By the time Jerald reached work that morning, explaining that a “last minute emergency” had cause him to be late, his mind was on overload. Less than an hour before he had spoken to her. At least it might have been her. In his mind that certainly constituted an 'emergency.'
Several times in the course of the day's work he paused to remind himself that perhaps she was not the one....the long-absent mother he hoped her to be. Yet each time those doubts surfaced he chased them away, preferring instead to dwell on his well-practiced longing.
That evening, after a dinner hour filled with strained small talk, Jerald motioned for Megan to join him in the living room. She laid their sleeping son on the sofa and took a seat, waiting to hear what they had so carefully avoided over dinner. She would be waiting a bit longer, as her husband assembled the churning thoughts that had haunted his work day.
When he finally looked up, he was frowning.... chewing his lip and shaking his head. Then, without further introduction, he said firmly, “I have to go there....to Tanner. To see if it is really her. It’s the only way I’ll know for sure.”
“And if it’s not her?”
By then Megan realized there was no sense debating her husband’s logic. He had made up his mind. He needed to know if the inexplicable E. Woodman/Tanner connection they had located in the Birth Index led to his mother. More to the point, was Elaine Woodman, whose voice he had heard that morning, that person?
“Come on, honey,” he countered. “I have questions to ask the lady. And they’re not the kind to be asking over the phone. I need to be there to look her in the eye and see how she reacts.
"Actually, I want us to be there....you, me, and Ryan. This is a family thing I’m talking about. Seeing Ryan, perhaps her own grandson, might be the clincher for her. So our whole family needs to be there.”
“Are you sure?”
“When would we go? It’s quite a ways, isn’t it?”
“According to the map it’s probably a nine or ten hour drive. Basically a whole day.” He had spent the afternoon working out the details. Could he sell Megan on his plan?
“If I took Friday off work, which I’m sure Ernie would let me do, we could drive to Tanner and get a motel. That would give us Saturday to go calling ....to see what we can learn. The thing is, you’ve been talking about going back to work half-time after the first of the month. Which means this week-end is the best time to do our traveling. Right?”
“I suppose so. Besides, it sounds like you can’t wait much longer.”
Their Friday drive to Tanner was long....hour after hour of sterile Interstate sameness. Jerald and Megan took turns driving, while the other tried to calm and comfort young Ryan. During those hours, with too-much idle time on his hands, Jerald’s thoughts quite naturally turned to what he would find in far-off Tanner.
For mile after mile he played and replayed his imaginary scenario.....the moment he was standing at Elaine Woodman’s front door, summoning the nerve to push the door bell, and wondering how to introduce himself to the woman who might be his own mother, the one he did not remember at all.
It was that last possibility....meeting his own mother....which finally overwhelmed those insistent mind-games, leaving him to consider a most surprising realization. Never once in all the years he had dreamed of their imaginary reunion had he ever once stopped to envision that particular moment.... standing face to face with the complete stranger who might be his mother. How could a person possibly prepare for that?
By mid-afternoon, after hours on the road, the evolving truth of Jerald’s situation was sinking in. It was time to be shifting gears. If the signs could be trusted, his task was no longer finding her. Instead, he must prepare to meet her.
It was five-thirty that evening when the young family checked into the well-advertised chain motel at the South Tanner interstate exchange, the one that appeared to be the least expensive among the three or four options.
A hurried dinner at the nearby fast-food emporium would be the extent of their night on the town. Once back in their room the evening’s television entertainment would be the quiet, low-volume sort....the kind that would not disturb their fussing, light-sleeping son, who had not yet adapted to life on the road.
Truth to tell, Jerald was in no mood for entertainment, loud or quiet. Perhaps never, at least not since the day of his birth, had he been so close to the woman who might be the one who had given him life, then given him away. At one point he took a moment to dwell on an earlier dinnertime thought, when he had paused to look around the crowded restaurant, telling himself she could be right there with them, and he would never know.
With young Ryan resting comfortably, at least for the moment, the two of were stretched out on the bed, with Megan snuggled against his shoulder. For the last half hour she had avoided any intrusion on her husband’s stoic silence. Yet there was no quieting her questions.
They were in Tanner, and the stage was set for something....but what? Since he had volunteered nothing, perhaps it was time for her to be asking.... carefully, of course.
“So what are you going to do?,” she wondered out loud, without looking up at him. “Do you have a plan or anything?”
“I suppose it’s pretty simple,” Jerald whispered reluctantly. “We have her address. After breakfast I’ll use the map we got at the convenience store to find out where that is. We’ll drive there, and I’ll go knock on her door. I don’t know how else to do it.”
“And what are you going to say?”
Megan was pushing again, he told himself, as he focused on what seemed to be his last unanswered question. They had come so far....from what had begun as little more than an existential longing ....tracking a name that might be her, and a place where those secrets might be revealed. All that, and still he had no idea of what to say when her front door opened and he was standing in front of her.
“I don’t know what I’ll say,” Jerald finally admitted. “Whatever it is, you’ll be right there to hear it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I want you and Ryan to be there with me. I want her to see that it’s more than just me.”
Reaching over to the night stand, he retrieved his Kindle and pushed himself up against the headboard. “Anyway,” he said. “Enough of that for now. I’d rather concentrate on finishing this chapter.”