ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — On a warm August night in 1966, Linda Lechalk got dressed for a blind date. She was 18, a recent high school graduate, and she was thrilled to get out of the house and away from her stern, sour mother, especially since her date was taking her to dinner at the swanky, newly remodeled Summit House atop Sandia Crest.
Other couples were going, too, though she didn’t know any of them save for the friend who had set up the blind date.
As it turns out, she didn’t know the friend as well as she thought.
As it turns out, that was no friend.
As it turns out, this was no date.
She started to realize all that when the group ended up at a mechanic’s garage on Bluewater Road on Albuquerque’s West Side, nowhere near the crest.
“I asked my friend to take me home,” Lechalk recalled. “She handed me a Fresca instead.”
The next thing Lechalk remembers is waking up in a hospital, bloodied and broken and confused. Whatever had been in that Fresca had knocked her out cold.
Slowly, she pieced together fragments of the night that changed her life. At some point, she learned, she was stuffed into a car and driven away. Near Coors and Central SW, she tumbled out of the car, and the car ran over her, injuring her arm and pelvis. A worker at a Shell gas station nearby saw it happen and helped the others get her back into the vehicle.
The worker, who knew Lechalk and her family, may have thought she wasn’t injured as badly as she was, she said, giving him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the occupants in the car had assured him that they were taking her home.
They drove her as far as her street in the South Valley and dumped her into the dirt of a ditch.
The next morning, her stepdad drove right past her on his way to work. He assumed the crumpled body in the ditch was just another passed-out drunk who had stumbled over from a nearby bar, he later told her. He didn’t realize it was her until he stopped at the Shell and a worker asked him how she was doing.
After the hospital, Lechalk continued to heal. She went back to her job at Lerner’s. She tried to feel normal. She tried to let life go on.
When she began feeling nauseated in the mornings, she knew it wasn’t just one life, her life, anymore.
Her mother was aghast and angry and would not be shamed by whatever her daughter had gotten herself into, so she promptly shipped her off to Booth Memorial in El Paso, a home run by the Salvation Army for pregnant women who need to be hidden from withering eyes. Over and over, her mother reminded her that she didn’t want another kid around and that Lechalk was too stupid to strike out on her own.
“I didn’t feel I had a choice,” she said. “I gave the baby up.”
He was born May 4, 1967, a blue-eyed cherub with red hair. She named him James Patrick after her younger brother Jimmy and said goodbye.
She returned to Albuquerque to find that her mother and stepdad had moved, afraid neighbors would find out why Lechalk had disappeared.
So Lechalk moved away, too, found a place to live, found a job at a paint and body shop and tried to shut out the depression and the anger and the pain. Her baby had been the product of a bad night, but she knew he was nothing but good.
Two years later, she got married and gave birth to daughters Tamyra and Tanya, born four years and two days apart.
She put her depression and anger and pain on a shelf but never hid the fact that somewhere out there was a good boy she was forced to give away.
“We grew up knowing we had a brother out there somewhere and how he had come to be,” daughter Tanya Estrada said. “We knew she always wanted to find him.”
When Tamyra died of cancer at age 20 in 1990, Estrada said, she wanted to find him, too.
“After my sister passed away, it was just me,” she said. “I desperately wanted to find my brother so I could be a little sister again.”
She was 16, and the internet wasn’t of much use in searching for long-lost siblings then. Her efforts went nowhere.
About three years ago, she found a sale on ancestryDNA test kits, so she decided to give it a try.
Last March, a different daughter hundreds of miles away in Fishers, Indiana, also picked up an ancestryDNA kit on sale.
Tesslla Covey had no desperate need to find anybody, but she was curious about the genetics behind the red hair she and her father, Matt Warner, shared.
“We knew he was adopted, but we didn’t know much about his birth family,” she said. “It happened to be St. Patrick’s Day, and I thought it might be fun to find out whether we were Irish.”
Covey’s results, which came back in April, matched her to three people. One was an aunt she already knew. One was a woman named Tanya Estrada in Albuquerque.
She sent Estrada a message. Estrada read it and called her mom.
“My heart almost jumped out of my chest,” Lechalk said. “I told her, ‘That’s your brother.’ ”
Things moved fast after that. More calls were made. Tears were shed. Questions, many questions, were asked. Joy came.
Warner said he was raised in Las Cruces by a wonderful couple who gave him a good life. He is 54 now, lives in Carlsbad with his wife and is the supervisor of the city wastewater treatment plant.
Still, he always wondered about the young woman who gave him up at birth.
“I didn’t know how to find her and after all this time I figured it was too late,” he said.
Two weekends ago, he came to Albuquerque to meet his birth mom and sister.
“It was like all those years of being depressed and angry went away,” Lechalk said.
And what about that third match to Covey’s DNA test result? That turned out to be a son of the man Lechalk said raped her.
“He had no idea about the rape, but he wasn’t surprised,” Covey said. “He told me his dad had quite a history.”
The man died in 2015 at age 66.
As for that darker side of the story, they say that doesn’t matter anymore. Lechalk said she has held on to that anger long enough.
“I know now who did this to me, and now I can truly put that aside,” Lechalk said. “We just think of him as the sperm donor.”
Since they found each other, both Estrada and Warner say, they talk or message each other nearly every day.
“We have a lot in common,” Estrada said. “We think the same way; we share the same views. It feels natural.”
He calls her Little Sis.
Lechalk turns 73 next Monday, and she can think of no greater gift than the way everything has turned out.
“I’m complete now,” she said. “I am at peace now. I have my son. And my daughter has her brother. It’s just all so good.”
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, email@example.com, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.