One’s Origins: A Journey from Adoption to Identity – Part Twenty-One

“A birthmother puts the needs of her child above the wants of her heart.”

― Skye Hardwick

Writing Part Twenty-One has been a challenge that at times seemed insurmountable. On no less than two occasions I deeply questioned my emotional stamina to continue on this journey. Ladened with this was a simmering frustration that I was letting myself down. In the latter part of summer this year, I learned information that put me on a hot trail to learning about my biological mother. As a result, two things became evident. First, I saw purpose for my months long writer’s block. There was a reason I was to hold off writing this part. My journey was not to end before its time. Second, Part Twenty-One was not going to be the last part but rather the penultimate part. Part Twenty-Two will be where my journey becomes consummate.

Part Twenty-One had been teed up to explore healing the relationship I have with myself. In ways that I could never have imaged, this healing found me – not the other way around. It almost feels as though all I had to do is stand still for a minute. I begin this part as I began One’s Origins in March 2019, with news of the existence of not one, but two additional biological half-brothers. This time however, it is our mother we share. This addition to the journey was not due to matching DNA segments but rather by digging through publicly available records. In addition to the brother with whom I was raised, I share a biological father with two men, each of us with a different mother, and I share a biological mother with two other men, each of us with a different father.

Right to Left: Matt; Joe; Derek

Among myself and my two maternal half-brothers, Joe and Derek, I am the oldest. My mother was 18 years old when I was born. Six years later, Joe was born and nine years after that, Derek. Unlike my paternal half-brothers, Dan and Scott, who grew up apart from one another, Joe and Derek were raised by our mother. They came along after our mother was in the position to raise a child. Also, unlike Dan and Scott who were both born in California, Joe and Derek are east-coasters and remarkably, the three of us grew up within 75 miles of one another. With Joe and Derek, I also now have two new sisters-in-law and three new three nieces. Just as with biological family on my father’s side, we have committed to remaining part of each other’s lives for as long as we live.

Grace Diane Vonarx circa 1967

From Joe and Derek, I learned a little more about the circumstances and most probable motivations for my mother making the very difficult choice of adoption. Answers to many questions surrounding the circumstances of my adoption have immeasurably helped me find solace. As to how I came to be, I do not yet know all the details – and some details might well remain forever unknown. This is what I do know. On September 5, 1948, my mother, Grace Diane Vonarx was born in Fort Benning, Georgia to Floyd “Louie” Eugene Vonarx (1911 – 1991) and Evelyn Starner (1917 – 2009) who married in June of 1936. My grandfather was in the army during World War II and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He retired from the Army in Aberdeen, MD. Grace, who would grow up and spend much of her life in Aberdeen, MD and Dover, DE, was more commonly known by her middle name Diane and often called Dandy by her mother. My mother had one sister named Karen who was seven years older and had two daughters. My aunt Karen passed away in 1978 from leukemia at the age of 37. In her early fifties, my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. On December 27, 2003 at the age of 55, my mother passed away surrounded by family including Joe and Derek. I was 36 years old and I was still yet an unknown. My mother died never knowing what became of her first child.

Shortly after the summer solstice of 1966, my mother, Diane and my father, Lawrence crossed paths. She, a 17-year-old self-effacing young woman who cherished solitude and being at the beach with nothing more than a book and her deepest thoughts, and he a 20-year-old ramblin’ rebel with a restless heart and an affinity for fitness and musical instruments. Nine months later a beach loving, freedom chasing rebel with a thirst for knowledge and a restless heart, partial to fitness, music and solitude was born.

At the time of my birth, the circumstances were not favorable for my mother to raise me on her own as much as she may have wanted to. I learned that she even had a name selected for me. She would use that name when she spoke about me to those in whom she confided her anguish. Giving me up for adoption was something that weighed on my mother’s heart for the rest of her life. On occasion, thinking about me would bring her to tears. I have no doubt that she would be very pleased to know that I would quickly find a loving home with a man and his wife who both longed to and could provide a stable home and a nuclear family.

On Mother’s Day 2004, Joe and Derek scattered our mother’s ashes into the waters of the Delaware Bay at Pickering Beach in Kent County, Delaware. This was one of our mother’s favorite spots to enjoy her cherished alone time. The beach is quite secluded nestled two miles east of Dover Air Force Base. The beach faces east across the Delaware Bay towards the southern tip of New Jersey. Throughout my entire life I have driven past Dover Air Force Base countless times going back and forth between home and the beaches of lower Delaware, never knowing that each time I was driving within minutes of where my mother either resided or enjoyed her peace and solitude.

