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By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian
BY JEFF GOODMAN, Californian staff writer email@example.com
The lounge area in the back of an Oildale hair salon is filled with cheerful conversation. A mother and her sons laugh and share stories, reminiscing about their pasts.
It's Thursday morning, and they're all excited for the weekend. They'll cook barbecue dinners and catch a baseball game at Dodger Stadium, talking and joking, all the while enjoying each other's company.
Vicki Ruddick Coble, a longtime stylist at Hair North, takes a can of Dr Pepper from the fridge. Her younger son, Allan Coble, places his coffee mug on the table. Kyle Carter, a 28-year-old who lives in Missouri, holds a bottle of Diet Mountain Dew.
Each one's beverage preference is important to the others because it signifies a chemistry, a tangible familiarity, between them.
For these few moments, they've gotten beyond thinking about why Kyle has a different last name, why Vicki used to lock herself in her room every December, why Allan didn't know he had an older brother.
They're preoccupied with sheer disbelief.
"It doesn't turn out this way," Kyle says.
'Something was missing'
Kyle has a different last name, of course, because he was adopted.
When he turned 18, his adoptive parents gave him Vicki's name, which Kyle kept on a slip of paper in his wallet. During his college years at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., he wrote essays about the void that consumed him.
"I always hated Mother's Day," Kyle says. "It was a reminder, once a year, that something was missing."
He wanted so badly to find his biological mother, if only to say thank you for giving him life.
The ensuing search led him to hundreds of phone book entries, steered him through court records and high school yearbooks, giving him bits and pieces of information along the way.
The quest had its lulls and its lurches, but it really came into focus when Kyle, now a financial advisor for U.S. Bancorp, and his wife had their first daughter a year ago. Because he didn't know his blood relatives, Kyle didn't know his family medical history.
"I felt like a bad parent because I couldn't answer these questions for this little girl who depends on me for everything," he says.
His search continued. Then, one day earlier this year, Kyle and his wife, Kim, came across a Facebook profile for a Bakersfield woman named Vicki Ruddick Coble, whose age seemed accurate.
"I was 75 percent sure it was her," Kyle says.
Vicki would lock herself in her room every December -- the month Kyle was born -- because she was tormented by the unknown.
She had given birth to Kyle when she was 16, which she says didn't sit well with her religious family in the Midwest in the early 1980s.
She put him up for adoption soon after he was born, went through a divorce, met Michael Coble and eventually moved to California. The couple lives in southwest Bakersfield and has been married since 1988.
Vicki felt it was not her right to look for Kyle, but she worried about him constantly.
"You wonder every single day: Is he OK? Did I do the right thing? Is he alive? Does he have a hole like I do in my heart? Does he hate me?"
During her own search for old friends, Vicki got the idea to add her maiden name to her Facebook profile after seeing a friend from high school include it on Classmates.com.
Her pain continued. Then, one day earlier this year, Vicki received a Facebook friend request from a Missouri man named Kyle Carter.
Having no idea it was her son, she longed for the day when she could see Kyle and take him in as her son, as family.
"There was never a doubt what we would do when we found him," she says.
'My life was complete'
Allan didn't know he had an older brother because Vicki never told him.
Allan, who was born in Arkansas, attended Ridgeview High before studying communications at Cal State Bakersfield.
He says he always felt like he had a sibling, even before he knew Kyle actually existed. Then, eight years ago, Shastine Arias, who the family considers an adopted sister because she lived with them for several years, hinted at the secret she knew.
"Do you ever wonder?" she asked.
"Wonder what?" Allan replied.
"What he looks like," Arias said.
"What who looks like?" he asked.
Allan recalls unleashing "an 18-year old's reign of fire" on his parents, demanding to know why they hadn't told him.
When he calmed down, he began searching, his leads less encouraging than Kyle's.
By July 2009, though, Allan had other issues to worry about. He began suffering headaches and blackouts, even memory loss. He was diagnosed with a Chiari brain malformation and soon had surgery, the reason for a vertical scar along the back of his head.
He recovered just weeks before Kyle landed in Bakersfield.
On a Wednesday morning in early March, Kyle hopped on a plane to California on a whim. He went to the hair salon on North Chester Avenue, prepared to leave if he didn't have the right person.
Kyle asked to speak with Vicki in private.
"She said, 'You're not with the FBI, are you?' Kyle recalls.
Trying to be as discrete as possible, Kyle introduced himself as a U.S. Bancorp representative. Vicki realized that she had just become Facebook friends with a man named Kyle Carter.
All of a sudden, everything clicked. She burst into tears as she shrieked, overcome with joy.
"Emotionally, my life was complete," Vicki says.
She quickly called her husband and Shastine, who arrived at Hair North shortly thereafter.
No one could reach Allan. When he met up with the group at lunch later that day, he and Kyle found similarity after similarity between them: Both root for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, both listen to country singer Alan Jackson, both had sensed this fateful day would come.
"It's just one of those things," Allan says.
Kyle's current visit in Bakersfield is his first trip here since The Meeting, but it's surely not his last.
The Harley-Davidson enthusiast admits that he hardly knew anything about the city aside from an old country song bearing its name -- he just feels lucky to be welcomed by the mother he met just a few months ago. After all, he had prepared for the worst.
"I was ready for anything but this," Kyle says.
Already, Vicki has traveled to Sikeston, Mo., to meet Kyle's family. Kyle talks or sends text messages to her and Allan every day. Their story will be featured on the front page of an upcoming Facebook redesign.
"I know the choice that could have been made," he says.
When asked what it's been like to develop a relationship with her son, Vicki sits in frozen silence.
She's in a chair next to Kyle at the table where they first met, Vicki with her Dr Pepper, Kyle with his Diet Mountain Dew, the room fizzing with those bubbly feelings that a soda can't contain.