A more beautiful place

This holiday season, as they call it, I am thinking  and feeling about my family. For some reason knowing you’re likely in the home-stretch of things allows you a sharper awareness of the immense love you feel for family members, most all gone from life. I’m grateful for my instincts because I don’t mind being present in the experience.

Family life ended for me in December, 1969,  two months after my 16th birthday; an essay for another time.

Of course there are tears, at times, and, of course, there are momentary flashes of fury. Fury at the loss, at how long its been, fists clenched, and, literally, nothing and no one deserving of a blow exists on this planet. The stone cold fact is, nothing and no one deserving of that blow has ever existed on this planet.

So I allow the feeling of fury until it passes. It always does.

These days I’m thinking of my mother and father, ,Grandma and Grandpa, Mommom and Poppop (my mother’s parents), Uncle Harry, Aunt Dorothy, Uncle Peter, Marjorie, my sister, Rebecca, my childhood friends, a number gone now. My brother, Bobby. I think of my other mother, Leona, my birth-mother — a better human being has never walked the earth. We were  reunited on January 8, 1987. We were emotional and spiritual twins. She was an angel. I bet she still is!

Now, if there is something after this life, it damn well better include more time with these beautiful human beings  or else I’m not interested. When I walk through the beautiful museum hallways in my mind, all the above are there, masterpieces all.

There’s never been a more beautiful place than family.

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Shedding the excess

Getting older finds me methodically reviewing my involvements in life. I’m identifying situations, endeavors, and people I’ve mistakenly allowed to drain me of time and energy.  Getting older puts the unavoidable fact that none of us lives forever in sharp relief. So, I’ve said to me recently on more than one occasion,  why not shed everything and everyone I identify as being an unhealthy drain of time and energy.  Accurately identifying who and what falls into this category is is not always easy and not always painless.

The plus side to the shedding-the-excess endeavor is more time and energy becomes available. For example, I’d like to visit a friend of mine named Dave Hausman. Dave  owns Big Dave’s Bagels in North Conway, New Hampshire. I’ve known him for years and its been too damned long since I’ve seen him. I’ve never known anyone with more integrity, and, the man is brilliant-smart and deeply compassionate.  I miss him and his remarkable wife, Susan, who matches him on the integrity, smarts, and compassion fronts. There are other people and places that fall into the Dave category. My nephew, Joseph Kahrmann, his wife, Tara, and their children for instance. I respect no one anymore than I respect my nephew.

I’d like to go back to the places of my childhood and walk around my old neighborhoods. The hamlets, towns and villages. The streets of New York City, the place I was born, and where so much that makes me who I am today happened. Of course I will continue to write and read and advocate for those being oppressed.

I think the shedding-the-excess endeavor aligns me more with what Henry David Thoreau meant when he said, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.” Earlier this afternoon I was reading a long piece of writing my birth-mother Leona wrote to me right after we reunited on January 8, 1987. We were separated on October 9, 1953;  I was seven days old. Her emotionally courageous and loving and heartfelt missive ended with the words, “My son, my son, I’ve always loved you.”  And she did, always.

Not long before she died of liver cancer on December 19, 2001 I asked her if she had any advise for me in life. “Yes, Peter; be good to yourself.”

I know that freeing myself from all that makes living the life I’ve imagined more difficult is exactly what she’d want me to do.

I love my mother, born Leona Patricia Clark, my whole wide world.  I love my life my whole wide world too,  all the more because she gave it to me.

My Mother Dancing

When someone I love dies the years seem to pick up speed. They fly by. My mother Leona was 68 when she died nine years ago yesterday. It doesn’t feel that long ago. She was and always will be one of the greatest discoveries in life for me. She had to give me up for adoption when I was a baby. We had my first seven days together and that was it. She was only 20 when she handed her son over and returned home utterly destroyed. This is not the missive to explain all this, or how I know all this other than to say we left nothing about the subject and circumstances of my adoption untouched by conversation.

We were reunited on January 8, 1987, a moment in both our lives so filled with emotion for the both of us I’m surprised we didn’t burst. But then again, we were cut from the same cloth. To be more precise, I am cut from hers. She had the ability to not only allow moments of enormous amounts of emotion, she welcomed them.

