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Lost No Longer


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It’s a mystery even to me why I was so driven to find her.  As an adoptee, even I presumed my first inclination and desire would be to meet my birth mother, the very one who gave me life, who chose to carry me to term, who chose to give me up believing my life would be better in a stable environment.  And it’s true, I did want to meet her, desperately at times, and for some reason it was more important to me to meet my mother than my father.  But when I learned this woman, my mother, who either selfishly or selflessly had already chosen to go to term and give up another child a year before me, my drive to find them became duplicated.  Especially my sister.  I imagined what it was like to be her since in a sense I was already just like her, believing I had been the first born to my teenaged mother, not sure if she even survived the birth or her resulting adolescence, or adulthood.   My sister would be only a year older than me and less likely to have passed on than our mother.  I wondered if she looked like my kids.  I wondered if she had kids. I wondered if she looked like me.

I wondered if she even knew she was adopted. 

For 25 years, I searched.  I signed up for every adoption registry I could find, hoping she might have done so as well.  As the Internet progressed and became more searchable, I scrounged through message boards, search engines, and news stories looking for a woman born in Port Angeles in 1967 who was adopted.  I found a few, but nothing matched.  Every year I would try again, start over, hoping that the advances in technology would lend me a hand.  But every year produced the same results.

When I found my mother in 2016, I held new hope that she would have some useful tidbit of information to help me in my search for my sister, her daughter.  But the events leading to her birth were not mundane in any sense, resulting in my mother having trapped her own memories in a place she herself was unable to open.  All she could remember was that she was 15 when it happened, a man who offered to marry her was somehow involved, and she believed one of the obstetrics nurses was the person who cared for the baby after birth.  My mom recalled even going over to that woman’s home on several occasions, sitting unseen across the street or walking by, hoping to catch a glimpse of her daughter but without any success.

So I spit in a tube and sent my DNA to the Mormons, despite knowing they’d likely be praying for my soul for the next several generations.  The LDS church was king in the ancestry world, and I had met a few along the way who were eager to try and help.  I signed up for Ancestry.com and built my family trees.  Both of them.  Even a third for my wife, who sometimes blurred the social media lines between research and stalking.

Between my DNA analysis and the active Ancestry network, I found more than 1,000 cousins and a lineage which went back on both sides to pre-America times.  All very fascinating, but I still couldn’t find my sister.

Completely frustrated, I turned back to the original source, the adoption agency which had first told me that I had a sister.  I asked a helpful employee if my mom could get non-identifying information on her daughter, or if I could get that on my sister.  The woman told me neither was available due to the laws, but there was a simpler way which may prove successful.  “We could just do a search for her now.  If we find her, we could try to make contact with her and see if she is willing to share information or participate in a reunion.  A letter usually is best, so if we find her, you could send her a letter, if you want to.”

If I want to? 

I gave her the go-ahead.  A few days later, she called back.  “Alan, I think I’ve found her.”

I literally shook.  Shivered.  The words still take my breath away.

“Her name is Sandra.  She lives somewhere in Idaho.  That’s all I can tell you at this point.”

It took me until the next morning to calm down enough to write the letter.  The joy I felt just knowing she was real, knowing she was alive, was beyond words.  I tried to temper my hope with the reality that these things don’t always work out.  Rejection was on the table.  She could be a freakish cult-leader, a criminal, or a Crossfit vegan.  Maybe she was raised by wolves or had too many cats or husbands.  But maybe, just maybe, she might be like me.

August 2, 2018

Dear Sandra,

This letter likely comes to you as at least some sort of a surprise, so let me start with the basics.  First, it appears you and I are related: I am your brother, likely your half-brother by birth. 

I was born in June, 1968 in Port Angeles and immediately adopted.  In the 1990’s, I requested non-identifying information from the adoption agency, Children’s Home Society of Washington, and learned my birth mother had previously relinquished a child for adoption one year earlier.  Yesterday, I learned that child is you.

For the years that followed the discovery that I had a sister somewhere, I set on a search to try and find you, our mother, and my birth father.  What I didn’t expect was to find other siblings along the way…it turns out I have another half-sister and a half-brother who was born to my birth-father.  The sister’s name is Melissa; she is 51 now.  The brother is Russell, he is now 56.  I met them two years ago for the first time.  Melissa lived in my neighborhood in Edmonds, Washington for years.  We ran in some of the same circles but never met.  Crazy!

I never expected to see a sibling who looked like me.  Same eyes, cheeks, nose…all that stuff I never had growing up.  More than anything, Melissa’s intellect is almost identical to mine.  My wife loves this part; she finds it fascinating to watch the two of us interact now. 

I want to assure you that I really have no expectations or demands.  Hope, yes of course…however I understand the real need for privacy and the reality that this sort of thing has the unfortunate risk of emotional disruption.  All I know about you at this point is that you live somewhere in Idaho and your name is Sandra.

About me: I am 50 years old, I live and work in Edmonds as a police officer, I have 5 kids who are now adults (or pretending at least), and I have a serious knack for music.  I attended WSU as a music student, which led me right into law enforcement (for real!) in Latah County, Idaho.  My first wife and I moved to Boise in 1993, then returned to Washington in 2001.  She left our family in 2008, leaving me with full custody of the children.  I married my wife Kristen in 2011; she’s crazy-wonderful and is standing over my shoulder right now, so I gotta say that.  Ouch! 

My adopted parents were good; far from perfect of course, but good people who gave me a good upbringing.  Both are deceased now.  They were honest about my adoption from the start and encouraged me to search for my birth family when I became an adult or wanted to learn more.

