Thursday, October 1, 2009

Family: Chapter Fourteen- Raincoat

I rummaged through the closet, looking for my raincoat. Several years ago, Marlboro ran a promotion where heavy smokers could earn merchandise by saving proof of purchase from cigarette packs. I used my points to buy a red Marlboro rain slicker. It’s pretty cool. When it rains, the jacket proudly announces to the world that I am a heavy smoker. Anyway, after several months of raping other peoples empty packs for points, I finally earned a sweet rain slicker. Obviously now my friends would think I am nine kinds of awesome! I wore it for a few days and then quickly forgot about my brief obsession with cigarette themed gear.
Years passed. I got married, switched jobs, had a kid. The usual stuff really, barely worth mentioning. I experienced all the typical day to day stresses that I am certain most men feel. A decade slipped past before I’d even noticed.
One Tuesday afternoon my wife and I had a fight. It seemed pretty serious at the time. Outside the rain was pouring down in sheets. I hated arguing, in fact I still do. I an effort to avoid conflict, I threatened to leave, planning to spend the night at the local Holiday Inn. I had done this before, it’s always been my preference to take the cowardly way out. My wife claimed I was avoiding conflict, but the truth is, I wanted to escape before I caused damage that I could not repair.
I rummaged through the closet looking for a jacket. The contents of the closet were unfamiliar to me as we had recently moved into our new house. I swear I could never find a goddamned thing around this house. I was positive she had rearranged my coats just to confound my escape. In a rage I seized upon the red Marlboro jacket, yanking it around my shoulders in a huff. With shoes untied, I barged out the door into the rain.
I stood on the porch, fumbling through my pockets for the car keys. My fingers dug through the jacket’s many zippered pouches and found something I did not expect. It was my daughter’s pacifier.
In her younger years she would not go anywhere without it. It was a rubber pacifier, attached by a long cloth cord to a clip shaped like Winnie the Pooh. We used it often, attaching it to her little blue coat so it would not be lost. Losing the nookie often drove her into an ear shattering tantrum. Everywhere she went, the binky followed, attached to her like a life line.
I stood on the porch, holding the pacifier in my right hand. I turned it over and over. Thunder crashed. I realized this thing must have been in my pocket for almost ten years. I had almost forgotten about it. It seemed so small in my hand …. almost looking as though it had shrunk. It felt warm and heavy. Of course that was impossible- it was made of rubber and white plastic.
I looked at the pacifier. It seemed precious, more valuable than ten miracles. I held it in the palm of my hand.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Family: Chapter Thirteen- The Reason Why My Wife's Search For Her Birth Family Reminds Me of "The Empire Strikes Back"

For months, my wife had been searching for her birth family. I never put much faith in this quest. It's not that I doubted her determination, but the odds just seemed stacked against her. All the government agencies were as useless as you might imagine, and any records not destroyed by fire were restricted by the state of Maryland.
I could only imagine that some adopted children must feel a sense of longing and emptiness, and I tried to remain as supportive as I could. Regrettably, I had always known my own birth family, and though I would gladly trade them for any unwashed band of roving gypsies, at least I could claim them as my own. Which I often do…. for example, in a police line- up or bail hearing.
This much we knew. Kim’s birth mother was originally from Hagerstown MD, and died in mysterious circumstances shortly after the adoption process begun. We had no name, no known relatives, and a trail that had been cold for over thirty years. There was only a rumor, diluted by the decades, that the original birth mother had died as a result of a car accident. It was suggested in some circles that this unfortunate young woman may have even thrown herself into the path of oncoming traffic. Of course, there was no way for us to verify any of these rumors, and my wife grew visibly more emotional.
Of course if you know Kim, then you already know that a wall of impossibility means nothing to her. Obstinate to a fault, she refuses to concede to even the most meaningless disagreement. Trust me; after 20 years, I have come to accept this.
So anyway, after several fruitless efforts of contacting agencies, hospitals and courtrooms, she decided to switch tactics. She remembered that we do live in a modern age, after all, so she began Googling old newspaper archives. Of course I found her halting attempts at using technology charming, but expected very little in the way of real results. Remember, we are talking about a woman who finds cell phones intimidating. Not that my opinion would have mattered much anyway.
I am sitting on my back porch drinking a Molson. The beer is cold, so cold that the bottle is sweating in the August sun. I have had four or five and I am really starting to feel it. Ever since I started my new job, my drinking has increased. That’s saying quite a bit- if I hadn’t mentioned it earlier I am Irish. I am talking on the phone to a friend, when the back door comes crashing open and Kim tumbles out. Instantly I can tell something has happened- her face is a mask of turbulent emotion. She clutches a handwritten letter. She is bursting, apoplectic. I can’t understand her words but suddenly I see the flowery stationery and understand.
In this way I learn that my family has grown. Across the years, her arrow has struck its target. I am silent as she begins calling her friends and adoptive family (the one I already know), with the news. There are no words I can use to describe the power of this moment.
Suddenly I find myself remembering a great scene from one of my favorite movies, The Empire Strikes Back. In the very beginning, the heroes go missing in the Ice, and of course, everyone assumes that the heroes are dead, but send out a search party anyway. The snowspeeder has been searching for Han and Luke all night even though there is no way that the heroes’ could have survived the sub- zero temperatures of the Ice Planet Hoth. Surely they are both beyond rescue- all hope is lost!
The words of the snowspeeder Pilot ring in my ears as I set down my bottle and run to my sobbing wife. She is literally an explosion of emotional release. I can hear the Pilot’s report crackle over the radio:
“Echo Base, this is Rogue Two, I found them….”
I leap up to hold her, and now her tears glitter like the Snows of Hoth.
“Repeat, I found them!”