The Reunion

 

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Jane and her parents never spoke of the child again. Ray was much luckier: His family never found out. Jane moved back home and went on with her life as if nothing had happened. With her mother taking morphine each night, then melting off to sleep on the living-room couch, Jane took on the maternal role in the household. Her mother died within a year, at age 47.

Jane and Ray married when she was 17 and had three children by the time she was 21. He worked as a mechanic for Mack Trucks while she attended night school to finish ninth grade, the prerequisite for hairdressing school.

Theirs became an average life: two young parents scrambling to provide for their children. Yet while Ray put their firstborn out of his mind, Jane never could—no matter how hard she tried.

“The constant not knowing whether he was okay,” she says, “it was a hole in my heart—something missing, something gone. The pain was just always there, always.”

Jane considered looking up every Smith in the phone book and knocking on every door until she found her son. She thought about staking out elementary schools and dreamed of watching him walk to class. But she knew it would be wrong.
When she had turned 21, a lawyer had shown up at her door with a stack of papers—apparently the Smiths had decided to legalize the adoption. Jane had signed the papers almost without looking at them, remembering just the name “Francis” from the pile before she ripped them up, horrified that her children might find out. (Later, when they were teenagers, she came clean.)

From then on, whenever the subject of adoption came up, Jane made a point of discouraging women from making the same choice she’d made. “Do whatever you can to keep your child,” she’d plead. “The pain hurts so much.”

Meanwhile, Bill Smith grew up in a loving if unconventional home. When he was 5, his parents drove him to Vermont and handed him a baby. “This is your sister,” they said. Even at his age, the event seemed strange. He filed it away for decades, always wondering whether his sister had been adopted, but never once suspecting he might have been.

He didn’t have many attachments as a kid. His dad was an engineer whose jobs took the family from Connecticut to Cameroon to Florida to Iran, all before Bill was 15. Eventually they settled, ironically, in Stratford, where Bill enrolled in high school. He grew his hair down to his shoulders, wore a leather jacket, and spent more time working on his Monte Carlo than attending class.

His mother’s death when Bill was 16 sent him into a spiral. He had little in common with his father or sister, which always puzzled him. Every girl he dated seemed to have a large, happy family, something he’d always wanted. Needing an escape, he dropped out his senior year of high school and joined the Navy at 18, spending the next four years in places like Germany, Egypt and the Mediterranean.

Jane always figured her firstborn son would search for her once he turned 21. But he never did. She had no idea where he lived or what his first name was, only that his last name was Smith. She rarely mentioned him, and when she did it was only to her sister, Janice. But she never stopped searching.

The Reunion

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