I’d like to think I would recognize an October sky without the Gregorian calendar telling me to expect one. There is an unmistakable ambience in the air, offered by its clouds and the clear blue sky and the aging leaves pointing their fingers up at the daylight moon. Especially here in California, where the seasons are subtle. We have to be more aware of the details, because that’s all we get. It is a slow shift. There’s no massive exodus of green leaves, and no snowstorm announcing Jack Frost’s pending arrival.
There’s just October.
And that beautiful sky, I think to myself. Today’s is just like the one I remember from all those years ago. I certainly didn’t need a calendar then to recognize its significance.
As stark as an Eastern season change, the horizon is torn from my view with the loud roar of another incoming train. Pulled from my reverie, I jump back a bit, startled by my reunion with the bustling reality around me: families ushering their children in line, lovers kissing tears off one another’s cheeks, and the group of well-dressed individuals further away from the loading dock, holding up signs to identify whom they’ll be escorting elsewhere.
The Branciforte Train Station is alive around me, but I remain seated on a bench, waiting on the sidelines. My knees are bouncing and my fingers are diddling; I know her train won’t be here for a little while more, but I am still nervous. So nervous that I’d arrived nearly two hours early, hoping the sights and sounds would stimulate the anxiety right out of my body; but, it seems to be doing the opposite. With each train arrival, accompanied by the off-boardings and onboardings of passengers, my knees and fingers speed up.
They say when you die, your life flashes before you, reviewing all your experiences, highlighting the moments that were most significant and altering for you. While I can’t attest to this yet, I can tell you it happens in other moments of life, too, not just in the face of death. My life rushes forth to the front of my mind, as if it knows a different end is coming for me today.
I think about how when you’re young, you don’t think about consequences. Developmentally inappropriate, is the term my now almost-forty-year-old brain, full of education, reveals across my racing mind. The teenager I was years ago didn’t have the literal psychology to predict this moment would arrive one day for me.
Yet, here it is, I drop my head into my hands, rest my elbows on my bouncing knees, jiggling my whole body.
I didn’t think about this moment, when I was younger. It never occurred to me. I was sixteen years old when I found out I was pregnant. I’d had sex a total of one time in my whole life. All I could think about was how scared I was. How it wasn’t supposed to happen like this. How everyone had wanted so many different things for me that it had been impossible to decipher what I even wanted for myself.
The father wanted nothing to do with a baby. As far as he was concerned, this is was my fault. He had done his part by pulling out, therefore, whatever my body was doing was my problem. My foolish heart believed him. Funny thing how rejection has a way of plucking the chords of approval. His refusal of fatherhood or husbandry was like a favorite song ending on the wrong note, and I needed that satisfying note to hum me back to safety. I wanted his love so badly that the child growing inside me started to feel like its only obstruction.
On the other side of things, my father chose to ignore it, while simultaneously ignoring me. He continued to provide for me in silence, and the situation was not to be mentioned around him. If anyone asked, it wasn’t happening. My mother honored my father’s disregard when she had to, but behind closed doors, she was supportive and sympathetic for my situation.
Men cannot understand these things, darling, she had said. It was her way of defending us both. Years later, I'd gone through a period of anger and resentment at my mother for even bothering to fortify my father’s ignorance; it wasn’t until recently that I’ve come to reciprocate my mother’s sympathy. She was right: men didn’t and don’t understand these things. And at the time, neither did I.
The friends who remained when the news of my pregnancy got out were supportive. This’ll be over soon, they would say. As if I had the flu.
You see, there was not a single person in my life who even considered an alternative to giving up this baby.
And while the budding mother in me tried to speak her piece, the adolescent in me was so scared of giving birth, and of losing the life I felt was just beginning. I was so scared of being pregnant and of feeling a small thing grow inside of me, all while I, myself, continued to grow. I was scared to give it away, but I was even more scared to keep it. That fear blinded every other thought.
So, to me, there simply was no option.
And with no options to offer their potential outcomes, I truly never considered this moment, which was now racing towards me in the form of a literal train.
I tried so hard to forget about the child I abandoned, which, of course, only made it harder. And the harder it was to forget, the more I pushed myself into new directions, new distractions. I wanted so badly to live a life that justified my decision to not be a mother. I went traveling. I joined the Peace Corp. I double-majored in college. I played sports, and collected hobbies like they were McDonald’s Happy Meal toys. I avoided marriage, telling myself I’d already passed up my shot for a family.
And for what? Nothing ever made it easier.
You see, you can separate a child from its mother, but the mother will always be in the woman. There’s no erasing those experiences from a person’s mind. Or their body, or their soul, for that matter.
With all those experiences I'd desperately and purposefully placed on top of that one single experience, the only one I can see now is her being placed in my arms when it was all over. I’d considered asking the nurses not to show her to me, but I couldn’t. I had to see what I was giving up. I had to burn that memory into myself somewhere. Maybe it was self-sabotage, or Karma digging her manicured claws deep into my psyche, ensuring I would live with the decision I made every day for the rest of my life.