She also loved to dance, and dancing contains worlds of emotion. She may have suspected that, like her, I found it and still find it impossible to remain physically still when music is on. To this day I find myself utterly baffled by people who can sit still while music with, say, Latin rhythm is on. I always want to tap them on the shoulder and ask, Don’t you feel that? However, she certainly had no idea I’d danced professionally and when I was a little boy my family would play music just so I could keep dancing, I couldn’t get enough.

The evening my mother and I reunited and found each others arms again we went to her home, after first going out for coffee. There my “new” sister, Sunday, said, “If you’re in this family you better love to dance.” My friend Dane was with me. Dane looked at me and said, “You want me to tell them.” And so he told them about my days dancing with the Joffrey Ballet and dancing pretty much every time I ran into music.

On October 2, 1987, the first birthday we had together since the day I was born, my mother and I went out to dinner, and then we went to a club and danced all night. She was a great dancer, the greatest dance partner I’ve ever had.

I love you, Mom, miss you terribly, and I’m still dancing.

Words From My Mother

The handwritten date on top of the faded page read, “Wednesday 1-8-87”, the day my birth-mother and I were reunited after 33 years apart. The handwriting is hers. I have stumbled on six pages of a journal she kept starting that extraordinary January day.

Her very first line collapses me into tears. “Received a phone call that made my life complete tonight.” The phone call she is referring to is the one I made to her from the lobby of the Stamford Motor Inn in Connecticut, no more than five miles from her house. It was our first contact in the world after we were parted by life when I was seven days old.

The phone call was a culmination of a search that had begun only months earlier on October 2, 1986, my 33rd birthday. One of my closest friends in the world, then and now, Dane, was with me. Dane was the perfect companion on this day because he too was adopted.

My mother first thought I was calling to give her bad news about a family member, but then, as she writes, “He said I was born October 2 in the French Hospital in New York. I said, Oh my God, my son Paul – then, please don’t hate me. He said, I don’t hate you Mom. After that it’s a blur. Found out he was just down the street at the (Stamford) Motor Inn….I said I’d be there in 20 minutes. I believe I was there in 10 minutes. Changed my clothes, told my daughter Erin what was going on (I did during the phone conversation), couldn’t find my keys, my glasses… During the phone conversation when I said I’d be there in 20 minutes, Peter (his name is Peter, not Paul) started to tell me what he would be wearing. I said, I’ll know who you are. Also when we were on the phone he said, I’m 33 years old now. I said, I know THAT. I was shaking and don’t really know how I drove the car to meet him.”

“When I got the the Motor Inn he got out of his van and walked towards me, he reminded me of my brother. We hugged and hugged and he said, “Hello Mom, we made it.” I really only heard Mom.

To read these words for the first time, more than eight years after her death in December 2001, I am reminded to my core how close to two of us became and how close, in a very real way, we always were.

Of all the challenges I’ve ever taken on in my life, searching for and finding my mother, Leona Patricia Clark, is the one I am most proud of and most grateful for. A few pages in she calls me her “personal eighth wonder of the world.” She is certainly mine.

WE MADE IT: MEETING MY MOTHER

This memoir excerpt contains the scene where after 34 years I reunite with my birth-mother Leona. We had parted when I was seven days old. In this segment of the book, we had located her address in Stamford Connecticut and I had decided to call her from a nearby phone. I was with my friend and brother-in-my-heart, Dane Arnold.


It is a few minutes before five in the evening when we pull into the parking lot of the Stamford Motor Inn, a modest inn just off Exit 9. We park and go into the lobby.

I have Leona’s number on a piece of paper. I am wearing jeans, t-shirt and a denim jacket. In a sitting area off the lobby a pay phone is against the wall.

I am now pacing back and forth in front of the pay phone. Three or four strides this way, turn, three or four strides the other way. I am buttoning my denim jacket from the bottom up, aware that I am doing so but not sure why. It is now five o’clock and it is time and I can’t get myself to pick up the phone.

Dane is talking to me as I pace, he is saying, “Think of everything you’ve been through. Think of getting up off the ground after you were shot in head. You got up, man, you got up! This is your moment.”

Dane keeps talking as I lift the receiver, place a quarter in the slot, start to dial, hang up, retrieve the quarter, continue pacing. I place the paper with her number and the quarter on the small stainless steel shelf beneath the phone and continue pacing.

