The key word for me when I was growing up in Missouri in the 1970s was “wondering.”
I was an adopted kid and would wake up every day wondering what my parents looked like. I had adoptive parents, of course, but I knew that we weren’t related – so it was more than a bit surreal. We play acted like we were all really related, because that seemed to be what was required, but none of us could really pull it off. Despite being told at a young age that I was adopted – “other people had to have their children but we chose you” – this elephant in the room was nonetheless not be further spoken of.
So, day after day, month after month, year after year, I would wake up wondering. And while others were busy planning their lives and their futures, I was busy wondering where I actually came from and and from whom exactly and what the hell it all meant.
This wondering – which to an outside observer could be construed as spaced out drifting – lasted a long, long time.
Eventually, for various reasons, I landed in New York City and, by the age of twenty eight, my wondering was getting very intense and life disrupting. I realized that I had to try to find these people who brought me into the world.
I made some inquiries and was quickly connected with a detective near Saint Louis – a female detective named Virginia. Virginia was a mid-fifties half-native American and like a film noir character – chain smoking, pistol-toting and drawling out her words with casual irreverence. She was cynical but hopeful. She was fatalistic. I immediately adored her.
This being before email existed, Virginia and I spoke on the phone a few times. I told her my story. She said in her Missouri twang, “kiddo, I’ve been doing this a long time and I know what I’m doing. We’re going to find your mother.”
Click. The line went dead.
Virginia had hung up and I didn’t know if I’d ever hear from her again.
About a week later, Virginia called. “I found your mother. I talked to her. She says she’s okay with you calling her. Write down this number.” With shaking hands, I wrote down the number. “Call her and let me know how it goes.”
I sat there for a while holding this piece of paper with my mother’s phone number scribbled on it. My actual mother’s actual phone number on it.
Things were getting scarily real.
I didn’t call her that night and I didn’t call her the next night. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. On the third night, I finally called her.
A woman answered. I said, “hi, my name is Mike Trupiano. May I speak with Patricia Ludwig?”
A very soft voice said, “yes, that’s me. Virginia said that you might be calling.”
We talked a little while. I have no idea what we talked about. I know I asked, “how long was labor?” (it was three hours) but other than that, I can’t recall a thing. After about fifteen minutes of talking, I hear a voice in the background on the phone yell, “that’s long enough!”
As I quickly learned, my mother at the age of fifty eight still lived with her mother and her mother was none too happy that I tracked them down. Her mother, my grandmother, had forced my mother to give me up for adoption.
When my grandmother barked, “that’s long enough!”, my mother said to me, “well, let’s save some for next time” and I said “okay. Sure.” We hung up. About a week later, I called again and we chatted and after about fifteen minutes on the phone, my grandmother again yelled – not, “oh, my God, is that my long lost grandson? I can’t wait to finally speak with him! Put him on!” No, rather, she instead yelled, “that’s long enough!” and my mother again said, “let’s save some for next time” and we hung up.
A week later, I called a third time. We chatted and my grandmother yelled and my mother said, “let’s save some for next time” and we hung up.
A pattern was emerging.
I needed to figure out what my next move was. I was confused. I called Virginia my Midwestern film noir detective and, coughing from her chain smoking coming through the phone lines, told her what had been transpiring with the phone calls.
I told Virginia, “I think if I ask my mother to meet me, she’s going to ask her mother if it’s okay and her mother is going to say, ‘no.’ So, I don’t know what to do. I almost feel like I just have to show up on her doorstep.” I heard Virginia take a drag and exhale before saying, “that’s a great idea. I’ll drive you down there.”
I thought, ‘well, all right. I’m visiting my hometown at Christmas and this was already November. So, stop by my mother’s house is what I’ll do.’
On the flight down to my hometown, however, I started thinking, ‘what exactly is my plan here? How am I going to do this? Am I just going to show up? Yeah, okay, and then what?’
Then it occurred to me that the best solution would be to pose as a delivery man.
I had been a pizza deliveryman. So, I was comfortable faking the vibe and demeanor. But what should I bring? A pizza? It was a few days before Christmas so – a Christmas card delivery?
As promised, Virginia drove me down to my mother’s house. Neither of us even knew what my mother looked like but we did know her address: 4525A Flora Avenue.
For this excursion into the city, I was dressed normally – long pants, collared shirt. I carried a clipboard because in my frenzied state of mind I somehow thought that a clipboard made me look official and more believable.
Clipped to the clipboard was a Christmas card.
I was a deliveryman delivering a Christmas card. This was our story and we were going with it.
I rung the doorbell and I heard someone walk down stairs to the front door. The door cracked open and a frail, fiftiesh woman wearing wire-frame glasses peered out, saying, “yes?”
“I have a delivery for Patricia Ludwig,” I say.
“Oh, that’s me,” she says, somewhat excitedly.
She came out on the porch and signed for the card. I was sticking with my bogus deliveryman story even as I knew that she didn’t believe it and she knew that I knew that she didn’t believe it.
Virginia sat in the car peering up at us on the porch. Virginia told me later that my mother could not take her eyes off of me the entire time I was on the porch, staring intensely, her eyes burning through me.
I looked just like him apparently. That’s what my mother told me later. I looked just like my father, the guy who was probably named Frank Romeo who she had a few dates with and then told her to, “watch out, would ya, with the lipstick on the collar?” My mother inferred from this that, rather than being sartorially fastidious, he was more than likely married and when he called again, she told him she was pregnant.
Now it was Frank’s turn to go ‘click’ and bye, bye Frank if that even was your name.
As I stood on the porch, my mother staring at me, I knew she knew who I was but I could not articulate what I wanted to say.
I wanted her to tell me the entire story of everything ever.
I wanted her to take me inside to meet her mother, my grandmother.
From what little I remember, we just stared at each other, reunited at last.
Then, at what surely must have been the fifteen minute mark, her mother yelled down the stairs, “that’s long enough!”
I don’t remember that grandma yelling part.
Virginia told me about that part years later.
That’s how out of it I was on my mother’s porch.
The next thing I remember was sitting next to Virginia with her driving through the city night and thinking, ‘I can’t believe it’s over. I did it. I know what my mother looks like. I can’t believe it. The simplest thing in the world. I know what my mother looks like and I’m going to wake up tomorrow and what what my mother looks like. Things will never be the same.’
Virginia puffed away, blowing it out the window.
At a stoplight, she grins at me out of the side of her mouth, softly punches me on the shoulder and said, “Kiddo, I told you we’d find your mother. Now…about your father…”