A blizzard blew into New England that afternoon and we left for Colorado with snow swirling and every mile in front of us a slow, hard-fought battle to gain traction...both on the road...and in my heart. A battle had been won. But the war with self, with feelings of betrayal and abandonment, was not over with the surrender of our son back to his birthmother’s care...in fact it had really just begun...
"Now the first of December was covered with snow
And so was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston
Lord, the Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frosting
With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go"
- James Taylor
No, it wasn't the first of December, but it was snowing as we turned off Route 128 onto the Massachusetts Turnpike that evening. I would love to be able to say that an inspirational hymn was what I was rolling over and over again in my head. But it wasn't. My head was filled with "Sweet Baby James.",". The visuals out the windshield…snow, Berkshires, the turnpike…were just too coincidental with these lyrics I had sung since high school. So there I was with the lyrics to yet another James Taylor song holding court in my head, along with what I came to refer to as “devil dialogues”…the arguments between thoughts that are dark and destructive, and the angels…the thoughts from God, the thoughts of redemption and peace that descend on our hearts when we are in need. And it was the presence of these devil dialogues that made me realize that, although I had ten miles behind me... having released a son to his mother, I also had "ten thousand more to go" before I too would be released from the grip of sorrow and regret...and it felt as if I was going to have to make that journey in the bitter cold with bleeding footsteps.
My husband and I rarely talked as we crawled our way through driving sleet on the turnpike that night. Cars were off the road at rakish angles having come to a stop at the end of a slide and been abandoned right where they ended their flight from peril. The radio didn't come on and we were, I think, both too engaged in our own thoughts to go looking for a cassette tape to put in the deck on the dashboard. So we made our way through the empty darkness of the Berkshires in the brittle cold silence of personal heartache, regret, and anger with a faceless target
We took turns driving through the night and by the next morning my eyes burned and my head felt battered by the demons that were having it out with the angels who had felt so at hand the previous day. Yes, love had made me a mother...but the demons were insisting that love had also made me a fool...a victim....vulnerable and open to the deep wounds of betrayal and abandonment. It wasn't enough, they argued, that I had quit a job that I loved to stay home and keep her company through the loneliness of her pregnancy, it wasn't enough that we had gone deeply into debt not only to meet our own obligations but hers too during the course of her isolation, it wasn't enough that I now had empty arms and an empty nursery... that I no longer had a happy marriage, an interesting job, or a sense of purpose...but she had now left me alone in a house that was just meant for a family...a baby...for him. I imagined what I would say to her if she were sitting next to me, standing in front of me, on the phone with me...then the next minute I would find myself praying with the angels of peace that had been gathering around me since that day at the blackboard.
By afternoon I had my eyes closed as I sat in the passenger seat. I was now fully involved in the dialogues. I had been a very effective debate team captain in school, but this was more like refereeing. The arguments were flying. I felt like I couldn't disengage from my fascination with the demons’ subtlety in wrestling the angels to the ground as if they (and I) were silly, foolish and naive. But we kept at it...bloodied and bruised...and still standing. At one point I felt a hush fall over my mental courtroom and the thought came, “stop and call her.”
Hmmm....who was that? Angel or demon?
But the thought was quiet and the feeling in my heart was warm and still, not agitated and hot. I opened my eyes and asked my husband if he would stop at the next service area. He probably thought I had finally woken up to the usual rest stop needs.
Within minutes we slowed down and signaled to pull off the road into a large parking lot. As I got out of the car I told him that I just needed to call her. I saw the look of concern on his face and knew immediately that he thought I was going to give her a piece of my mind since my emotional state had been so erratic over the previous few days. One minute I had been peace-filled and certain of God's allness and the next minute I was teetering on the brink of a grief-induced madness that would have had many partners looking for the nearest straightjacket and padded cell. Regardless, I was certain of one thing as I walked into that rest station...he was praying.
I headed to the bank of pay phones near the restrooms and found an empty booth. I had long since memorized her mother's phone number after the hours we had spent in the hospital together during Austin’s birth and I dialed it without knowing what I was going to say. When her mother answered on the third ring, I asked for her daughter as if I were observing myself from a few steps away, wondering what I was going to say once she came to the phone. Her mother called her and said that she didn't know who it was.