In 2015, I learned the names of my birth parents due to the change in the law allowing adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates.  Sandra, I realize you may or may not know you were adopted, and I hope so much that this was not news for you.  Either way, I’m available to work it through if you are interested.

And that’s where I’ll leave it for now.  If you are interested, please let me know.  You can contact me directly through Children’s Home Society, or by simply showing up at the Edmonds Police Department demanding to see the duty Sergeant…which, half the time, is me.  J

All my best,

Alan


The agency employee said to expect at least two or three weeks before any reply, likely more.  The optimist in me argued otherwise, but a couple days later I did my best to just set the matter aside. Two weeks later, Kristen and I were able to squeeze out a 5-day vacation to take our boat to the San Juan Islands and get distracted from our otherwise busy lives.  

Due to the short time available, we decided at the last minute to head to the Olympic Penninsula and maybe drop in to see my birth mother in Sequim on the way back from Port Angeles.  I was always drawn to Port Angeles, not in a metaphysical way but because being born there provided all sorts of curiosity over the years.  Every time I’d visit I wondered if I’d have that chance meeting with a relative.

After tying the boat off at the city marina I walked to the office to pay the guest moorage and meet the Harbormaster.  While overlooking the boats in the city of my birth, I got the call.

“Alan, your sister has responded.  She was overwhelmingly excited to find out she has a brother and wants to learn more.  Eventually, she is willing to meet you.”

I found out several things in the span of five minutes, the kind of things that drive adopted people totally nuts.  My sister had a son who had become a law enforcement officer in the same little college town in Idaho where my own career started.  My sister worked in the medical field.  My sister never knew she had a brother, or would ever be able to find out anything about her blood relatives.  But now she was willing to proceed.

“When she’s ready, she wants to communicate via text message.  I’d anticipate another two weeks before she actually reaches out, Alan.  She has some paperwork to send back to us and probably needs some time to digest it all.  But she will reach out, I’m sure of it.”

“Thank you so much,” I told her.  “I can’t believe it’s finally happened.”

And with that, my entire world just stopped.  My insides twisted in all manner of beautiful emotion while a massive sense of relief came over me.  A most incredible journey had suddenly ended.  I hung up the phone and stared at the horizon with Port Angeles at my back.  “The final chapter,” I said out loud.  It took me several minutes to compose myself and stop the flow of tears. 

Then I ran.  I have no idea why.  I just ran.  And skipped.  And spun and twirled and threw my hands into the air and laughed and pulled my hair and shouted to the heavens like a crazy man.  I jogged back to the head of the dock, down the ramp, past the onlookers, to the end of the dock where our boat was moored. 

After trying to explain my behavior unsuccessfully to my understanding wife, I made the call to my birth mother.  She fell apart just like me.  Or maybe the other way around, but either way the joy was pure and amazing.  I tempered her expectations, reminding her that her daughter may not want contact right away, but she did want to learn more. 

“I’ve waited fifty years, I don’t mind waiting a few more if necessary,” she said.

The next two weeks I was like a child waiting for a promised prize from the cereal box contest I’d won.  I kept my phone with me constantly, ringer set to loud, jumping at every blip on the radar.  Finally, after precisely two weeks as the agency employee expected, Sandy wrote.

“Hi!  This is Sandy, your sister.  I still can’t believe I have a brother & that you looked for me through the years.  It means the world to me!!  I’m very Excited & Nervous as Hell!  I hope you don’t mind the text, I didn’t know if you were working today.  If you are, I hope you have a great day.”

I intentionally waited at least three minutes before replying, trying to manage my own pace.

“Well hello there!  I am working, which only means I’m available for any important thing.  Like this thing.  I can’t believe this has finally happened…I’m so freaking excited!  And now I’m at my desk in uniform with watery eyes and a supremely goofy smile.  Probably looks weird to the passers-by…they’ll get over it.”

She responded right away.

“I couldn’t believe it when I read your letter.  I really thought someone was messing with me.  It was too coincidental…Latah County is where my son started his career.  He is now working for Meridian Police Department where where your son now lives.  His wife went to WSU like you did.  I have a brother that lives in Seattle less than twenty miles from you.  It’s Crazy!  Look for a friend request on Facebook.”

I went straight to the app, thumbed my way to her page, and for the first time, saw my sister.  Open the flood gates.

She was super tall, beautiful, happy, and pleasant.  And she didn’t look much like me at all.  She looked like our mom.  As I scrolled through her timeline, it dawned on me: she talked like our mom.  She had the same smart-ass sense of humor.  High cheek bones, ears, eyes…all there.  I pulled up a photo I had of our mom from when she was in her early thirties.  Matchy-matchy.  She was more refined than our mom, more reserved perhaps.  She apparently had a good stable home in which to grow up, with good relationships and support, something our mom never really had.

This was an unanticipated sense of fulfillment. I had hoped like crazy to have a sister who was a near-twin, someone who would compliment me in some way or like some of the same things I did.  We discovered plenty of overlap over the next few days, but the most satisfying part was drawing the link between Sandy and our mom.  I was surprised to learn Sandy’s yearning while growing up was not so much to learn about her mother, as it was to learn about her father.

And with that, the quest was launched again, this time with a new goal.  Sandy and I set our expectations of each other low, but quickly found a strong desire to be in touch almost every day.  A few months later, we met in Boise for the first time.

I couldn’t have been happier.
Her first words to me when we met were appropriate, given her very tall stature.  "Well, you're a lot shorter than I expected!"

Yep.  Definitely my sister.

Our mom at age 19: 


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