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Two weeks later they met at a hotel in Newark. Jane was sobbing but clearly recalls their embrace. “The very first thing Bill said to me was, ‘Thank you so much for giving birth to me. You had other options, but you gave me life. And I’ve had a wonderful life.’”
She was floored. For most of her life she’d carried an indescribable guilt. In a moment, he’d forgiven her. “There’s no explaining how wonderful it feels to know I did the right thing,” she says.
Bill, meanwhile, found himself in a peculiar position. “I was not happy for me,” he says, “I was happy for her—that she’d found her son. And I happened to be that person.”
He pauses. “How can you find a Bill Smith? I didn’t even know I was missing.”
As his feelings toward his new family developed, the most difficult part for Bill was confronting his 80-year-old father, who still maintained Bill was not adopted four months after Bill met Jane. “What does she want,” his dad asked, “money or something?”
Bill looked his father in the eye. “We took a DNA test, Dad. She’s my mother. You got to give it up. If it’s about love, I love you. You’re my father.”
His dad broke down and confessed: He’d promised his wife before she died that he’d never tell Bill and his sister they were adopted. “I was afraid of not being your dad anymore,” he said.
Bill’s dad had a harder time forgiving Jane for exposing their secret. After a while, she sent him a letter explaining her motives and the burden she’d carried all these years.
When Bill talked to his dad, his dad told him, “I got the letter and I read it. I’ve read it many times, and I’ve been crying.”
“Why’s that, Dad?” he asked.
“Because it touched me. She seems like a really nice lady.”
For Jane’s family, meeting Bill was like seeing Ray’s ghost. “He acts like him, he talks like him, he’s the same bit of cheap like him,” says Jane’s sister, Janice. Likewise, there are times people look at Bill and Kenny and see them unwittingly perched in the same position, arms up, rocking back and forth like twins.
But they’re just happy to be brothers. They go fishing together and talk on the phone once a week. When asked about Bill, everyone tells of the time he and Kenny walked down to the local baseball field and played their first game of catch. It only took a few throws before the moment overwhelmed them and they both started to cry.
From the beginning, Bill’s siblings have treated him like they’ve always treated one another: with no mercy. They call his 3,000-square-foot house a “shed” and tease him when Jane buys strawberries for the sugar-free cheesecake he likes. “We never got strawberries, Mom!” protests Kim, the second-oldest.
“It’s so strange,” says Kristy, the youngest, “because it’s almost like he was always part of the family. It’s very comfortable.”
But there are still fragile moments. Jane sometimes slips and says, “When I first met Bill,” before correcting herself to say, “I mean, ‘reconnected’.” It’s still sad when Bill’s siblings talk about their dad, whom he never got to meet. But Bill has never blamed his mother for giving him away.
“I understand that she had to do what she had to do,” he says. “I’m not resentful at all. The only thing that I miss is getting to grow up with my siblings, and what that would’ve been like. But I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything, man. I’m happy.”
And so is Jane. In fact, she says, “I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life.” She is also less stressed, more relaxed and at peace. “I have all my chickadees,” she says. “There was a piece of me that was missing, and I’m whole now.”
The night of the barbecue, Jane’s children spent three hours laughing together in her kitchen. Eventually Kenny broke out his guitar and started jamming, singing song after song alone, until Bill joined in around midnight and they spent 10 minutes belting out “House of the Rising Sun” like teenagers in their parents’ basement.
Their sisters stood across the room, cheering and clapping. Their mother watched from the doorway, marveling at a scene only she had believed in.