‘We Always Called You Jason’
Her name is Nancy H., Daughter of Helen H., daughter of Gene H., deceased. She is 52. She is once divorced, once widowed. She is a tollbooth collector in St. Petersburg Florida. She is childless. She is my Mother.
His name is Don J.. He is 66. He was a cop. He was a tuxedo store owner. He somehow lost a thumb in an accident. He has 4 children: Don Jr., John, Joe and Debbie. In 1999 he found out that he actually had 5 children.
I have always held the title of “adopted” as a badge of honor. It makes me different, it makes me interesting. In my family, it was never the taboo topic that is portrayed in TV and other media. I was never “special because I was CHOSEN”; I was just my parents’ child. And adopted
I have spent my whole life answering curious but ignorant, and often annoying questions:
“Do you like your foster parents?” “I am not a foster child”
“Is your brother your real brother?” “Yes, he’s my real brother.” “No, I mean your REAL brother.”
And, depending on how I am feeling, I answered this question two different ways:
1) “Do you ever wish you could find your real parents?” “My adopted parents ARE my real parents.”
2) “Do you ever wish you could find your real parents?” “Yes.”
So I did.
As I went through my horrible rebellions as a teen, I often fantasized about my “real parents.” My Mother is a beautiful, lovely, brilliant woman (of course, we all think that), who spends her life wondering about her child, and tirelessly searches for me, realizing her terrible mistake. In my imagination, this sounded so beautiful and pure, fairy tale-like. When I found out that this story I made up in my head was partly true, that she had in fact spent her whole life wondering about me, and let it virtually ruin her, the purity of my fantasy was tainted.
When I was 18, I began my search in earnest. Many states, including Connecticut have search services for adoptees and birth mothers who want to find each other. My agency, Jewish Family services would, at my request, find my Birth Mother, contact her, and tell her that I was interested in finding her. She could then accept, and receive my info, or decline, and that would seal the case forever. She declined, or so I thought. That slap in the face was enough to make me stop searching for almost a decade. The other slap in the face was that the agency had not even attempted to contact her, and had lied to me. I didn’t find that out for many years though.
My reasons for the search at that time were not the same a decade later. In 1987, I hated my parents, hated myself, and was as destructive as I could possibly be. My search was my attempt to escape my enemies, and find the family I knew would love me and accept me. Who UNDERSTOOD me. Had I found my Birth Family then, I would have made a mess of it, not that I did a whole lot better in 1999.
I look like Nick Nolte. I REALLY look like Nick Nolte. In my lifetime, hundreds of people have told me that. Friends, talent agents, passers-by. One of the things that non-adopted children take for granted is that they know who they look like. Good or bad, they know why they have their eyes, nose, hair, smile, degenerative heart condition, big feet, big ass, small ears. Partly due to conditioning, partly due to fantasy, partly due to a lack of anyone else to be related to by blood, I was convinced that I was Nick Nolte’s child. I read every bio, every movie’s location, every everything, trying to prove that Nick Nolte was in the Connecticut area on or around October 1968. There was no doubt in my mind, and though I may have embellished some facts, I could prove that it was at least possible that he was my father.
Maybe he was in New York doing a play back then, or maybe he was in school. Maybe he decided that a weekend in exciting Avon, CT was just the thrill he needed, after facing night after night of boring NYC, tedious LA. Regardless, it was POSSIBLE that he was my father, therefore in my head, true.
This kind of fantasy, as it turns out, is very common with adoptees. I recently met a woman who spent a long time convinced that she was Meg Tilly’s sister. And it wasn’t Jennifer.
Through my 20s, I was content with this fantasy, and felt less of a need to find my birth family. At the same time I was rebuilding all the bridges I had burnt with my family, and was beginning to understand what I now know: My family, Neal, Sue and Mike, Esther, Louis (dec.), Goldie (dec.), Leon (dec.), ARE my real family. I am my parents’ child. No blood is necessary.
