The letter from the Illinois Adoption Registry and Medical Information Exchange service came out of the blue. I had received my original birth certificate five years ago. Why were they contacting me again? It had to be an administrative blunder. Instead the envelope contained information on someone I had never heard of before. A quick search on Facebook (the fastest means I could envision to reach out and solve this mystery) and a Facebook message exchange led to an immediate response. This mystery person, Larry, was born two years earlier than me from the same birth mother and was adopted soon afterwards.
How could this be? At Larry’s request, I contacted the elder son of my birth mother. Again I was delivering news that left him stunned. He talked with his siblings and they agreed they would not bring this news to their (our) mother since my appearance had been distressing. He did reach out directly to Larry and at some point we hope to all get together. He also filled in the final piece of the puzzle on my birth – telling me who my birth father was and letting me know of the loving relationship my birth parents shared for many years. I can’t express the peace that arises from knowing my origin story.
In the weeks that followed, Larry and I began a series of tentative communications — a phone call, a few emails, an exchange of photos and opening of our social media worlds through Facebook. We were strangers with no connection for the first 50+ (Okay it is only one year from my 60th birthday but I can hold on to the prior decade for a while longer) years of our lives. While we came from the same womb and started our lives in small towns in Illinois, my family had moved to upstate New York during my high school years where I later attended college before moving to Washington DC to attend law school. While Larry worked his way up in the Reynolds Kitchen factory in Jacksonville, I moved through the nonprofit, policy, political and philanthropic worlds of our nation’s capital.
What did it mean to share the same birth mother? That is a question that will take years to answer but we knew that we wanted to meet. I planned the next stage of my rambles to travel to Larry’s hometown and Linda decided to join me. Larry and I shared excitement and unease at the prospect of meeting. He and his wife could not have been more hospitable. We stayed in their home for two nights, met many of their children and grandchildren and toured the area. We told our stories, questioned each other and tried to process the fact that we each had a brother we never knew about. Unlike the other children of our birth mother that had stayed together as a nuclear family, we both had a different path and that offers a special bond.
The truth is I still don’t know what it all means. A few days after our time in Illinois, Linda and I saw the movie Three Identical Strangers about triplets who were separated at birth and did not reunite until they turned 19. The story takes astounding twists and turns that I will not convey (but it is well worth seeing). For me, I watched men who were approximately my age who were separated and raised by very different families. When they first reunited, they were inseparable and at times they looked like puppies romping around together and joking effortlessly. I thought of the years that we have lost and concocted idyllic images of little boys running through fields and playing games that were never to be. Of course, life is never so simple and sibling relationships are not the idealized image of an only child yearning for brotherly bonds.
But what does it mean to have a brother at this stage of my life? I don’t know but I’m not sure I need to have clarity today. What I do know is that we had a wonderful time together and that we have committed to deepen our conversation and relationship. On my first blog entry on this topic, Larry left a Facebook post – “He is a nice baby brother.” I like the sound of being a little brother!