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I felt blood rush into my head, the veins in my neck constrict and my chest tighten. I suddenly needed air, as if the conference room walls were slowly compressing towards me. My hands started shaking violently and I felt a curious mix of fear and anger. I tried to process what he had said but nothing registered in my brain. It made no sense.
I had had enough. I stood up, fury rising. I was fast losing control and I knew it. I unloaded on Clyde. “Are you crazy? Why would you say something like that? That is the meanest thing you could say to me. My mother is back home in Illinois. And she is definitely not dead!”
Clyde’s face turned ashen white, his eyes betraying his alarm. Sharon watched me closely, but remained oddly unmoved by my emotional explosion. She probably had witnessed more than her share of angry outbursts in that conference room over the years and she was prepared for it, even if Clyde seemed totally uncertain how to proceed. As I shifted my flashing eyes back and forth between them, waiting for an explanation, Sharon looked at me with compassion and love, and maybe a touch of sorrow, realizing I had been hurt by Clyde’s statement. I don’t think either of them had anticipated such a reaction from me.
“Jack,” she said softly, “Of course your mother is still alive. I spoke to her briefly myself last week when we were tracking you down. Try to calm down, baby. No one wants to be mean to you or hurt you, I promise.” Her compassionate voice possessed such warmth and kindness and, as I stared into her eyes, the shock and residual adrenaline faded away. My hands stopped shaking and I collapsed back into my chair, the fight gone.
Sharon looked sternly at Clyde as if to say, “Fix this, mister.” He cleared his throat, looked once more at her and found the courage to try again.
He shifted in his seat. “Jack, my apologies. That was not kind of me. I should have started differently. I know your mother is alive and well. I don’t mean to be confusing or hostile. But Jack, let me ask you a question. Were you not adopted as a baby?”
And with his question, there came an almost audible click in my brain as everything fell into place and started to make sense. Sort of.
Yes, it was true I had been adopted as a baby. This was not news. I had known since I was five years old, if not earlier. My mother had been told she could never have children so, after three years of marriage, she and my father agreed to try adoption. Less than a year later, they brought me home, a perfectly normal two month old baby boy. To their shock and amazement, a couple of months later, my mother was pregnant with my brother Terry. There were no other surprises after him.
I don’t think Terry liked the idea I was adopted. As we got older, I think he came to think maybe I wasn’t his real brother, especially since our relationship deteriorated into nothing. Which of course was due more to his behavior and violence than our mismatched genetics, but he would never perceive such things without help.
Being adopted had never been an issue for me. In fact, I had worn it like a badge of honor when I was younger, until I offended half the third grade with my arrogance. Apparently telling nine year olds you are special because you were chosen, while their parents had been stuck with whatever they got, was not the way to make friends. But that was how I saw it at the time.
Later, as I grew up, it ceased to even be a thought. It really had no bearing on my life whatsoever. Occasionally I would hear about a celebrity searching for their long lost birth parents but it never intrigued me enough to care. To be honest, I think I had just assumed they were dead. I never dreamed they would reappear in my life.
My next thought was of my mother–my adoptive mother. My real mother. I suddenly feared for her, knowing she would feel threatened by this revelation. Imperfect as she was, she had always been my mother. And she deserved her place in my heart. Not some stranger I knew nothing about and who had never done anything for me. No wonder I got angry. She didn’t deserve this.
On the other hand, Clyde and Sharon had gone to a lot of trouble to bring me to Denver to reveal this news. I didn’t want to be disrespectful, so I supposed I should hear them out, even if I wasn’t particularly interested. Or was I? I’ll confess, my sudden curiosity was more of a shock to me than anything else.
I looked up. They were waiting patiently on the other side of the table, stealing apprehensive glances at each other. I took a deep breath and said, “Yes, Clyde, it’s true. I was adopted. So...are you saying you believe Amanda Franklin was my birth mother? I think that’s the right term.” My voice sounded stronger than I felt on the inside but I was recovering.
“Yes, Jack. I believe she was. I can only imagine how this must be a real shock to you. And I’m very sorry you had to find out about her in this way. As much as I have wanted to meet you, I have been dreading this conversation.” His voice trailed off, unsure of how to continue. I shared his discomfort but also felt his true kindness. I believed he really did not intend to hurt me. Mounting curiosity muted the remaining warning bells in my mind.
Instead, my head started to fill up with many questions about Amanda. Who was she? What was she like? How did she live her life? Why did she give me up for adoption? Now that she was dead, I assumed I would never know the answers. I had no sense of any emotional connection to her, but maybe Clyde, or perhaps Sharon, did. I think Clyde had even called her a family friend. I realized this conversation was more difficult for him than it was for me. I never knew Amanda, so I had no sense of loss, but Clyde had lost his friend.
“Can you tell me a little about her, Clyde?” I asked, more for him than to satisfy my own curiosity. He needed to talk about her and had waited a long time to do so.
Clyde cleared his throat. “Yes, of course. Amanda was first and foremost my friend, long before she became my client. She and her husband, Phillip, were longtime good friends with my wife, Shirley, and me. We spent a lot of time together: dinners and golf at the club, ski weekends, concerts, theater. The usual. The girls would go shopping on weekends a lot. I knew them for more than twenty years and I miss them both very much. Phillip was probably my best friend.” His eyes went a little misty as he talked.
He told me the story of meeting Amanda for the first time, how head over heels in love his friend Phillip had been. Clyde was asked to stand up in their wedding, and his wife Shirley, a real estate agent, helped Amanda and Phillip locate their dream home in the hills just outside of Denver. Phillip and Clyde were avid golfers and, together with two other guys were a frequent foursome at the country club they both belonged to. Being Denver, golf was not exactly a year round sport so, when the weather was good, they played as often as they could.
I interrupted him at one point to ask the unspoken question. “Was Phillip Franklin my birth father?”
Clyde looked pained at the question and he looked over to Sharon again, perhaps for direction on how to answer.
She gave him a look. “Go ahead, tell him the truth,” she said. He sighed and looked across to me.
“No, Jack. Phillip was not your birth father. As far as I know, he never knew anything about you. None of us did, you see. Amanda never told anyone she had had a child, not until about four months before she died. By then, Phillip had been dead for nearly two years. She and Phillip never had children. To be honest, Jack, I don’t know who your birth father was, or is, or if he is alive now or not.”
My heart started racing. I had a father. Was he still alive? If so, could I find him? Would he be shocked? Would he want to know me? Would he love me?