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by Glenn Washburn
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“Of course no one’s home,” she thought as she struggled to make it through the doorway, her arms loaded with groceries. She did the silly-looking dance it seemed she always ended up doing; hopping quickly through on one foot before the rapidly closing screen door bit her other one. They had an uncanny ability to know when to not be around in order to avoid that abusive parental practice known as “helping out around the house.”

She plopped the groceries on the kitchen counter and chuckled to herself as she thought of her two teenaged daughters. They were bright and beautiful and she was their proud mother; but they were also skilled and masterful “button-pushers.” They knew just which ones to push, when to push them and how hard; to get the family car for a few hours or a piece of her paycheck for pizza and a movie. And they were just as skilled at getting out of a household chore, a boring task, or an unpleasant family obligation. “Kids!” she laughed to herself. “What are you gonna do?”

Noticing the light blinking on the answering machine; she pushed “playback” like she had done a thousand times before and began to put away the food. A couple of calls for the girls, a friend who wanted to chat, and the daily “reach out and aggravate someone” call she got from her mother quickly worked their magic and she found her mind quickly drifting off into a daydream. Suddenly it was jerked back and a hand full of celery froze in mid-air as a voice she had never heard before began its halting and poorly rehearsed speech: "Hi…um…uh…you don’t know me…uh…actually I don’t know you either…um… anyway, my name is Carol…uh…I think you might be my mom…um…uh...I think I’m your daughter…maybe…uh…anyway…you can call me…um…if you want, that is…um… ok…uh…later…maybe…" The monologue continued another few minutes; sprinkled with phone numbers, addresses, ages, and enough personal biographical information to leave her with little doubt that she had been listening to the voice of her now-grown first born. All the memories, good and bad, came flooding back.

She could remember it as if it were yesterday. She was a high school junior and cheerleader with enough A’s in her scholastic portfolio that she could chart her own course…choose her own future. However, her choices had involved “peers” she could barely have an intelligent conversation with, parties where hooking-up and hanging-out were the main attractions, and boyfriends whose value was measured by the letters on their jackets rather than the content of their character. Looking back she realized, even then, what a poor investment she had made. But such was the price of popularity and it was her choice, wasn’t it?

However, when her choice resulted in a pregnancy that no one wanted (least of all her “As Seen on TV” boyfriend) she realized very quickly how fragile and superficial that popularity was and how poor a foundation it made for building any kind of future. Everyone (parents, friends, school counselors) told here she should terminate her pregnancy. “Don’t throw your whole life away because of one mistake,” they counseled. But deep inside she knew that the choices that belonged to her had been made much earlier and the responsibility she now owed to this new life growing inside her did not involve snuffing out its light. Nevertheless, she knew she had neither the skills nor resources to raise a baby on her own. Adoption quickly became the best if not also the hardest solution. A long and seemingly endless pregnancy with daily bouts of nausea, learning to get through the day with a bladder the size of a thimble, swollen ankles and a breaking back, a slow but steady desertion by all her “friends”; followed by four hours of hard labor and it was finally over. The only interaction she had had with her new daughter was listening to her cries fading down the hospital corridor. And now that same voice echoed in her ears once again, in the words of a full-grown woman, “My name is Carol, I think you’re my mom…” In her heart she knew (and secretly hoped) that this day would come. And now that it had, she wondered what it meant.

She wasn’t able to stack many hours on top of one another through the years without thinking of the daughter she had given away. Not many steps could be taken forward without looking down to see the child reappearing by her side. She often wondered if she had done the right thing, if this missing piece of her heart would ever forgive her…if she would ever be able to forgive herself. Her first birthday, her first step, her first word; she thought about them all. Through the years she had paused now and then to paint a picture in her mind of the astonished face of a little girl finding a quarter where a tooth had been hours earlier; joyful laughter on Christmas and blowing out candles on birthdays. She could almost see her twirling around the floor of a gymnasium with her first boyfriend and turning shy and self-conscious before her first kiss.

She had tried to go on with her life with a fresh start, new school, new friends and ultimately a new love that had led to marriage and two beautiful daughters. And she was finally able to let her first-born go and live the life that had been prepared for her. Now a five minute phone call had caused twenty-five years of separation to disappear in an instant. She discovered she was just as scared and uncertain as that other girl had been over two dozen years ago. What could she offer her now? She didn’t need a mother. She already had a loving and faithful mother who had stood where she couldn’t and gave her daughter everything she had been too young to offer. Neither did she need a friend. Maybe all her daughter wanted and all she could offer were answers. Answers to some of the same questions she had asked herself down through the years: Why had she decided to give her birth and not abort? How could she give her away? Did she ever love her baby? And if she did, did she still love her? Some of the answers she knew…some they would have to discover together. Maybe that was all she could give her. Maybe that was all she needed…all they both needed.

She listened to the message several more times; carefully and lovingly putting each word and pause into the proper file. Finally, with trembling fingers she dialed the number. She heard it ring once…twice…”Hello?” Suddenly, she found the road she had traveled for the last twenty-five years; this road of nagging guilt, endless regret, and quiet longing was quickly disappearing in the rearview mirror and up ahead lie the promise of a new future.

Maybe one of reconciliation…of love…of redemption…maybe…

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