When my bridges were back up, and my life good, The need to search came creeping back, this time because I wanted to know, rather than needed to know. I searched Birth registries for notes from my Birth mother. I talked with other adoptees. I became an EXPERT on finding people without knowing their name. In my search, I helped four other people make contact, and became a semi-celebrity in the adoption world. I just couldn’t find MY Birth parents. I was outspoken supporting reunions. I kept an online journal that was read by thousands of people. I was receiving hundreds of emails a day, and my advice was passed along across the country.
Finally, as I ran out of conventional options, I went to the library, and went through the birth announcements, July 12, 1969, St. Francis hospital. I was not mentioned for obvious reasons, but the other 10 or so births that day were. Many of the families still lived in the Hartford area, so I called them. I asked them if they remembered sharing a room with a 5’6 blond woman, 18, (non-identifying information is usually available for adoptees), no husband with her. Everyone I talked to wanted so hard to be helpful, and I even got some leads out of it. One father was a rabbi, and he remembered my Birth Mother. He knew she was from Avon, CT, She was very pretty, but he couldn’t remember her name. It was so long ago I’m sorry, good luck. Still, it invigorated me, and it made her real, as if my existence wasn’t enough proof for my brain.
Using some of my new evidence, I got in touch with a woman who “found” adoptees and birth parents. My guess is that she works for the state or the county, and to make ends meet, she looks up confidential or sealed records.
Midday, whispering voice on the other end of the line:
“Get a pen, Nancy H., Avon, CT. Good luck.” Click. Never heard from her again, never knew her name.
Now I knew, now what? I looked her up in the phone book, but no Nancy Harris. I knew this would happen. She is married, she has moved, she is dead. I was no better off than I was 10 minutes ago. And H.?? Doesn’t sound Jewish, though I have always been told that I don’t look Jewish, though religions don’t have looks I suppose.
Avon High School probably archives their yearbooks right? What if Nancy still lives in town? What if she is a teacher at the school, what if I open up a past she wanted secret? Am I about to ruin a life? She is married with children, and I am her secret that she never told. I made the selfish decision that it was my right to find out, regardless of the consequences, something that I later criticized in others, and my criticism got me my first, and only (Thank God) death threat. I would advise others to avoid death threats at all costs. They are terrifying and very unpleasant.
The librarian was very nice, and the fact is, as evidenced by Springers, and Oprahs, and Rikkis, people eat shit like this up. She couldn’t WAIT to look up Nancy H. , class of ’65, maybe ’66, maybe ’67, oh I don’t know, can you look them all up for me please? Sure. Hold on.
The fax machine in the Human Resources Department, Little, Brown and Co. was surrounded by my co-workers as the snip-click-snap of the paper fed through it, etching my first ever relative on the page. Slower than I thought possible, and wouldn’t you know it, upside-down, so I saw my Mother’s hands, breasts, neck, before I saw her face. It took forever.
She was beyond beautiful. Innocent, shy smile, hands folded, bouffantish hair.
Same eyes as me
Same nose as me
I looked like someone for the first time in my life. It was magic. I was looking at my Birth mother.
The excitement of the picture kept me sated for a while, and my original plan, prior to finding out her name, and subsequently her picture was to ONLY get a picture. I just wanted to find out why I looked the way I did. The search is like a drug, the high wears away, and one needs more to achieve the same level of ecstasy. I thought the name and picture would be enough, but I was soon on my way towards finding and meeting my people.
In the notes under Nancy’s high school picture was a dedication to Helen, her Mom, my Grandmother. This was my only new lead to finding them.
There are a lot of Helen H.’s in Connecticut. I know because I talked to almost every one of them. For the record, based on my experiences, People named Helen H. are extremely nice overall. If you ever meet one, chances are you will go away happy. Every one of them that wasn’t my Grandmother was sympathetic, helpful, and wished me all the best. After I found MY Helen H., I ended up calling many of them back, as they made me promise to do so if and when I found mine.
“Is this Helen H.?’
“Yes, who is this?”
“ I am not sure I have the right Helen H.. Do you have a daughter named Nancy?”
“Yes, who is this?”
“ If you have a daughter named Nancy, then I think I am your Grandson.”
“Is this Jason?”
“ We always called you Jason.”
This is nearly verbatim, the first conversation I had with a blood relative.