The Story of Caroline
written Jill D. Block and narrated by Jordan Killam


Once I decided it was finally time to look, it really wasn’t so hard to find her. After so much anticipation, having prepared myself for the frustrations and disappointments, the false leads, dead ends and wasted money that I assumed were inevitable, it actually took me less than a month. Massachusetts’ open adoption laws helped, and I made some lucky guesses. And then Google and Facebook helped bring it home.

The hard part was figuring out how I was going to get close to her, close enough to look into her eyes, to hear her voice. I wasn’t looking for a big emotional reunion. I certainly didn’t want or expect to forge a relationship at this late date. I didn’t even intend to let her know who I am. This isn’t about her, and I’m not here to answer her questions. I mean, if she was so interested in knowing who I am, she could have looked for me, right?

That sounds like I am mad at her for having given me away. But I’m not. All I really mean is that I don’t assume she has any interest in knowing what became of me. And that’s OK. Look, I’m almost forty years old. I get it. I learned a long time ago that you can’t blame someone for not loving you.

She was sixteen when she had me. So pretty much wherever I ended up was going to be better than with her, right? And it was fine. The people who raised me, my parents, were perfectly nice, well-meaning people. They were older, in their forties, when they got me, and they took me into their home and made me a part of their family. Well, sort of. Looking back, it seems like once they got me they couldn’t quite remember why they’d bothered. Let’s just say, there was not a lot of love in that house. They raised me, gave me shelter, food and clothes and an education. I know exactly what they did for me, and I appreciate it. Lots of kids grow up with a lot less than I had. But now I need to see what I missed.


She sat at the kitchen table and listened to him breathing in the next room. She took a sip of coffee. Cold. She should be in there with him. She should be cherishing this time, spending these final days with him, these final moments. She knew that there would come a day, soon, when she wouldn’t remember what kept her paralyzed in here, in this room, when she could have been by his side, and she would be left with nothing but regret.

Missy and Jane had decided when he came home from the hospital that he should be down here, in the family room, and not in the bedroom upstairs. They’d come roaring in like a storm, waving cell phones and Starbucks cups, throwing open the windows, unpacking groceries, rearranging furniture, directing the guys who delivered the bed, acting like they own the place. Like they live here. Like this was their problem to solve. When she brought him home, they sat with him, sometimes together, sometimes taking turns, holding his hand, smoothing his hair, speaking softly to him, kissing his forehead. And then, blinking back their tears, telling her they’d be back soon, they got in their cars and they left.

That was two days ago. Since then, she’d mostly sat here, at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and listening to him breathe. Aside from the feedings every few hours, when she busied herself with detached efficiency, mixing and measuring, chirping and clucking like an idiotic bird, asking him questions she knew he wouldn’t answer, she couldn’t bear to be in the room with him.

The one-sided conversations don’t really bother her. She is used to it. He hasn’t been able to speak for more than two years, not since the last big surgery. He’d tried in the beginning. He would say something, and she would guess, trying to understand what he was saying. She had about as much success as she would have had having a conversation with the cat. They sometimes laughed about it, back when it still felt like they were in this together.

Eventually, they stopped trying. After repeating himself three or four times, and shaking his head no to each of her guesses, he’d dismiss her with a wave of his hand, never mind, and turn back to the newspaper. That was when she felt most like she was failing him. If their bond was really so deep, shouldn’t his words be able to reach her?

If it was important enough, he would write her a note. The house was filled with his notebooks, their spirals crushed, and the pencils he used, sharpened with a knife. What would she do with the notebooks when he was gone? She wondered if the girls would want them. They probably imagined that they would find them full of poetic declarations of love, essays on the singular joy he’d known being their father. In fact, they were mostly reminders of things she needed to pick up at the store. Q-tips and kitty litter.

