“What did he say to you in Spanish as we were leaving, Darla?”
“Hmm…Well, he said that you seem to be a very nice man and that he doesn’t want to hurt you.”
I sat there driving wondering what that could mean.
“And what else did he say?”
“He also said that his mother was married five times.”
“Yes, the first time she got divorced was when Johnny was 3 years old.”
“She married and divorced 4 more times after that. Did you see the pictures of her on the wall? She was really a beautiful woman when she was young…”
“So, I guess Johnny’s had a lot of father figures…. But he basically grew up in East LA with a single mother.” I said as I stared blankly out the windshield of the car at the LA freeway.
“He also said that he wished you’d found him when he was younger.”
The drive back was hot and smoggy and seemed short as we pulled up into Richard’s driveway. I put the sunscreen up against the windshield and just sat there for a long time before I got out.
“Need some time to yourself, Phil?”
“Huh? Oh, no… No… I was just thinking….”
“Yeah? What are you thinking?”
“Well, a lot of things, I guess… I’ve finally met him. I’ve finally met my son…. Amazing.”
“Yeah? So, how do you feel about it?”
“Well, I guess I feel a lot of things….. One, I feel relieved that I was able to actually find him after all these years. Surmount that monstrous void of a black hole. Bad enough that instead of being a father and a family man, that they sent me to ‘Nam instead but to have never supposed to ever have anything to do with him or ever hear anything about him for the rest of my life… Well, that’s just down right mean and sadistic, don’t you think?” I ask Darla with amazement and pain written in my voice.
“Yes, I do Phil… Especially for somebody like you who’s so sensitive and so close to the people he loves…. Yes, that was terrible.”
“Yeah…. I feel relieved that I was able to find him in my lifetime before it was too late. It fills the big black hole in my heart that’s caused me so much pain and suffering in my life.”
“Yes, I can see that.” Darla said nodding her head.
“I guess I also feel sad that I was not there for him all those years… I wish my mom and my dad could have met him before they died.”
“Yes, that sure would have been good for the both of you. For all of you.” Darla said quietly.
“Yeah, that sure would have been nice. But I would like to help him with his struggles now if he’d let me become close to him… Do you think that will ever happen? I mean, it felt pretty obvious to me that he’s happy with his life the way it is now and that he has some reluctance and fears about allowing me into his life, don’t you think?”
“Yes, well… He needs time, Phil. Give the kid, the man, Johnny… Give Johnny some more time.”
“Yeah, I guess this is something I’ve struggled with and have been dealing with now for 35 years. He’s only had a few weeks to think about what it means to have someone call you out of the void and claim that they’re your birth father… That’s got to be overwhelming… I’m sure…”
“Yes, that is for sure, Phil. Especially with someone like you….You’re so heartfelt and loving and kind and sensitive. It’s something to take in, you know… I’m really only getting to know you now, after knowing you for 6 months…”
“Right… Right… Yes….. Of course….” I said as we got out of the car and Richard came out of the house to ask: “So, how’d it go? How’s your new kid?”
“Well, it was good… Damned good to see him….. A mind blower… Something I’ve wanted and needed to do now for a long, long time….”
“Yeah? How’d he look? Did he look like you? Like his birth mother, Marissa? Like Josh?”
“Gee…. I don’t know….. None of us, I guess… And all of us….” I answered as we walked into the house and got something cold to drink.
We sat down and I said, “I guess it’s going to take some time. Some more time… To process it all and try and figure out where we go from here…”
“Yeah, but you did it, Phil. You were able to find your son!” Richard said emphatically with a big, bright, congratulatory smile on his face as he looked me intently in the eye with his fist raised in an acknowledgement of triumph.
“Yes, I was finally able to put it all together and find him. Amazing that I was able to do that… Yeah, just amazing…” I said as I nodded my head in agreement with Richard and then shook my head in disbelief at the same time while chuckling to myself.
Then, as it began to sink it, I added: “Thank God they’ve finally begun the open adoption program to help facilitate possible reunions for future searching adoptee and birth parents…”
I saw Johnny May 21, 2000
Two days later Darla and I drove back to Chico. I excitedly and anxiously waited in anticipation trying to decide what to do next. I nervously wondered if I’d hear from Johnny again.
