Anticipating duty in the Persian Gulf, reservist Christy Mathews knew she had little time to find the mother who gave her away 19 years ago and to tell her: "I understand."
A hectic search brought only a few clues: Mathews' mother was 18 when she gave up her newborn baby, had dropped out of high school and was unmarried.Mathews had almost given up hope when, on Feb. 7, she left her Russiaville, Ind., home for training at Fort Campbell, Ky. Her deployment was only weeks away.
The next evening, she called home to talk to the parents who raised her, Jim and Jean Mathews. "We found her," Jean Mathews said.
At that moment, Karen Raef sat trembling in the Mathews' living room, just hours after learning her lost daughter was alive and headed to war. Raef worried what her daughter would think about the mother who gave her up.
"You did what you had to do and I love you for it," Christy Mathews told her.
Both mother and daughter struggled to speak through their sobs.
"Each year I wondered what does she look like, what is she doing?" Raef said. "I never thought I would see you again."
Going to Saudi Arabia would be easier now, the reservist said, because she felt "complete." Then she told two worried mothers what they wanted to hear most, "I'm coming home, Mom, you know that."
Jean Mathews taped the conversation. She hopes to play it for grandchildren one day.
"I never felt threatened by her need to find her birth mother," Jean Mathews said. "She told me once, `I have to find her before I go to Saudi Arabia, because I might not come back.' How can you say no to that?"