Teresa Elliott, 37, Shelly Beach, NSW
Sitting at the computer, I trembled. The stranger in the photo on the screen looked strangely familiar. Those dark eyes, that wavy hair, the dimples in his cheeks...
'Look at this,' I cried to my husband Stuart, 38. 'He's exactly like me!' Could this really be the brother I'd never met?
I've known I was adopted since I was a little girl. My birth mother was only 15 when she had me and I was taken in by a loving Italian couple, Nick, now 72, and Elena, now 67.
Growing up on the NSW Central Coast, I had a very happy childhood, and at five I learnt I had a little brother out there somewhere too. I wonder what he's like? I'd often think to myself. Did he look like me, talk like me? I longed to meet him, but with such a happy upbringing, I felt guilty for wishing for more. So, I put my secret brother to the back of my mind.
Could this really be the brother I'd never met?
It was only when Stuart and I got married and had three children - Hayden, six, Levi, three and Maddison, two - that the thoughts resurfaced. Seeing the kids play together on the swings or cuddle up on the lounge made me wonder about the sibling relationship that I had missed.
So in March this year, with Mum and Dad's support, I applied for a copy of my birth certificate, hoping it might be the first step to finding my biological family. When it arrived a few weeks later, I immediately typed the details I had into a genealogy website and a name popped up in connection with my search - Richard Ruhl.
Could he be related to me? Quickly typing it into Facebook, a photo of a young man came up. Staring intently at the photo, I couldn't believe my eyes. 'That's my brother, I just know it,' I cried in disbelief. 'Don't get your hopes up,' Stuart warned me gently. He didn't want to see me heartbroken and I knew he was right, but I needed to find out more.
Clicking on Richard's profile, I scanned his information for clues. What I saw left me speechless. Next to his picture was the address of a shop he ran. My jaw just about hit the floor as I realised it was in Long Jetty, a one-minute drive from where I lived.
'That's my brother, I just know it,' I cried in disbelief.
I'd walked past his workplace countless times. If this really was my brother, did it mean he lived just down the road? I had to find out.With my heart hammering nervously in my chest, I wrote Richard a message.
I was adopted in 1976 and I know I have a brother who is five years younger than me out there somewhere, I typed. I was just doing a bit of research and then I came across your name. The funny thing is, I've grown up on the Central Coast not far from you.
As I waited nervously for a response, I felt like I might explode. Maybe this wasn't my brother at all? If it was, would he even want to meet me? A few hours later, a message popped up on Facebook. It was him!
I'm blown away, he'd typed. I just can't believe you've lived so close to me. I'm your brother. As I read those words, happy tears spilled down my cheeks. I'd found my brother!
I'd found my brother!
Richard quickly sent through his number and arranged a time for me to call. As he picked up, hearing his voice over the phone was the sweetest sound in the world.
'I looked for you,' he told me. 'I'd always wanted to meet you, but I thought your adoptive parents had taken you to Italy.'
Minutes raced by as we asked each other endless questions. I discovered Richard had moved to nearby Forresters Beach with his family when he was 12. We'd been living one suburb apart for 20 years!
When he was younger he even worked at the local service station where I got petrol every week. There were so many times when we must have crossed paths. Soon after, Richard invited me to meet him and the next night, less than 24 hours after my search began, I walked into his shop. The moment I saw him, I dissolved into tears of joy.
'I'm so glad I've found you,' I sobbed as he pulled me into his arms. 'I love you.' 'I love you too, sis,' he smiled.
As we chatted for hours, it felt like we'd known each other our whole lives. We even shared the same signature laugh! It was amazing. I finally felt like I'd found the missing piece of my heart. And as we kept chatting, the coincidences kept getting stranger.
Not only had we lived so close for 20 years, we'd even worked for the same employer at different times. 'I must have started there a few months after you left,' I said, stunned. It seemed we were like ships passing in the night.
We ate at the same restaurants, took our kids to the same beaches and even had some mutual friends! Richard's little girl, Sophia, four, was also due to start at the same school as Hayden the following year. It was proof our reunion was meant to be.
Two months on, Richard and I are closer than ever and my brother has introduced me to our birth mum too, which is wonderful.
We're still discovering amazing coincidences and we hope that by sharing our story we can encourage others to track down their lost families.
After all, you never know who you might find living just down the road!
Originally published in that's life! Issue 20, 2014.