Mostly, I was just curious. It wasn’t even a curiosity that haunted me or anything. But from time to time I would just wonder….where did this face come from? Where did this body come from? Where did this blood come from?
I knew that when I turned 18 years old that I would be eligible to begin to search for my biological parents, if I so chose to. However, 18 came and went for me and I was in the thick of my senior year of high school, and boyfriends, and colleges, and leaving home for the first time. It was the farthest thing from my mind. But, after transferring from the University of New Hampshire to the University of Iowa, settling into my study of literature and creative writing there, entering into a soon-to-be very serious relationship with Dan Lutz – a kind, caring and beautiful 20 yr old boy who I met in one of my classes – my curiosity began to grow.
Perhaps it was because everyone was always asking me “Where are you from? What’s your heritage?” And of course I couldn’t answer, because I didn’t know. So people would have a fun time guessing. It became a game for my friends and classmates. “Italian!” “French!” “Native American!” “Polynesian!” I heard it all. And yet, I had no idea. So I thought, if I could just get a couple of pictures and some information about these people who created me, then it could fill in a missing piece about myself. But that’s all I was looking for: a couple of pictures and some information. That would suffice.
So in the fall of 1997, in my 20th year of life, there in a tiny shoe-box of a room that I was renting in a big, old, crickety and far from cleanly house on Van Buren St., I sat down to write a letter to The Catholic Charity Bureau. The letter stated who I was and that I was interested in finding out more information about my biological parents. To my surprise, I received a letter back almost right away. The Catholic Charity Bureau told me that all of my files were burned in a fire and I would have to write to the State of New York to get any information. “Oh great,” I thought to myself, “now I’m orphan Annie.”
Nonetheless, I did as advised. I wrote a letter to the State of New York. But I sent it off right before I was about to leave for Ireland to study abroad at the University College Galway for a semester. So, I strategically put my parents house as the return address because I knew that I would spend the summer in Boston when I got back to the States, before returning to school. Stuffing it in a mailbox, I figured that I would just check on it in 6 months time. Then, off I went to the Emerald Island, for 5 months of international friends, travel, enchanted forests, hitch hiking adventures, pubs, potatoes, rolling hills, the roaring Atlantic, my 21st birthday, Guinness, lots of Guinness, and a little bit of school 🙂
Everything worked out just as I had planned. Sort of.
I returned to my hometown for the summer of 1998 and one day I was sitting at my parent’s kitchen table when it popped into my mind.
“Hey dad, did I get any mail from the State of New York while I was gone?”
A little light bulb went off in my father’s brain, who was preparing to leave for work. He hurried over to the dining room table in his suit and tie and began ruffling through a giant pile of papers. The dining room table was well-known as a family file cabinet, where only my father really knew the perfect order to the madness of it all. However chaotic it may have sometimes looked, though, he was still (and is still) the most reliable person I know. He pulled out from the heap one little white envelope addressed to me from the State of New York.
“Here you go honey!”
I opened it up and the letter read something like this (I paraphrase):
“Even though you were born in New York, you were adopted through Massachusetts courts, so we cannot help you. However, we have included a brochure for a company called The International Soundex Reunion Registry. You can become a member by filling out your information and sending it back to them. If either of your birth parents are members, then this organization will connect you.”
Hmm, interesting. Ok, so I did it. I filled out my info and sent it in. I probably even handed it back to my dad with a stamp, asking him to mail it for me on his way to work that very same day. But I did it thinking that this was just another piece in this puzzle, and it would probably be another 5 years before I heard anything about it, and then I went on my way, not giving it much more thought.
Oh, how wrong I was!
Only two weeks later I was sitting in my living room, in a reclining chair by the window where I often sat. I was reading something, but I forget what it was. I was periodically looking out the window because I had called a taxi to take me across town to a little sandwich shop where I was working as a counter waitress for the summer. Nobody was home.
Suddenly, the phone rang.
