After a contentious, but rewarding divorce she had returned to Tanner, ready to forget her troubling past. Then, seemingly out of the blue, her own son had arrived on her doorstep.
It was later on that Saturday afternoon, with the realization that he must return to Sacramento the next morning hanging over their conversation, when Jerald asked Erin and her daughter Susanne to join him in a quiet corner of the family room. As overwhelmed as he was by the day’s events, there were still loose ends he hoped to understand better.
“So what happened,” he began hesitantly. “When you came back to Tanner with no baby and no George? I’m guessing you went back to college. Right?”
“That’s right,” Erin replied. “I went down to Lawrence, to the university. I was ready to get away from home and move on with my life....to erase the past.
"It was there, during my junior year, that I met Thomas. I suppose by then I was grabbing at straws, wanting to feel ‘that way’ again. So we got married. That's what they did in those days.
"We’d known each other for six or seven months when we went off to Reno for a weekend. By the time we came home we were married.” She paused to reached over and pat Susanne’s head. “And a couple years later this little bundle of joy arrived.
“By then I was sure that everything had worked out for the best, as good as I could hope for. But you know what they say about hindsight. When I look back now, I realize the best times I’ve ever known were spent with George, here in Tanner. Unfortunately, those good times hadn’t lasted. They went away when George left and I gave up my first baby.
“Anyway, by the time I'd gone through a divorce, and Susanne and I had come back to Tanner, I was seriously depressed about the future I saw for us....wondering how I was going to get by.”
“Depressed?” Susanne exclaimed as she leaned forward to join the conversation. “I never knew that.
“Why would you be depressed? You were back home, in our beautiful new home in the Heights, with the Country Club and all your friends. And you were still so young, not even forty. You had a whole lifetime waiting for you. Why would that have made you depressed?”
Jerald too was having a hard time making sense of Erin's "depressed" talk. "She's right, you know," he countered, picking up on Susanne's logic. "You haven't talked much about Thomas, but the whole world knows that he's rich and famous.....and he apparently left you well cared for. Truth is, I'm still trying to get my head around that....you married to Thomas Conners."
Shaking her head, Erin was shifting uneasily in her chair. “By the time we came back to Tanner I was depressed because my future did not look promising at all,” she insisted. “I had loved two men in my life, and both of them had left me. For the second time what I needed had been taken from me. And by then I certainly didn’t feel young at all. I felt old and alone, with nothing to look forward to.”
Susanne had never before heard her mother’s surprising disclosure. How could she possibly understand? “Mom, you weren’t alone, and you aren’t alone now. Not for a minute. You have Grandma and me right here with you.”
“Of course I do. I know that. And that’s been a huge blessing. Without you two to keep me going, I don’t know what I’d have done. But you know very well that’s not the kind of ‘aloneness’ I’m talking about.”
Turning to Jerald, Erin wanted to be sure he realized the life-changing impact his surprising appearance was making. “As you can imagine, when you handed me that note this morning, the one you’d already showed to Mom, that was something I never expected to see.
"Once I realized what it was, I felt so blessed ....better than I have in a very long time. To meet my own son, and learn that I have a grandchild, that went a long ways towards closing the circle.”
“Closing the circle?” Susanne repeated quietly. “What does that mean?”
Again Erin was in retreat, looking for a way to explain what she had come to accept as her personal shorthand for gauging life’s completeness.
“Well,” she began. “For reasons I really don't understand, I like to think of life as a circle....like the face of a clock, going from twelve o’clock all the way round to where it started. That seems to me one way of imagining how a life should be.
“And for a long time it has felt like my life was something less than a complete circle....like the minute hand had stopped at ten or eleven. It never seems to go all the way back to twelve o’clock. There are lots of good things that have happened to me along the way, but at the same time I’ve known all along that something was missing.
“Now, here I am with both of my children for the first time ever....along with a daughter-in-law and grandson.”
That brought an unembarrassed grin to Erin’s face. “How special is all that? Still, in spite of all those good things, I know there is a part of my circle that is still missing. It’s not closed yet.”
