Imagine having a baby you love. Imagine cradling him in your arms, caressing his soft skin, marveling at his tiny fingers and toes.
You name him Anthony.
For six months you sing to him, feed him, maneuver his limbs into impossibly small T-shirts, walk him when he cries.
Then one day, you come home from junior-high school and your beloved baby is gone. Your pregnant mother says the state came and took him away. She tells you it's for the best, but nobody ever tells you why.
For more than 43 years, Doris Brooks, now 59, carried her lost baby's picture in her purse. She prayed for him and searched for him in the faces of strangers.
Two months ago, after seeing a television program about adopted children reunited with their birth mothers, Brooks hired an adoption consultant who, in a little more than a week, found her son living - by sheer coincidence - just down the street from Brooks' Rainier Valley home in a house once owned by her brother. Her story is full of such twists.
Brooks was living in Seattle's Central Area in 1955 when her baby was adopted by an unrelated family who also lived in the Central Area, just blocks away.
And during the years while she grieved for him, he was playing basketball with her own younger brother - the one born to Brooks' mother after her own baby was put up for adoption.
"Although reunion stories have become quite common in the last 10 years, they usually don't have all the overlaps this one has," said Karen King of Renton, the search consultant who located Brooks' son. "If I was writing a book about them, I would call it `So Close and Yet So Far.' "
Since their reunion, Brooks has spoken every day to her 44-year-old son, renamed Marvin Charles by his adoptive family. He's all grown up now, in a suit and suspenders, and has seven kids of his own. But to her, he's still that sweet-faced cherub.
"There's my baby. There he is," she says in delight when he enters a room.
Brooks said no one in her family realized her son was growing up so close to them. In retrospect, though, she said, it's not entirely surprising that their lives would intersect, given that he was adopted by another black family.
"Back then, blacks were centrally located in one area and our paths would have crossed," she said.
Brooks, now a retired Boeing supply clerk, was an unmarried ninth-grader at Washington Junior High School when her child was born April 25, 1955, four days before her 15th birthday.
According to King, court records do not indicate the circumstances of the adoption. And no one in the family knows for sure, either. It was not talked about.
Family members now speculate that perhaps it was because her mother was pregnant at the time and overwhelmed at the thought of two babies in the home, along with several other children. Or because the state already was giving the family financial assistance.
But Brooks' mother died without explaining, and the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) can't shed light on the matter, either. "We don't have records that go back 43 years," said Kathy Spears, a DSHS spokeswoman.
Ironically, the baby her mother bore, two months after her own was taken from her, proved her only solace. She would spend hours holding little Larron Patton, diapering him and playing with him, as she had with her own little boy.
"I always knew she had a special place in her heart for me, but I never knew why," said Patton, now 43.
Brooks eventually married a factory worker, and together they had four children before divorcing.
"But I never forgot my firstborn," she said. "I prayed the Lord would protect him from war and drugs and violence. I prayed he would have a good childhood."
`I never gave up hope'
In June, Brooks was flipping TV channels when she came across a program on adoption reunions featuring King, a confidential intermediary with legal access to sealed court records on adoptions.
"I never gave up hope that I would see him, and that day, I said, `I need to find him now,' " Brooks said.
She called King, who had gone into the business of reuniting people separated by adoption after she herself was reunited with the two children she had surrendered as a teenager. Ten days after Brooks called, King located Charles.
Charles' early home life with a sister and now-deceased adoptive parents, Nora and Edward Charles, was stable, though he says not warm. He wasn't told he'd been adopted until his adoptive mother died unexpectedly when he was 9.
When that happened, his adoptive father turned the children over to an aunt and uncle, saying he couldn't manage on his own.
Charles said life with his aunt and uncle, also now dead, was rough. He and his sister were worked hard and punished hard, he said, and he tried to run away many times.
"Those years were miserable," he said. "We lived in a nice six-bedroom home, but I thought it was the penitentiary."
Brooks weeps when she hears Charles say that the uncle was cruel.
"They were mean to me, Mom," he said.
"Baby, I'm so sorry," she cried. "It hurts because I know I loved you and could have done better than they did, even as a 15-year-old girl."
Charles said that, while his journey was rough, he has overcome his upbringing and a propensity for addictions. He has a happy marriage, seven children and a job he enjoys as an installer of office equipment.
Last year, the Atlantic Street Center named Charles, his wife and their children the Family of the Year for the progress the parents had made in recovery and the support they've given others.
`A forever hurt and a hole'
When Charles got the call from King telling him his biological mother wanted to meet him, he first thought it was a telemarketer.
Then he remembered the call a few days earlier from a friend who saw the same television program on adoption that Brooks had watched. The friend, who knew Charles was adopted, gave him King's name and number on a piece of paper and he put it in his pocket.
King read to him from a letter Brooks had written:
"For the first six months of your life, I was your mother. I nurtured and did my best to care for you. But for reasons I am not completely clear about, you were taken from me by my biological mother and placed for adoption.
"It was, and is, a forever hurt and a hole that has never closed in my heart. You have four other sisters and brothers. But you were and remain my firstborn, and I won't ever forget the importance of this.
"I love you, my son. I have always. I do hope that you will hear my heart and allow me to once again be a part of your life."
King told Charles he had papers to sign before he could meet his mother; the law requires that both parties desire to meet.
"I was reeling, and then I got really eager," he said. "I thought, the mail takes too long. I want to meet her tonight."
So he jumped in the car.
As he drove through Rainier Valley, he scanned the faces of every woman he passed, wondering. "I thought, is that her? Is that her? That could be her."
Once at his mother's house, "I got out of the car and she held her arms open to me, and I just couldn't let go," he said.
"I tried to pull away to look at his face," said Brooks. "But he said, `I've waited all my life for this hug.' "
The two are together every day now. "They're like Velcro," King said.
Family reunion this weekend
This weekend, the Brooks clan is having a reunion. Relatives are flying in from all over the country. Most will meet Charles for the first time.
Already, his four newfound siblings are "madly, crazy in love with him," Brooks said. Charles' youngest sister is picking up his three sons from a previous marriage - they live with their mother in California - and flying them to the reunion.
Charles said one son told him he can't wait to meet his grandma. "I bet she gives great hugs and makes good pies and cookies," he said.
Brooks' little brother, Larron Patton, born just months after her own baby was taken from the home, will be there to celebrate.
Patton and Charles grew up in the same Central Area neighborhood. They played hoops and bantam football together, never knowing they were uncle and nephew, never realizing how their fates were intertwined.
Only after Charles was reunited with his mother and they were looking at family photos, was the connection made.
"Hey. That's my friend Larron," said Charles, pointing to a snapshot in surprise. "No, honey. That's your uncle," his mother replied, just as surprised.
At first, Patton could not believe the friend he had known as Marvin was the baby who was taken from the family home just months before his own birth. He was elated, then overcome with guilt.
"I felt really bad," he said. "I felt that if my mom hadn't been pregnant with me, they wouldn't have taken him away. He didn't have a chance to know my mother or his."
Brooks said Patton came to her house crying one night. "He asked me if I blamed him, if I thought it was his fault that they took my baby.
"I told him, `No, honey. I love you. Taking care of you was my joy.' "
Patton said his pain has been eased by his sister's and Charles' reassurances. He and Charles have spent many recent hours together, talking, laughing, consoling each other.
"It's an honor to know him," said Charles, "and I told him everything that happened, happened the way it did just so it can be as beautiful as it is right now."
Christine Clarridge's phone-message number is 206-464-8983. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org