The journey of adoption – lost and found, part four
Oliver Darwin Stiles, Jr. – at last, a place to start. It was all I could do to finish my work day.
I raced home and hopped on the computer. Some people might have just waited around, but not me. I’d waited long enough already. I put his name into a search engine and immediately got results for all but images. Mostly I found his name on genealogical sites, some of which had pictures, although not of him or his parents. It showed that I had two brothers as well, but when people are living, their identities on such sites are kept private. I found a several times great-aunt (Clara Edith Chubbuck Stevens) who at last explained my mouth.
His name also turned up on an obituary – but not his own. It was the obituary of his nephew – my cousin – George Stiles Way who had passed away at 53 on August 8, 2014 after a gentle, sheltered life where it seemed he was much beloved, made extraordinary coffee, loved feeding birds and adored all things NASCAR. He was the son of my aunt, June, Oliver’s older sister, whom my searcher had found and for whom she had provided a defunct phone number.
And there they were – my brothers. Todd Stiles, who has a son and grandson. Kurt and Molly Stiles and their two sons. I had names. Oh my merciful stars, I had names. Within an hour, I had found them on Facebook and sent messages, kind of confusing messages because I didn’t want to stomp in with hobnailed boots and be even more of a shock than I was already going to be. I wound up sending friend requests just to get their attention, but I worried that I was just plain weirding them out.
I have to confess – this is all so enormous that I guarantee you some of the details are already lost and I will probably get things out of order from here on out. Somehow – perhaps from my searcher – I got my Aunt June’s email and began:
I confess I am in tears as I write this. I have waited a lifetime.”
Nine days later, I got an email from my wonderful sister-in-law, Molly:
“I also understand that your mother’s sister was not interested in corresponding with you. That is not the case for the Stiles… You could not ask for a better family…”
And oh, beloveds, it’s true. In my wildest dreams, in my deepest hopes, in the fervent prayers of that desolated baby and sad child, I could not have dreamed up a better one. They love. Oh my merciful stars, they love the way I do.
Todd, the chemist who works with the manufacture of submarines and inspects engines for NASCAR and whom, I suspect, could build anything mechanical of any sort. Todd, who has since sent me treasured Oliver pictures and pictures of himself and his brother, too – and texts with me almost daily.
Kurt, the chef, whose focus on healthy and delicious food reveals his keen intelligence and his determination to live after a catastrophic health challenge – and who has triumphed and thrived.
Molly, Kurt’s gorgeous, spirited, huge-hearted wife who was my birthday present somewhere in my teens – we have the same birthday.
And nephews! One grown with a son of his own, two still kids to love and savor.
I am still wooing Aunt June, who has had more to deal with than anybody should at her age and who sent me quite the suspicious email – but I get that. I’m writing her cards and hoping she finds that I am someone else who will be there to help if ever I can.
And pictures – I have pictures.
I am somebody. I come from someplace. I am the daughter of Oliver Darwin Stiles, Jr. And I look like him – this beautiful man with the gentle smile that still conveys a lively spirit.
So now I am grieving for two fathers. My Rob father, lost so recently and my Oliver father, lost so long ago – but a loss that’s new to me. Yes, I cry a lot. I weep for joy but I also weep because I will never get to tell him I love him. I will never be gathered into his embrace and feel as if I’ve finally come home. I wasn’t there to help when he was sick. I wasn’t there and I cannot get it back again.
I have a picture of him up on my computer at work. When I turn off the computer, I say “Good night, Papa,” and I kiss my finger and gently touch the screen. Yes, I miss him. I am missing an entire lifetime with him. I will miss him all the rest of my days, despite never having met him. I look at his picture and somehow, deep in my heart, I feel him, I feel I know of him what was most important.
I also grieve for an abused, despised little girl who might have grown up cherished and loved. Everything a child’s heart dreamed of – just out of reach.
But then, if I hadn’t been given up for adoption, if my biological parents had married and raised me, then my brothers would never have been born. Their children wouldn’t exist. My daughter wouldn’t exist, either, because the whole course of my life would have been different – and then my granddaughter wouldn’t be here, either. How on earth can I regret it, then? I still also stand by this – that everything that has ever hurt or challenged me has come with blessings that I wouldn’t trade even if I could. Not only would these incredibly precious people not exist, I would not have married my husband, his children wouldn’t be my children, his new granddaughter-on-the-way wouldn’t be my new grandbaby.
There is profound richness in my life, as imperfect as it is and has been, and it just grew exponentially.
But let me introduce you to Oliver Darwin Stiles, Jr. He didn’t live long enough, but he made that time count. His father ran a grocery store and had the same angelic smile he did – he only outlived Oliver by a year. His mother was born in Holland – Hendrika June Stiles nee Zwart (which means “dark” or “black” – I lived in Amsterdam for a year around 1960 and spoke Dutch by the end of it). She also died way too young. My father was going into the Navy when I was started and he spent most of his working life there working on submarines – my stepson spent nine years on a nuclear sub. They lived in Spain for several years – Spanish is the best of my six languages after my native English. My brother, Todd, said that he loved dogs and had two – I have six. He also said that he really never got mad about things and that he was always there for his boys. I wish I could say I never get mad, but if my kids or family need me, I am right there.
Oliver Darwin Stiles, Jr. was a very, very good man. He gave me life, quite inadvertently, and through me, my gorgeous daughter and granddaughter. Thanks to him, I have opened up whole new rooms in my heart where my brothers, Molly and all the children, grown or not, live. We are people who love – the family I’ve created and this family I’m getting to know – people who know that a tender heart is a thing of strength and beauty, not a defect or a weakness.
I haven’t met them in person yet. We haven’t even spoken on the phone, but we will. Pretty soon, I’m going to have to hop a plane – perhaps with at least one chihuahua in tow – and go deliver in person the hugs I’ve waited a lifetime to give.
In the meantime, I cast out my love to wherever in the universe my birth mother has gotten herself to. I think she, too, lived in Connecticut (a state I happen to love). Her father was a bigwig who had a two page obituary in the newspaper. He died in 1972 and her red-haired mother in 1984. My name on the adoption papers was Dionne Parsons. I was born in the Willows Home for unwed mothers in Kansas City, Missouri on October 2, 1955, and adopted out of the Jackson County, Missouri, juvenile court. I have wanted to say this to her all my life, and it seems I will never get to tell her myself, so I will say it here:
“I love you, Mama. I always have. There was nothing to forgive. Be well. And if you want to find me, I am right here waiting.”