Not every day, but once or twice after brushing my teeth and preparing for bed, I would lean closer to the mirror and examine my features. I would dissect and sort those parts of my face that I recognized and those that did not look like my mother.
And what was left over I assumed belonged to that locked chapter of my early life when I lived in Iowa.
I thought about contacting you a few times in my early 20s. The Internet was not what it is now, and I imagined the entire journey happening on foot. I would go to that place on my birth certificate, and I would ask questions of the people I met there.
But years passed, and I never made the journey.
I'm 31 now.
I wonder why you decided to find me now. Was it an accident? Did you just stumble upon me while surfing the Internet?
I guess that is my first question.
Why? And why now?
After you answer that ... I have many more questions.
And that was the first correspondence, months ago.
Since then, "my questions" have been answered, and I've begun a journey that I'm not sure there is a guidebook for -- a trip, in all senses of the word, called meeting your biological parent.
I know that people go through this all the time. There are Web sites dedicated to reconnecting biological parents and their adult children.
But are there 10-step programs or seven stages of emotion that I can follow with my sharpened pencil and check off as I go through them?
If there are, I haven't found them yet. They didn't cover this in Psych 101.
If I were to write the psychology textbook about the seven stages of being reunited with your biological parent, I would say they start with shock, then curiosity, then excitement, then fear and distrust, followed by a numb, coma-like state where the brain disconnects from all sensory functions and you become an objective observer of your own life. The sixth and seventh stages are a mystery to me.
I'm still sitting in the cockpit of my head, calmly steering this ship through a storm.
My life -- before I remember it and before the photo albums recorded it -- started on a farm in Osceola, Iowa, where a group of young people searching for spiritual growth gathered to hear the teachings of a man named Francisco Cole. Two of those young people were drawn to each other. They married. They had a baby.
After that, there are two versions of the story.
There is his version, and there is her version. And as a friend said this week, there is probably a third version called "the truth."
It's human nature to think the best way to take control of a thing is to name it. Adam named the animals and all the plants. And the people named the places where they settled, and the explorers who "discovered" those places gave them new names.
We named the streets. Named our children and our pets. We named every emotion, nuance, syndrome and psychological quirk.
But I have no name for this person, and that's how I know that I do not understand the situation. He is not "Dad," because I already have one of those, and family is more than just blood. It is also time. Biological father is too unwieldy, and "pen pal," as I call him to my friends, is pure denial.
He arrived Friday. I drove straight from work to his hotel room, and as we sat across from each other at dinner, talking about our day because we were afraid to talk about our entire lives, I looked right at him for the first time and just stared.
I dissected and sorted the parts of his face that I recognized from the mirror.
And as I looked into the face of a stranger who looked like me, I realized that in many ways, I was sorting through my mother's past.
My first vivid memory is of me in a child's seat on my mother's 10-speed bicycle. I was holding a paper cup, sitting behind her and trying to catch the rain. It was just her and me, alone.