Prologue to Baggage Claim
November 1994: Burbank Airport, California
Vicky: My pale, naked body blurred in the bathroom mirror. Reaching out, I swiped an arc, beneath thick eyebrows her eyes stared back.
Warm steam filled the edges and I looked away. Tucking the towel tight over my boobs, I finger combed mousse into my scalp, then bent to blow-dry, scrunching brown waves to frame my face.
White hair, black outline of a perfect nose and cupid’s bow. A fax portrait in light and dark - tight in my hand while we spoke, making plans. She has white ringlet curls. Her voice tapped a rhythm against my heart, “See you Saturday, Vicky.”
After “liquid sleep” cleared the red wine from my brain (Rick’s clever name for coffee), I stood in our bedroom. My outfit lay over the chair, ready for the day, like when I was little.
What about Mom and Dad? Rick was right - they could never know.
“Be sure you’re calm when you talk to them about her,” he advised, his blue eyes serious. “Think about how they feel.”
After that first call, I was in shock. Sounding too excited was wrong. They’re my real parents. They rescued me.
I lay on the bed to zip my old, high waisted acid wash jeans over my tummy, I hated that new baggy style. Yuck. Pulling on a dark sweater, then back for final makeup - casual, like I’m not trying.
What if she doesn’t come? Hands shaking, I covered uneven and missing parts of my cleft lip with pencil, then applied color ½ shade darker. Smiling to check symmetry, I drew my index finger slowly out of my mouth, Mom’s trick to keep lipstick off front teeth.
Driving to the airport to meet the woman who threw me away, the trees blurred a green frame around my reflection in the window. Now she crashes into my life, thirty years too late. She was my perverse funhouse mirror, the face I always wanted - without deformity.
She couldn’t afford my surgeries, and left me - Little Orphan Annie.
Screw her. Annie was a treackly little scamp, singing hope, smiling through child abuse. I’m Gypsy Rose Lee. Let me entertain you. Thrown away by her mother, she reinvented herself just like fabulous “Little Vicky'' waving from the orphan crib. Like what you see? Take me home.
Barbara: I stared out the porthole, San Francisco landmarks fading into mist. My heart, seeking, needing hers, soared beyond the slow moving plane to Burbank - and Vicky.
My baby. The rhythm of the words danced in my chest. My baby.
“I’m going to search for my child!” I had no concept of the pain I’d unleash with those words. Confronted with buried grief, guilt and shame, I kept going. Gathering courage, learning to trust, I faced it all.
And now we were going to meet - Vicky was my past and my future.
Light filled the coach blurring color and shape, and I saw my life through a landscape of time. Momentous moments stood out, the times I chose an uncertain path, not knowing it would lead me here. Now. Taking a breath, I held it, stopping time.
This will change my life…
My body echoed the plane’s vibrations. Looking down at my quivering hands, feeling their longing, I thought. I love her so much. Closing my eyes, lost for a moment in the glow of our phone conversations, I stilled. My euphoria, part crush, part relief.
Vicky thanked me for giving her up. She told me she’s had a good life.
I hadn’t thought beyond finding her. After four years searching I almost gave up hope. Learning about my baby in bits and pieces was hard. The mail brought joyful, happy news, then bad. Really bad. But I never stopped.
In the lavatory mirror I saw my image, long silver curls and dark eyebrows like my father, my mother’s blue/green eyes, my nose an unfortunate combination of both - hers long and narrow, his broad. I finger combed my hair remembering my childhood, how I tried to straighten it, so awkward and unhappy I turned to food for love. My mother and I could tolerate each other only in small doses - she sympathized with me, but was impatient with my struggles, “You’re no help around here, you’re lazy, all you think about is yourself.” She sabotaged my efforts to lose weight, needing to be more attractive than her daughter,
Now I had the lean, firm body that eluded me in my teens. Searching for Vicky, telling my story to other women was helping me to forgive myself. I found a natural beauty: accepting my curly hair, my real face, and short, muscular body. In my slim jeans, black Mary Janes, and leotard top I looked far younger than my years. - not bad for 50! I pulled a more conservative top from the carry on. I’ll never compete with my daughter.
Back in my seat I focused. If I hustle, I can be first out the rear stairs. I’ll go straight to Baggage Claim from the gate. Within me a wildness was rising, I sensed my child was close.
The engine’s pitch finally signaled our descent, and I froze, suppressing a howl. The landing gear bumped a touchdown, and the engines reversed. Tension coiled within me as I held my breath, my bag, my seat belt.
Ding! I was up, first in line for the back stairway.
On the tarmac, then pushing my way through the airport crowd, I was a heat-seeking missile, impatient to find Vicky. We’re meeting at Baggage Claim. Where is it?
Somehow I headed the wrong way. Funneling through hallways, following exit signs, I was suddenly blinded. Raising my hand against the bright sunlight, I panicked. She's going to think I didn’t come. She’ll leave.
Spinning, searching, I scanned the waiting people with hawk-like intensity, my eyes rising to a sign at the far end of the building.
Baggage Claim. There it was, above the north entrance. Taking a deep breath, I raced to hold my baby for the first time.