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PRIVATE LIVES

As I sat waiting for the plane to take off on a Friday, I leaned my head against the cool window. I thought about when my mother pulled my eighth-grade photo out of the "School Portraits" envelope. She gasped and clapped a hand over her mouth.

"Geez," I thought, "they're not that bad."

"You look just like him, Anne," Mom said.

I'd heard that phrase often throughout my 13 years, and I continued to hear similar phrases in the years that followed.

"Well, you've got his legs," Mom would say. Or, "You're acting just like R. M. right now."

"Him" or "R. M.," as Mom often called him, is my father. He and Mom had been married for a few years, but things went awry. Wouldn't you know it, she found out I was on the way soon after they separated.

Not ever fully understanding why, I'd grown up without ever knowing him. I just heard about him from time to time.

Now I was finally going to meet him. I'd waited almost 24 years for this moment, and there I was, finally, on a plane destined for North Carolina. I started to feel queasy.

"Please fasten your seat belts," I heard the flight attendant say.

As the plane thrust forward into the sky, I remembered the phases I'd gone through. Sometimes I'd wonder what he was like. Obviously, we were somewhat alike or I'd have never heard those famous comparisons. At other times, I'd hate his guts. How could someone just abandon his own child?

I thought about the letter that he sent me when I was 17. He told me that since Mom's second husband (whom I know as "Dad") adopted me, he didn't feel that he had any rights to me. He said he didn't want to go waltzing in and out of my life, seeing me a weekend or two every few months. He'd like to meet me sometime, he said, but I should probably wait a few years.

Maybe that was a cop-out, but in retrospect, maybe it was a good choice. I had a great childhood. There was lots of love and lots of fun times. There was no one traipsing in to whisk me away for a day at the St. Louis Zoo, no quarreling over where I would spend my summer and no competition for my affection.

Still, there's always been a part of me that has been empty. And since I'm getting to the point where I'm putting my life together, I decided to find that missing piece and find a place for it. That's when I wrote him the letter requesting an official meeting.

"We will be landing in about 10 minutes," the captain announced.

"Oh, God," I thought. "What am I doing?"

My stomach churned.

After we landed, I thought of staying on the plane and hiding behind one of the seats. But I got a grip on myself, and I marched my wobbly legs down the jetway and into the lobby.

I glanced around at all the people milling around. Over to the side, I saw a man wearing white jeans and a blue-and-white striped shirt. I quickly looked away.

"I just know that's him," I thought.

In case it wasn't, I made another quick survey of the crowd at the gate.

"Anne!" he called, and I turned back around.

I was right the first time, and no wonder. There were my blue eyes, except they were in someone else's head.

"Are you looking for me?" he asked, and he gave me a big hug.

He touched my hair and looked at me, almost as if he were in awe.

"God, I'm so sorry," he said.

As we drove to his house that day, we kept looking at each other. It was almost like looking into the mirror, except seeing someone of the opposite sex.

In the next two days, I met family, friends, basically a whole slew of people. I learned about my great-grandparents and, most of all, about my father.

It turns out that I do have his legs, his eyes and even his toes. In some ways, we think alike, and neither one of us can sit still for very long.

We walked, we talked, we went for a long drive across the countryside and (though many would gag at this) listened to the Carpenters. We went off our diets and ate ice cream.

Then, as soon as I had gotten there, it seemed, it was time to leave.

"I've really enjoyed having you around," he said as we waited at my gate in the airport.

I thought that perhaps I should still feel angry, or that maybe I shouldn't be so nice. But what the hell. Why keep rehashing a bunch of stuff that you can't change? Besides, I liked this man. He was fun, intelligent and easy to talk to. Though he'd have to earn it, I felt that maybe one day we could become good friends.

We hugged and agreed to keep in touch. Then I was off.

Once in my seat on the plane, I rested my head against the cool comfort of the window. For the first time in my life, I felt at peace.

Anne Plohr works for the Times in Tampa. Private Lives is edited by Mary Jane Park.

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