I made the decision to search for my birth-mother on October 2, 1986, my thirty-third birthday. I was reunited with her on January 8, 1987. Her name was Leona. I would learn that our hearts were very much alike.
I am now writing the final draft of this experience for the memoir and it doesn’t get more emotional for me than this. The decision to search for her with all my might (the desire to find her had been there for years) was one of the reasons I came out of seclusion back then.
Some background. I was held up and shot in August 1984, returned to work as a New York City cabby some months later, and was again held-up at gunpoint in May 1985. My ability to feel safe in the world around me collapsed and I retreated into seclusion for nearly a year. When pondering the possibility of rejoining the world, I decided that if I was going to return to daily life, I would try and find my birth-mother.
It makes sense that I am working through the final version of this for the memoir now as I am again in seclusion a great deal of the time. While for somewhat different reasons, there is both comfort and heartbreak in writing about the search for a woman I would grow deeply close to in her last years. I would discover she had always deeply close to me. I would also learn that our emotional life and our emotional experience of the world were, in many ways, mirror images of each other.
My penchant for recognizing a moment when I can touch a human heart with love is something I inherited from her. Here is an example. The day I married my second wife was the one day both my mothers, adoptive and birth, were together. My wife and I asked the minister to ask those in attendance to hold hands with the person next to them when he reached the final moment of our vows.
A day or two later my wife was watching the video of our wedding when she called out, “Peter, come quick, look a this!” She rewound the tape and said, “Watch what Leona does…”
My mothers were on opposite sides of the group of 30 or so people who were in attendance. When the pastor asked them to hold hands, Leona walked over to where my other mother was and took her hand so that both mothers would be connected while they watched their son marry.
“See,” my wife said. “Now we know where you get that instinct from.”
When I found my mother she was living in Stamford, Connecticut. Some years later she moved out to San Jose to live with my sister, Sunday, her husband and children. In 2000 I received a phone call from Sunday telling me our mother had cancer, liver cancer, which is, to my understanding, terminal. It was for my mother.
I flew out to see her a number of times and she came to this coast to make her goodbye rounds and stayed with me in my home for a few days. There were two events that again displayed how alike we were.
Here is the first event:
I picked her up in New Jersey where she had been visiting family to drive her back to my home which, at the time, was in Monroe, New York. On the ride back I told her there was a place I thought we should both visit. We drove into Manhattan and I pulled up in front of the building that in 1953 had been the French Hospital, the place where I was born.
I looked at my mother and smile, “We’re back.” She took my hand and gazed up at the building. She then said, “They made us use the back entrance.” I said, “No problem.” We drove around to the buildings back entrance on 29th Street. We sat there and held hands. I said, “I love you, Mom.” She said, “I love you too, Peter.”
Here is the second event:
My mother died at her home in San Jose on December 19, 2001. My sister called to tell me of her passing. And hour earlier my sister called me and held the phone to mother’s ear so I could tell her I loved her and that she could let go and I would always love her and do my best in life.
On December 21, 2001, a priority mail package arrived. It was a Christmas present from my mother. I opened it. It was a Saint Christopher’s medal. Saint Christopher is the patron saint of travelers, of safe travel through life. On the medal you can see Saint Christopher carrying a small boy across a raging river.
I went to my knees in tears. I turned the medal over and on the back read the following inscription.
I will always be in your heart.
And you will always be in mine, Mom.