One’s Origins: A Journey From Adoption to Identity – Part Nine

Hi everyone! Summer break is over and time was well spent pursuing a couple other projects I am excited to share in the very near future.

We concluded Part Eight with me being towed out to the launch pad to jettison towards a career certain to usher me towards an existence replete with self-respect. I just had to keep following the yellow brick road that was being painted by others. Towards the end of Part Eight I mentioned that doors appeared to open up for me. When they did, I believed that a safe assumption was that I was meant to walk through them, so I did.

Just as the world was beginning to look like it had become my oyster, something happened that could have brought much of it crumbling down. I planned that Part Nine would be dedicated to sharing that story with you. Due to reasons I will not get into here, since drafting Part Nine I have come to understand that the timing for doing so is sub-optimal. I hope to revisit and share this part of the journey at a later date.

For now, let’s jump right back into things once I moved on from the reparative period working in the trades to an office services job at an engineering firm. In so doing, I transitioned from community college student taking general business administration courses to a night student at Villanova University enrolled in their College of Engineering.

I mentioned in Part Five that part of the reparative work included repairing a tear I made in my relationship with my Mom and Dad (as well as with many others) – that in no small part is attributable to my Mom’s aneurysm. I had returned to live with my parents after the fallout from a few years ago. Long before the term ‘boomerang kids’ found its way into our lexicon I was a boomerang kid early 90’s style. My boomeranging ways were the ‘prodigal son’ kind.

This prodigal son was about to move out into the world on his own for the second time. This time there was no tumult and there was no heartbreak. This was just a bird leaving the nest in which it hatched. But again, I ain’t done boomeranging just yet. We’ll get to that a little later.

Shortly after my promotion to supervisor, I found a three-bedroom apartment, the tenant of which was seeking a roommate. It was a half mile from the office and a short walk to the regional rail train station. The sixth stop after the station near my new residence was located on the Villanova campus. It was less than a fifteen-minute commute by train and a mere few hundred feet of walking in total to get from my front door to my classroom. Was it not safe to conclude that this was indeed the right road for me? All the right things were happening. I was developing a deep sense of faith that I was on the path intended for me all along. In there, ever so subtly, lies the flaw in my thinking. My faith played a passive role. Favorable outcomes did not occur because I had faith. Instead, I was acquiring faith because I was experiencing favorable outcomes. New job. New home. New school. I was ready to tackle the world. As the saying goes, “be careful what you wish for.”

During my tenure as supervisor for the office services department (circa 1993), the company was acquired by a much larger engineering firm with a global footprint. This was also about the time I had to make a decision about matriculation. Which discipline of engineering would I pursue? Recall from Part Eight that it was opportunity and my trust in the waves that carried me, and not any particular desire, that pushed me towards engineering – though math always fascinated me. Now I had to decide which kind. Well again, signs from the heavens, the universe, the Ouija Board (whichever best aligns with your world views) was about to tap me on the shoulder and whisper in my ear the decision I was meant to make about matriculation. (In the case of the Ouija Board the decision was simply being made for me.)

The company I worked for prior to the acquisition had only a few disciplines of engineering. In addition to the architectural department, there was Mechanical (HVAC and piping systems), Electrical, Fire Protection and Systems Integration. Our clients were other companies seeking engineering and design work on new buildings as well was repairs and rehabs on existing buildings. These buildings were sometimes just office buildings but more often they were huge research and development facilities in the Pharmaceuticals industry. For this reason, Mechanical seemed like decent choice. It’s broad and the Mechanical department comprised a decent portion of the entire company. From a practical standpoint Villanova offered Mechanical engineering as one of its programs in engineering.

The acquiring company, on the other hand, had a huge presence in the Petroleum industry. Here in the U.S. they had significant presence with the oil companies in the southern part of the country.  At Villanova, there were four engineering programs: Mechanical, Electrical, Chemical and Civil. I don’t know (even today) if there exist any accredited programs specifically called Petroleum engineering. There could well be. I was told by those with whom I conferred for advice that Chemical Engineering overlaps significantly with work in the Petroleum industry. The Ouija Board had revealed its answer. I was to matriculate to Chemical Engineering.

What I did not know at the time is that (at least then) among all undergraduate engineering programs – and among all undergraduate degrees in general – Chemical Engineering required (by no small margin) the greatest number of total credit hours. Remember I was taking night classes; six to eight credits per semester on average and I used the summers to take electives. This was going to take a while.

