His name was William Frederick Hunter, and she only saw him once.
Once, from behind the window of the nursery. He was wrapped in a blue blanket, and he was oh so small. They asked her if she wanted to hold him, and she said no. Just as she had in the delivery room, right after he was born, when she had squeezed her eyes shut so that she wouldn’t see him, her heart, the heart that she was giving away. She said no.
It would have killed me, she said. It would have killed me. I couldn’t have gone on. I loved him.
She had loved his father. They had planned to marry, as soon as he divorced his wife. Nobody had believed her, but it was true. It seemed true. They’d run off together twice. They both went AWOL from the Air Force, running off to be together. Her family pursued them, his wife’s family sent private detectives after them, the Air Force searched for them. They were wanted. They ran. They were found, and they ran again. He left his family for her, risked his career for her. He was happy that they were going to have a baby, or so he told her. They hid out in motels.
At the time, she said, I thought it was romantic. She shakes her head.
She was just twenty years old. He was twice her age. When her family found her the second time, they didn’t bother to reason with her. They just took her. They took her and once her pregnancy began to show, they put her in a home for unwed mothers. She stayed there. She doesn’t know what happened to her lover. She never saw or heard from him again. She thinks that he probably went back to the Air Force, and to his wife.
I would have liked for him to know that he had a son, she said. I think that would have made him happy. She paused. Or maybe not.
When she went into labor, the nurses at the home for unwed mothers gave her some money and put her in a taxi. She arrived at the hospital alone, labored alone, gave birth alone. Gave up her child alone.
She was alone when the social worker came into her room and asked her if she knew anything about the parents who would adopt her child. It’s a private adoption, she told the worker. My doctor arranged it. The social worker nodded. But did she know that those parents were in their 60’s? That they were old? That the province would never approve it if it were a public adoption? She didn’t know. She didn’t want that. She wasn’t giving up her son to new parents, only for him to lose them in a few years. Like he was losing her, now. She wanted the best for him. That was the only way she could do this. She had to know that she was giving him a better life.
She called her doctor in. She told her that she wouldn’t do it. She wanted her son to go to a young family, to parents who had their whole lives ahead of them, to parents who had years and years and years to love him. Her doctor was furious.
I was terrified, she said. I’d never spoken up to anyone older than me, not to anyone with any authority. But I had to do it. For him.
Her baby went into foster care while adoption services sought new parents. She didn’t go to see him.
My parents went to see him, I think, she said. They never talked about it, but I’m sure they did. My mother put him in her will, and kept him there. Through revisions and revisions until the end of her life, she kept him there, always a member of the family, in her heart.
The man that she would some day marry came to her side during that time. They were friends. He held her hand, a lot. She grieved for her lost love and her lost baby, and he held her hand. He said, I’ll marry you. We can get your baby back. I will love that baby. With you. We will love that baby, together.
But it was too late.
William Frederick Hunter was adopted by a Vancouver couple. Professors at UBC, I think, she said. Somebody told me that.
It was too late for me, she said. For us. Or so we thought. We didn’t know any better. We were so young. We might have been able to get him back. We didn’t know to fight for that. We thought he was gone.
She grieved for years. She couldn’t bear the idea of having children. Just the thought of seeing another baby in another blanket… it was too much.
The grief became less acute, as time passed. One day, she realized that she could have another baby, and bear the pain. She could imagine not transposing her lost boy upon a new child. She could love again.
It took seven years, she said. Seven years before I knew that I would be okay. And then I had — then we had — you.
And I loved again.
I squeeze my own baby boy, pulling him tightly against my chest, wondering how it would feel to let him go. Even if I thought it best, for him – could I let him go? My heart screams.
I understand why she couldn’t hold him, her lost boy.
I’ve thought about him every single day of my life, she says. Every single day. Every single day I see that little baby in that blue blanket, and I wonder.
She pauses. I imagine that her hand trembles as she lifts her wine to her lips, but I can’t see in the dim light of the late summer evening. I’m glad that I can’t see, and that she can’t see me. Tears are streaming down my face and wetting my baby’s head.
I’ve never looked for him. I couldn’t. What if something had happened to him? What if he hated me? What if he didn’t want to know anything about me? What if he never forgave me? Her voice cracks. I couldn’t stand that.
We sit quietly. I reach for the wine bottle between us and fill her emptied glass.
Still, she says. Still. I’ve often wondered whether you or your sister would ever look for him.
Would you want me to?
She takes a sip of her wine. She doesn’t look at me.
Then I will.
I just want him to know how much I loved him. How much I love him still.
His name was William Frederick Hunter, and he’s my brother. I’m going to find him.