I don’t recognize this place. It’s a park, I can tell that. I see swings gently blowing in the wind and a tall metal slide. But no children. Directly in front of me lies a bench. A woman with short blonde hair sits on the bench. I can’t see her face. I slowly walk towards her and place my hand on her shoulder. She turns her head, and I can almost see her face.
I wake with a start. What a strange dream. I feel as if I’ve been to that place before. And the woman… the woman felt curiously familiar to me.
I get out of bed and shake off those strange feelings, it’s only a dream. And I have somewhere to be. It’s my first day as a journalist for the New York Times. I landed the job after sending them an investigative story about a sex trafficking ring in Manhattan. I have no formal education in journalism, but I’ve become quite good at it.
I learned how to write while on the road with my mom. It had always been just me and mom. As a child, we moved a lot, always looking for a new opportunity in a bigger city. She taught me to never get attached and never look back. Our free lifestyle didn’t allow me to make friends, so I spent my time writing. I loved watching people; trying to figure out who they were. I would follow kids around, listening to their conversations. When I felt I’d learned enough, I would write an elaborate story about them being an underground criminal, or a witness in hiding, or some crazy thing like that. Writing became my best friend and my way to understand the world.
I never stayed in one school for a whole year, so going to college wasn’t something I planned on doing. Plus, I couldn’t hope to afford it. So, I had to get into journalism another way. That’s when I came across the trafficking ring, I knew this story would be my chance. Now, here I am, heading into my first day at the New York Times.
I glance at the clock, grab an apple, and rush out the door. I get to the office ten minutes early. After several minutes, a woman approaches me and asks, “Are you Grace Miller?” I nod.
“Can I get your forms of I.D. please?”
Forms of I.D.? I didn’t know I had to bring those.
“What forms do you need exactly?” I ask her.
“A driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, or social security card. Any of those would work.”
“I didn’t know I needed to bring any forms of I.D.,” I told the woman.
“You’ll have to come back tomorrow, you can’t begin work until we finish your paperwork,” she responds.
I stare at her blankly. I’d never got a driver’s license; we were on the road to often. And a passport wasn’t ever needed. But I’m sure my mom had my birth certificate and social security card. Trying to hide my annoyance, I say, “Okay, I can come back tomorrow. Thank you.”
I need to stop by my mom’s apartment to document. I hate visiting my mom, she lives in a poor neighborhood. Visiting her made me feel like a child again. Struggling to make friends, struggling to get money, and struggling to find a home.
I make my way down the dirty street, into her building, and up those rotting stairs. I unlock her door, and walk in. “Mom, it’s Grace. Are you home?” I call out.
“Grace, I’m in the kitchen. Come on in” she yells back.
The kitchen smells of mold and stale bread. My mother sits at the table drinking a cup of coffee. She looks dirty and unkempt, as if she’s been lying in bed for several days. It makes me sick.
“Mom, you should really clean up a little. It’s not healthy to live like this,” I say.
“Grace, you worry too much. I’ll be fine. It’s been a while since you visited, what brings you to my part of town?” she asks.
I tell her that I got a job at the New York Times, as a journalist. But, when I showed up at the office they asked for two forms of I.D. I never got a license or a passport. They said a birth certificate and social security card would work and I thought she might have that stuff.
My mother looks at me with a stern look and says, “Grace, this job is a bad idea. Didn’t I always teach you to never get attached. I think you should quit.”
I’m caught back by this comment. I thought she would be proud of me. I respond a bit too harshly, “I’m trying to do something good for my life and you can’t even be proud of me. I didn’t ask for your permission to do this job, I’m doing it. Now please, where are those documents?”
“I don’t have them,” she says.
“What do you mean you don’t have them?”
She looks at me sternly, “I guess it’s about time I told you.”
She tells me that she found me… abandoned on a park bench. I was around three years old. She told me she looked for my mother, with no luck, so she took me home. She didn’t want to turn me over to the state, since she knew the conditions of those homes. Which means, I was never officially adopted by her. That’s why she didn’t have any of my paperwork.
I sit there in shock, unable to move or respond. I feel angry, why wasn’t I told. What if my real mother was out there looking for me? What gave this woman the right to take me like that? I feel a sudden awareness. My childhood made sense, why we were always on the road and why we could never stay anywhere for too long. My mother had technically kidnapped me, even if she felt like she was protecting me. If the state learned the truth about me, I would be taken away from her.
I feel an urge to yell and throw things, but all I can do is cry. I break down, right there, sitting at the table with my so-called mother. I cry because I am angry, and I cry because I am sad. I cry for a childhood I could have had, and a mother who I forgot. I cry because I never felt like I fit in and now, I understand why. I cry because my life has turned upside down and I have no idea who I am or where I came from.
I calm down, look at the woman who raised me and say, “I want to know where I came from.”
She looks at me sadly and says, “A little town called Stormbrooke. There’s a park on the edge of town, that’s where I found you.”
I get up from the table and walk away, I have a feeling I won’t see my mother again.
As I sit on the bus heading back to my apartment, I pull a picture from my purse. It’s an image of my mother holding me, as a toddler. We have smiles on our faces. My mother was beautiful back then, with long blonde hair and bright blue eyes. As I look at my mother in the image, I remember what this woman had done. I look about three years old in this picture, which means it was taken right after my real mother abandoned me.
Looking at this image made me wonder of my real mother. I made a decision; I’m going to find her.
The sun had already set as my cab drove into Stormbrooke. I’d spent the last several days getting my affairs in order. I put my job at the New York Times on hold and prepaid several months’ rent. I had only one focus… find my mother
We drive through Stormbrooke, looking for a place to stay. The town is quiet and empty. It reminds me of a town you’d see in a Hallmark movie, small and quaint. We spot a bed and breakfast. I get out of the cab, pay the driver, and walk inside. The lady at the front is old and stout. She greets me kindly, gives me a key, and walks me to a room.
