What Happens When You Walk Away
I have two pills left and I am on a plane to Montana for five days. My hands are going cold, and that’s never a good sign. The last time I got a migraine without a pill was in graduate school twenty some years ago and I was in bed in the dark for more than a day.
People have been messaging me all morning. “Have a GREAT trip!” “Your whole life is about to change!” “Send pictures!” I have to be careful about the picture thing. If I post pictures of my uncle or his wife or their son or their son’s children, there is a small but possible chance that someone who knows my birth father, I man I never met aside from hanging out in his body in the wild shape of a sperm, will connect the dots and then the shit will hit the fan. Someone outside of the family will know he is my father. And that, as my birth father made clear in his first email to me, would be a deal breaker.
I teared up when the plane took off from San Jose, and I was surprised and a little afraid of my lack of control. I thought I was going on an adventure, but if someone had said, Your uncle and everyone forgot they invited you and your friends forgot you said you were going, so you can stay home if you want and no one will be the wiser, I think I would have taken the out. This also surprises me. I love to travel. I love to meet new people. You would think traveling to new FAMILY would be a dream come true.
You would think.
My birth mother never told her family about me, and then she died. What she did say, once, was, “If someone named Anne contacts you and tells you I’m her birth mother, ignore her. She’s lying.” And the family nodded and went on about their business. I know this because her daughter, my half-sister, told me. Her daughter, my half-sister, doesn’t like to talk to me because she thought she and her mother were so close, and yet I showed up in her email box after her mother died, living proof that her mother had kept secrets from her.
I learned from my birth father after I found him that he knew I’d been born and given up for adoption because the friend who’d had the party he’d attended, the party where he’d met my birth mother and did the thing with her that makes babies, had told him. I also knew that he never did anything about it. If I understand correctly, there was never any contact beyond that one night between my birth father and mother. My first father and first mother. My natural father and natural mother. Nah. I can’t use those terms. Sorry to those of you to whom the terms are so important: they are my birth parents. To say first or natural implies that they were better than what followed, and that’s not true. What followed were parents who kept me.
So. On the plane I tried to figure out how I was feeling, and I realized some part of me was trying hard to vacate the building of myself. It felt as if my abdomen was a circle of white storm, deceptively opaque because the whole mass was spinning at such a velocity it almost seemed peaceful. Sort of like me for most of my life. I was trying hard not to feel without even knowing I was efforting. Sort of like me for most of my life.
I talked with my chiropractor recently because he specializes in applied kinesiology and I wondered if he couldn’t work with my brain and my nervous system as a way to address some of the persistent physical and mental disturbances I suffer, I now believe, because I was adopted. Yes, I was a baby. No, I don’t remember. Yes, I’m lucky good people adopted me. Etc. I told him about my theory that when an infant is born and the birth mother disappears, the infant gets locked into a panicked fetal position that remains for a lifetime and shows up as anxiety and abdominal distress. “I call that the punch reflex,” Dr. Mark said. He faked punched himself in the stomach and bent over. “The pelvic floor, the abdominal muscles, the paraspinals, and the diaphragm would all be shortened.”
“Yes,” I said. “That thing. That’s what I think happens to many adoptees. That’s why so many of them are in pain.”
We decided to work together to see what we could figure out. I’ll get back to you on that soon.
But back to me in the airplane worrying about how many pills I have left. This is what I realized as I thought about where I was headed: I was furious, and because I knew I was supposed to be grateful that my new uncle and his family had gone to all sorts of trouble to make this trip possible—as a group they had written my many welcoming and sweet emails; he even bought my plane ticket!—and because I knew that I didn’t have a right to my anger. (For who am I to be angry about something like this? So what if my birth father won’t meet me. I am 51 years old. I don’t even need the guy. I have a father, after all.) I was trying to leave my body and the end result was that my hands were going cold and I was on the edge of migraine.
Why was I furious? Because first my birth mother and then my birth father chose not to meet me, and listen: that’s crazy. The people who create you are IN you, it’s flesh of flesh and blood of blood and if you are rejected from the root, the poison of self-hatred is a dangerous and probable stain that travels into your—my—soul. I can taste it. If I mattered, they would meet me. That’s what my brain tells me, and it doesn’t matter how much other people tell me I’m wonderful just the way I am. The poison is there, and outside affirmation from others does nothing to stop the burn. If anything, it makes it worse because not only do I as an adoptee have uncomfortable feelings, I have to feel uncomfortable for having them. So, really, where else to go but out? Why not just dissociate my way through much of my life because really, how can I be me when my roots are running away from the body I carry?
Do I sound like I’m from Nutsville? I feel like I am. I think this is one reason so many adoptees stay quiet about their real feelings and thoughts. “Be happy,” we’re told. “Don’t focus on the past. You have family now and you are loved.” But the poison moves through our systems. It leaves us counting our pills, trying to forget.