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FIRST PERSON

The Gift That Filled the Hole in My Heart

December 25, 1990| The writer of this piece lives in Los Angeles. She asked for anonymity to protect those who helped her

I've dreamed of this Christmas for 21 years. This year, I found my first-born daughter, Courtney--and she still loves me.

Courtney was born when I was 19. To this day, my parents--her grandparents--don't know she exists.

I was living in Florida when she was born in 1969. How joyful and happy and thankful and scared I was to have this beautiful baby. But each day that passed made me more aware of how little I had to give her. I had no education beyond high school, no family that I dared confide in or ask for help, no real home--just a rented room for my darling daughter and myself.

Her father had abandoned me as soon as he learned I was pregnant; I had to sign up for welfare. After six months--alone, lonely and overwhelmed--I gave her up in a private adoption.

I met the wonderful couple who adopted her. I remember how much they loved her and how happy I was that Courtney would have her own room and two parents. I also remember feeling so empty. They agreed to let me visit, but it was obvious the first time that they were uncomfortable.

Shortly thereafter, I was accepted to stewardess school and left town. When I returned for a visit six months later, the couple and my daughter had vanished.

I spent the next 21 years searching, feeling that I had a hole in my heart that nothing could fill--not even my second daughter, Beth, now 12. In fact, if anything, Beth's birth intensified my desire to find Courtney; Beth deserved to know her sister.

This has been a painful year for me; I'm in the midst of a bitter divorce. Perhaps because of that pain I've spent more time thinking of Courtney than I have in years. I felt almost as if she was calling to me.

Late last month, I was meditating. I know nothing about meditation, but I felt I was in contact with a presence. Mentally, I pounded my fist on the table and cried out, "I will not stop until I get an answer!" Then a thought raced into my head: "Social Security."

I believe God picked that moment to answer my prayers.

I drove to the nearest office and approached a worker. I must have been shaking; I know I was crying. I explained that I wanted to find my daughter. She looked at me and said, "We're not supposed to do this, but I can see you need help. I'm going to help you."

Then I had a stroke of luck. When my daughter obtained her Social Security number, she used my maiden name--the name on her birth certificate. I left the office with a computer printout containing her Social Security number and several businesses where she apparently had worked. One of them was a California personnel agency.

My excitement rising, I drove to the agency. I looked at the half-dozen workers in the office and--somehow it is difficult to relay this part of the story--I felt the person I should talk to. She looked at me and said: "I'll help you."

"But you don't even know what I want yet," I said.

She smiled and touched me gently.

"When I got up this morning," she said, "I didn't want to go to work, but I felt that I had to. . . . And now you're here, and I know I have to help you."

I explained what I wanted; she checked the records and told me my daughter had never worked for the firm. "But we have a sister company in Tampa," she said. "I'll check with them today."

My daughter had worked for the Tampa firm two years ago; someone there contacted her and gave her my phone number. That night, Courtney called.

She'd been searching for me too, but quietly so as not to hurt her adoptive parents. They never told her she was adopted, but she figured it out when she saw her birth certificate. She's spent more time thinking of me this year than ever before, she said.

She checked marriage licenses and death certificates in Florida and enlisted the help of the Southern regional headquarters of the Salvation Army in Atlanta, without success. Then, four months ago, she obtained a form from the Social Security office. If she had filled it out, the agency would have contacted me and given me her address. But she couldn't bring herself to mail it.

"I felt if I sent it in and Social Security couldn't find you, then I would have no hope," she said. "At least as long as I kept the form, I could feel there was hope that I would find you."

I never lost hope, however. I have always believed that we would see each other again.

We had to delay our reunion until the day after Christmas, when Courtney will come here. I couldn't leave Los Angeles because of my divorce proceedings; she didn't want to "disappear" before Christmas and worry her adoptive parents. She hasn't told them about me, but says she will when she finds "the right time."

In the meantime, we talk daily on the phone. We haven't exchanged pictures--but we don't need to. I will know her when I see her. I'll see myself and her father and my parents and my grandparents on her face. She's a part of me; I will recognize her. And she will recognize me.

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