I fall into bed and pull the image of my mother and I out of my pocket. I stare at our happy faces. The image reminds me of why I am here, to find my real mother and to find out why she didn’t want me. With those thoughts in mind, I drift off to sleep.
It’s that dream again. I’m in a park. The swings are gently blowing in the wind, and there is a tall metal slide. No children in sight. There is a woman sitting on a bench directly in front of me. She has short blonde hair. I can’t see her face. I slowly walk towards her and place my hand on her shoulder. She turns her head, and I can almost see her face.
I wake with a start. I remember that dream, I had it the day I found out about my mother. Strange, I’ve never had a reoccurring dream. Why this one and why now? The sun shines through the curtains, the day has begun.
I rouse myself out of bed, get dressed, and carry myself into the dining room. It smells of bacon and maple syrup. I imagine this is what a true homecooked breakfast smells like, my mother never made anything like this. I sit down and the old woman from last night brings me a plate. The meal is delicious. After eating, I give my thanks to the old woman and ask her for directions to the park on the edge of town.
As I step onto the street, it looks different from the night before. There are cars on the streets and people going about the town. I watch young children cling to their mothers, laughing. I imagine myself as a child in this town, I wonder if I had ever walked down these streets with my real mother, clinging to her hand.
I follow the old woman’s directions, making my way to the park. I pass a little candy shop, a barber, and a small bakery. This is the kind of town I wish I had grown up in. I pass a school full of children playing on the playground and stop to watch a group of girls pushing each other on the swings. How I had wished to have friends like that when I was a young girl. The longer I walk the more angry and sad I become. This could have been my life, my childhood. I could have belonged to a loving family. Instead, I grew up always running, always leaving my home behind. I grew up with a mother who was preoccupied and never took care of me. I finger the image of my mother and me. It sits in my pocket, reminding me of what I am searching for.
I am so lost in thoughts of a childhood I will never get back; I almost don’t notice that I had reached the park. I glance up and can’t believe what lie before me. It’s the park from my dream. It’s so vivid. Those are the swings gently blowing in the wind, and that is the tall metal slide. Like my dream, there are no children, no adults either for that matter. Directly in front of me is the bench, the bench where the woman sat. But there is no woman now, it’s empty. I walk toward the bench and sit down. I can’t believe it; this is exactly like my dream.
But maybe it wasn’t truly a dream, maybe it was a memory. The place had been strangely familiar to me and now I knew why. This was the bench where my mother found me. I had been here before, but who was the blonde woman in my dream. Could she be the key to finding my mother? Could she be my mother?
I sat on the bench for hours, looking around the park. I can’t get that dream or that woman out of my mind. I believe somewhere in this town lies a clue. And I will find it, I will find her.
As I slept that night, the dream returned. I saw that same park with that same bench. I saw the woman but when I approached her the dream ended. I woke up and decided to return to the park. Maybe, I would find something there that I hadn’t noticed yesterday. I get dressed, eat breakfast, and hurry out the door.
This morning is like the one prior. I see the same people going about their day, the same cars on the road, and the same children holding to their mothers. But this morning all I can think about is that dream. It was strange, yet familiar, and I am certain it held a clue. I round the corner towards the park and stop suddenly.
It was her. Sitting on the bench; the woman from my dream. She has the same stature and the same short blonde hair. I try to hide my excitement as I rush toward the bench. I slow down and round to the front. The woman looks up at me. I can see her face. Pale and beautiful. She has deep blue eyes. I calmly ask, “May I sit here with you?”
The woman nods and I take a seat next to her. I turn to her and say, “I don’t want to be a bother, but I think you might be able to help me with something. You look familiar to me, what are you doing in the park this morning?”
She looks at me with hesitation and responds, “I had a dream last night, I dreamt of this park. I saw the swings blowing gently in the wind and the tall metal slide. I saw myself sitting on this bench, watching those swings.”
She paused for a moment; her gaze fixed on the swings, then continued “I haven’t been here in many years, it’s too painful for me.”
Her eyes tear up as she says, “I used to come here with my daughter, she loved being pushed on the swings. One day while playing at this park, my daughter was kidnapped. I searched for her but couldn’t find any trace. I came and sat on this bench every day for a year, hoping my baby would come home. Eventually I gave up and haven’t been back since. But something about that dream prompted me to come visit the park this morning.”
She turns her gaze from the swings and looks up at me. She apologizes for sharing her story, she shouldn’t have burdened a stranger with such sadness. But I am glad she shared her story because everything clicked at once. It sounded crazy and unreal, but I realized why I had been having that dream. It had been leading me to this woman.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out the image. I hand it to the woman and ask, “Do you recognize this picture.”
The woman put her hand to her mouth and stared at the image. She says, “This is a picture of my sister, holding my daughter. I took this right before she was kidnapped. My sister was in the park with my daughter and I that day. She disappeared along with my daughter.” The woman looked up at me and asked, “Where did you get this image?”
With tears in my eyes, I say, “I’ve had it my whole life. This is an image of the woman who raised me, the woman who told me she was my mother… and me.” I watch the woman’s expression change to realization.
I continue, “She recently told me that she found me as a child and adopted me. I came here looking for my real mother. I think I am your daughter.”
The woman gently grabs my face between her hands and glances into my eyes. She pulls me into a hug and says, “I never stopped thinking about you baby girl, my beautiful daughter, you came home.” We sit in each other’s arms, tears streaming down our face. And in that moment, I know my life has changed. For the first time, I feel like I belong.