[If this is your first time reading my Adoption Story, it is a fascinating journey told in pieces. For your best experience, start from the beginning at: Adoptee with a Note]
Ancestry.com notifies you when a new DNA match shows up in your account. I was notified shortly after Hurricane Irma and to no surprise it was Anthony Verde. Soon after I received a message from Anthony (Tony) through Ancestry’s message system. Tony’s message was short, asking if we could communicate stating he was looking for a lost niece who was given up for adoption. I already knew I was the niece, he didn’t. We exchanged a few short emails that confirmed I was the niece he was looking for. We arranged a FaceTime call.
Tony’s kind smiling face filled the screen on my phone as he emotionally exclaimed at seeing me, “Oh my God, Lisa Marie, I’ve been looking for you for years and now there you are!”
The exclamation and the realization that someone was searching for me too, overwhelmed me with emotion. The tears flowed as I listened to him pour out information about himself and his family. His memories about the timeframe of my adoption were not very clear as he was the youngest sibling and was only twelve years old when Angela got pregnant. He told me about the neighborhood where he grew up in Binghamton, NY around the corner from St. John’s Church. He mentioned that his mother had a beauty salon on the corner next to the rectory where my Nana lived and worked. (Later I realized that this was the beauty salon my Nana went to faithfully every week to have her hair done. Crazy!!!). Our initial phone call was brief but full and overwhelming. Tony told me that his older brother, Frank, needed to be brought in on the reunion as Frank had been the main advocate for finding me over the years and Frank would have a much better memory about the details. I excitedly agreed to a conference with Tony and Frank.
That evening, I answered the call with my husband, Steve, by my side. We listened amusedly as Frank and Tony rambled and bantered and excitedly recalled the details of fifty-three years previous. My husband Steve said that listening to them was like listening to a radio talk show with two funny bantering Italian DJs. They were hilarious and my heart was full of joy.
Frank was three years younger than Angela (making him seventeen at the time of Angela’s pregnancy) and he remembered a lot more than Tony. He remembered Father Driscoll and said that he would come to their home for dinner. (What?!) He also thought that it was Father Driscoll who advised his parents about Catholic Charities and the maternity home in Rome, NY.
(OMG! Could it be that Father Driscoll, my beloved Father Driscoll, knew my birth family and orchestrated my adoption? How did he keep it a secret? Did he keep if from my Nana? This information was blowing my mind! Foundations were shaking and crumbling underneath me.)
The call went on for an hour as Frank filled in the details of his and his family’s experience. Tony remembered the drive to Rome when they dropped off Angela. His parents told him Angela was going to camp and he remembered being jealous that he couldn’t go too. When Angela returned without the baby, both brothers were confused and upset. Much to his parent’s horror, Frank often asked at the family dinner table, “What if Angela’s baby comes knocking at the door right now?” He would get severely admonished for his behavior. I sure did love this man’s honest spirit!
My heart warmed to my two new Uncles as I listened to them recalling their rebellious childhood and their brave questions about the “family secret”. In their story, too, were recollections of Angela and her experience. She was shamed by her parents, especially her father, and that shame persisted through her adult life. Her parents frightened her with stories of what would happen if she tried to find her baby (or if her baby found her). Her life would be ruined – more than it was already ruined. Angela was never forgiven for her discretion and lived a lifetime of shame and guilt and fear. Angela’s sister took over the role of the “good daughter” and never let Angela forget it. I couldn’t imagine how this dynamic would affect someone’s psyche and my compassion for Angela ran deep. She carried a burden of fear, pain and shame for fifty-three years.
After a couple phone calls that included invites to their home for family celebrations of birthdays, etc. I had a realization that I needed to discuss with my new Uncles: we were beginning a connection and a relationship behind Angela’s back. They were not sharing their discovery and decision to move forward with me with her. This felt bad to me. When I asked them about it, they confirmed that they were not planning on telling Angela, however they were wanting to tell their sister and their mother and some other relatives. Oddly, a protectiveness rose up in me around Angela. Even though she rejected my letter, I felt it was important for her to know what was happening with her family and with me. It did not feel good to me that there would continue to be secrecy and lying about me and my existence. I shared my feelings with Frank and Tony. They tried to understand. I urged them to respect Angela and her experience and her feelings and that at the very least share with her that they found me and wanted to have a relationship. In the end, they decided to give Angela more time to process and not bring it up with her. Obviously, there is more to the family dynamic than I understand. I have to trust their instincts. Sadly, my relationship with my Uncles is on a hiatus until we can proceed with integrity and honesty.
Of course, I shared every detail of this journey of reconciliation with my Uncles to Tina. She was excited and fascinated with the details, especially the realizations that I walked among my birth family every day. When Tina heard about my request to my Uncles for honesty with Angela, she felt inspired to have the same degree of integrity in our relationship.