Authors: Mary Tennant
I Knew You’d Have Brown Eyes
First published in 2016 in Australia and New Zealand by Finch Publishing Pty Limited, ABN 49 057 285 248, Suite 2207, 4 Daydream Street, Warriewood, NSW, 2102, Australia.
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Copyright © 2016 Mary Tennant
The author asserts her moral rights in this work throughout the world without waiver. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic or mechanical, through reprography, digital transmission, recording or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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Edited by Pamela Hewitt
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Cover design by Ingrid Kwong
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To Trevor – for your unconditional love.
The second time I saw my son, he was twenty-nine.
We met at a beachside resort in Hervey Bay, Queensland. It was a warm day and I had driven from Caboolture that morning. I checked into the hotel and sat in my room, contemplating our meeting. After all these years of no contact, after all the changing laws and policies, after all the letters, emails and phone calls, we had decided it was time to meet in person.
He chose and booked the hotel, since he knew the area, having spent holidays there as a child. I arrived early. My room had harbour views, but I didn’t take them in. After I unpacked my bag I couldn’t sit still. I paced the room and balcony, checked my makeup a dozen times, cleaned my teeth and tried to calm my growing anxiety.
My mobile phone rang.
‘Sorry I’m late, I misjudged the time. What’s the hotel like?’ He sounded nervous.
‘The hotel is beautiful,’ I said. I knew from our previous conversations that if he wasn’t in a tent the accommodation had to be the best.
‘Take your time, don’t rush.’
Don’t have an accident was what I really meant. Not after I’ve waited this long to meet you.
I abandoned my pacing and went to the lobby. I wasn’t sure that this was the best location to meet my son – such a public place. But I waited there nevertheless. Try to act normal, I told myself.
I had wanted this for so long and yet for an instant I wanted to run away, to be back in the safety of Perth with my husband and our daughters.
My eyes darted from the receptionist to the car park to my nervous hands.
‘Are you okay?’ asked the receptionist.
‘Yes! Fine thanks. Just waiting for someone.’ I hoped my voice sounded perky.
I saw the four-wheel drive enter the car park and recognised it from a photo he’d sent. I tried to stay in my seat, but couldn’t. I jumped to my feet and ran outside. I was hit with a rush of emotions. Fear – would we get along? Anxiety – how would the meeting go? Sadness – for all the years lost. Joy – finally we were meeting.
His appearance shook me. He had sent photos, but that wasn’t the same as seeing him in the flesh. I looked at his face and saw my brother, my nephews who were about his age, but most of all, my father.
We embraced. I sobbed.
‘We have the same nose,’ he said. We were still in the car park and he was pointing at his nose. I took a step back so that I could see him fully in the afternoon sunlight. We laughed.
On the north side of the hotel was a long white beach with overhanging trees and it was to the beach that we gravitated. We sat under a tree and I wondered where to begin. He spoke first.
‘Thank you for not aborting me.’
I was speechless.
Eventually I said, ‘I did consider it.’
In the years after he was born, I often wondered if I’d made the right decision. In my darkest moments I questioned whether I’d paid too high a price for going through with the birth and with the adoption. After I married and had two beautiful daughters, I imagined my girls in the position I’d been in – young, pregnant and confused. I would not have hesitated to talk about abortion with them. I wouldn’t have been able to bear them going through the pain I’d experienced.
Of course, had they chosen to keep their child, I would have been the first to offer help. More importantly, I taught them about contraception.
Now here was the very boy I had cried over, ached for on every one of his birthdays and searched for in the eyes of every child I saw after his birth, thanking me for saving him.
‘You were an easy birth,’ I told him. ‘One injection of pethidine was all the pain relief I needed. The pain, for me, came after your birth.’
I couldn’t count the times over the last twenty-nine years that I had hoped to have this conversation, to tell him the story of his birth, and now here we were. I felt a tide of relief settle over me.
‘You were born in the Royal Women’s Hospital.’
‘I know,’ he said. ‘When they pulled the hospital down a few years ago, I went to the demolition site and stole two bricks.’
I took a second to take this in – one for me and one for his father. A sentimental gesture. I liked this young man. The waves gently lapped the shore and the sun beat overhead. I told him the name of his father and a little about him, and how it had been that we came to decide adoption was the best option for us at the time. We both shed tears and he comforted me.
After a couple of hours I was emotionally drained. We moved back to the hotel. It was time for dinner. Though we didn’t plan it that way, I had dominated our conversation on the beach and over dinner it was his turn. I was more than content to sit and listen. We had a few drinks at the bar but, before we sat down to our meal, he excused himself and went to his room, returning with a photo album.