“Hello may I speak to Danielle Gaudette please?”
“This is her.”
The woman’s voice on the other end sounded very bright and excited. To this day, I cannot remember her name. But, she introduced herself to me and then said, “Danielle, I am calling from the International Soundex Reunion Registry. I am very excited to tell you that I think we have found a match.”
“I need you to gather any and all of the papers that you have regarding your biological parents. Any information that you have, please get it now. I will hold. I need to check it up against the information that I have,” this nameless woman directed me firmly.
” Ok…” I was beginning to enter into a delirium. I ran over to the dining room table. I had never actually seen any papers, but I remembered that when I first began searching for my biological parents, my mother said that she would pull what she could from my safety deposit box. I never looked at those papers before. I don’t know why. But I vaguely remembered someone telling me that they were on the dining room table, of course.
And I was right. The paper was there.
“Ok, I have it.”
The woman on the other end spoke kindly and carefully, “Tell me exactly what it says.”
“It says that my birth mother was a young woman when she gave me up for adoption. She was an actress in New York City and was unable to take care of the baby. She asked for her mother to help her but her mother was not able to due to her grief from a recent death of her younger sister. It says that she is Irish Catholic.” ….what?! I’m Irish ?!?!??
“It says that my birth father was a theatre director. He is Russian. Jewish.” Are you serious??? I’m Russian???? This took me even more by surprise, seeing that I was completely in love with Russian history, culture and literature. It was my most favorite subject to study in school. I was shocked and delighted to find out that I actually shared blood with these intriguing people!
At this point, my overall shock level was increasing rapidly. I couldn’t believe what was happening.
“Well Danielle,” said the voice, “this all matches perfectly with the information we have here in front of us. Yes, we have found your biological mother. We are going to call her now and let her know. Stay by your phone.”
I hung up and began frantically pacing around my apartment – living room, kitchen, dining room, living room, kitchen, dining room – in a frenzied loop. My heart was beating so fast that there was no way to be still. Everything was happening so suddenly and unexpectedly. My brain was going into overload and beginning to malfunction. Even though it was daytime, I felt like it was dark out. My whole world was closing in on me and I was losing my proper sense of sight and sound. I kept pacing to stay afloat.
The phone rang again.
“Hello Danielle it’s me again. Well, I have even more exciting news for you. This is really incredible actually, and we are all just so thrilled about it over here in the office. Do you watch Star Trek?”
My rapidly beating heart dropped into my gut. I leaned onto the counter top in my kitchen for support. Oh God, does this really have to be dramatic? Can it please just be normal. Please I can’t take any drama. I need normal right now.
“No” I said.
“Well, your biological mother’s name is Kate Mulgrew. She is Captain Katherine Janeway on Star Trek Voyager. She is sitting in her trailer at Paramount right now, waiting to talk with you. I want you to hang up your phone and wait. She’s going to call you right now. And…..congratulations, Danielle. We are so happy for you.”
Now, there is a funny thing about trauma. It really messes with your brain. It inserts blankness for where there should be memories and re-writes stories in various twisted and contorted ways. So, according to my birth mother, it was me who called her on this day. But in my mind, it was she who called me. And at this point of course it doesn’t make one bit of difference.
What’s important is that this was the moment. So quickly this moment came – too quickly! I was not prepared. I thought it would be years of searching! But it was as if this ultimate moment had been sent down a chute and it was crashing into me, and all I could do was let it. I was about to meet the person who brought me into this world. Right. Now.
My body grew weak. My legs were trembling. I needed to sit down.
The phone rang one more time. I don’t know if I was breathing or not. I pressed the talk button with a sweaty finger, knowing that the person on the other end would be someone who I had never met, a complete and total stranger, and yet was somehow, some way, a person to call my mother.
Exit: Danielle’s heart, shooting out through her head into the universe
Enter: The beginning of a whole new world that I had never, ever imagined….