Garrett's Story

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Garrett's Story

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Posted: 12/21/2011
Note: Names, Identifying informaiton and details may have been altered to protect personal identities.

My name is Garrett. To the world, I appear to be a very put-together guy. I have a successful, a beautiful wife of 20 years, great home, and two grown kids in college. My family is my pride and joy. But on the inside, I feel like a failure. I couldn't keep my family together when I was a fifteen-year-old kid, and in the back of my mind I keep expecting my world to fall apart for the second time. I think the only way I'll be able to really move on and get over the past is by confronting it head on and getting some answers.

That's why I contacted SQA. I had to find my little brother and sister. They're twins, and we were separated when I was fifteen and they were 4 years old. I haven't seen them in over forty years. Let's just say my childhood was hell. Our mother was an alcoholic and I believe she also had mental issues. She couldn't hold down any kind of real job, so she made money at odd jobs here and there. We lived in Los Angeles and I was just a 15-year-old punk kid, but she expected me to be the man of the house and the woman too. She was always angry that the house wasn't clean, laundry wasn't done, and my little brother and sister hadn't been bathed. I remember many occasions when she would pass out cold on the couch with a bottle in her hand and a lit cigarette. My worst fear was that she'd light herself on fire and I wouldn't be able to put her out. Soon, I learned I had more to fear than my mom's self-destruction.

One day, a neighbor called the Department of Children and Families and reported what was going on. They had already visited our house on several occasions, and when the neighbor reported men coming in and out of the house at all hours of the day and night, and drug deals going down on our front porch, it was the last straw for DCF. I'll never forget the day they came to take Caleb and AnnaMaria away. They were just babies. I felt betrayed by the world. I was caught between wanting to protect them and knowing it was better that they be raised by another family, but also wanting to be loyal to my mother and keep our family together. I never really thought about what was best for me.

I used to visit Caleb and AnnaMaria every weekend and bring them toys and candy. I always promised I would see them soon, and would never let them say the words "goodbye." We made up our own secret handshakes and I after every visit, I left by saying "See you later alligator." It was a promise I couldn't keep.

After a year of weekly visits, I showed up on Saturday and rang the bell. The foster dad opened the door, and immediately I knew something was wrong. He told me to go away and never come back. Caleb and AnnaMaria had both been adopted by another family and I was would never be allowed to visit them again. He wouldn't even tell me where they lived or anything about their adoptive parents. It was a devastating blow. I couldn't keep my promises, and I felt like a bigger failure than our mother, because they trusted me and relied on me. I worried they were scared and thought I had abandoned them. It was an open wound that festered for years until I threw myself into school and a career, determined to make something out of myself and prove I was more a man than my father ever was. With hard work and determination, I got everything I ever wanted out of life. No trial I've gone through since has ever compared to the trauma of losing Caleb and AnnaMaria. I've been able to put it out of my mind for months at a time, but the anger, hopelessness, and desperation inevitably return.

Now that I'm in my fifties, I'm all out of excuses. With the support of my wife, we decided to hire a professional and find them once and for all. Our first contact to SQA was on July 20, 2010. I was told the search could take up to six months, and in the end it may not be solvable. I was also warned that Caleb and AnnaMaria may not know they were adopted, and may have no memory of me at all. They could also be totally unwilling to be reunited with me, which was a possibility I forced myself to accept.

I was shocked, and I mean SHOCKED when I received a phone call from my researcher eleven days later. She said, "I found AnnaMaria! Her new name is Melanie, and she can't wait to speak with you." Not only did AnnaMaria know she was adopted and that she had an older brother, she even remembered my visits to her foster home and had been praying for years that I would contact her. She called me that same night and we had the tearful reunion I'd barely allowed myself to hope for.

This joyful reunion was sobered by the news that Caleb had passed away. Shortly after being placed with their adoptive family, Caleb got bronchial pneumonia and after only a few days in the hospital, his lungs gave out and he passed away. He was only five years old.

Here I had imagined Caleb and AnnaMaria growing up together with a mom and a dad who loved them. When I struggled with my own choking feelings of loneliness and despair, I took comfort knowing that at least they had each other. When I learned that Caleb had died, I was devastated not only because I lost a brother, but because Melanie lost TWO brothers. Yet I was also overjoyed that at last, we found each other and could begin reclaiming the years we lost.

Our first conversation was over a year ago now. Since then, I've discovered just how much we have in common. We love the same music, the same foods, and whenever we're together my wife tells me we have some of the same mannerisms, like we both cross the same leg and tug our ears absentmindedly whenever we're nervous. Every time we get off the phone we end our conversation not by saying "goodbye," but with the old "See you later, Alligator" from our childhood. I still get choked up when I hear her say it.

I can't describe what a relief it has been to set aside all my fears and anxieties from the past and just concentrate on moving forward. We've been getting together on holidays and we talk to each other at least once a week. It really feels like my journey has come full circle and I can forgive my parents for their failures and release myself from some of the guilt I've harbored over the years. I feel like a new man in many ways and I'm just so grateful for SQA. I couldn't have done it without you guys and I'm forever in your debt.

Written by Mica Burton on behalf of Garrett, a Search Quest America Client.
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