by Marisa Rosa Margarita Carrillo Bytof Renner
The moment I stepped into that McDonald’s, my adoptive mom and my cousin at my side, I felt like there were just two focused spotlights, one directly on me and one on my birth mom.
I walked towards her, my hands shaking, tears already forming in my eyes. That walk was the longest moment of stillness I’ve ever experienced, even though I was actually moving toward her. I felt the love between us; I felt the fear, the anxiety, and the joy. I felt like I had been walking so far to get to her, but it paid off more than you can imagine.
Now she was standing right in front of me and I didn’t even look at her. All my body wanted to do was embrace my fear and the person I’d thought about meeting my entire life. For a brief moment, I had the frightening feeling that she wouldn’t hug me back. But just as quickly as the thought entered my mind, I felt her arms wrapped around me, I felt her tears on the side of my neck. Her scent was sweet and her jacket was soft on my face. There was a long period of sniffling, crying and unspoken love. And then I finally heard the voice that I had been waiting to hear for 18 years.
Right away, my voice echoed hers as I told her that I loved her so much and that I’m not sad, just very happy. I could feel her warmth, and the pounding heart that I’d felt and heard for nine months. I felt the hands of my mother stroking my thick hair as if she were trying to calm my tears, and the lips of a strong woman as she kissed the top of my head, showing the love that she felt inside. I can still feel that embrace in my bones today.
Eventually, after a really long period of time, my arms found a way to let go of her. My next embrace was with my birth grandmother. I was scared to hug her because she was so small, but my fear fell away as she pulled me in tight and I could feel what a massive heart she had. Next was my brother, who was just what I expected. He was so tender and gentle, and when he hugged me, I felt the love and shyness coming off of him. The love and emotion filled the area around us and we eventually settled into a booth to talk.
I didn’t know where to start. I mean, it’s kind of impossible to explain 18 years of life to someone in such a small amount of time. I knew I wanted to start off by telling her that I am so thankful for the gift she gave me and that I could never be angry with her. My birth mom replied that my desire to meet her and my travel to Guatemala were huge gifts to her, something that was a heartbreaking to me. She then explained that my 19-year-old brother had been murdered exactly six months earlier, and the fact that she’d lost a child and then a new (but old) one came back into her life was a blessing from above. She said that my presence brought her more joy than she’d felt since the day my brother died.
My brother had known about me and wanted to meet me really bad, and often wondered if I was ever going to find them and come meet them. It still makes me sad that I didn’t get to meet him, but in a sense I knew that he was looking down on us sitting around that table smiling and sending love to him.
I also found out that the community shamed my birth mom for giving me up to another family, and said my brother was killed because she wanted me to have a better life instead of watching me struggle there in that town. I immediately felt the need to prove them wrong, and got out my picture book to show her that my life was just what she had wanted for me, and that those people in her town are mean-spirited people. I showed my birth mom photos of me playing soccer, celebrating Halloween, birthdays, Christmas, hugging my big brother, eating tons of food, and playing my clarinet. It was a big moment as everyone in my family flipped the many pages of my life slowly progressing to my senior portrait. I got to hear my birth mom saying how beautiful I was and still am. I pointed to one of my birthday photos and told her that every single year on my birthday I would wish to meet her and that I have a picture of her above my bed, and that meeting her was my birthday present given by both her and my adoptive parents.
Suddenly, I felt very anxious to give out the gifts that my adoptive mom and I had spent so much time buying in the U.S., but first we had to eat. I swear: that was the best McDonald’s meal I had ever had, made exceptional because I got to share the meal with both of my moms, my younger brother, my cousin (who is also my best friend), my grandma, and the people that made this entire moment possible. Still, the meal was also nerve-racking eating only because all I could think about was the gift giving and things to say and ask.
Once the meal was over we quickly got to the gifts, and I can’t even begin to describe what an emotional moment that was.
We started with my little brother and it was extraordinary watching him get excited over simple things that are so easy for us to buy. He immediately put on the Yankees hat my mom got for him, which made me roll my eyes and laugh. The next person to open gifts was my grandma and she was such a sweetheart about everything and gave me a tender hug and kiss to say thank you.
Next I handed my birth mom a beautifully wrapped bag and she burst into tears. This both confused me and made me cry, too. My birth mom then told us that she had never ever gotten a gift in her life, and my heart sank to the bottom of my chest as I felt sadness and pain. My birth mom wasn’t going to open the gift, and instead took my hand and kept crying, saying that I was the greatest gift already.
At this deep moment I had to get up and hug her and encourage her to open the gift that we picked for her. My mind was racing and I got kind of angry that I was surprised by the fact that she never received a gift. I realized that I’m used to gifts because I’m not in poverty like she is, and it just made me feel spoiled and just wrong inside.
She loved the simple things that we got her: Shirts, hair ties, and a small purse—it was more than enough and I was proud to be the first one to show her what she deserves.
Now at this point my heart was full of so much love and so many new questions but we had to start the most important part of the reuniting: Pictures. Many people say that I fake-smile for a lot of pictures, but in this moment in time there was nothing more than real big sincere smiles. I got to take a picture with my two moms on either side of me, which made me feel so warm and loved all over my body. I got to stand with my brother, my grandma and my mom just like a regular family picture that I take with my family at home in California. And after all that crying, I really appreciated my brother wanting to take silly pictures with Ronald McDonald. He definitely is my brother for doing something so weird like that. People all around us were watching the scene unfold and a bunch of them figured out what was going on. I saw them smile and just watch as I cried again, hugging my brother and birth mom. It was weird that I went to my mommy now looking for comfort, and it felt more powerful and real than it has my entire life.
My adoptive mom really was the most supportive person in my entire life while I struggled with my adoption, and she stuck around through every heartbreak, problems due to substance abuse, expletive-filled tantrums, and anger fits.
We left the McDonald’s and took our emotions to another fast food restaurant where our conversations continued and I got some answers to my lifelong questions, alleviating all of my doubts. It’s like the sadness and hate about my adoption that I’ve carried for so long were never there. I got to tell her that my huge family in the U.S. wanted me to thank her over and over again for giving me to them.
Then the dreadful words came: “It’s time to say goodbye.” My heart sank into my feet. There are no words to describe how sad that made me. I knew once I stepped out of the second restaurant, that it was really time.
I walked slowly trying not to break down, but as soon as my birth mom looked at me, I lost it. I hugged her tighter then I have ever hugged someone before. I kept saying, “Thank you, Momma. I love you so much.” People on the street were watching us and a lot of people were looking very confused, but in that moment I didn’t care at all. Which, as I write this, I realize that this moment may have been the first time in my life that I didn’t care what people thought of me.
I hugged my brother and my grandmother and then went straight back to my birth mom. It really was like a movie scene: She dried my tears and then kissed my hands, and in a split second, I was watching her walk down the street with my brother and my grandma.
Writing this out is sincere. But all the feelings I had inside that day will never truly be captured on paper. There are no words that can explain the feelings I experienced in the three hours I spent with my birth mom. The writing that comes out of my soul and heart will never be able to capture what my cousin and mom witnessed. Yet, even then they didn’t feel my heart pounding inside my chest nor did they feel my veins pulsing over and over again. My mind still can’t even believe that the meeting was real, so any other vantage point will never compare to what I experienced.
Marisa Rosa Margarita Carrillo Bytof Renner/ Rosa Margarita Carrillo is a transnational, transracial adoptee.