I wasn’t sure I’d hear from Jack. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do the believing necessary to actually sit and wait for the call. But Jack didn’t leave me much time to think about all this. He called me just a few moments after I finished speaking with Vanessa.
What do you say when your father calls you for the first time in almost 40 years?
All I could say was, “Hi.” I didn’t know what else to say. I wasn’t even sure what to call him. Too soon to call him “Dad,” too disrespectful and impersonal to call him “Jack.” So I just said, “Hi.”
I remember him saying “Hi” back.
The words we exchanged first may, on the surface, seem like mere pleasantries — “How are you?” “Where are you now?” — but the relief and giddiness with which they were spoken really said it all. We were both ecstatic to finally be in touch.
As we talked, Jack told me that after Sarah’s parents found out she was pregnant, they sent her away to have the baby (Jack kept correcting himself as he told me his recollection of things — “the baby — you,” he kept saying with a chuckle). They wouldn’t tell him where Sarah was. He didn’t know when I was born, nor did he know anything about the adoption process because he was not, in any way, included in it. He was glad to hear that Sarah “stuck to their plan” and named me Christina. Jack said he always liked that name and wanted me to have it if I was a girl.
Jack left Vermont shortly after I was born and joined the Marines. He returned home from Basic Training and went to see Sarah. She didn’t want anything to do with him, but did tell him that I was a baby girl. He hasn’t been in touch with Sarah since that brief conversation.
During his time in the Marines, Jack made sure he had P.O. Boxes registered in his name just in case I or anyone else acting on my behalf was looking for him. He and his family always thought that I would contact them one day. In fact, he said he always imagined it would happen when I turned 18 or even sooner than that — that I would find Sarah and then him. He then asked me if I had any contact with Sarah. I quickly told him I did, but was no longer in touch with her. He was silent for a moment.
I then asked Jack how did his family end up in Vermont anyway. Turns out his parents were migrant workers. In the fall, they’d go to Vermont to pick apples. In the spring, they’d go to Florida to pick oranges. They’d lived in housing provided by the farm owners so that’s why their names didn’t show up in any records — even census records — when I’d looked for them. In fact, I’d even done a search for African-Americans/blacks in their area of Vermont and came up with nothing.
He then asked me if I have a good life. I told him I do, and when I told him about the kids he sounded astonished that I had children. “I have more grand kids?,” he said. And then he said, “You’re married, right?” and “Is he a good guy?” Of course I said yes — on both counts.
Jack met his wife while he was in the service. When they had their first daughter, they named her Christina. His entire family knew about my birth. I could hear excited voices in the background noting that he should tell me this about his family, or tell me that about his life. They all knew about my existence. They really had been waiting for this call for decades.
The entire time I was on the phone, I felt at once elated that I had found the elusive Jack Green. But I also kept wondering if this was all a dream or a hoax. I mean, Jack’s and Vanessa’s reactions were so different than Sarah’s reaction to me. Even when we were in positive touch with each other, she never spoke as if we were family or even remotely related. But these people were referring to themselves as “your Aunt” and “your Dad” immediately. It was just such a different reaction, and perhaps understandably so given all that Sarah had to deal with in her family and, by contrast, all the support that Jack received from his family. We ended our conversation promising to send photos and to keep in touch.
A few days later, Vanessa called me again to check in. Vanessa told me that she went to the grave site where my paternal grandmother is buried to let her know that, “I’d found them and that I was back.” She also let me know that my paternal grandmother had kept a box for me of things she had been saving for me over the years. Vanessa now has that box. I’m not sure I’m ready for that right now, but hopefully soon I’ll go and pick it up.
Jack and I spoke again briefly on Thanksgiving day and then texted each other on Christmas, New Year’s Day, and MLK Day. Ours is a holiday-driven communication right now. We have exchanged pictures, so I’ve seen him, his wife, and all my new siblings. He recently asked me for my baby picture. I didn’t anticipate how hard it would be to send one. It was overwhelming — going through my baby book and trying to decide which image of me would be a sufficient introduction to the infant me for this man who was denied the chance to see me at birth. I cried as I selected one, sorry that I didn’t have a picture of me before 2 months to share, sorry for him that he didn’t see me grow up, but at the same time happy that I grew up the way I did. It’s a strange moment. In many ways, he imagined a baby after all these years; I imagined an 18-year-old boy who would barely remember that he dated my birthmother, let alone that he had a baby with her that he never saw.
It was a relief to me to find out I was wanted and missed. Beyond that, I’m still trying to figure out what’s more difficult to navigate, though: being the one who was given away, or being the one who was missed for so long.
(Tomorrow I’ll try to take a step back and reflect on race, gender, and class issues running through this adoption experience).