“Only one part?” Jerald asked.
Erin turned away from his question, knowing she must not minimize the impact of her son’s surprising return on closing her own personal circle. “Having you here is a very important part,” she nodded. “More than enough to keep me going to the end.”
“But not enough to close the circle?” Jerald knew exactly where he wanted his questions to lead her. Yet he dare not put words in her mouth. He was hoping to hear her answer, not his own. “But it means that your circle is still not complete.”
“There no need to dwell on that,” Erin replied. “Let me be thankful for what has been added to my life.”
“Of course I will. And you know that we’re just as thankful. But there’s more to it than that, isn’t there? And I really don’t want to leave in the morning still wondering what that ‘more’ is.”
It was a truth that Erin Conners had often denied, even to herself. How could she possibly consider telling him, the son she scarcely knew?
Still, as Jerald had said, he would be returning to Sacramento tomorrow, and although they had exchanged email addresses and phone numbers, it might be some time before they were again face to face. If his question was legitimate, and it certainly was, it seemed she owed him an answer.
“It seems like you pick up on these things pretty quickly,” she noted. “There is ‘more’ to it, of course, and if anyone deserves to know about that I suppose it’s you. Because the part that is missing, and has been for a very long time.......is your own father.”
Erin paused again, and for a moment Jerald was not sure if she would continue. When she finally did, her voice was soft and a bit shaky. “I know it wasn’t his choice to leave Tanner. It was something he had to do. But still, what he left was a hole in my heart, a hurt that has never completely healed.”
“But you ended up marrying Thomas Conners,” Jerald interrupted. “My God, he’s a world-class guy. Everyone knows about him and what he’s done....with his software empire and all that.”
“You can be very sure that I know exactly who Thomas is,” Erin nodded. “But I also knew from the start that I was not a good fit for the life he wanted. And I certainly knew that he was no George Casey, and never would be.
"By the time our marriage was over the best thing about Thomas and me was the daughter we had created.” Her wink was aimed at Susanne, who sat quietly, taking in her mother’s surprising revelation.
“Anyway, I’ve known for a very long time that closing my own circle would require both my missing child and its father. And I was sure I would never know about either of those.” Reaching for her son’s hand, she added, “Yet, here you are.”
“But he’s not here," Jerald replied, taking a moment to make a mental note of George's Casey's last name .....the first time he had ever heard it.
“Of course he's not. He never can be. That’s what makes having you, and Megan, and Ryan with me so very special.”
“But I’m here because I was able to find you.” It sounded as though his mother wanted to drop the subject, but Jerald was reluctant to do that. “What if we tried to find him....to see if that could complete your circle....and mine too?”
“Don’t be silly. He certainly has a family. Probably even grandchildren....like me. Why would I do something that might upset all that?”
“You don’t know that he has a family.”
“No I don’t,” Erin agreed. “But I do know that my son has found me. He’s right here, along with my daughter. That has me feeling quite blessed.”
“Do you suppose your friend, George Casey, the guy who is my father, still has family here in Tanner?”
“Heavens, I don’t know. His parents were pretty old twenty-some years ago. But I suppose they might still be around.”
“Were there any other kids....brothers or sisters?”
Erin mulled his question for a moment, before repeating her earlier caution. “Jerald, I don’t want you poking around where you’re not wanted.”
“Come on. I’m not ‘poking around.’ He paused to drape an arm over Susanne’s shoulder. “I just found out I have a sister I never knew about. That’s pretty darn cool.
“If your George has kids, then I have more brothers and sisters. There may be aunts and uncles ....George’s siblings....hiding out there. It seems to me I have a right to know about my own family.”
Noting his mother’s doubting frown, Jerald backed off. What was the sense of sabotaging her upbeat mood? A moment later he was surprised to hear her final ‘George’s family’ revelation.
“He did have a sister....Ruth, I think it was. She was a couple years younger that us.”
With that Erin was on her feet, making for the kitchen, ready to escape her son’s uncomfortable probing.