On November 10, 2020 I visited Pickering Beach for the first time in my life. With about five parking spaces available for nonresident vehicles, it is not for public use. The entire beach serves as the backyard for about three dozen old small fisherman houses, some of which are occupied while others appeared to be in disrepair. There was indeed an unmistakable feeling of solitude here. I parked in one of the four remaining spots, grabbed my notebook to journal my visit and set out for the short trek to visit my mother for the very first time since the day I was born.

As I walked southward along the shorelines, I extended my left arm out over the water so she and I could hold hands and I began to speak.

Hi Momma![1]

“It’s me, your first son. I have dreamed of this day for longer than I can remember. I actually was not certain this day would ever arrive. What kind of life did you dream and imagine for me? What was Lawrence like? How did the two of you meet?

“I’ve missed you and have thought about you often Momma. I wish I could see you, hear you and feel you the way an infant lies in its mother’s arms just as you longed that I could have from the day you had to say goodbye to me”.

In the sounds of the small waves rolling up on this secluded beach I heard my mother crying from both the pain of loss and the joy of reuniting. At this point I lost my focus for a few minutes as these waves knocked me a bit off emotional balance.

“Sorry Momma, I got distracted. I grew up with learning and behavioral challenges and it agonized me. I felt no escape from it ever. Outside the home where I grew up, I often felt like an outsider, like I was not being accepted. I didn’t know where to turn or who to trust so I turned inward and stayed there. It was a real struggle for me . Still is today. It damaged the way I viewed myself. I had big dreams when I was little, but I was too afraid to follow them. I still fear rejection more than anything. It still hurts today.”

“Damn this is hard.” I said to myself. “But this is damn good.” At this point a levee was about to break. Nope. Too late. I began to cry like a child seeking his mother’s comfort. I did do this very thing in my life with my mom countless times as a child, but never with my mother before now, and cry I did.

Ok. Recomposed for now, I continued to speak.

Pickering Beach, where my mother’s ashes are scattered.

“I certainly did not make things easy for my mom and dad who adopted me. As my joys were their joys, so too did my suffering become their suffering. My pain got the better of me and I lashed out and nearly destroyed myself in the process. My mom and dad made every sacrifice you could ever ask of them to honor the gift you gave them. You placed me into the most loving four hands you could ever have hoped for. I really wish you had known what a beautiful life my mom and dad worked so hard together to build for me. They raised me in a safe and secure environment. Every fall I’ve ever had they’ve been there to see to it that I got back up. I love them both very much Momma. They mean the world to me; I owe them all that I am. You would love them too. They love you very much.

“You would be proud of me Momma. I did the best I could, and I think I turned out ok. My damaged self-esteem still hurts today but I am getting better. I am going to be ok. I really am. I AM going to be ok.”

Second levee about to burst.

“I want to share something else with you Momma. I am realizing that being given away damaged my ability to trust and attach to others. I was angry throughout my life for being rejected. I was angry at the world; I was angry with myself and I am ashamed to admit that I was angry with you. I am so sorry Momma. I had no idea how much you wanted me. I now know much more of why you gave me up for adoption. It wasn’t your choice. I forgive you Momma and I am working on forgiving myself.”

Levee number two collapsed and I simply wept and wept. That evening as the setting sun filled the sky with the most serene blend of blue, orange and pink I sat down and grieved for the loss of my mother who I never knew until now and who passed away nearly 17 years earlier.

With twilight at hand, darkness was soon to follow. It was time to go. I was going to meet Joe’s family for the first time. As I stood back up I wiped as many tears away as I could from both sides of my face and then reached down to grab a fist full of sand. Since I had nothing to put the sand in, I simply filled the right front pocket of my jeans.

“Goodbye for now Momma. I love you. I promise to visit often.”

As I turned towards my car, I heard the bay breeze whisper,

 “I love you Peter”

I hope to see you in Part Twenty-Two.

[1] To provide continuity, I have, throughout One’s Origins, endeavored to vigilantly refer to the two who raised me as Mom and Dad and to those from whom I am born as Mother and Father. In this conversation between a boy and his mother, the term mother seems a tad formal so here I use Momma.

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