Call it twee. Call it the essence of twee distilled into a fine vinegar and painted on the dead bodies of trees. Call it suck-your-heart-up-your-nose-and-spit-it-onto-a-piece-of-bond-paper. Call it beauty. Call it charity and grace and the divine colors of a well-ordered soul, here, for $19.95 a box in a room that is as beautiful as you wish you were, or could ever be.
I’m talking about Papyrus. The store. There is one on the corner of Spring and Mulberry, in New York, across from a Juicy Couture. Above the entrance, on a flag, a pink hummingbird is about to pollinate the space between a U and an S.
I’m shopping for thank you cards. I do it all the time, though I don’t know what I’m thankful for, really. I mean, I’m alive. That’s a lot to take in. And I eat well. Last night, I ate a pizza that was covered in scapula-sized slices of prosciutto. As my body dissolved the prosciutto into soluble amino acids, I fell asleep under ten thousand goose feathers.
I was also adopted, which is its own clusterfuck of kindness. Two kindnesses from two families crash into one another and, well, out comes my life.
My mom can’t have kids—her uterus is shaped like a cantaloupe instead of a pear. She has always described this to me in terms of fruit, which I understand because I like fruit. She and her husband did what they could do, scraping semen and eggs together for ten years in the seventies and eighties, burning through gynecologists and witch doctors and psychotherapists and adoption attorneys to find me, a white baby in a white room in a hospital at the edge of Philadelphia. My biological mom had pushed me out a little too early, because I was a symbol for something she didn’t want to talk about, and I was quite small. I screamed, and I’m sure that’s everything everyone wanted to hear.
Both mothers signed confidentiality agreements. In a closed adoption like mine, no one is supposed to tell anyone anything. My birthmother still doesn’t know my name, my gender, or my taste in artisanal pizza. I know nothing about her, though, God knows, I’ve fabricated entire storerooms of potential mothers in my mind.
Over dinner last night, my mom—the one with the cantaloupe-shaped uterus—told me she found something in our basement. A piece of paper folded in thirds, at the bottom of a stack of bureaucratic detritus my parents had been given to take home with me, their new tiny human, twenty-five years ago.
A hospital bureaucrat had typed my birthmother’s name before covering it in black Sharpie. But, as Sharpies do, it faded. A typewriter had pounded it into the paper, and there it was, onyx under watery grey.
I went straight to Facebook, to peoplefinders.com and those other dark ad-hungry places on the Internet. I kept my eyes open until 4:50 a.m. with an empty cup of water and the lights off. I stayed up until the sun started to glow grey through the window blinds, as I compared photographs that didn’t enlarge, small photographs from scanned yearbook pages on all the pay-per-view ancestry websites. I resized OS X windows so “Harris.Headshot” was on one side of my screen, and candidates for my mother were on the other.
I learned, in the fleeting way we learn things on the Internet, that I have another family that is real, that is Catholic, that likes to vacation in New Mexico, and that is very active on Facebook. Before even talking to my birthmother, I was looking at pictures of a lovely bread pudding she’d made at approximately 8:42pm that night.
My middle finger moved over the trackpad, but I didn’t make her my “friend,” and I didn’t comment on any of her photos of bread-based desserts. The sun was rising, and my eyes were tired, because staring at a million tiny lights can make your eyes insanely tired.
And here I am, in Papyrus, indulging a fetish for clean-cut carbon.
Not to say I’ll write her a note tomorrow, but it feels nice to stand in front of the card towers, caressing 24lb matte card stock. And I have her address. It was on sale for $6.50 at whitepages.com.
Someone asks if I need help. Do I need assistance selecting a piece of card stock to receive the loops and crosses of my gratitude? I do. They show me some cards. A red wheelbarrow holds nine bronze copies of the word “thanks” on the front of a card made of recycled toilet paper. Next to the wheelbarrow, on a second card, a girl in a blue babydoll dress made of interwoven Ts and Ys holds a bouquet of beaded daisies. Above them, on another card, a glittering T with Brobdingnagian serifs stands upon “you!” Our notecard industry is incredibly perverted, and incredibly beautiful.
Which brings me to my point: We are eternally incapable of expressing our gratitude. It’s hard. Even if we can’t express it, we feel something, like there are tiny holes in our heads to admit light. A pinhole camera. And I’m thankful. I’m as thankful as one of the organisms on a moon of Jupiter, wondering why it is alive and how it got to be on a moon of Jupiter.
The one with the girl in the babydoll dress. Maybe that will work. For now, I’ll just stand here, inhaling bleached fiber. Looking at all these expensive rectangles, so many Ts and Ys next to each other, in all the configurations of Ts and Ys that could ever exist.