Shortly thereafter, I learned that many of the classes required for a Chemical Engineering degree were not offered at night. Uh oh! I was now committed to this path. After all, far be it for me to dismiss the wisdom of the Ouija Board. There was only one thing I could do. Resign. I submitted a letter of resignation from my job as supervisor for the office services staff. I had enjoyed tuition reimbursement for the last two years. But if I was going to get this degree done before my thirtieth birthday (a target I set back when I first started at the community college when my academic ambitions were lighter) I had to migrate to a full-time student status. Resigning meant no more tuition reimbursement. I would have to learn about and apply for every loan and grant available to me. And of course, no income made paying rent a bit challenging. I had one more boomerang move up my sleeve. At about the age of 26, I was moving back home with my Mom and Dad to finish my undergraduate work.

I was called into the office of the Regional President who was the person in charge of our entire office. My resignation letter went up two more levels above me and landed somehow on his desk. He congratulated me on the decisions I was making for the betterment of my life. He then asked if I could work around my new daytime classes. If I could manage around my courses such that I could still keep tabs on things with my staff and their responsibilities, the company wanted me to stay. I never expected that or even imagined it. I was truly humbled. As a part time employee, I would not qualify for tuition reimbursement, but they would continue to sponsor my health insurance coverage. Of course, it would also provide some income. I said yes and we shook hands. I walked out of his office feeling about as good about myself as I could ever remember having felt in a very long time.

About a year later, while I was still in the part time role of supervisor for the office services staff, I was invited to join a team in the company that had recently commenced a very large technology integration project to automate the manufacturing of a vaccine for a global pharmaceutical company. Philadelphia, the city nearest to me, is on the western fringes of what was referred to as (and probably still is) the ‘eastern pharmaceutical corridor’. Between Boston, MA and Washington, DC and especially in northern New Jersey, there is a huge presence of the biggest names in the pharmaceuticals industry.

Upon receiving this invitation, a conversation ensued that went something like this:

“I have no idea in the world what your group does or what this project is about.”
“No problem! We will teach you everything you’ll need to know.”
“Ok. You guys know I am a part time employee now because of daytime classes, right?”
“No problem!”
“Also, I am pursuing a Chemical Engineering degree, not programming or computer science.”
“No problem! One of the managers on the project is also a ChemE. Just keep working towards completion of your degree.”

Was that my Ouija Board talking to me again? Onward and upward I go. Literally upward in that this team was located on the second floor almost directly above the office services room where my team was located.

In much the same way as working for Bob (Part Six) in the trades refocused my life and provided me the opportunity to learn and become a contributing member of society, working with this team opened my eyes to how things come into being in the world that most people either take for granted or are simply not bothered to contemplate. I was going to work on a project designing what was at the time cutting edge technology to automate manufacturing of a product that would address life or death situations on a global scale. My Dear Ouija Board, where on earth are you taking me on this journey?

Before I continue, perhaps I might clarify that I am not much of a believer in Séances or Ouija Boards. My multiple uses of this ‘game’ is intended merely for humor and levity.

The best part was being invited to join this team on this project as my first foray into professional white-collar work was that it was a team that stood by one another rather than positioning against each other. I would later in my career become dreadfully too familiar with that lesser desirable team dynamic. For now, I could not have been more blessed with a greater group of individuals to shepherd me through this brand-new leg of my journey.

One thing that some of you might be wondering is how does this new opportunity square with Chemical Engineering. The answer is quite simple. It doesn’t. Of course, I would see common engineering lingo all over the place as I was now exposed to it literally night and day – and weekends too! Other than that, nada! My new role was to help create and support methods of testing programs and data that composed a rather elaborate relational database being built to support automated manufacturing. Not a chemical to be found anywhere. Which is a good thing. Not a bone in my body had a desire to become an expert on chemicals. I had matriculated a couple years earlier and was in no way going to turn around now. I had many credit hours already in the bank pertaining to Chemical Engineering and I was not to have them be for naught.

In Part Ten we’ll see what happens to a particular individual who never took any college entrance exams; was expelled from high school his senior year; had a brief run with substance use; quickly straightened himself out (aided by the near loss of the woman who adopted him); and is now a full time college student at a top ranked school in what is arguably one of the most demanding degrees offered at the undergraduate level. Next up is graduation and what follows. This ride ain’t done yet!

