My Brother Met His Mother

My brother Eric met his birth mother.

He drove from Maryland to Pennsylvania, then stayed in a hotel the night before they were to meet. The next morning, he met his birth mother and his half-brother. They shared photographs and updated each other on the highlights of what’s happened in the last sixty-three years.

I don’t want to use real names. Let’s call her Lois and him Paul.

Eric and I text occasionally, talk rarely. He called me the night before. My brother describes himself as “quiet.” Our conversations have few words. Often I ask long questions and he picks through the words for his answer.

“How are you feeling, Eric? Excited? Nervous? Scared?”

“All of it.”

While he was at their house, he called me. He was outside on a smoke break. Probably an emotional break, too. He said it was going well with, as he calls them, “my half-family.”

Then he put me on speakerphone. He had walked back inside and hadn’t told me.

“Hello, Jule,” said a woman’s voice.

“Hello. Who’s this?”

“I think you know who this is.”

“Is this Lois?”

“Yes!” And in the background, “and Paul.”

I scrambled. What do you say to the birth mother of your brother? I wished he had warned me but it probably wouldn’t have made a difference. I was glad he wanted to include me and felt jumbled at the same time.

Lois and I spoke briefly. I liked the sound of her voice. Eric’s half-brother didn’t say much. What’s it like to suddenly learn you have an older brother?

Later that night Eric called from his hotel room. “A lot to process” is what he said. I asked if he cried or she cried. “We both did.”

Eric said Lois wanted to talk to me. “I think she wants to ask you questions about me, growing up.” We agreed it would be best if I called her in the morning, and agreed on the day after tomorrow. The drive to Cleveland was the next morning, and the car was not the place to make such a call.

When Lois answered the phone, she said she almost didn’t pick up because it was a Chicago number. She asked about me, wanted the outline of my life. I told her about my career, about my husband who died almost fifteen years ago, that I never had any kids.

“My husband died a year ago,” she said. “I cried about it a little this morning.”

I liked her.

She was warm. Kind. She said she didn’t know what Eric was going to say when he came through her front door, but she would accept whatever he said, even if it was, “I hate you.” She said, “Everybody has a right to their feelings, whatever they are. Feelings are feelings and they matter.”

With Eric, I need to work to keep a conversation going, but that wasn’t necessary with Lois.

She asked questions about Eric and then said, “I got the sense that he was cared for, but I couldn’t tell if he was happy.” She waited for me to respond.

I sighed.

“Lois, I don’t know if any of us were happy in that house.”

“He said your father was… troubled.”

“Yes. Yes, he was.”

We talked some more and she told me about her experience of handing over her baby, what her doctor said, what her lawyer said, what her father said. I admired her sacrifice for her son.

It was a lot to process.

Chewing the Cud of Good

small fluffy dog sitting outside on a cushion
Thankful for dogs and how good it feels to pet a friendly dog.

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