*Note: I feel like this story could use a different title. Ideas are welcome!
Her trembling fingers hovered over the keyboard. She let out a deep breath and tried to ignore the violent cadence of her heartbeat. Her thick-framed glasses, perched crookedly on her nose, mirrored the glare of the white screen.
This was it, she thought. Once she did this, there was no going back. She was going to hurt people by doing this, people she loved deeply and unconditionally. But this was about her life, her needs, her desire to know the truth.
With the cursor blinking in front of her, urging her, pressuring her to type something, anything, she lowered her long fingers to the keyboard and typed in one name: Sarah Johnston.
Funny how, within seconds, a world of Sarah Johnstons was open to her. She had spent years contemplating who Sarah Johnston might be, what kind of impact she would have, and here it was, according to Google, within 0.18 seconds. Funny.
She let out a breathy chuckle, more out of nervousness than humor.
“Julie? Dinner is almost ready. Can you come down to set the table?” Barbara Jean’s floated up from downstairs.
“Just a second,” she called back.
Guilt crept into her chest, adding an unwelcome pressure to her already pulsing body. Was she doing the right thing? Oh God, what if she messed up everything?
She withdrew her hands from the keyboard, covered her ears and rocked back and forth in her chair. Chanting to herself, “it’ll be ok, it’ll be ok,” she slowly calmed down, slowly removed her hands from the sides of her head, slowly let back in the noise of the house around her.
She again concentrated on the screen and scrolled down the results page, landing on a site that advertised phone numbers and addresses for the 63 Sarah Johnstons currently living in the United States. She clicked once, her finger pressing determinedly on the mouse.
The Sarah Johnston she was looking for was the fifth name on the page. The one who lived at 859 Twenty-Third Street in Altoona, Pennsylvania. The one who was about 34 years old. Approximately 17 years older than Julie.
Julie grabbed a pencil, clicked down the eraser furiously to draw lead into the point, then squinted at the screen again. She scribbled the name and address on the heart-shaped Post-It pad her mother had bought for her just a few weeks ago. A sale at Walmart, Mom had said. She knew how much Julie enjoyed hearts and angels and pink and red and lace, so she’d picked it up impulsively, knowing Julie would like it. That was what a mother did, Julie thought. She knew the little things, the simple things, that would make her child happy.
This time, Julie deliberately clamped down on the sweaty guilt, refusing to let it affect her.
She started a new search, typing in Sarah Johnston’s name and address. Up popped a Facebook link informing anyone who wanted to know that yes, Sarah Johnston, did indeed have a profile. Julie opened the page, saw a picture of a pretty, smiling woman. She leaned close to the screen, her neck and back straining, giving her the odd appearance of a bespectacled turtle.
“Julie, are you coming?”
“Just a second!”
She clicked on the message icon, then took out a folded piece of paper from underneath a sheath of junk piled near the computer. She unfolded it, careful not to rip the softened and worn paper. Glancing down, she began to methodically type out the note she written, edited, rewritten, edited again over the last 6 months.
“Dear Sarah Johnston,
My name is Julie Weatherton. You probably don’t know me. I only just learned about you.
I don’t want to mess up your life. I’m sure you must have a happy family and kids and husband and a career. I would like to have that someday. My own family. I love my parents, but I want my own family. I think there must be something incredible about having a husband and children who love and support you.
Anyway, I’m a senior at Montpelier High School in Vermont. I’m going to the University of Vermont next year for civil engineering. I’m also 17 years old, and I was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, on May 3rd, 1995.
My hospital records show that you’re my birth mom.
Do you think we could meet at some point? I’d like to know about you and my birth father.
I’m sorry if this message upsets you.
Hoping to hear from you,
She peered at the message box and read what she had typed. She read once, then twice. Then she scrolled back up to read it one last time.
Here goes, she thought, then clicked on “Send.”
Her palms were wet, her stomach trembling. She pushed back from the cluttered desk, through the mess of clothes and teenage girl paraphernalia on the floor.
“I’m coming, Mom!” she shouted down.
And then Julie, a girl who had been adopted two weeks after her birth, a birth that had been difficult for everyone, placed her hands on the skinny wheels of her wheelchair and propelled herself to the stairs.
She pushed the button that would bring her mechanized chair to the top of the landing, and then maneuvered herself into it. With a whirr of the motor, she began to go down. Down to the parents who took her to physical therapy, who jogged alongside her in wheelchair races, who once took her to swim with dolphins. Parents who would, she hoped, understand her need to know why she’d been given up. A gift, they said she was. She hoped so.