Thursday, August 6, 2009

the first meeting

If you're just picking up on this story now, you should read this first.

My first few conversations with Matt and Buddy were frantic and fractured and awesome. You can imagine how it would be, I'm sure, as you're trying to explain who you are and what you do to people who are intensely interested in everything you say - all the while you are just as interested to hear the same from them: the details of a life in a few jumbled sentences. It was in these early conversations that we emailed pictures - I'll never forget talking to Matt as I sat in the den, waiting for a single photo to come online: my first glimpse at my brother, my first images of people who actually looked like me.

In those phone calls and emails they filled in the holes for me about my birth mother Connie, her vibrant personality - her love of craft projects and handmade items (crocheting, sewing, painting, furniture refinishing). How she was always busy. So many years later and they miss her still.

I found out a vast medical history (so very welcome) and understood some of my own tendencies and challenges mirrored in the lives of this family.

I found out about Buddy - how incredibly intelligent and sharp he is. This is a guy who worked on the NASA Apollo Missions. A guy with a natural talent for math and science (something I certainly did NOT inherit). He worked for the oil and gas industry as a consultant and engineer. He lived overseas for a time. He traveled. He is also very humble and willing to make huge sacrifices. After Connie's death, he took whatever jobs he needed to in order to stay close to home, to provide stability for Matt. He is honest about his mistakes, his foibles, his regrets. He is the first to tell you that he has not been a perfect father, but he tries. He tries every day.

You can see his efforts in Matt (or is it vice versa?). Matt is strong, focused, driven. He loves to learn new things, is happiest when he's doing physical exercise, and speaks Spanish fluently. Matt's wife, Ana, is from Argentina. She is beautiful and serene. Matt is a school teacher. He is both playful and earnest, obsessively makes lists (we had a long enjoyable talk about this particular tidbit, let me tell you, so weird to see such a strange little glitch manifest itself in both of us).

There were times when all of this talking was so overwhelming I wanted to hide in my closet for a year. So much to discuss. We began talking in July 2007 and by October they were ready to arrange a meeting - fly to Seattle so we could spend time together. I declined. It was too soon, too much, I needed more time.

Being pregnant during this time was a lifesaver for me. Bean was a beautiful preoccupation. She anchored me deep within my body, which is exactly what I needed. Looking back at all of it, her presence pushed me into a thick coccon of my skin. It was safe there, it was quiet. I could sink into that place when I felt scared of the intense amount of attention.

Which is to say, I am extremely introverted. It's one of the truest things I've ever understood from one of those work-personality-pigeon-hole-test-things:
"You are an introvert. You do not get energy from being around people. You need long stretches of time alone to feel energized."

To know this about me helps to explain why I pushed back the first meeting date a few times. I wanted to store up the energy to be able to survive. We decided on late January 2008.

As the time drew near, I became more and more worried that the reality of me would be disappointing. Both Matt and Buddy were reading this blog by then, a peek into my every day ramblings. I probably don't need to tell other bloggers out there how hard it can be to meet someone face-to-face who has been a regular reader of your blog. The things you put in writing might be pithy and funny and sharp, but that doesn't mean you can carry on a decent conversation to save your life. (Future blog readers who I meet in real life: YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED, we might just stare at each other until one of us gets courageous enough to leave.) Chip was a lifesaver, of course. He supported my indecision. He coddled my insecurities. He promised he'd protect me if I felt like I was going to fall apart.

So they came to Seattle for a long weekend. I wore my favorite striped socks to the airport that night. I couldn't believe how little they looked (note to Matt and Buddy: Um, sorry about that - I think I even SAID that, "Wow, you guys are SO TINY!"). Which, we're not talking munchkin little, or even super-short little. Just average-little. Like 5'7". Buddy wore cowboy boots. Matt wore glasses. Ana was so easy to talk to, and I loved her immediately.