And I have. While I’d intentionally chosen a family for her on the other side of the country, I still caught myself locking eyes with babies everywhere and wondering… I did this everywhere, even in different countries, and with babies of different ethnicities and different genders and misaligning ages. It was like I was looking to be the mother for them all until I finally found those deep hazel eyes. Until I finally found the one who belonged to me.
I huff audibly at the thought. She doesn’t belong to you.
I reach into my back pocket and pull out a printout from that ancestry website. Despite all my looking, it was her who found me. Imagine that. An internet website bringing us together. It’s no wonder it never occurred to me that I would see her again. This wasn’t an option back then. There had been no options…
She reached out to me just two months ago, and I was both jubilant and apprehensive. Who knew the answer to your dreams could disguise itself as a tiny notification within your computer screen? That initial realization was exhilarating. Then, I was a teenager again: frightened, anxious, guilt-ridden, and looking for someone else to tell me what to do.
How will she ever forgive me? I’d thought.
I suppose the question should have been, how will I ever forgive myself, because she had been friendly and eager and curious, without a hint of resentment in her messages. I remember crying when I received her request to meet in person. I don’t deserve this, I sobbed to myself, covering my mouth and sliding down the doors of my refrigerator onto the kitchen floor.
I imagine in a traditional mother-daughter relationship like the one I’d had growing up, one that is fostered lovingly and gradually and consistently throughout the course of a child’s life, it would be the mother who has the wise words to give to their daughter; and I so desperately want to be that for my daughter when she arrives; but in our circumstance, as the clock ticks closer to her train’s arrival time, I find myself becoming more speechless.
I’m replaying the morning I met Carl and Ruby. I’m replaying the looks on their faces, a mixture of sympathy as they saw me, a small teenager who’d found herself in this most difficult predicament, and the look of utter joy when they saw the bundle of innocence curled up in my arms that would soon be theirs. I’m replaying handing her over to them, wishing she would wake up so I could see her eyes one more time, and telling myself this was the only option, that I would feel better later even if I didn’t feel OK then. I’m replaying the leaves that rushed past my car window as a gust of wind tore them from their branches, while my mother drove me out of the hospital parking lot empty-handed and with scars inside and out. And that daylight moon cradled in that light blue sky of a crisp morning.
I squeeze the paper in my hands tighter at the memory.
“Amaya,” I say her name aloud, practicing, looking at pixelated photo my outdated printer managed to spit out.
Just then, a gust of air and a loud rumble tears the paper from my hand, sending it off down the railway. Reflexively, I jump up to try to catch it, but it is a reflex without a chance. It’s gone.
The train in front of me stops, and it occurs to me that the next scheduled train was to be hers. Which means…
She’s here! I think anxiously.
I’m patting down my clothes, taming the wild hairs on my head with a quick swipe, and sliding my tongue across the front of my teeth like a nervous wreck. I take a few deep breaths, and then the train doors begin opening one by one. Passengers are ducking out quickly. My hands begin to sweat and my heart races. I’m hyper focused on the door closest to me, scanning faces as they exit. There are some with their heads down: the passengers who will find their own way home, darting off like arrows to a target; and there are others who are tilting their chins up, searching. I see their faces light up with recognition as their eyes find who they’re looking for. I let myself imagine Amaya’s face doing that…
Within minutes, the rush of people becomes a trickle, and then almost suddenly, the loading area becomes still. The train doors shut as it prepares to continue on to its next stop. I’m no longer anxious-excited, but anxious-disappointed. I look left and right, up and down the length of the railway. I see small clusters of people who are still greeting and hugging, and others who are glued to their phones, waiting for another train. But I don’t see the face I’m looking for.
I open the messages app on my phone and read the last message from Amaya. She’d given me an update, and confirmed her arrival time. There was nothing since then.
Part of me knew to expect this. I’d told myself not to get too excited. You didn’t deserve this, a tiny whisper interjects.
Defeated, I surrender an exhale and take a seat back on the bench I’d waited on all morning. I catch my head in my hands just in time for the release. The sob is uncontrollable, but quick. I’d learned that the more I surrendered to them, the shorter they lasted.
I’m wiping my eyes dry when I feel a gentle tap on my shoulder. Expecting a good Samaritan, I eagerly offer my palm and say, “I’m fine, I’m fine! It's just allergies. Thanks!”
Looking to the either side of me to make sure I don’t leave anything behind, I can still feel a person in front of me. I look up, and my mouth falls open.
“Hi,” Amaya says through a shy laugh, waving her hand softly.
I jump to my feet, and I’m instantly met with the eyes that have haunted me since I was sixteen years old. Of all those eyes I’ve looked into, none of them were like these. Those beautiful hazel eyes.
A bluster of wind stirs, and I can hear the nearby trees shaking their leaves off. Something clicks inside me. Without another thought, without any fear, guilt, or hesitation, I pull my adult daughter into my arms for the second time in both our lives.
“Happy birthday,” I say.