It’s been an amazing journey, these last 16 years. Getting to know Kate, letting her know me, and cultivating our relationship together has been an exploration of healing in the deepest sense of the word. I feel so grateful for having the opportunity to know her and to love her. I feel grateful for the chance to fill in some of the blanks, connect some dangling synapses, and ease wounds that I didn’t even know that I had. I am thankful to myself for my courage to face the process. I know that I couldn’t have done it without my will to look deep inside, beyond all of the emotions and wrong beliefs, to the truth and heart of myself, and then see again – my life, my world, and the people in it – with those wide and embracing eyes.
It was not always easy, of course. In the beginning, I was so overwhelmed. I was more than overwhelmed. I was losing it.
After meeting Kate at the Charles Hotel, I flew to LA later that summer with my boyfriend Dan. I wanted to visit her world and meet her sons, Ian and Alec. It was crazy to imagine that I had these “half-brothers” out there somewhere, and I was curious to know them. At first, it was clear and almost humorous to see the difference in their personalities, just by the way that they greeted me. Ian came first. He walked out onto the patio where we were all sitting and sat down with a very serious look on his 15-year-old face. After a moment of slightly awkward silence he said, “Well, this is bizarre.”
A little while later, Alec came home. At that time he was 14 years old and wearing a cast that covered his entire leg up to his hip. Skateboarding accident, apparently. He was full of a big, burly energy and came hopping out to where we were sitting with his arms wide open and a smile across his freckly face shouting, “Hey sis! Gimme a hug!”
It was fun to meet these endearing characters, however as the evening and the week unfolded, I found a knot that began to twist in my stomach, and in my heart. Ultimately, these people were just strangers to me, and it was unsettling to realize that I had pre-existed for them. For years they had wondered about their “sister”. They had talked about her, thought about her, and hoped for a time when they could meet her. Kate had given me the name of Phoebe Columba Mulgrew. I could feel that Phoebe Columba was alive in their lives – like a ghost. I felt that I had come to LA to fill in the shoes of my own ghost.
It became deeply confusing. I was not expecting that I would suddenly have a family. I already had a family! And I had a strong loyalty to and respect for that family. I mean, those were the people who I grew up with, who knew everything about me, who had been there for me my entire life. Every time that Alec would call me his sister I would just see my own little sister’s face flash in front of my eyes. No, I don’t have any brothers! I only have one sister, her name is Renee Gaudette and we laughed and cried and suffered together! We played and fought and joked together! And every time Kate would introduce me to a new person as her ‘daughter’ I would think No! You are not my mother! I already have a mother….she held me and loved me and took care of me all my life…isn’t she the one who deserves to be called my mother?? The guilt and resistance began to swell. A defensive wall stacked itself up inside my heart. All I could think about was my innocent family on the other side of the country, just loving and honoring me in their pure, simple and true ways, and here I was betraying them!
It didn’t make any sense. Nothing did. Everything felt wrong. An agitation began to cover me like a thin layer of skin. I barely knew what I felt, so I certainly didn’t know how to talk about it or process it. I was tangled.
So much so, that by the time I got back to Iowa City my brain just wasn’t working properly anymore. It became really obvious one day, later that same summer, when Dan and I were walking down the street together and I looked down to find that my sandle was unbuckled. So I sat down on the curb and began frantically trying to buckle it until I realized that it was broken. Upon discovering this, I burst into senseless tears. Dan, dumbfounded, asked me why I was crying. In hysterics, I replied,
“Because if my sandle is broken then that means my mother is going to die.”
Dan looked at me in shock. “No, it doesn’t mean that. Of course, it doesn’t mean anything like that Danielle.” And he had to comfort me right there on the curb until the wave of insanity passed, and I was ready to continue our walk.
Another evening we were on our way to dinner at our favorite Indian food restaurant. Right as we were approaching the town square, I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and again began to cry. I just cried and cried until Dan took me in his arms. Collapsing into his warm and safe embrace I sobbed, “I don’t want to be adopted! I just don’t want to be!” That was the only clear feeling that I could come up with. It wasn’t that I didn’t want my parents to be my parents, or that I didn’t want Kate to be my biological mother, I just wished that being adopted was not my predicament in this lifetime.
So, as I said, it was not easy. Everything came apart like frayed wires in my mind. I had already been an emotionally sensitive girl, but after LA it rose to a whole new level. It took a long time and a lot of work to begin to repair those confused, contorted and fragmented feelings and thoughts. Fortunately, I had a hunger to do the honest work of it. I desperately wanted to find peace and heal myself from the inside out.
Finally one day, overwhelmed by the world, tired of all the therapy, not interested in drugs, determined that if the craziness was in my mind, then I should be able to fix it, I decided, “I know, I’ll do some yoga.”