Reunion–a mother and child reunite


Copyright 2014 by Paula Friedman

Number 3—on the door was the large number 3. The woman opened it; I stepped inside.

I said “You’re my kid.” He had risen. There were tears in his eyes. My arms had opened; we were holding each other. Shutting the door, the woman said “Take whatever time you like, we close at five.”

He had thick curls now; my hands were stroking them. It was his tears on my shoulders and cheeks.

“I didn’t know we’d—”

“What? Be ‘stylistically identical’?”

Abruptly we laughed, for two hours we talked and sometimes we laughed, we hugged each other and touched each other’s hands and cried. Soon it would be eight hours, sixteen hours, sixty, each tolling and chiming the lost years and new world.


Later I would return to it—his wide-open eyes upon me as we hugged goodbye, the clarity of his profile, feel of his skinny shoulders, warmth of his known long hands—all these fragments calling, burrowing into memory, fastening in so deep the usual content—what was said, the images—seemed lost before the stillness and peace.

The regular world had taken over again—my job, my young teenager—clamoring attention. But later that first evening, when I could lie down and recollect, only bits remained—and the sense of him in heart and womb.

Days alone, I would return to the agency, the long walk with the woman down the corridor, her “Have no expectations” and the people in the lunchroom glancing up, the number 3, the opened door, the lightness of those curls, his chin upon my shoulder and my hands upon his hair.

I showed him pictures. We gave each other pictures. I wrote his telephone number underneath his name. I gave him what I once had made and saved across the years. As if there is a bridge across the years.


The leftover chicken had been sautéed for lunch and I would be driving my teenager to Kids’ Connection (“We welcome youth with problems”) in an hour. The phone rang; I was beside it, kneeling on the floor.

He said it was he, I said “Thank God.” He said he too had had to work, I said “I know”; these voices were not our own.

After stopping by Kids’ Connection, it was not much longer. Cresting the hill, I saw the park, the fence, some people by the slides and on the grass. Nearer the bridge, he was moving toward me, holding something over his shoulder. Really he. Really here. My eyes “found it easier” not to focus; I stretched out my arms.

Our voices had no words. For the next eight hours we would hold each other and cry—on a bench, on a golden lawn. Any doubts, any puzzles, would be left behind. There were two birds on a branch; later I would buy a book to discover they were Steller’s Jays. There was the creek below, the light that changed, the sunset—and the fragments, glistening by light so bright, by light that chimed (that seemed to chime; it is the tears and widened pupils create this effect, we know).

This is the tenderness of paradise, the souls remet, the source; this is beyond all other love, is only love.

We were each totally vulnerable.


Beneath the trees and on a curb—another afternoon we clung beneath a staircase in the rain. Later he would give me one portrait so caring it hurt to see. We would query with the voices’ slow return. One afternoon I would have kissed the child to sleep. Where are the years; our arms encircle a peace.

In between came days to wait, the biding time, the hours of weeping as if reaching in the first days after birth, tenderness turned by waiting to mourning or fear. Learning to remember this person, rediscovering how to move through the pallid furnishings of a changed world—my damaged teenage son, the ordinary jobs and limits—how to make the days pass safely that came between.

I had given this kid up in adoption. This baby, now grown up, had found me.

“My life has been happy so far,” he would assure me.

One day he said “I asked how many found each other there”; I worked the figures in my head—so few. “It’s over now,” he soothed.

“That expression,” he added, “comes close—it was like having a hole, a void, inside.”


I could hold him; in the rain beneath the now-old stairs, still wordless in that earlier-than-language, that voice barely mine, surprised by its struggle, had cried “It wasn’t that I didn’t love you.” Conscious he already knew this.

He could hold me. We really are here.

There is no knowledge or ritual for this, no understanding of how little in tales or books is true, how wrong the theories of only loss and fear.


When he had phoned the agency, they had located my picture and letter in the file. Those parents had also signed a waiver; by state law of recent years, the rest was not physically hard. Then there was his wait, and for me the corridor, the number on the door.

“No, you were right, I wasn’t two weeks old.” He’d asked that Mom and Dad. “I’d been in foster care two months.”

I said “I have no picture of your father; photos came of ego, of the system we struggled against—Vietnam, the war. I had none of you until I went back and they gave me this—you, one month old; after ten years, their ‘policies had changed.’ That day, she left the file out on the desk; I never touched it, I thought, ‘That will be up to him, I have no right.’”

