The call came at 7 o'clock Thursday evening--it was my niece, but she talks so softly that I always have a hard time distinguishing her voice.
"Hi Aunt Katie, what are you doing?"
"Nothing. What's going on?"
"Are you coming over to our house?"
"I wasn't planning on it. Why?"
"Didn't you get my mom's email?"
"Apparently not. What's going on?"
"We found Matt, and he's here, but his name is Alex now. Do you want to come over and meet him?"
22 years ago my older sister had a baby at the age of 17. She was still in high school, naive, and clinging to an abusive relationship with the baby's father. With no income to speak of and a desire to continue living life as a teenager, she and my parents decided it would be best to put the baby up for adoption.
Matthew was born 4 weeks premature and spent the first month of his life in the neonatal unit at Children's Hospital. He came home to live with us for another 5 months or so before being placed with a foster family, and was adopted shortly after.
I was only 4-years-old at the time, the youngest in my family, and while I don't remember much I do remember acting as any 4-year-old does to having a living, breathing, crying, eating baby in the house--I loved him to death. I always wanted to hold him, to cuddle with him, to treat him just like all of my other baby dolls, because that's what he was to me--a real, live doll. He and I were all dressed up one day and taken to a photography friend of my mom's for pictures. Some of the photos were of just him, some of them were of me and my Rainbow Bright doll, and some of them were of me holding him, so happy to have this cute little baby that I loved so much in my arms. Those photos would bring both joy and anguish to my family for many years to come.
It's so hard to tell what is truly my memory of that time or just things I was told later that have morphed into memories, but I think I knew what was going on, at least somewhat. I think I knew that he wouldn't be staying with us. I think I even remember driving with my mother and sister to the adoption agency to sign paperwork due to lack of babysitter, but I can't be certain. I do remember the arguments. I do remember my sister openly regretting the decision to give him away almost immediately. I do remember the all out yelling matches between my mom and sister when our mother found out she was unexpectedly pregnant with my little sister almost immediately following the adoption. That time in my life is defined mostly by the very vivid image of my sister standing in her bedroom, crying and screaming, "I want my baby back!" and my pregnant mother standing across from her looking defeated, not knowing how to console a very distraught daughter.
Life did go on though. My little sister was born. I had a new baby to play with, and my older sister severed ties to the downward spiral of a relationship with the father, graduated from high school, and moved out on her own. She gave birth to my niece 4 years later.
As I got older we didn't talk much about Matthew because I was afraid of opening old wounds, but I made it a habit to google his name every few months on the off chance that I would find something. I never found him, but I did find that my sister had signed up for multiple adoption websites with the little information she did have; birth name, date, time and place of birth, and the date of the adoption, all in the hopes that one day he would want to find her too, and she could be reunited with the son she felt she never should have let go.
Fast forward to March 10, 2008, a young man named Alex signs up on 43things.com with the goal of finding his birth parents. He knows his birth name is Matthew and he was born on the same date and at the same hospital as my sister's son. While I would like to say that I stumbled across this little gem in a googling frenzy, it did not happen that way. No, it gets a little more interesting than that. It was a young woman in California, searching for a brother who just so happened to have the name of Matthew, found both my sister's and Alex's posts, put two and two together, and contacted my sister with the information. My sister called Alex that night and told him that he'd found his birth mother.
I did go over to meet my long lost nephew after the call on Thursday night. I was skittish and apprehensive because I didn't know how to act. Do I even get to consider him my nephew? We may be related by blood, but I didn't play any role in his life let alone one of an aunt. And the few memories that I have, however distorted, wouldn't even register on his radar. However uncomfortable or self-conscious I felt, I knew it was something that I had to do, and so I went.
He's 22 years old. He grew up less than 5 miles from where my sister currently lives, and within walking distance of my old apartment. He graduated from the same high school where both of Jon's parents work, and we've all probably walked right past each other at the grocery store. He says he's had a very happy life, was adopted by a wonderful family, and can't wait to meet the rest of my wacky family. I'm told he looks a lot like his father, of whom I don't remember much except long, curly '80s hair, but I see my sister's narrow face and her smile, and smiling is what both of them are doing a lot of right now, knowing how lucky they are to have actually found the one stranger they were actively searching for.
I don't know where it goes from here. I know he's still looking for his father whom my sister lost touch with a long time ago, but she's pulling all her resources together to help find him. There has been a lot of talk about get-togethers and plans including Alex and I think that's wonderful. If he wants to become a permanent member of this family he will be and has been welcomed with open arms. His arrival has brought closure to so many of us who were there for those few months back in 1986, and even to those who only knew of him from stories.
My sister is elated and beside herself and for good reason. And I have to keep telling myself, "Yes, Katie, you really did meet your nephew the other day. It wasn't a dream."
To call it surreal is really an understatement.