I was the fourth child of an alcoholic and (so I am told) abusive mother, whose husband (not, incidentally, the man who fathered me) was in prison and who was likely not going to receive any more welfare money from the state for baby number four.
That’s my side of things, anyway, after listening to her story, and the varying, often conflicting stories told by other biological relatives. The “facts” vary: I was the result of a rape and she couldn’t bear to keep me; the state told her that if she didn’t relinquish me for adoption they would take all of her children; her mother recalls her saying that “if it [me] is born handicapped I’m going to keep it.” My sister remembers the Christmas that her mom wasn’t there and she and her brothers stayed at Grandpa and Grandma’s house.
There are likely millions of adoptees whose beginnings are similar to mine and there are millions more who had both better and worse opening paragraphs to their life stories. It is important to me that my story be valid and clear, that I own what is mine to own and be willing to acknowledge that there is a lot to my own story that I do not and likely never will know.
I don’t know who fathered me. There was a time when I was younger that I thought that was important. I’m no longer so certain of this; there are days, though, when I remember the blank half of my heritage and I feel a sense of loss. Was he a rapist? I don’t know for sure. My birthmother, told me once that his name was Marty, and that she didn’t know his last name. She had been “dating” him for a month or so, and then he raped her and she never saw him again. The agency information I got when I applied for my non-identifying information from Children’s Home Society stated that my birthfather’s first name was “Pete.” Surely this was more than a simple spelling error, it seems rather difficult to turn “Marty” into “Pete” for even the worst transcriptionist ever. Sylvia insisted that Pete was just a friend who agreed to be named on the paperwork in order to keep the agency from attempting to contact the other man to obtain his waiver of parental rights.
What’s true? What’s false? Over the years it’s become such a confusing jumble of what others have told me that I at some point decided that pretty much none of it bears any relationship to the truth and that I might as well just let it go. I’m never going to know and I have to be OK with that. And I have a father, a father who loves me and who I am like in so many ways that people who didn't know better would be surprised to know I wasn't his biological offspring.
I’m grateful that I didn’t live the life that my older siblings and the two younger sibilings she had after I was separated from the family suffered through. But depending on which story surrounding my conception and birth you believe, its not really clear on whether I owe my birthmother any gratitude for that fact. Not knowing who to thank leaves me simply grateful to God for benevolently allowing me to grow up free of violence and pedophilia. Not so my siblings, who were unfortunate enough to suffer for a long period of time under the heavy hand of their mother and rape and sodomy from her second husband
I met my birth family when I was in my early thirties. Seeing her for the first time, I was surprised.
In certain physical ways, my birthmother and I resemble one another not at all. I am tall, she is short. When I first met her she was quite heavy and so far as I know still is. But when I look at myself in the mirror, I see her eyebrows, her eyes, her mouth, her hair. I’m even starting to get silver hairs at the temples, the same place she has what I remember her calling her “devil horns.” Consdering the difficult nature of our relationship (if that is what you can call something that doesn’t really exist), the resemblance is both ironic and disturbing, at least to me.
We haven’t spoken in years, she and I. There was a family issue over something that happened with my younger sister during her teenage years, everyone took sides. My birthmother sent an identical letter to all three of her daughters. I grant that she didn’t have the ability to solve this problem for anyone and that the division and the drama surrounding the issue were terribly painful. I acknowledge her desire to distance herself from the drama and focus instead on the things she could control. Other parts of the letter were not as easily acceptable – her attempts to evoke sympathy by mentioning an abnormal medical test result, her tendency to allow blame to be placed everywhere else but on her. We talked a few times after that, but eventually I decided the relationship was not healthy for me and I just...withdrew.
Recently she reached out to my older sister, and for the first time that my sister can recall, her denial of past events and her refusal to accept her part in what happened to my siblings finally ended. She acknowledged that the things my sister remembered did indeed happen. She apologized for her part in it. She listened.
I was happy for my sister, but at the same time I was resentful. Even though I am the one who eventually ended contact with her, that small part of me that will always be searching for my missing roots cried out in jealous anger. I know this is not even a reasonable thought, particularly when the proportion of the wrongs committed against my sister and other siblings so enormously outweigh any grievance I may have. But still.
I tried months ago to let her know through my sister that I would be receptive to contact if she were willing to make it, but no contact ever came. I reasoned with myself that for her to take the step of reaching out to me would mean that she must acknowledge that I am right and she is wrong so this must be why she had not made the effort. I didn’t stop to consider that thought might apply equally to both of us. I didn’t for a moment give thought to the fact that I can be a little intimidating sometimes and perhaps she had plenty of reason beyond my snap assumptions not to reach out. Eventually some recent birth family drama (it is always the drama with these people!) our impasse came to mind again, and I began to wonder if maybe I wasn't that one being unreasonable.
So then I had to examine myself and my feelings about her, about my birth, about all that has transpired in the years since, and I had to decide whether I was ready to let go of the past and be more concerned with how the future might shape the present. And in truthfulness to myself, I had to acknowledge that the pain I might feel at times over my lost roots and the cold hard reality of my adoption is not really quite as large as I sometimes perceive it to be. Once upon a time it was a central issue for me, but that time is long gone. And so I resolve myself, I surrender to the idea that the mystery of the past is simply that: a mystery. Unknowable and ultimately unimportant to my future. And so I ask my sister for her mother’s phone number. I resolve to be responsible for reaching out, to forgive, forget and move on.
I have yet to pick up the phone. It feels the time is never right, that I haven’t yet found the right words to say. I’m sure its simpler than I’m making it out to be, but the willpower to do it eludes me.
I'll let you know what happens.