Everyone has a story to tell, about who they are, where they came from, what their names mean. Not to boast (okay, I’m boasting a tad) I happen to believe there’s something extra magical about mine. While I don’t believe in organized religion, you might even say it was God’s doing; I happen to believe it’s fate. In order to know my story, you first have to look before me, even before my parents, but to theirs. Their Fathers, anyway.
Upstate New York, close to the border of Canada, while the sun burns hot above in cloudless skies, the then two young boys lay in wait atop a hill above the beach, staring at the Canadians below, enjoying our wonderful Lake in lazy afternoons. Unbeknownst to them, the two young thieves had one goal in mind.
They both came from dirt poor families, growing up next door to another. Closer than their actual blood brothers, the two bonded over things like this, stealing food from unsuspecting Canadians in summer. Throwing hatchets at each other while one stood against a light pole while the other threw the glorified butcher knife. They would jump off the bridge – no I’m not kidding – at the mouth of the river where it met the lake. Boys being boys. Brothers at heart.
There’s many seemingly idiotic tales I’ve heard from the both of them as I grew up, every one of them begged the same question: How did you two survive any of that? I suppose there wasn’t much to do back then.
Like every good story though, a chapter has to end for the rest to progress. When my Mother’s Father, my Papa, turned seventeen, he joined the Airforce, whisking his then-girlfriend – soon wife and eventual grandmother to me – away with him, leaving his childhood best friend behind with nothing but fond memories. My Father’s Father, my Pepe, met his wife some years later, another story for another time.
My Papa served for seven years before he joined the guard in Air Force One, serving President Ford, President Carter, and President Nixon. The pictures, birthday cards, and party invites would make anyone’s jaw drop. He and my Nana traveled all over the world, staying here and there, but never forgetting the small town they originated from.
Even while traveling all over the world, he would travel back to our quaint town to see his family, and one summer when both of my folks were nine, his best friend. As to be expected of a young boy and young girl in an awkward meeting, neither of them much cared for the other, (though my Father claims to have had a crush even back then). Every summer since then, they would catch glimpses of each other without many words spoken. Both of them middle children with two siblings, born the same year a few months apart.
When my Papa retired from his position after twenty years, he was even offered to work in the Secret Service, which he turned down. Figuring he’d spent much of his life living away from his wife and his children. Packing up their things once again, he drove his family back to our small town, settling down for the last time.
By the time they’d moved back, my Mother had turned fourteen, she knew German, Dutch, and English. Had lived in cluttered cities like Amsterdam in Holland and the great wilderness of North Dakota. She’d never stayed long enough to make any actual friends. Moving to such a small town was quite the shock.
Two years after the big move, my Father had worked up the courage to have his cousin ask my Mother out for him. Smooth move, Dad. My Mother, of course, accepted. A whirlwind of a romance ensued, neither set of my grandparents thought they would last, but to everyone’s surprise, seven years after the initial ‘yes’, they said instead, ‘I do’.
Both wanted children right away, and try hard as they may, it never happened. Eventually, they sought help. Help was never going to come. Neither can have children, a blow that crushed them both. My folks spent years waiting by the phone that wouldn’t ring, with hearts expecting a child to walk into their lives so that they could be a proper family. As if that new weren’t enough for the newly married couple, my Mother’s Mother and my Nana, was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. 40% chance at three years.
She made it eleven.
During the course of their strife, my Mother tells me that her my Nana and her would oft have heart to hearts. Many about what would happen after my Nana had passed on, the funeral, what to do with her house, how my Papa would survive etc.
A few days before the Cancer took her, she’d asked my Mom for the last time if she’d wanted kids still. She was a nearly a middle-aged woman by that point. Nodding, she’d told her she would give it until she turned forty to stop trying, to give up waiting.
My Mom swears my Nana looked into her soul and said a few words she’d always been fond of with more conviction than the words had ever carried before. “It’s always darkest, before the Dawn.”
Two weeks after her passing, the phone rang. My Father picked it up, probably expecting some telemarketer trying to sell their product, but got the call he’d been waiting for, for over a decade.
“I think you should drive over here, there’s two kids who need a good home. The girl is a little older though.”
My Mother came home, and they drove those four miles to those children, to me. Not caring at all that the girl in question was almost two years old. Before I continue, you should know everyone in my family has colored eyes. My Mother has green. Father blue, both of my Dad’s parents blue, his brother’s blue. My Papa’s blue, my Aunt’s as well, and my Mom’s brother green. Hardly a stitch of brown anywhere. Only my Nana had brown eyes.
When they reached the facility my younger brother and I were being held at, my Mother caught a glimpse of me through a huge window, playing with Legos. She tells me she’d tugged on my Father’s sleeve, whispering over and over again, “That’s her!”
My Father replied in kind, “You don’t know that sweetie.”
“Yes I do, that’s her.”
They were led into the building and brought to a room where a boy barely older than an infant sat in a chair, staring at nothing in particular. A girl in the center of the room with her Legos.
“This is Tyler,” the woman told my folks, pointing to the boy in the chair, “and his older sister. Dawn.” I, even that young, must have recognized my own name and looked up to my parents for the first time, my brown eyes full of wonder.
They both tell me they cried on the way home, not wanting to leave us, but knowing we were theirs as much as they were mine. Both the name, and the wake card* my Mother had picked out for my Nana didn’t fully register until years later.
I assume there were tears then as well.