Nine years, and I've yet to meet everyone.
Which is mostly because I'm only here once a year. And there's never enough time to go everywhere, to do everything, to meet everyone. There is a curiosity about me, but it's a shy curiosity, like they don't want to intrude. Uncles and cousins eyeing me like they can't believe I'm actually there, or like a stray doubt might blow me away.
Because there is no road map for this.
My daughter is the only one who seems to view this as the natural order of things - that of course when you give a child up for adoption, you'll eventually be reunited. That's how it goes, silly. Pass the cookies.
I do not resemble my birthfamily all that much. They're all normal-sized, for one.
But there's one picture of me where I have my birthmom's eyes.
My birthmom had three brothers. One's the one who hosts us for Christmas every year. One passed away earlier this year. And one died years ago, a Marine Corps test pilot whose plane crashed. The older of the two cousins I stay with for Christmas is named for him. He left behind two kids.
A few days ago, I met one of them for the first time.
He stared openly. Most people don't. It was unsettling, but more than that, it was refreshing. Of course he'd been curious; he'd always been curious. (My existence has never been a secret. I sometimes wonder what it was like for my cousins, growing up knowing that there was a little girl who was given away before they were born. Was I a family tragedy?)
He's not that much younger than me. All of the other cousins I've met have been half my age or younger - more Elayna's contemporaries than mine. This cousin is my contemporary.
"He has a talent," our uncle said. "He can say any word backward."
My cousin blushed, grinning; I think our uncle (also his boss - it seems that half of my male relations work for my uncle) probably does this to him a lot. "Give me a word," he said, conceding.
There was an air of bafflement and amusement. I was asked to repeat it. I defined it, too. And my cousin pulled it off. "Give me another one."
He cracked up.
I watched him interact with my younger cousins, the ones I'm familiar with; his greater familiarity with them showed. This is a big family in a small town. They've all grown up close. I've never felt like an intruder here, and I still don't, but for the first time I really wondered what it would've been like to grow up here in this genial mob of family instead of, well, how I did grow up. I wondered what it would've been like to run around in the backyard with this cousin and his little sister and the four cousins I've yet to meet, those even closer to my age.
The next night, he returned. With him, another cousin - second child of my oldest uncle, the one who died earlier this year. She and I openly eyed each other as well, and this time I recognized it: "Are you like me? How are you like me? What is there of me in you? Or my father, of my sister?"
She was very slim and fashionably attired; I showed the effects of constant holiday feeding and was wearing a t-shirt with a Jolly Roger on it. Her hair was flatiron-straight and my birthmom's dark-with-incongrous-blondish-highlights color; mine is newly re-striped red and gold, and a bit crazy-curly.
She had my eyes, my birthmom's eyes, and now that there are three of us, it feels different - more complete. I feel more connected. This isn't a fluke. This is where I came from.
She was a communications specialist in Iraq. How did I never know I had a cousin in the military, a cousin in Bush's war?
Part of a close-knit centrally-located family - everyone assumes someone else has told you.
She was nervous and self-deprecating; I wanted to reach across the table and say "It's okay - I don't know how to do this either."
No one knows how to do this.
But we all know that we want to.
And at the end of it, the end of my week-long holiday... as usual, I didn't want to leave.
Boston is my home. But in a way, this is my home, too, this tiny town in North Florida. A piece of me calls this home, just as a piece of me will always call Las Vegas home. I can be city and desert and Southern town all at once.
I have two new cousins, and next time I'll meet more. I have their e-mail addresses; we have a lot of catching up to do.
We all hugged each other tearily, and Adam and I got in the car with my birthmom - and Peter jumped in.
Peter is a barrel-chested rat-dog, a chihuahua/papillon mix (chia pap!), my aunt's precious, and for most of the week, he has not cared less about my comings and goings. He generally couldn't care less about anyone but my aunt. But here Peter was, wriggling under my birthmom's legs, jumping up, plunking himself in my lap.
All right, then. Peter has decided to accompany me to the airport.
Just like family.