The following day Shawna walked into my Los Angeles office. She was tall and thin. The features of her fashion model face were framed by hundreds of long braided strands of black hair. Her appearance was striking. Her personality revealing. She sat across from my desk and told her story.
Shawna's mother, Doris, was white. Her father, Harold, was black. They married in March of 1966. Shawna was born a year and a half later. Her parents separated soon after her birth, and later divorced. According to the divorce papers, her mother originally tried to get custody of her, but for some unknown reason she gave up the effort and allowed Shawna's father to keep her. Her father died several years ago. Now, at 26 years of age, Shawna had not seen or heard from her mother since she was a baby.
Shawna obtained copies of her mother's and father's marriage certificate, her mother's birth certificate, and her own birth certificate.
Using the information contained in the documents, she managed to locate her mother's aunt in Southern California. Prior to her first contact with me, Shawna had called her mother's aunt and asked if she knew where Doris lived. The aunt was unfriendly and not at all sympathetic to Shawna's plight.
"I don't even know a person by the name of Doris. You're wasting your time," she scolded Shawna over the phone. "Sometimes these things are best left alone."
Her attitude and comments indicated she knew more than she was willing to tell.
"I think my mother's family might be prejudiced," Shawna told me. "They probably don't want me in the family because I'm half black.
But I don't care," she explained, trying to shield her true feelings. "I just want to meet my mother. I want to see what she's like. If she doesn't want to know me, that's fine. At least then I can go on with my life."
Pausing for a moment, Shawna continued, "I'd like to find out what happened... why she hasn't tried to find me. Maybe she has tried! She couldn't be prejudiced or she wouldn't have married my father. Maybe she wants to find me as much as I want to find her!"
Shawna seemed to be a strong, assertive, and independent young woman. There was no display of sentiment or emotion when she spoke of her past and the need to find the woman who had given her life. With her head tilted down, her big brown eyes pierced upward through fallen strands of braided hair and locked onto mine.
"Don't tell me you're going to find her if you don't think you can," she ordered.
Although somewhat abrasive, her attitude was certainly understandable. She'd talked to other P.I.s and didn't feel she could trust them. I sensed she had trouble trusting anyone. Who could blame her?
This could turn out to be a difficult case. Women are much harder to locate than men. A woman may have several name changes through divorce and re-marriage. After twenty-six years, Doris could be living in any state, or any country for that matter. But with the information Shawna provided, I was confident I would eventually find her mother.
I asked Shawna to write a letter to her mother. I'd keep this letter with me and if necessary, I'd use it as an ice breaker when I made contact. I suggested she write about what's happened in her life and include some personal thoughts about why she's trying to find her mother.
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