On June 8, I wrote Johnny a letter saying how glad I was that we were finally able to meet after all these years. I said I thought he was wonderful. I also said how great it was to meet him and that if there’s ever anything I could do to help him with his struggles at making decisions or just with everyday life, that I would feel very honored and happy if he came to me for help.
I was waiting for the pictures of our reunion to be processed at Costco so that I could send them to Johnny along with the letter.
I hadn’t heard anything from Johnny since we left LA 2 & 1/2 weeks before.
I finally sent the letter to Johnny without the pictures.
The pictures never came back to Costco. Evidently they got lost somehow.
As of September 28, I still had not heard anything again from Johnny.
I guess waiting 35 years has not been quite long enough yet.
Darla decided to just up and move out October 1st…
And life goes on….
Darla and I broke up October 1st…
Today is Johnny’s 38th birthday. I will not call him or send him a birthday card because he asked that I do not call or write (not to mention visit) him again.
“I want my life back.” He wrote me upon the last correspondence I received from him last December as a response to a Christmas card I sent him telling him that I am available for him if he needs somebody to talk to about his problems.
And what are those problems? I remember looking at a picture on the wall of Johnny’s bedroom and asking who that was? He said it was “Me, when I wasn’t feeling very well.” I didn’t recognize the picture of him because it didn’t look like Johnny. It didn’t look like him because the picture on the wall was a picture of Johnny with his weight at least 30 pounds lighter. I didn’t ask what illness he had because he didn’t seem to want to talk about it.
Since first finding Johnny and then finally meeting him three months later, I realized that it’s a lot for him to absorb after 35 years to suddenly hear from someone he does not know telling him he’s his birth father. I tried to go slow and not rush things with him. People have suggested that he needs more time and eventually he’ll come around. It’s been five years.
I wrote Johnny once or twice a year, called him a couple times year and asked to visit him but after a while I realized that he is dealing with something besides who I might be. I tried to assure him that I don’t want to take anything from him and that in fact, I’d like to add to his life. I’d like to tell him about his lineage and give him some insight about who I am, who his birth mother was and some background about his heredity. Most adoptees are more than a little curious about their family background.
I could tell that Johnny was very apprehensive and did not want to investigate what I’ve made available to him. After a couple years went by I thought I’d try a different approach and I sent Johnny a letter explaining that I’m not here to judge who he is or who he is not. At first I was hoping to make up for lost time and get together as often as possible, which was maybe only once or twice a year due to the 500 mile distance. I even had fantasies of Johnny maybe moving up to Chico and going to Chico State University. I slowly realized that Johnny really would rather I not attempt to establish a relationship with him at all or even contact him again for that matter. I guess I was not prepared for that. After talking to adoptees over the past 3 and a ½ decades and hearing how lucky they thought Johnny was because I was trying so hard to locate him, I guess I was hoping for Johnny to be at least lukewarm to the idea and not what turned out to be basically freaked out.
I was hoping we could make up for lost time, get to know each other and maybe all of us, that is, Johnny, myself and my other three kids, could all get to know each other at long last. Johnny assures me it’s nothing personal; it’s just that he’s not ready.
After a couple years of thinking Johnny’s not ready, things began to dawn upon me. I gave some thought to some very important and obvious or maybe not so obvious telling signs. The last letter I’d written Johnny and trying to make it very clear and obvious that I only want to help him find himself and maybe offer some insights as to how he might be able to reach his goals and find what he wants in life. How could he not wan that? How could he turn that down? I even thought of the perfect thing to say, I wrote that: “if you’re not interested and would prefer that I don’t try to reach out to you anymore by not writing or calling anymore, I’ll honor and respect your wishes and I’ll leave you alone altogether.”
To my great surprise, Johnny wrote right back within a week and thanked me for the letter and said: “Yes, I think it would be best if you did not write or call me anymore. I know you’re a loving, kind and wonderful man and I appreciate what you’re trying to do for me but, honestly, I’d prefer that you not write me anymore. Please don’t be sad. It’s okay, I’m fine. This is for the best.”
I was beyond surprised. It was not what I was expecting to hear form Johnny. I guess I was hoping to hear him say: “No, no, don’t give up on me. I just need a little more time. Just a little more time and I’ll be ready.”
I guess I was hoping Johnny would buy my bluff and that he would finally be receptive to the idea of establishing some sort of connection with me and we’d finally be able to get to know each other a little bit.