Thank you for your company as always. See you in Part Ten.

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One’s Origins – Part Eight

“I’m learning who you’ve been ain’t who you’ve got to be.”
From ‘Better Than I Used To Be’
First recorded by Sammy Kershaw and later covered by Tim McGraw
Writers: Bryan Simpson, Ashley Gorley

Welcome back! It’s been a wild few weeks since Part Seven was published. I use the word ‘wild’ in the most positive sense imaginable. My challenge for parts eight, nine and possibly ten, will not be a lack of great stuff to share. Rather, organization will be my challenge. One emerging benefit from sharing the One’s Origins journey is learning so much about what might have been done differently if I were to begin writing about this all over again. If, or dare I say when, One’s Origins is put to print, this blog is serving as the perfect sandbox. I am blessed with opportunity supported by your company.

I continue to struggle with a lingering quandary. Shall I maintain continuity in story line? Or shall I opt for a more organic or dynamic reading experience by interjecting present day occurrences in real time that have everything to do with the learning about my genetic origins? After much deliberation (essentially with myself) I have decided to take the path of continuity. In my view, it is simply easier to let the narrative flow if I commit to continuity.

In Part Seven, I shared a very painful experience involving my first experience of being in love. It began as I was heading into a dark time in my life and it survived with no lasting blemishes. In fact, it emerged all the stronger. That was thirty years ago! Life had to go on. The only unknown was who was going to chart the course ahead. I certainly had no confidence in myself to be in charge. My rationale was that the last time I made life decisions for myself only a few years earlier, things did not turn out so well.

So where to turn? That is the focus of Part Eight so let’s begin. From the onset it seems reasonable to start with perhaps dreams, desires, a vision of future self, etc. I had all of the above. What I lacked was an awareness of how sacrosanct each of those were in their service of providing the very guidance I desperately needed. On my best day, every dream I had of a life for myself was tossed into the bin of frivolity not to be taken seriously. I was convinced I did some serious and almost irreparable damage to my reputation and close relationships as a young man entering adulthood. I had some serious ground to make up and fast. The only target I set my sights on was proving to the world and myself that I am not one of society’s throw-a-ways. It’s the world I wanted to see accept me. And it was me whom I needed to accept me. Remember the whole ‘external locus of identity’ thing? My goal was not to be me. My goal merely was the swift eradication of the world’s memory of who I used to be. Therefore, my bogus concoction of what the world wanted from me was my guide. As I write this, I am reminded of what my MBA Ethics professor once said to our class many years ago. “If you want to do good in this world, find a good [person] and do what they do.” I had a version of that as my compass fifteen years earlier. ‘If you want to be successful, find a successful person and do what they do.’ Of course, my definition of success was then, as it remained for years, having a respected and impressive career path. In my myopia, I believed the only way to achieve this was to find a path that was 180° from whence I had recently been in just about every shape and form.

Closing out Part Six I discussed my foray into college. I enrolled without any idea of what was to be my focus study. My Dad had recently made the off-the-cuff suggestion of business management. That was enough for me shrug my shoulders and say, “Ok, I guess that’s it.” Enrolling in a community college has much fewer hurdles than highly ranked institutions. For starters, SAT scores are not critically necessary. And that’s a good thing. Given the timing of my mid-teen mess, I never prepared for or took the SAT exam. (A standardized test in the U.S. for college bound students.)

This was in 1988. The year I turned twenty-one I began what was to become a nearly nine-year undergraduate journey. The leading indicator for me that I was making positive life choices by returning to school was listening to deluge of encouragement from so many who were close to me, not the least of whom was Tonia’s (Part Seven) encouragement as I went through my first couple semesters.

After about four years of working in the blistering heat and frigid cold, someone who was dating a childhood friend of mine was working in the accounting department of a local, 250-person engineering company. She told me they were looking for someone to fill an entry level position in their printing and mail room. Unlike your stereotypical copy machine operations, most of our tasks centered around reproduction of architectural and engineering drawings in large quantities. In these days, electronic distribution of documents such as these was still years away. (For levity, feel free to associate with the contemporary sitcom “The Office” or go for further back in the archives to recall the iconic 1991 Saturday Night Live skit ‘Copy Machine’ with Sting, lead singer and bassist for the pop band The Police – coincidentally one of my favorite bands in high school.)

