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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MY MOTHER: ALWAYS IN MY HEART

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.


Peter,

I will always be in your heart.

Love,

Mom


And you will always be in mine, Mom.

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HOMELESSNESS AND THE CHECKERED MUG

I am standing in my kitchen holding a white coffee mug with a checkered band and it gives me enormous strength. I am facing the possibility of homelessness and I can use all the strength I can get right now. I have been homeless before and know its merciless grip all too well. Now I face that stark reality again. I’ll get to why in a minute. But first, back to the mug with the checkered band.

I bought it one summer morning in 2001 while having breakfast with my mother Leona in California. She was dying of liver cancer and we both knew it.

My mother surrendered me for adoption seven days after I was born on October 2, 1953. We were reunited in Stamford Connecticut on January 8. 1987. By 2001 we had grown close and developed deep understanding that in many ways we mirrored each other. Those who knew us best said we each had uncanny levels of prescience, deep reserves of courage, and enormous compassion for all who have been brutalized in life. We were both deeply sentimental. Which is why, when we were having breakfast that morning, I asked the waitress if I could buy the cup I was using.

The waitress and my mother had been talking about cancer. My mother’s and someone the waitress knew. She said, “I’ll do you one better, wait her.” She went into the kitchen and soon returned with another mug in better condition tucked in a brown paper bag. “Just take it,” she said. Then, nodding towards the man behind the register she added, “That sonuvabitch will charge you an arm and a leg. Take it.”

As some of you know, I am in the process of applying getting back onto the disability rolls. My brain injury along with an ample supply of depression, agoraphobia and PTSD have taken there toll. A man I once worked for has been helping me keep my head above water until my disability kicks. However, without warning he let me know Saturday he can’t help me anymore. With no family to fall back on coupled with being in the midst of filing for disability, the situation is not good.

I spend much of my life helping others so believe me, the act of asking for help buckles my knees. But I must live the things I have taught others for more than two decades now: just because you feel hopeless does not mean there is no hope; just because you feel humiliated does not mean you are humiliated; just because you feel weak does not mean you are weak; and just because you feel it is weak to cry doesn’t mean crying is an act of weakness, else why is it so hard to do?

A friend of mine said, “Peter, you live a simple live. It’s not about extravagance.” She went on to say you are asking for help to keep a roof over your head, food in the refrigerator, your bills paid. She and others have urged me to ask for help and support here on the blog. Lest you think I am sitting quietly by, let me reassure you that is not the case.

I will be going to the Department of Social Service this week for emergency food stamps and support. If I am approved, I will only receive half the money towards my rent. I rent a modest home for $650 per month, have the attending car payment along with utilities and, of course, food, phone, electric and, God help us all, oil heat.

My life is about helping others survive. Now I am in a position to ask others to help me survive. Not an easy thing to do, but there is a reason they say pride goeth before a fall. I can tell you Iwould a lot better if you asked me for help. But I recognize this is a personal crisis. I also recognize I am only trying to keep myself alive and functioning to keep doing what I know I do best; help and advocating for others. I have spent the better half of my life doing that.

A lot of my readers don’t know me personally. But I have done my best to give you a glimpse of my life through the blog. I want to continue to be able to use this tool to write and give others hope. This will be impossible for me to do without the support of others. I am hoping some of you can send a donation to help me. In doing so I will be able to keep my home and pay the bills for food, heat, rent and electricity until the disability kicks in.

The donations can be made out to and sent directly to me at:

Peter Kahrmann
P.O. Box 19
Westerlo, NY 12193

I understand these are hard times for everyone. My basic belief though, is that people in general are good hearted and can be called upon in times of need. I honestly never thought I would be in this position to ask for help from my readers. If you are able to come to my aide I would deeply appreciate your generosity. I hope I will be able to give back to you as well.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Peter
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