There had been fewer and fewer notes the last few months before he’d gone into the hospital. He responded to her questions with a thumbs up or down, the occasional shrug (which she took to mean “I don’t know” or “I don’t care,” depending on her mood), raised eyebrows (“really?”) or a smile. There hadn’t been many smiles lately.

Jose had told her he would come every day, that he would bathe him, and change the bed. He told her he had put a box of medications in the refrigerator that she could administer as needed, and he stuck a note to the door with a magnet. He left her with a stack of pamphlets, and said that he would arrange for a volunteer to come by every few days.


My plan had been to show up at the gallery where she worked. I figured I would recognize her from her Facebook pictures, and I could just say I was new in town, act confused and ask for directions or something. I would be gone before she noticed if anything I said didn’t make sense. And I swear that would have been good enough for me. But after I went by for the fourth time and didn’t find her there, I gave in and asked for her by name. It is amazing how much people are willing to tell you about other people’s private shit. They told me that she’d retired quite suddenly to care for her sick husband. His cancer was back. He was in the hospital but he’d be going home since there was nothing more that they could do for him.

Plan B came to me right away. I signed up for a five-day training course to become a hospice volunteer. Yeah, I know. False pretenses. But it really does sound worse than it is. I mean, it isn’t like I am going to do anything. I’ll go in, get a good look, talk with her for two minutes, and then sit with the husband for an hour or two while she goes out and gets her hair done, or whatever it is you can’t do while your husband is dying. And then I’ll tell the fine folks at Pioneer Valley Hospice that it turns out I can’t do it. I am very sorry but it is just too sad, that I am not cut out for this. And then we can all get on with our lives.


She had just made a pot of coffee when she heard the car in the driveway. The volunteer. She took a quick look around and tried to assess the impression she was about to give. It was a good thing that Jose came in the mornings; otherwise she might be sitting here in her nightgown. She took a deep breath and opened the door with a smile.

“Hi. You must be the volunteer. Thank you so much for coming. I’m Grace. Richard is in the next room. He’s the, well, you know. Anyway, please come in. I am not exactly sure how this works. I’ve never done this before. I mean of course I haven’t. So you tell me—what do we do? Am I supposed to leave?”

“Hi. I’m Hannah. I, umm . . . actually, I’ve never done this before either. This is my first time, too.”

“Then I guess we will figure it out together, won’t we? Come on in.”

Richard was sleeping when they looked in on him, so they went back to the kitchen.

“I just made coffee. Would you like some?”

“Sure. I mean, yes, please. Thank you. But I’m supposed to be here to help you. Did you have anything that you need me to do? I can run some errands if you want. Or I can stay here with—I mean, if you wanted to go out or something.”

“No, no. Not today. Let’s just sit for a little while. If you don’t mind. I can use the company.”

They took their coffee to the table and sat down.

“This is a really beautiful house. Have you lived in Northampton for a long time?”

“We moved to the area when we first got married. We’ve been in this house about thirteen years. Since right after our youngest went away to school.”

“Oh, you have kids?”

“Two girls. Women, I suppose. Missy and Jane. They are probably about your age. A little younger maybe.”

“Do they live around here?”

“Missy’s in Connecticut, Hartford. And Jane is in Stockbridge. Not too far. It’s about an hour for each of them, in opposite directions. That picture is of Missy and John from a few years ago. When they were in Hawaii. And those are their boys, Willie and Matt. And that is Jane, with Kathryn and the baby. Jane is the one with the earrings. Richard took that picture at the airport when they came home with Madison. They were both just here for a couple of days, Missy and Janie, when we brought him home. Richard. When Richard came home. And they’ll be back on Thursday for dinner. It’s my wedding anniversary.”

“Oh, that’s nice. I mean that you’ll all be together. How long have you been married?”

“Thirty-eight years. Hard to believe we made it this far.”

“Thirty-eight years? How can that be? I’m sorry. I just meant, wow. You must have been very young.”

“Yes. We certainly were young.”

“When did—how did you meet?”