I learned that once you are there for a year, they offered tuition reimbursement as long as your course work was related to an engineering discipline and you got at least a B (3.0) or better. I applied, was interviewed and offered the job within a few weeks. This was in October 1991.

I immediately changed my course path at the community college from business to engineering. Matriculation into a discipline (Mechanical, Electrical, Civil, etc.) was not a bridge I would need to cross for a while. Taking classes at night – about two classes per semester – lengthens greatly the time required to finish – or make any progress for that matter. This did not discourage me in the least. I was on a mission.

Within my first year at the engineering firm my supervisor moved on to a different role within the company and I was promoted to supervisor. Our group comprised about six or seven individuals and we managed document reproduction, shipping/receiving and deliveries of engineering drawings for local clients. Once I hit the one-year mark, I explored other schools with better name recognition to continue my engineering degree at night. Once I got myself on a better path, I was back with my parents for a few years while I tried to re-establish myself as a society keeper rather than a throw-a-way.

Conveniently located about halfway between the office and my home was the campus of Villanova University – about twelve miles west of Philadelphia. Their engineering program had a solid reputation and it was also a lot more expensive than a community college. With only a couple courses per semester and tuition reimbursement, little deliberation was needed on this decision. It was a no-brainer.

One might think that transferring from a community college to a school of Villanova’s caliber is a labyrinth nearly indistinguishable from that which a high school graduate seeking acceptance into a top-ranked school would have to master. Not so. Since I was applying for night classes, and I had a track record at a community college with mostly good grades, and, perhaps most important, I was able to show that I could pay the tuition, there was no other formal vetting procedures. While only a few years earlier I was destined for a life somewhere between poverty and vagrancy, I was now enrolled as a student in the College of Engineering at Villanova University. I still had yet to come to the bridge of matriculation. That was still a couple years away.

One thing to keep in mind is that all this was happening in the early 1990s long before higher education evolved into the financial and influential powerhouse it is today. I refer you to pp 24-25 of Late Bloomers by Rich Karlgaard. The idea that success necessitated a college degree was beginning to seep into the water supply of consciousness at an ever-increasing rate. It is now at problematic levels.

I had a base level of appreciation for the blessings and second chances life afforded me. I’ve said this before, and I will repeat it again and again. I am very fortunate. I know I am very fortunate, and I am grateful. Other people, many of whom did not know me, took a chance on me. And that made all the difference – if I may borrow the second half of an oft cited sentence from Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken.

It is both a blessing and a curse that so many doors seemed to open up for me once I jumped off the wrong path. I was becoming convinced that this is how it all works. Simply show up and opportunity reveals itself. Voila! I must be on the path of my destiny! I reasoned if opportunity found me, that was the only sign I needed to believe this was where I was meant to be since all I had to do was show up and do my best and the rest would fall into place. This idea in and of itself is not false – but only to a point. Rather than me happening to life, I let life happen to me. And it was a glorious and even slightly serendipitous strategy by which to pursue the respect of others and the eradication of any memory of who I used to be.

I have spoken before of being motivated by external cues rather than internal ones. I needed the world to accept me in order for me to accept me. It would be almost thirty years later before I learned that the exact opposite is true. The world will naturally be more accepting of me – and of each of us – once we accept ourselves for who we are. The world is ready and waiting to accept us once we do.

The twenty years to follow can best be described as a ride in a rocket ship. To say my wildest dreams were exceeded would not even make sense because they were not aligned with any dreams I held for myself. But there sure was alignment with my goal of impressing people and garnering respect in the modern world.

There was just one more obstacle. I was not completely through with making flawed decisions with life damaging consequences. I had one more up my sleeve. And that is where we will pick up in Part Nine.

Thank you all as always. You lift me.

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One’s Origins – Part Seven

 

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Welcome back. Wrapping up Part Six I alluded to a bit of a heartbreak awaiting me on the horizon. In Part Seven we traverse through a land of sorrow on the road ahead to my origins.