Turning from his worktable, he said he now found frightening to think of “the randomness,” the other possible lives. I exclaimed “But you’re the way I’d have you be! It wasn’t right, those years you didn’t know who . . .”


They say these early hours will pass, like—yet so very unlike—mother and newborn, lovers, myth of the return; they say these hours will pass, their joy and utter vulnerability, with the first harrows of the hole in time. They say one must let go these moments and it is hard to let go, one must let grow the new world. “They say” too much; I mustn’t again lose this child to others’ fears.

You tell me the adolescent story I once wrote was exactly what you had felt. You see me watching you, ask “What?”, and I shake my head and smile or weep. There are already shared humor, remembrances; in the quiet of your livingroom, we can sometimes even gossip and laugh. But what, in words, this time is for you—what fears or images of other selves, what relocation of your world—I cannot know. Your tears are drying; I would hear you and protect.

It is not right we had not met, not right we must fight for time to meet. It is not right our love, our rebonding, seems too intense, as if romance, to those who cannot feel the ruptured time—not right time not have been.


Mornings in the office, the sobbing returns. It is as if (I said “I would die for you”) my body cries like a hungry baby calling the vanished mother, cries as you too have cried, in tenderness, not separate—not phoning, not wanting to have to trade, for your presence, your respect.

I thought there would be time, time to listen and understand. We have laughed so much, but sometimes your voice is crisp and humor fades. I would tell you to take care, maternally stroke your hair.

We have said “I know,” “I am glad.”


The sun-motes fill the room; leaf shadows dance on your walls. The poem was

      Shiver and shake yourself, dear tree, /and silver and gold rain down to me

in the illustrated Seven Swans of my own youth. Childhood is so huge. I would cloak you with glimmer and jewels, would have sung you lullabies.


When you answer “No, come over,” I can deny I’ve heard the change. But change is real; I must let separate, let grow—although I know this child, more swift to descend the mountain, yet would gladly stretch out his hands and is my child and not rejecting me; but rather I feel bereft, as when I wakened yearning for my baby after you were gone, this broken love a mourning in the hole in time.

In what depth you must, then, have mourned me.

There are those who are not found.

“You inherited my nervous system”—“Hey, I know.” I remember telling you of one demonstration, and your eyes as you heard, and I feel like the little fir tree remembering the attic. I love you so much. Sometimes the tears have been to reach, sometimes from sorrow, sometimes not daring to express the happiness.


But for the tears and joy, the tenderness in the fragmented light of those early hours, care for the vulnerability of these chiming weeks, and afternoons and hours still—blessed those hours, blessed this wood—for the lost return in paradise, the simple love of here, there are no words; there is this deepened, softened, different voice. Blessed be the love.


The years took us far, and in the middle of January, the new war was on, and people dying from our bombs as on our streets, the first big march would happen the next day and then there was the letter (“Some years ago you wrote this agency . . .”) in the mailbox.

Very soon the war was over. Then the corridor, the room, the number on the door.

Your picture shows you holding a beautiful cat; you’ve a shy young adolescent smile; the cat is startled by the light but obviously calmed in your arms. Now you are a man.

You came from my womb in the very early morning, flying out into the doctor’s arms. Three times in the hospital I held you; you had already those long fingers and fine features, and your eyes (then dark blue) saw me, but I cannot be his mother, children need two parents, how could I raise a child like this? (those very arguments I would “resolve,” mistakenly, years later for that other son because finally I “could not do it twice”). Once I held you in a silent room on the courtyard of the agency, a little while and then the time was over and—for you, but over the abyss of chance—I signed the papers. I signed the papers; I signed the papers.
You said “I remember once when my grandfather . . . ”; you said “My Mom used to . . .”

If I start to cry, if you start to cry, your hand, my hand, not very different, is immediately there; in the glance of an eye, “I know.”


You look away, leaving “these” (seeking a soft word) “first spaces”—the early unity, the adoration—where I remain. Has my slowness to let go been cause, or is this natural return to the pendulum of time? You feared to hurt me by acknowledging your distance sooner; I’d sensed this, child, yet your compassion moves my soul.

Your life has been happy, I know. I am so glad you found me, so thankful you exist, that you are you.

Once, you said “I do not want to lose you.”

The love tears my heart.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s