We went to a Shari's down by the airport to get a little something to eat - me and my very pregnant self, starving for food and in the end I think I only pecked at my salad. There were pictures to look at, conversations to have. Buddy gave me two umbrellas from their recent trip to Argentina. It was a nod to a post I'd just written about my leaking umbrella.

Matt and I have the exact same hands. That's one of my strongest memories of this visit: Matt and me standing in the entryway of The Last Homely House, comparing our hands, marveling at the same fingers, the same lines --- how those fingertips grasped so many different experiences to bring both of us here, for us to talk about them and share them.

Buddy was a little quiet at times, but if I caught him unawares he was smiling. He marveled at the color of my hair, said it reminded him so much of Connie. I felt her presence more times than I can say that weekend, this mother who has always been a fuzzy image, becoming more sharp and defined with every story.

The visit passed in a blink. Most of it spent in conversation, sharing stories. We looked at photo albums. They gave me pictures of Connie, and later even sent an afghan that she had made. We did a little bit of sightseeing, and even managed to meet up with Chip's mom and dad for dinner. Dawn and Dan brought a cake for my thirty-fourth birthday that had just passed. This was the one and only time they met Chip's dad. He died just a few short weeks later.

So before I knew it, their visit was over, they flew back to New Mexico, we picked up our daily craziness to welcome Alice into the world.

I remember talking to my dad, to Winston, sometime later. Mom and dad were here for Alice's birth, and Winston was discussing all the events that had transpired in the last couple of years. At that time I was mostly quiet about the experience of meeting my birth family. Winston understood. he told me it was a sacred experience. He knew that I didn't want to treat it lightly or throw the memories into thoughtless hands. He's still right about that, but in time I've come to understand that your hands are strong, that you will pass this story on with deep respect.

I have to tell you, if it feels like there is a melancholy gauze drawn over these memories, there is. It's there in every image I recall, every conversation I'm thinking about. Not because the visit was a sad one. The sorrow, the melancholy are not part of the visit itself, but the time and the timing. Alice's birth. Dan's death. These things have mixed together to form a blanket that covers everything I think about from that spring. I want to present an image that is bright and welcoming, but at the moment I'm only painting in shades of gray.

Red is coming. As well as green, yellow, orange. Waiting in tomorrow's installment: meeting the rest of the clan.

Until then.


Anonymous said...

This is so fascinating to me. I love it!!!

If you will, please, include how your new relationship with Buddy and Matt has affected our relationship with your parents. I know they support you, I know they love you, but I can't help but think if it were me, it'd rip my heart out. Or maybe that's just me.

MzEll said...

Thank you for sharing all of this, and trusting our hands as well.

Amanda said...


Spadoman said...

I'm still here, reading, waiting to hear what else you have to say. Thanks so much for sharing this part of your life with us, with me. Nothing like real events, truths being told, stories of the moments in the lives of real people. Everyone has a life, not everyone shares, and none so fine a writer as you, mixing emotions and feelings with pictures of expressions and the clothes you're wearing, (striped socks).
Wonderful work. Hope you are saving it all somewhere for Alice to read to her children.


Swistle said...

Three things:

1. It seems so astonishing, almost like you slipped through a crack in the family. It seems like such small changes would have resulted in you growing up with Buddy and Connie and Matt and never even KNOWING the family that became your family. Never knowing them!

2. And if that had happened, you would now someone whose mother died when she was eleven. That would have been awful.

3. The introverted thing: *clicking rings of Introversion*

M said...

Oh my friend. Every time I think about those few months leading up to Alice's entrance I am floored, FLOORED I tell you, to think about everything that happened, how much you had to do, to go through, to experience, to meet, to greet and to absorb.

How did you do it? How did you make it through? and WHY didn't you tell me to come at another time? I was totally superfluous to all of that and merely adding the pressure of Oh.My.Heck.Someone.Is.In.House.

I love you tons. Can I come back this Spring?