First things first.
If you missed yesterday’s Part 1, please start there. If you don’t read the part that you missed, I’ll look like a really poor writer and you’ll go away very confused.
None of us wants that. So if you’re in a rush, slow down. Skip work if you must. Don’t tell your boss I told you to. And read Part 1 first.
Some names and identifying details have been changed
to protect anonymity.
PART 1 | PART 2
While the kitchen meeting was unmemorable at the time, it planted a seed of mystery. That mystery grew so much and became so central to what I thought of myself and how I described myself to others, that the only time my brother hurt my feelings, the one and only time I punched him in the face, was when I was 12 and he was 10 and he called me “an adopted freak.” That was an insult I couldn’t let go unanswered. Half his remark was true, but the truth was weaponized, and it also pointed to a truth I had no knowledge of.
I felt suddenly and unexpectedly vulnerable about being adopted, even though Mom and Dad had said many times how much I was loved and how much I was wanted. But I was reminded of how powerless I was about knowing “her.”
As a teenager, I would lie in bed at night, obsessing about how I might find her. Once, I plotted with my best friend, Dave, that we’d dress up as UPS men and show up at her doorstep with a package. I’d be able to suss the situation to determine whether I wanted to reveal myself. Only later, as a working adult, did I learn that UPS delivery personnel don’t work in pairs. Our undercover plan had at least that one flaw. That and I also never considered how we’d get her street address. The paired personnel, the address, the brown uniforms. Three flaws. At least.
Night after night, I lay in bed, wondering. Planning. Longing. And, frankly, not a little angry.
But as I considered meeting her, the question about her that stood above the others seemed superficial: “What does she look like?”
In the kitchen talk, Mom mentioned only that some of my relatives were in the military and that my mother was a “very beautiful woman.” I remember only those details. So perhaps the only way I could imagine her in any way was being “beautiful.” No sense of her personality, hobbies or hopes for life. Decades passed, and now and then, I’d have a dream in which I’d encounter a beautiful and idealized woman and, when I awoke, I was profoundly sorrowful. As if I’d found someone and, when I opened my eyes, she’d have been taken from me. I hated those dreams.
In my late 20’s, over a casual dinner, Dad said to me, “You know, we’re not pushing you to do so, but if you ever wanted to find out about your birth parents, we’d support you. Mom and I want you to know that we wouldn’t be upset in any way.”
It was a most kind and intimate way of affirming the parent-child relationship between Mom & Dad and me. Freedom among us, yet an unassailable bond between us. Perhaps their having a generation and a half on me gave them a certain maturity. Stoicism, but one that is loving and engaged.
Looking back, Dad looms large as one of the most gracious men I have ever met.
Weeks or maybe days later, I visited the adoption agency. A counselor sat across from me and gently read aloud two pages of what is called “non-identifying information.”
Some was about the circumstances of my birth, some was technical (weight, height, time in labor), and most was about my birth parents: their ages, family backgrounds, a little about their appearance – that indeed my mother was “exceptionally pretty” as the document described her — even what their college majors were. I heard an overview of how they met. In the description of each family member, I heard that he or she was in “good health.” This is a redacted part of every adoptee’s story, so when meeting a new doctor, who rightly asks about family medical background, we might say something like, “Well, doc, I’m adopted so…” It does, however, shorten those initial appointments.
The agency worker also told me something that at the time was very important, which my mother later corrected.
The counselor said that at my birth, “Your mother saw you and held you. She loved you and she was very proud of you. She felt you were a beautiful baby.” I have no reason or desire to question the feelings that the agency ascribed to her, but my mother told me that shortly before my birth, she had developed an odd and short-lived skin rash. (It turned out to be nothing.) But fearing infection, the hospital staff never allowed her to hold me. I began to wonder why an adoption agency might include this “little white lie” that she held me. They could have left out that detail altogether. I can conclude only that the agency wanted me to “feel good” in every way. To feel wanted. After all, the oxytocin that’s released when we’re hugged or touched is difficult to replicate; it gives us a unique sense of well-being. But thirty years after the adoption agency visit, having heard my mother’s story, I learned that the truth is always better, and the reason it’s always better is that it’s the truth. Anyone, adopted or not, doesn’t need someone else managing their feelings by avoiding facts or by lying.
As meaningful as the agency information was, it left a blurry image, like when you look at a bathroom mirror thick with steam. You wipe at it, but it only distorts your image.
My longing continued.
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