Then I heard her say "hello" in a voice so subdued and broken that it shocked me out of my self-indulgent reverie. This was someone I loved, someone with whom I had spent seven months cooking, laughing, and dreaming about "our" son's future. I said her name and she asked who I was. Again I was shocked. I knew that the sound of my voice was as familiar to her as that of her own mother's. Hadn't we talked for months at the kitchen table...hadn't I been the one to pray aloud, sing hymns, whisper inspiration, coo messages of comfort and assurance to her through the long hours of labor and delivery?
I said, "It's me..." With that a sob burst forth from the deep well of grief that we were both drowning in.
"I never thought I would ever hear from you again," she said… “I thought I had blown our relationship forever."
The hard veneer of grief that had begun to form over my heart shattered into a million pieces that dissolved in the warmth of angels breathing a benediction of love over our friendship.
"I miss you and I need to see you," I said. "We are driving cross country on our way to Colorado...I wonder how long it would take us to get to your parents’ house?"
"Well, where are you now?" she asked. I didn't know so I stuck my head out of the phone booth and asked a truck driver in the cubby next to me where we were. He pointed to a sign above the doorway and I repeated the name of the service area to her through the phone. "Oh my gosh," she said, "that's only about two miles from here"...and she proceeded to give me directions to her parents' home.
My husband didn't ask any questions when I asked him to drive to where we would soon see the son we had lost custody of only two days before...if he had any questions, he was taking them to God. We both were.
We arrived in the late afternoon dusk. As we drove into the long driveway I could see light coming from behind her as she stood inside the storm door with her son in her arms. I took a deep breath and asked God for strength as I opened the car door and walked towards her. When she opened the door and I saw the pain and sadness in her eyes, the final hardness in my heart broke way and out poured more love than I could ever remember having felt in one moment.
Then I knew.
I wasn't looking at the baby in her arms. I was looking at her. I was loving her. She was the "child" I had adopted into my heart and my life. This beautiful courageous woman who had lived with us for those long months in isolation was the child I had raised. I could see that she was in pain and it broke my heart.
I went to her. She held her son out to me to hold, but he was her son and I no longer needed to hold him. I wanted to see my "daughter" smile. I wanted to see her happy holding her son. I wanted her to know how happy I was to see her and to see her with her son. We had loved, cherished and nurtured the very best in her, and she was doing what God had moved her to do...to love her little boy...to be a responsible and loving mother. I couldn't have been prouder.
We went in and spent an hour or so with her and her family. We saw the nursery she had carved out of a corner of her childhood bedroom. The toys and clothes we had sent along with her were carefully folded and placed around her room. She was a great mom who was making difficult but love-inspired choices for herself and her son. I felt my heart swell with love in a way that I had never felt before.
We left later that night and continued our trip to Colorado where we saw family and friends. We were able to honestly tell them that as hard as the experience had been, we were going to be okay. I knew that I had now put twenty "miles behind me.." I also knew that, on this journey towards truly understanding motherhood, love and selflessness, I still had 9,980 "more to go".
To be honest this journey continues today, 19 years later. I have stopped counting miles, I've stopped thinking I will ever "get there"....at this point I am just in awe of the landscape.
Austin's mom and I continued to stay in close touch as she moved through his infancy and childhood. We became Austin's godparents and she served as a character reference when we adopted our daughter a year later. Soon after that I was a bridesmaid in her wedding to a wonderful man who later adopted Austin.
Sometimes when I am asked how many children I have, I remember that beautiful woman in the doorway holding her baby and I think...."Ah yes...don't forget her.”
I never could.
"...There's a song that they sing when they take to the highway,
A song that they sing when they take to the sea,
A song that they sing of their home in the sky—
Maybe you can believe it if it helps you to sleep,
But singing works just fine for me . . .
“So, goodnight, you moonlight ladies;
Rockabye sweet baby James . . .
Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose;
Won't you let me go down in my dreams
And rockabye sweet baby James."
So..there you go. There is more to this story...so much more...but I will let it filter out as "the Spirit moves"