During the rough years of my late teens, I befriended several young people who, like me, were just kids seeking their independence from all forms of authority. A few months after my eighteenth birthday I attended a house party at the home of a friend’s friend whom I had only recently met. Another guest there was a girl named Tonia and we struck up a conversation in the first floor living room of this split-level house. Everyone else was congregating and doing what kids do at these parties in the lower level family room. My time spent talking with Tonia that night can best be described as otherworldly. For the first time in my post adolescent life, I was sharing myself openly with absolutely no fear whatsoever of being judged. She seemed genuinely interested in spending time with me. What felt like no more than an hour was in reality several. It was after midnight before the thought of bringing this exchange to a close crossed either of our minds. Tonia might well have been like that with most people she met – I don’t know. All I know is that those few hours alone with her while over a dozen of our peers were elsewhere in the house, held me in a state of feeling simply accepted. She welcomed me into her space. It was this lacking hitherto that contributed to me becoming so rebellious.

From that point forward I made deliberate effort to hang out with her more frequently. On multiple occasions sometimes we would just sit out in her backyard at night and stare at the stars together. We would talk about anything and everything. Things that made us laugh and things that made us cry. If this what once-in-a-lifetime friendship is all about, I’m down with it! I tenaciously believe that part of why I felt so comfortable with her is that she too was adopted. We did not talk about it much but we both appreciated that we had this in common.

At one point, I do not recall exactly when or where, I tried to kiss her, and she backed away. Yes, it was awkward. Yes, it had a slight impact on our friendship for a little while. We lost touch for a bit but soon reconnected. I had to accept that what I meant to her was perhaps not what I might have wished but in no way would my ego be an obstacle for us to continue being good friends. What I valued from our friendship was worth much more than any desire I had to introduce romance into the picture. I did carry with me the hope that her reaction to my kiss was merely one of timing and that “no” merely meant “not then”. One thing is for certain; for how she made me feel about myself, I was willing to make all necessary concessions to keep her in my life. When a larger group of friends would meet up she would sometimes have another guy in tow whom she was dating but I was not bothered. If she was happy, that’s all that mattered to me. I loved her and my love required nothing in return. And I know she loved me but not in the same way. The depth of my feelings towards Tonia were never fully revealed to anyone; her friends or mine, her family or mine.

As time went by, my 21st birthday was just over the horizon and my parents offered to throw a party complete with a half keg of the beer of my choice. I cannot recall what beer I chose. As soon as we had plans roughed out, I called friends to invite them. Among the first was, of course, Tonia. In a rather still and monotone voice, she asked me to come over – she had some news for me. She lived a half mile away which was about a ten-minute walk. I arrived to a very small gathering of friends and family. She was sharing with those who were there that she had been diagnosed with leukemia. My heart sank in unison with every heart in her house that day. This was in March of 1988 and she had turned twenty-two a couple months earlier. The gravity of this, while powerful, left me not with a feeling of ‘My God, I am going to lose her’, but rather, ‘We have a long road ahead to help her get through this.’ There was no way on God’s earth that for even for one second was I going to entertain the thought that she was not going to get through this. I was NOT going to let her be taken.

The summer months of 1988 included frequent trips to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia for me to visit her – and I visited every opportunity I had. Leukemia is marked by many things, one of which is an extraordinarily high white blood cell count. The only way to confirm the presence of leukemia is through a bone marrow biopsy. Once treatments such as chemotherapy begin, further biopsies are needed to monitor progress. Put bluntly, bone marrow biopsies are painful. Life was hell for her – and it was hell for me seeing her suffer both physically and emotionally. During one visit when I was next to her bed, she looked at me through tears and said. “Matt, I’m so scared.”. What I wanted was to be able to trade places with her. But if not that then at least I could be her rock of faith, her beacon of encouragement. It began to feel at times as if here too, failure was not just an option: it was my only option.

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Left to right: Tonia, Me, Jill (a dear mutual friend) circa 1988-1989

Later that year she went into remission and could once again begin to lead a somewhat normal life. True to her spirit, she did not hold back. Raised in a family active in the performing arts, she was quite comfortable in the lime light. She was full of life in a way I could only envy. I often wished some of that would rub off on me. Between jumping back into the night club scene and competing in fashion shows, she was going to show leukemia who was in charge.

