“DON’T EVER CALL me again!” my paternal grandmother warned harshly as she hung up the phone. This abrupt conversation, actually just an answer to my greeting of “Hello,” left me bewildered. She and I had been having long-distance phone conversations for at least fifteen years. Sure, the conversations were brief, stiff, and unwelcome on her part, but many years ago, we had made a deal: if she would talk with me occasionally by phone, then I would not pursue the search for my father. I had kept my end of the bargain, so what in the world was the matter with her? I immediately called her back.
“Althea, what do you mean, what happened?”
This time she was angrier: “For God’s sake, use your head!” She slammed down the phone again.
Recently divorced from Bill, living alone with three small children, no family nearby to help, and with little money, a minimum wage job, ulcers, and way too much booze, her rejection came at the worst possible time. Panic set in. I made myself a stiff drink, took a few sips of the liquid courage, and called her back for a third time. Pleading, I said, “Althea, you need to tell me what you’re talking about.”
Her reply this time was, “After all of these years wasting my time talking to you, I’ve spoken to my son. He assured me that you’re positively not his child. Now leave me alone, and don’t ever call this number again!”
The silence on the phone line was deafening—a different kind of silence than just a broken phone connection. This kind of silence was intended to eradicate all of the connecting bits and pieces that held people tenuously together. Her intention was to erase our pasts and any thoughts that I may be entertaining about meeting my father, her son. This sudden realization was overwhelming. I could hardly breathe. Oh God, I thought, not another loss!
My defiant response was, “Okay, then, but I will move forward with meeting my father.”
She responded, “You gave your word that you’d never contact him.”
“That was before you negated our contract!” Angry and heartbroken, I slammed down the phone and made another drink.
Even though her voice was cold and robotic all these years during our phone calls, she had been a connection to something positive about my beginnings. Sometimes I felt like a wild bird that migrates to some unfamiliar place, but a force within them tells them it’s the right thing to do—a needed thing to do for survival.
I can only imagine the heartbreaking disappointment that Marilyn felt the day that she finally got up the nerve to call her father. Her first husband, Jim Dougherty, said that she slumped down, put the receiver back and said, “Oh, Honey, he hung up on me.”