One of the last conversations I had with Johnny before he pulled away completely was where I took a chance and asked about “his friend” who he mentioned a few times during our conversations. When I asked about the wedding ring he was wearing when we met Johnny said: “Oh, it was given to me by a friend who recently died.” Hmmm, I thought to myself, his friend died? Hmmm…what other young man have I ever known would wear somebody else’s wedding ring, on his ring finger, no less? Later, when Johnny mentioned that he was moving in with another friend, who happened to be a man, I thought: Hmmm….Ok…He’s in his mid thirties, he doesn’t have a girlfriend, he doesn’t have kids and he does seem to be struggling with something…Hmmm…?”
From all the bits and pieces of information Id’ gotten from Johnny since we met, I took the risk of asking him if he was gay. Johnny got real quiet and didn’t know what to say. I reassured by saying that: “I think if he loves somebody, it doesn’t matter who the person is, not the age, race or sex. It’s good to love somebody and be with them as long as he’s happy and the person treats you right.” Johnny finally said: “Ah, well, this has not been easy for me. Nobody else knows, not my sister or my friends or anybody else, especially not my mother.”
I said: “Don’t worry, Johnny. I won’t say anything to anybody. I give you a lot of credit. It must be very difficult for you to realize who you are and to have the guts to be yourself and go after what you want, especially being Hispanic and living in East LA.”
“Yes, it sure is.” He answered quietly.
“I can’t imagine how painful that must be for you. I want you to know that I think it’s good that you know who you are and that you have found love. How does your friend treat you?” I asked.
“Well, you know, he’s from Mexico and you know how that is. He can’t really accept it. He hates himself for being gay. He knows he loves me but he can’t go back home because they don’t accept him there and he still can not accept who his is either.”
“As long as you’re okay with it, that’s what important, Johnny. You’ve got to be okay with it and love yourself.” I said.
I did not bring up the other thing I’ve been concerned about since I met Johnny. That is, that I’m afraid he’s HIV positive. It only makes sense. He’s been sick with some mysterious, secret illness where he was very thin a while back and he’s since mysteriously gained back his weight and he’s okay now. And, nobody seems to know anything about what it is or wants to talk about it. But, to me, it seems pretty obvious.
One thing that seems to make sense to me is that Johnny might be trying to ‘save me’ form the grief and sorrow that I would certainly feel had he told me he’s HIV positive after searching for him so hard and for so long. Little does Johnny know that I’ve been fairly certain that he is HIV positive now ever since I first met him and put all the clues together. Is that better than knowing for sure? Maybe for Johnny it is. But how could tell me when he can’t even tell the person he’s closest to in his life. That is, his adoptive mother. And, no way he can ever tell her. So I guess Johnny feels running away from it is the only thing he can do.
On April 19, 2005 Johnny turns 40 years old. I have not heard form him in more than two years. I sent him a birthday card on his birthday last year. I haven’t heard anything back from him. My birthday was May 7th. For all I know, Johnny could be doing anything at all and could be living anywhere in the world, just like it was for the first 35 years of his life. He could even be living in Northern California and be a neighbor of mine or he could not be living at all anymore.
A lot has happened since I wrote about meeting my birthson. I thought I’d better call him up before I totally lose touch with him again so I called him up in 2009 just to touch base.
“Oh, hi, Phillip. I’m so glad to hear from you!”
“Well, I’m glad to hear that.” I answered.
“I would have called you by now but I lost your number.” He said.
“Well, I’m glad I called you. Me and Trudi and Josh and Nadia and Riana will all be in LA next week and we’d like to see you.”
“Great! Terrific! Where and when?” Johnny answered.
“Well, actually, we’ll be in the Long Beach Port coming back from a cruise to Mexico. Matter of fact, we’d love for you to come with us if you could. I’d be happy to pay for you and your boyfriend.”
“Oh, thank you, Phillip. I would love to but my mother’s been in and out of the hospital for the past few weeks and it doesn’t look good.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.”
“But maybe I can see you when you’re in LA.”
“Alright, great! We’ll be at the docks at 3 PM Saturday. You think you could meet us there and maybe have lunch or dinner with us?”
“I think so.”
And so Johnny and Josh and Nadia and Riana and Trudi and I all got to be together and have lunch at a nice restaurant in Long Beach.
Trudi and I will be going to LA again sometime soon and getting a chance to hang out with Johnny again for a couple of days.
It’s been a long time coming.