"Come on, Bessie!" she'd say while tenderly tapping the dashboard of her rusty blue station wagon. "Come on, Bessie!" every time, without fail, urging the old car up a steep hill. I would lie in the way, way back, all alone, listening over the ever-present din of sibling arguments and wait for it. "Come on, Bessie," I'd mouth along with her. A secret ritual, a way to connect.
My dad sold Bessie sometime in the winter of 1973. I came home from school and the battered blue wagon was gone. I didn't expect an explanation, I didn't ask for one. I missed that car, full of memories, full of her. After she died, I would curl up in the way, way back, close my eyes, and search for the Mommy smell that still lingered inside. A scent that would carry me off to dreamland.
I met Stacie for the first time in May. Her voice was meek and flat on the phone. She wasn't crying, but I heard it, the unmistakable sound of desperation. That was the first call, the single call that would change my life, and hers too, probably forever.
I work with a nonprofit adoption agency in New Jersey. I fund their operation and provide outreach services; they do the work. Finding families for kids who need them is beyond fulfilling, it is addictive. I like to help. I need to help. I help a lot, sometimes too much.
This is a true story about a girl named Stacie who called the adoption agency with a terrible problem. A lot of it won't make sense, at least logically. But sometimes sense runs deeper than logic. Nothing happens by chance. The events that follow, some dark and painful, changed me absolutely.
You have been warned.
Once a week, after my show, I have an adoption meeting. An intake counselor gives me a rundown: who called, who returned the necessary forms, any problem cases. That's where this thing with Stacie started, but not at all where it ended. One afternoon in May I sat down with Colleen, one of our counselors. It was pretty standard fare until she opened a blue folder on her lap. "Oh, God," she said, glancing over her words, remembering. "This one is so sad." Then suddenly Colleen bit her lower lip and started to cry. At that moment I remembered why I no longer talk to birth mothers. I can't stand the pain in their voices, the tenderness in their hearts, their struggling souls. Also, I become over-involved. To put it bluntly, I have no boundaries. Zero, nada, zipponone. The birth mothers who call are usually in crisisscared, confused, and needyand I am in constant savior mode. Like it or not, I hear their voices, I see their faces, I don the tights and cape. Here I come to save the day! It's not Mother Teresa-ish, it's not a calm centered giving, a planned Zen thing; it's a compulsion. I can't help myself.
Colleen told me the details of the case: "Stacie is fourteen. She is six months pregnant. Her mother, Barb, called the hot line. She got the number off the show. Her daughter Stacie was raped, get this, by a youth minister. The guy is in jail, the kid is in shock. They were calling for information only, they don't know what they will do. The mother is kind, well spoken, concerned for her daughter, feels the baby should be placed for adoption, but will do whatever the daughter decides. God, Ro, she sounded so defeated. I didn't know what to tell her."
Right then and there, for reasons I will never completely understand, I jumped in, headfirst. I broke my own rule. I picked up the intake sheet and dialed the number, a birth mother and a birth mother's mother. A double whammy. Two helpings of hurt. The phone rang. I got an answering machine. The voice on it sounded so confident and carefree, I thought it must have been recorded months before. I heard the beep, and left a message. . . . "Hi, this is Rosie O'Donnell. . . . You called our adoption line . . . the counselor told me about your daughter. . . . If I can be of help in any way . . . questions you may have, anything, please call. We can provide financial help for counseling. . . . I know this must be horrible for you and your daughter, and I am very sorry it happened." I left my office number.
Copyright © 2002 by Rosie O'Donnell
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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