Tonia fashion

Tonia was comfortable on a stage. circa 1988-1989

Eventually, remission would retreat and back into the hospital it was to be. This time Pennsylvania Hospital, also in Philadelphia. Here her moments of lucidity were growing less frequent and my heart and soul were dying inside me. Once she fell into a coma, I was losing any sense of goodness in the world. One evening while I was alone with her in her hospital room, I took her hand and leaned over to say these words:

“Tonia, I believe you can hear me although you cannot respond. I want to tell you something I wish I had had the courage to tell you long before now. I love you more than I can say…. more than I thought I was ever capable of loving anyone. I know your feelings for me are not the same and that’s OK. I don’t need them to be.
“You are the most giving and generous person I know. Right now, I need to ask you to stop thinking of others and focus on you. All your thoughts need to be directed towards winning this battle.”

I would never see her awake again. The following weekend I was at my aunt and uncles’ place about ten minutes from Bethany Beach in Delaware. It was my happy place in those days. On the morning of Sunday, May 20, 1989 the phone rang, and my aunt answered – only one tethered phone per abode in those days. It was my mom calling for me. I put the phone to my ear to learn that Tonia had passed away. I was completely numb. Every biorhythm in my body came to a complete halt. I put the phone down and only these words passed through my lips in a soft cracked whisper: “I am going to sit on the beach for a while.” I took no chairs, towels, or blankets. No beach paraphernalia of any kind. I simply picked up my car keys and drove away.

I sat on the beach watching waves crash on the shore with my arms bent behind me supporting my torso at an angle similar to halfway up in a sit-up with nothing but my clothes between me and the sand. With all my senses, I could see, hear, feel, smell and taste the sensation of Tonia sitting right there next to me just like those nights in her backyard beneath the stars. This time there was no laughter. There was no dialogue. Nor were there any tears – at first. Just the fullness of her presence in every way. My worst nightmare was coming true. I would have to continue on without the one person who was just getting to know me when I was heading for my worst and remained my friend throughout my battles. The one person who was teaching me to leave the past in the past. The one person who was teaching me to forgive myself and how to love myself. This is why I loved her. I suddenly felt insufficient in the words I spoke to her the last time I visited her. I told her I loved her (and I will never know her reaction), but she left this world without hearing why. For the first time since I heard the news of her death that morning, I wept. Without her I was completely lost. As I write this, the 30th anniversary of losing Tonia was less than a month ago. Worthiness of love and belonging remains elusive to me today. I am sometimes pained to think that I am letting her down.

Tonia profile

Tonia: January 3, 1966 – May 20, 1989

Later that evening I returned home from the beach in Delaware and went straight to her house where there were cars up and down the street and people everywhere. Her father came out on the porch and when he saw me he put his arms around me and we cried together for a while. Once we regained composure, he asked if I would be a pallbearer. I said yes without hesitation. My preferred role in all this would’ve been taking her place, but a pallbearer I would be.

During the viewing, funeral and interment I was inconsolable. I truly could not keep myself together. My sobbing was completely out of my control. For the entire day I saw the world through eyes blurred by tears. Even later that evening when friends and family adjourned to one of our favorite hangouts to celebrate her life, I still could not go twenty minutes without an upsurge of tears. The pain was so unbearable it left an indelible mark on my willingness – dare I say ability – to ever get that close to anyone ever again.

Ad nauseam I have heard, in every way possible, the virtues and pay-offs of putting yourself out there for all the glory a truly loving relationship has to offer, and I don’t doubt it’s true. I know what it feels like to have it – and I know what it feels like to have it ripped away from you. I am also sure that those who win at love far outnumber those who lose. No one need ever pontificate to me on this subject. The loss of Tonia drove my adversity to emotional risk through the roof. At the age of twenty-two having lost the first person who truly showed me how worthy I was of peer acceptance and self-forgiveness was so painful that I vowed that in no way whatsoever would I every expose myself to any possibility of experiencing anything like that ever again. I am aware of all I am forgoing – I’ve experienced it firsthand. For me, no price was, or is, too high to pay to guarantee I would never ever live through anything like that ever again.

While this is not the only reason for my disinclination to emotional intimacy, it is far and away the leading reason. I won’t be sharing these stories in detail but in future parts of this series observing the impact of this experience will be unavoidable.

In Part Eight, a whole new life begins with a heavy and guarded heart along with a commitment to become the person Tonia had the faith in me to become that surpassed my own faith. It’s been a labyrinth to say the least.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for being by my side for this part of the journey to my origins. It means more to me than you will ever know.

See you in Part Eight.

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