When the car pulled up to the tiny house, Selynna Felix-Terrazas’s heart was beating so fast it felt as if it would burst inside her chest. Her stomach was knotted. She had goosebumps on her arms.
The car ride had been a little over two hours traveling across the southern border into the city of Agua Prieta, Mexico. Plenty of time for Selynna to think of what she was going to say but at this very moment no words came to her.
She stepped out of the car and noticed the children wandering around the unpaved street. Their clothes were ragged and torn. A variety of stray cats and dogs intermingled around them.
Selynna turned towards the dwelling. A metal fence separated her from the beige shack, a structure that looked as if the most gentle breeze could send it crumbling to the ground. No grass. Just sand. No front door. Just a curtain. There, the woman waited, the same woman whom Selynna had traveled over two hours to see in what was to be their first meeting in memory.
Selynna was scared. Driving up, she thought maybe she would hug the woman but right now she felt too shocked to move. Which was weird given this stranger’s identity.
The woman standing in front of the curtain was Selynna’s biological mother.
Selynna was five years old.
Five years earlier, the woman, pregnant and worried, decided to allow a longtime friend living in the United States to adopt her unborn baby girl. She had already lost another baby to malnutrition likely brought on by poverty. It was understood that this new child’s best chance of survival would only come if she were taken out of the environment. Luckily, Dolores Terrazas was more than willing to step in.
It had once been a running joke between the two of them. Dolores would ask her, “Why not have a baby and give her to me?” The woman would reply, “Why would I give you my baby?” The answer came years later when the joke turned into a harsh reality. By that time, Dolores and her husband Jose had been trying to have children of their own for ten years. They were reaching the end of all hope when word came of a blessing from across the border. It seemed like a win-win for all parties. Not only would Dolores and Jose finally have a child to call their own, they would be helping a friend in dire need.
Dolores made a conscious effort to let baby Selynna know she was adopted. She wanted to make sure Selynna understood her family history and that her family history did not necessarily define her. Dolores insisted that being adopted made Selynna very special. She’d say, if you were adopted it meant you were born from the heart instead of the tummy.
The open discussions built an unbreakable bond between adopted mother and daughter. Selynna grew to respect Dolores’ decision to tell her the truth. She respected the bravery. There was no resentment. Only an unconditional love that had nothing to do with blood lines.
Dolores had also promised Selynna’s biological mother that she would not turn into a forgotten afterthought. Neither mother nor daughter would be a stranger to the other. Dolores believed it was the least she could for the woman had given her the gift of a family.
It was Dolores who decided when the time was right for Selynna to meet her biological mother. It was Dolores who was responsible for Selynna making the two hour drive from Southern Arizona into Aqua Prieta. And it was Dolores who, as Selynna stared at the woman in front of the curtain, told her adopted daughter to remain calm, say hello to her mother and ask a question.
Selynna had so many questions but first she followed her mother into the house where she met her four other siblings. The first thing she noticed was the darkness. There were no lights. The bathroom was in complete blackness. There was a bucket sitting on the ground filled with water. The bathtub. Reality sunk in.
Her mother guided Selynna into the kitchen. There was small refrigerator and a small circular table. They sat down. The emotions started to pour out.
Selynna peppered her mother with questions. About her life. About her choices. The answers she received did not sit well but at least they were honest or so she thought. By the end of the meeting Selynna walked away with mixed feelings. She appreciated the chance to better understand of where she came from. But she was still confused.
There was also the question of her father. According to her mother, he had deserted the family before Selynna was born. Selynna accepted this. It didn’t matter much anyway. Not now. She had come to terms with her mother and her mother’s mistakes. If she couldn’t reconnect with both, at least she could reconnect with one.
Time passed. Selynna and her mother developed a closer relationship. They spoke frequently and she continued to make trips down with Dolores’ blessing.
Eight years later, they were dining at a seafood restaurant in Mexico when a man passed by the table. Selynna had never seen him before. She recognized him anyway. She pointed him out to her mother. Her mother confirmed what Selynna had suspected.
The man was her biological father. Fate had brought all three together
The next day, Selynna’s mother made the formal introductions and then was promptly caught in her lie. She had once told Selynna that her father had walked out on them. In reality, the father had never known about Selynna. Her mother had feared that he would take her away if he had any indication that she was expecting. Maybe he would have allowed her to be adopted. Maybe not.
For Selynna, the lie was heartbreaking. Unlike the first family revelation, this time Selynna was older. She was a thirteen-year-old young adult with a slightly better grasp on the world around her. She knew what questions to ask. She knew the answers she was looking for.
It would have been very easy for Selynna to develop issues over trust. She didn’t. The credit goes to Dolores and Jose. Because of them, Selynna remained as grounded as possible even as she continued to come to terms with her family history and the decisions made by two strangers that ultimately impacted the course of her life.
Yet Selynna says she wouldn’t have changed a thing. None of it. Not when the outcome meant becoming Dolores and Jose’s adopted daughter. That’s how much they mean to her. That’s how much she means to them.
Seventeen years after meeting her mother and nine years after meeting her father, Selynna prepares to graduate from college. With her gymnastics career over, she moves onto the next chapter of her life where she hopes to develop a nonprofit organization that helps children with special needs. Selynna has transformed from young adult to adult and has learned acceptance and appreciation for the circumstances that led her to Dolores and Jose in the first place. She still keeps in touch with her biological family, especially her mother. She learned to forgive and to move on. It’s all been apart of growing up. And between the first meeting in front of that small beige shack to now, Selynna Felix-Terrazas has grown up a lot.
I met Selynna earlier this year having already known that she was adopted. What I didn’t know was the specifics and when she opened up to me, it was a story unlike any I had heard before. It was a story about family and love, bravery and sacrifice, forgiveness and forging ahead. At the end, I asked her how she would define family. Here is her answer:
“I’m surrounded by all these amazing people. My teammates, my family, my friends. The reason I stayed here (close to home) is because of my family. I would not be here without them.”
The time will come when Baby Girl and Baby Boy eventually leave the nest. If they move on feeling the same amount of support from us that Selynna feels from her adoptive parents, then I’ll know we will have done something right.
Copyright 2017 Damien Alameda. All Rights Reserved.