“You can do this, Peter, I know you can. This is your moment, your time, no one can take this from you. Think of everything you’ve survived. Think of everyone you love, who loves you. Your daughter. Think of your Dad, your Dad’s here right now, you know he is. We’re all here.”

I lift the receiver, slip the quarter in, start to dial, hang up. But this time I don’t begin to pace. And then Dane does a miracle. He wraps his arms around me in a hug and holds onto me tight. I put the quarter in the slot, dial all the way through, and now I hear the phone begin to ring. Dane holds me tight.

After two or three rings a woman answers the phone.

“Is Leona Moore home please?”

“This is she.” I can hear voices in the background.

“Mrs. Moore, my name’s Peter Kahrmann, I’m from New York. This is an important phone call, is there any place you can talk privately?”

“I can go into the kitchen. Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s okay. Let me give you my number in case we get disconnected, if that’s okay?”

“Let me get a pen, you sure everything’s okay?”

“Absolutely.”

“Okay, all set.” I give her my number and ask her to repeat it back to me which she does. I can still hear voices.

“Are you as private as you can get?”

“Yes, sorry, best I can do.”

“That’s okay. Listen, what I’m going to tell you comes with all the kindness and compassion one person can have for another.”

“Okay.”

“I was born October 2, 1953 in the French Hospital in New York City.”

An explosion of tears drowns the end of my sentence. “My son Paul! My son Paul! He’s found me!” she screams to those near her. “Oh my God he’s found me, my son Paul!.” To me she says, “Please don’t hate me, please don’t hate me.”

“I don’t, Mom, not at all,” I say, noticing how naturally the word Mom came out.

“Oh, Paul, please don’t hate me. I know you must be angry, you must want to hurt me, I don’t blame you.”

“You’re wrong, Mom. My fantasy is to hug you, not hurt you.”

She is in tears. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”

“I love you, Mom. It’s okay,” and then I say, “I would like to meet you.”

“Yes, of course we can meet. Alone the first time, just the two of us.”

“I’m nearby you know.”

“I know, you’re in New York,” she says, mistakenly concluding that I had called from the New York telephone number I’d given her.

“No, Mom, turn around. I’m at the Stamford Motor Inn.”

Another burst of emotion as she screams to those near here, “He’s here, my son is here. Paul is right down the street, oh my God thank you, my son is here!”

“Mom, I do have a friend with me. Dane. He’s adopted too, Mom. He understands, he’s been through it all with me. Is that okay?”

“Of course it’s okay. I’ll be there in 10 minutes, let me put my face on.”

“What will you be driving?”

“A large station wagon, it has the fake wood siding.”

“I’m in a gray Dodge Caravan, I’m five eight and – ”

“I’ll know what you look like,” she says and instantly I know she will.

We are walking back to the van to wait and I am floating. I have never felt as soothed and peaceful as I do in this moment. It is not the weight of the world that has left my shoulders, it is the weight of the universe, the weight of a lifetime of not knowing. For the first time in my life I can feel my feet on the ground.

In the van we sit quietly. I say, “She’s driving a big station wagon. Says she’ll be here in 10 minutes, she’s putting her face on.”

Dane nods. We are way beyond the need for words. He is in and of this moment as much as I am and I know it and am so glad he is with me. He is the only person in the world I want with me in this moment. Being adopted, he too knows what it is like to go through life feeling disconnected from the world nearly every one else belongs too. We are, in a very real way, brothers – and we both know it. We have one of the few gifts being adopted gives you, the recognition that you don’t have to be blood related to be family. It is a glorious truth that belongs to the both of us, and all others like us.

In less then 10 minutes a large white station wagon with fake wood siding pulls into the parking lot, passes us and comes to a stop in front of the Inn 20 yards away.

I am out of the Caravan and walking towards the car as the woman I was separated from nearly 34 years earlier is getting out. Her hair is white as snow and she is wearing a long beautiful blue winter coat. She is the most beautiful human being I have ever seen. She is my mother.

We walk towards each other and stop when we are within arms reach of each other.

Here in this moment mother and child are fully together again, all time between our last moment together has vanished. The arms-length distance now between us is so filled with the bond between us no power on earth could move through it.

I say, “Can I hug you?”

She says in a voice so full of love my heart rejoices, “Of course you can.”

And here in this nighttime moment on January 8, 1987 mother and son hold each other close.

Into her ear I whisper, “We made it.”

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