‘Mum put this together for you. It begins when I was a baby.’
He placed the album on the table in front of me.
There is no relinquishing mother, I believe, who does not devote a great deal of time thinking about the adoptive mother of her child. Over the years I had speculated on what type of person she was and had invested all my hope in believing that she was a sensitive and caring person. When childish thoughts of mean stepmothers came into my head I had to banish them – after all, there was nothing I could do.
It was with very mixed emotions that I opened the first page. I was confronted with a picture of him at one month old. I cried. How could I not cry? I pored through the pages. His favourite Tonka truck, which he still had in case he had a boy one day, holidays on the coast, school balls, girlfriends and cars – he loved rally car driving. I saw the baby become a teenager as I looked through the pages. We looked very similar as children. I thought back to where I would have been in those years, what I would have been doing. I’d never known where he was living – I was not told anything. I’d wondered if children were sometimes sent to different cities or states to prevent them from running into their birth parents in the street. But he grew up in a Brisbane suburb not far from where I lived in my early twenties. He’d gone to the same school as my nephews. He’d known one of them.
‘So you were raised Catholic?’ I asked.
‘Yes, but since I left school I haven’t had a lot to do with religion.’
‘I stipulated that you would go to a Catholic family on your adoptive papers.’
The waiter came and cleared the table. We sat quietly till he had finished.
‘I don’t go to church any more either. Tell me about your mother.’
‘My mum is the best mum in the world. We’re very close.’
‘How did she feel about you meeting me?’
‘She wasn’t happy about it. When your letter arrived – the one you sent when I was eighteen – she was very upset. That’s partly the reason I didn’t want contact at that time. But I knew that one day I would get in touch with you.’
‘Did she know about my more recent letter?’
‘She didn’t say, but I’m guessing she did. She knew your name was Mary – when she and Dad came to pick me up from the hospital, she saw your name on one of the documents.’
Anger rose in me. No contact, secrecy, privacy and confidentiality for me but she knew my name. What was that about? Human failure. I’d often wondered how confidential the process really was. It crossed my mind more than once that if I’d known someone working in Children’s Services I could have asked them to look through the files. At the time of his birth, I was so naive that I believed everything they told us about confidentiality. As I grew older I learned that things are not always infallible. Here was proof of that. What else did she know about me? I felt angry that my side of the bargain had not been kept. Then I let my anger go. I didn’t want to destroy these precious moments.
We moved on to his childhood, his family holidays, his school camps. Opportunities I couldn’t have given him. I was seventeen when he was born. I had no means to keep him and raise him.
I remember that dinner as a free-flowing and extensive conversation. I had to stop telling him how much he reminded me of the males in my family, because I felt that wasn’t right. But each time he shook the watch on his hand I saw my father, and the expressions on his face were my younger brother’s. I told him about Charlie, my older brother, and his sons, about how they too loved camping. We joked about having a camping holiday with them one day.
I often think about mothers who never meet the children they relinquished. I have read stories about those who do not want to reconnect with their birth parents. I keep in my desk drawer a story cut from
magazine in which a woman writes of deciding not to meet her birth mother:
It could have been the reunion many adopted children dream of. But the harsh reality was that this woman was a stranger to me and I had no desire to strike up any sort of relationship with her
I felt sad to read that story because she will never know what she missed by not meeting her birth mother. She will never get the chance to thank her mother for the sacrifice she made in order that she could have a stable and comfortable life. And her birth mother will never feel the relief that I felt the day I met my son. Reunion is not easy, but for me the rewards were colossal.
The next morning in Hervey Bay, we hired bikes and rode along the coast. I couldn’t help but notice that we had the same calves. I am often teased about my large calves. People think it’s because of the amount of sport I do but I inherited them from my father. We stopped for breakfast and mused over our mutual love of cycling.
When it was time to leave I didn’t want to let go but had to remind myself that he was not mine to keep. He was a man now with his own life. The past was the past and now we had to look to the future. Driving back to Brisbane I was lost in thought. I was overcome with happiness and incredulity. It happened! I met my son! He’s an amazing man! I stopped about two hours out of town and sent him a text.
Thank you for our reunion. I am so fortunate that you have given me this opportunity to meet you. I don’t deserve to say I am proud of you, because I didn’t raise you, and yet that is how I feel
Soon my phone was pinging with a reply:
It was a very special meeting for me too; one I will always treasure