Dublin, Day 1 (Cont’d)
We get off the plane, make it through customs and are warmly greeted by my cousin, whose relaxed and friendly manner immediately puts us at ease. After preparing breakfast, she offers to drive us to our hotel in central Dublin. We will meet more of my family at a gathering later this evening.
Tired but adrenaline-stoked, we go for a neighbourhood walk, cross St. Stephen’s Green, and stop in for a guided tour at the Little Museum of Dublin. There is a shrine here dedicated to the Irish rock band U2. I learn that Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara was a descendant of Patrick Lynch of Galway, who left for Argentina in the 1700’s. Other relatives of his fled during the Irish Famine. First-born son of Ernesto Guevara Lynch, Che set out across Ireland in search of his roots in 1961 – the same year that I was born. Not that I am suggesting there is any connection between these two incidents (wink, wink). What we do have in common, by the sounds of it, is an inquisitive nature and a rebellious streak. And the fact that the year he travelled to Ireland is the year that my story begins.
England, 1960’s. For as long as I can remember, I have known that I was adopted. In the early years, it was just another descriptive feature used to define who I was: My name is Jane. I have blue eyes and freckles. I’m adopted. The words had no weight. But during the teen years, a restlessness set in (read = major identity crisis), and with it, a desire to know more. I would think that for people who have grown up with an acute sense of their family roots and history, this longing might be hard to fathom. Imagine, for a moment, growing up knowing nothing about your family. Never knowing whether you have siblings, or what your father and mother are like – the sound of their laughter, the colour of their eyes, their quirks, all the trivial and not-so-trivial things that make them who they are. Now imagine you have no idea what your ancestors did for a living, where they came from, what they looked like and how or when they died. No photos to look at or stories to hear at the dinner table. No backstory. Silence. No context. Tabula rasa. No visuals. No sounds. No names. Just empty space. And then, see how your childish imagination starts to fill in those spaces. With dreams of being the daughter or son of royalty – or Cuban revolutionaries. With fantasies of how your adoption was all a mistake. That there is someone out there who’s been trying to reach you all these years, to tell you how much they loved you and wanted you. The fantasies that protect you from that feeling deep down to your core of having been rejected and the loneliness that has shadowed you throughout your life. But you have a family, you might say. You were chosen. Yes, you are right. I was adopted – by an English couple who also adopted two other children, my brothers, and then had a biological child, my sister. And I am very grateful for that. But it does not take away the wondering. The questions remain. And the silence remains. The missing pieces of the puzzle.
Fast-forward to the 90’s. Pregnant with my first child, in my mid-thirties and now living in Canada. The curiosity has become so overwhelming that I can no longer put it off – I must find out. What is my medical history? Who and where do I come from? The longing for stories to tell my children so they will not have to fill in an empty slate as I did.
And so, brushing away fears of an unhappy outcome, I make a move. I contact an adoption agency overseas, giving them the little information I know. I’d been told that I was Irish, and that was all. After a few months of waiting, I receive a response. Now I have a birth certificate with my original and given names, a copy of my adoption certificate, and a series of letters written between the adoption agency, my foster mother and my adoptive family. Information, at last! It appears that I stayed for one week with my birth mother (a common practice, back then), before she gave me up. This is the biggest news for me. I was then taken in by a foster family until I was adopted at 4 months. Strange to have so many people involved in determining my fate at such a tender age.
So finally gathering the courage, I attempt to make contact. I send a letter to the English address I’d been given, explaining who I was and how, being pregnant, I was hoping to learn about my medical history and roots. No answer. I wait. And wait. And then a few months later, a card from England arrives in the mail. A cursory note. “Will write soon.” But my mother never did. (I never heard from her again, up to the time of my writing this.) A feeling of devastation sweeps over me. It had taken me a great deal of courage to contact her. But I respect her privacy and reconcile myself to the likelihood that if she couldn’t bring herself to talk to me, it’s because it was too painful a memory for her. Or, she simply did not want to.
Fast-forward a few months. I receive two surprise letters – the first of many that will arrive over the next 20 years – from her sister in England and brother (my uncle) in Dublin. They have found out about the adoption and are happy to learn of the existence of a new family member. We begin a correspondence, during which I learn a little about my mother. Although I do not understand – I cannot understand, not knowing all the facts – I respect her silence. And all of which leads me to where I stand now, on a street in Dublin, about to meet this uncle who has been writing to me for the past 20 years, his wife, and my extended family for the first time ever.
The gathering is unforgettable. So many new faces and relations. An evening of food, gifts, laughter, and music. My uncle is a musician and singer, like me. He brings out his guitar and plays a few songs. We sing together – Gordon Lightfoot, Johnny Cash, Chris Christofferson. Me and Bobby McGee. Sophia is laughing up a storm. We have a blast. Emotions run high as we say our goodbyes. My relatives leave us with exciting and nerve-wracking news: My birth mother has agreed to meet us when we arrive in England nine days from now, on the third leg of our journey. But tomorrow, the two of us will be heading out, as our tour of Ireland is about to begin.