“Meet? Who knows. I’ve always known Richard, for as long as I’ve known my own name. He lived down the street from me, and our parents were friends. We were what they used to call high school sweethearts.”

They sat in silence.

“Let’s go in and see if he’s up and I can introduce you. I don’t know what they may have told you about him. He can’t speak, and I feed him through a GI tube. Come on. Richard? Hi, honey. This is Hannah. She is going to come by every few days. Right, Hannah? I think that is what Jose told me. She is just going to keep us company. Do you want me to turn on the TV? Maybe I can find a baseball game. Or the news? Here, let me—”

He shook his head no.

“OK, honey. Are you too warm in here? Let me just fix—OK, OK, I’m sorry. I’ll stop. It’s fine. Hannah’s going to go now. And then I will come in and give you your supper. OK?”

Grace walked her to the door.

“I can come back tomorrow if you’d like. Unless you think that’s too much.”

“Tomorrow is fine. God knows, we’re not going anywhere. I’m sorry. That sounded terrible. I only meant—”

“No, no. It’s fine. It sounded fine. Really. Can I bring you anything? I can stop at the store if you need anything.”

“No. I don’t think—actually, do you know what I’d really like? I am absolutely craving McDonald’s french fries and a milkshake. Could you do that? But you have to promise not to tell anyone. I honestly never eat food like that. Here, let me give you some money. Vanilla. You don’t mind, do you?”


Just be normal. Get in, put on your seat belt. Turn, wave, start the car and drive. It doesn’t matter where. Just drive.

What the fuck just happened? I just met my mother. I just had coffee with my mother. For the first time in thirty-nine years, I just hung out with my mother. Who married her high school sweetheart. What does that even mean? She grows up with Richard. He’s her boyfriend. She gets pregnant, and she gives me away. And then she marries him? And has two more kids with him? And then they spend the next thirty-eight years together?

It doesn’t make sense.

Richard is my father. Or maybe he’s not. Maybe there was another boy, who snuck in between before and after, and stuck around just long enough to get her pregnant? I honestly never even thought about the father. It never occurred to me to look for him, or even to wonder who he was. He didn’t exist in the life I imagined for the mother. For my mother. For Grace.

And what about those sisters? Or maybe they are still just my half-sisters. Missy with the square-jawed husband and the exotic vacation. Jane the lesbian. I have a gay sister. A gay sister with a Chinese baby. How totally cool. How totally clichéd. Shit. I just become the loser sister.


Jose asked her on Wednesday if she’s noticed that Richard was sleeping more. He doesn’t seem to be in pain. But in just the four days that he’s been home, they could both see that he was fading. She finally had the nerve to ask Jose how long he thought it would be. The social worker at the hospital had said that hospice was for people not expected to live more than six months, but she hadn’t wanted to know anything more than that. Today, Jose said it could be days or weeks, but probably no more than a week or two. He told her that he wished the hospitals would release terminal patients to hospice sooner, so that there would be more time at home, better time. She didn’t know what she wished.

When Hannah arrived, they piled both orders of fries onto a plate, and they opened all of the ketchup packets into a pool for dipping at the edge of the plate. They didn’t speak until the last french fry was gone.

“It’s going to be soon. Jose told me today. Do you know Jose? The nurse? Days, he said. Or maybe a week or two.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry.”

“I will have to tell the girls tomorrow. This is going to be hard for them. They aren’t really prepared for this. They haven’t had many difficult days.”

“And you? Are you prepared for it?”

“Well, I have had my share of hard days if that’s what you mean. I thought the hardest ones were behind me. Stupid, I know. When we got married, Richard promised that from that day forward we’d get through our hardest days together. That I would never again have to suffer alone.”


“It’s a long story. Let’s first clean this up and I’ll go check on Richard.”

“Why don’t I make us some coffee?”


HTML layout and style by Stephen Thomas, University of Adelaide.
Modified by Skip for ESL Bits English Language Learning.