate, in a traditional way, but they are the ones that keep us grounded.  This is the true purpose of a family.  These are the people that bring meaning to our lives and deserve a proper place on our tree.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The adoption reunion reality...

The below article was published over the weekend in Dear Abby's long running advice column.  I find it interesting and a reality for many involved in the adoption triad.

Dear Abby,
When I was 25 I placed a baby girl for adoption. I made a decision I thought was best for her and for me. I am 50 now and still believe I made the right decision.

Last year she searched for and found me. I answered all her questions and eventually met with her and her parents. By all accounts she has a wonderful family and had a great childhood. We have stayed in touch through email.

She wanted to meet my family, but I put her off for months. Eventually I gave in, and she met some of my siblings and their families. She and her "cousins" get along well and stay in touch through Facebook or other social sites.

Abby, I feel nothing toward this girl. There is no maternal attachment. I did my job as a good mother and made sure she had the home I could not give her. If I never see her again it wouldn't bother me.

I have looked online for other women who feel as I do, but all I find are women in constant pain and sorrow over a child they gave up. I can't be the only woman who feels this way. I'm not looking for a way to change my feelings. I just need to know I'm not a cold-hearted freak. -- FINE WITH MY DECISION

DEAR FINE: You are not a cold-hearted freak. You're a woman who never bonded with her baby. Please stop beating yourself up for not feeling something for a person who is a virtual stranger. When I hear from other women who read this letter and who feel as you do -- please notice I didn't say "if" I hear from them -- I will share their thoughts with you. You have not been able to find a group online because they are not looking for support from others.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.