Storytelling

To My Dearest Birth Mother from Joseph Justin

Replying to a thirty-three year old letter

September 24th, 1979, New Orleans, LA

My dearest child,

This may be the most difficult letter I will ever have to write. As I pen this letter I have just returned from sitting with you in the hospital. You were running a high fever and were hospitalized for observation. You are a strong baby and might I add a beautiful baby as well. You are a fighter, and thank God you’ll make it. It doesn’t surprise me, for during my pregnancy we went through some rough times. There were times I wondered if we would make it but, we did. With every month that went by you grew. I could feel you moving around inside me and the love for you created a bond between us. A bond that will be with me until death.

Your ancestors are of good American stock – French, Irish, English – Upper middle class – Educated & Proud.

I am at this date eighteen. Your father was twenty-one. I said was because he was killed in an auto accident. We were young and marriage could have been possible, I suppose, but I felt in order to give you the very best that life has to offer, I would surrender you for adoption. I went to the best avenue open and that was Catholic Charities. Through them I know they would find you the best parents possible. Your adoptive parents love you as much as I do. Please understand my darling little one, I love you, and because I love you so much, I was able to pick a future for you. Please always treat your adoptive parents with the love and respect they deserve. Their star is one of the brightest in heaven.

There won’t be many days that pass that I won’t think of you and wonder about you. When you are older and you want to see me, I’ll always be there for you. Your adoptive parents will be able to assist you in finding me.

Walk through life my dear little one, proud with your head high and walk with the thought that besides your adoptive parents, there is someone who loves you dearly for life and that someone is your,

Mom

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July 1, 2013, San Francisco, CA

My dearest birth mother,

It’s been nearly thirty-four years since you wrote this letter to me. I would have replied sooner but so many things have prevented me. Now, that doesn’t mean that there has been a day I haven’t thought about you – where you were or how you were doing. I used to sometimes pretend that you were in a crowd with me or maybe we were sharing an elevator. How cool would that have been?

My curiosity felt like it would have come to a head when I first tried to find you. Unfortunately, neither my parents nor Catholic Charities could help. You see, not long after you penned my letter and my parent’s letter, my adoption was sealed upon the Act of Surrender. The State of Louisiana told me if you and I signed up for the Adoption Reunion Voluntary Registry, they’d proceed with facilitating our reunion.

I was excited. After all, you mentioned that you’d be willing to see me when I was older. When the letter arrived to inform me of the next steps, I opened it with a sense of purpose – recording to memory the dramatic unveil. Sorry, at this moment we regret to inform you that your birth parents have not registered. I felt my soul deflate through a prolonged sigh like a cheap balloon. There was so much I wanted to say. Even if it were a simple thank you. Eventually your own words would lift me up: You are a fighter. For the next decade or so, I’d use what little clues I had to find you. Here’s what I knew:

  • You were 18 years old, 5’5 and a half, weighed 110 lbs and had brown hair, hazel eyes, and a fair complexion.
  • My birth father was 21 years old, 6′, weighed 180 lbs and had brown hair, brown eyes, and a fair complexion.
  • My birth father died in a car accident prior to my birth.
  • You entered the adoption program in July 1979.
  • You were in 11th grade and employed in retail sales, enjoyed reading, sewing, and cooking. You also had an allergy to penicillin.
  • It did not appear that your parents were still married.
  • Your father was 42 years old; your mother was 39 years old.
  • You had two siblings – a brother, age 19, and a sister, age 16.
  • You were born in and residing in Louisiana at the time of my birth.
  • My birth father was employed as a carpenter and graduated from high school.
  • After my birth, I developed a high fever and was hospitalized. You would visit and call nightly to check on me.
  • You did not complete the Act of Surrender until I was well and discharged from the hospital.
  • You named me Joseph Justin at birth.

Unlike most adoptees, I had a goldmine of knowledge about you and my father. However, each attempt to find you would end in both mental and physical exhaustion. So many possibilities, so many forks in the road. Most recently, I used databases to find twenty-one year old males who died in 1979. It was a breakthrough, but it would eventually break me. The only way to continue my journey was to call the parents and siblings of men who died at the tender age of twenty-one, opening a wound that began healing thirty-three years ago.

The last family I called pushed me away at first – Sorry, our son didn’t have any children – but my phone would ring an hour later.

It had been three decades since their son died in a car accident and here I was, answering to see if, in the off chance, I was the missing piece in their lives. They were eager to help. They were keen on me being their long lost flesh and blood.

I’m a fighter, but the gravity of it all hit too close to home. I’m happy to inform you that my adopted family has been just as amazing as you had hoped. The three of us became four when they adopted my little brother and, like any family, there were rough times but for the most part we were always there for one another – especially after Katrina. While the flood took our home and personal belongings, we hadn’t lost what was most important. We still had each other! After the storm, I thought nothing could break us, but I’d be proven wrong one night in 2010. My little brother died in a car accident, coincidently at the age of twenty-one. For the last three years, my fighting spirit has been dedicated to keeping my family strong, but when those parents reached out in hopes of finding their grandson, I couldn’t help but imagine what it felt like to be in their place.

After we concluded that they weren’t my birth father’s parents, I remained in shock. I stared at the long list of names, the long list of “maybes”, and I couldn’t go on. I might be a fighter, but I’m also extremely compassionate. I can’t do that to another family again.

That doesn’t mean I’ve given up. It just means that I need you to meet me halfway. If you’re out there and you still want to see me, I hope this letter will reach you. And in the event that it does reach you and you’ve changed your mind, please don’t feel bad. Just know that there is someone who loves you dearly for life and that someone is your,

Joseph Justin

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