Standing at the edge, I find myself fifty-nine, and wondering what it will feel like to turn sixty in January? Fifty-nine. The age my birthmother, Anita died. Young. She barely had gray hairs, her face from what I could see under the oxygen mask as she lay dying, was smooth, practically line free. My skin and complexion are like hers. I have two lines flanking my lips, my gray is minimal. Tiny patches upon the crown of my head sometimes refuse color. I remember Anita’s lack of gray was something I remarked upon.
“Those gray hairs appeared after she was admitted to the hospital Wednesday,” her sister-in-law Renora said. She sat across the bed from me, easing me into the room where Anita lay breathing laboriously under an oxygen mask. As Renora spoke, I sat staring for the first time at the woman who had birthed me. The machines near Anita’s head tick, tick, clicking. I had flown to Minneapolis from San Francisco that morning. Driving straight on to Duluth. It was February 20th, 1999, a day I will remember, because Gene Siskel of Siskel and Ebert died. It’s odd the things that demarcate a life—a memory, the things I was interested in when I sat beside my birthmother as she lay dying. Backpacking the Sierra. Kayaking the San Francisco Bay. And going to endless movies with girlfriends on Friday and Saturday nights. In 1999, I was thirty-eight, and fifty-nine was on the distant horizon.
What possessed Anita to let herself go to the point of getting pneumonia? After Anita died, her ex-husband gave me her family photo album and scrapbook. One afternoon a friend and I sat flipping through the pages wondering about Anita.
“Look,” my friend said, “this must have been taken after you were born. Her eyes don’t sparkle like they did in her younger pictures.” We deduced Anita had lost the will to live. Something I can surmise, but will never know.
Fifty-nine, and I find myself standing on the edge of an age Anita didn’t reach, and I wonder what it would have been like to have opportunity for conversation with her? To talk and inquire into the unanswered questions.
Why did she make the journey from Duluth to Los Angeles?
How had she learned about the maternity home where I was born?
Why didn’t she tell my Bio-dad before she left?
Why had she given me the last name of a prominent physician in Duluth?
Had she ever thought of me?
Had I ever thought of her?
I have to admit I don’t recall giving her much thought as a child, a teenager, until the moment I discovered you can search for a birthmother. I never wondered what she chose for a career, did she marry, did she suffer her decision leaving me in Los Angeles and returning to Duluth? My adopted mom was a presence, a force to be reckoned. When I did start wondering about Anita in college, my mom and I were still arguing about curfews and boyfriends, could I take the car while home for summer break from Iowa State. One didn’t defy my mother. Mom was my mother, and I didn’t dare think otherwise.
Standing on the edge of fifty-nine, knowing I hadn’t wondered, why does it all still matter? Perhaps it’s about the unknown—the things you can’t have become the things you want most?
Standing on the edge of fifty-nine, I want to enter a new decade free from questions, a clean slate, the ability to mold the rest of my life like shaping an object from clay. There comes a point, a reckoning, when the things you can’t know have to give way to the things you do. And with that realization comes a calm—a centering peace where all that matters is what one knows within.
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