People have been taking me in in one form or another pretty much my whole life. First, of course, my parents adopted me in New York City. Then, as a little kid, I spent a lot of time at the Mitchell’s until we moved half a mile away, which, when you are young, feels like a forever distance. When I was in 6th grade, Erin Sugrue moved into town and her home quickly became mine. In junior high I had a job cleaning dog pens and the barn at Mrs. Hosken’s and I spent a lot of time there, working, riding the horse, reading books up in the barn with the cats. In high school a group of us pretty much moved into the Magri house weekend nights and happily staked our claim by the pool and on the couch with the ever present bowl of peanut M&M’s on the coffee table.
When I first got to Kenyon College I would run around the track with the Talking Heads “This Must Be the Place” on repeat. I thought home was running the streets of Westwood with David Callaghan, but I was far from both.
I left Kenyon after a year. I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ in Foxboro, hiding from the fact that all my friends were in college and I was officially off track. I’ve borrowed so many homes since then I’ve lost count.
Growing up, I had a home of my own, but it was chaotic. I didn’t have a lock on my bedroom door and there was no sense of privacy. I could go up into the attic to hide, but it was hot in the summer and cold in the winter and not inviting with its bare beams and dark corners. None of my friends hid in their attics, so it was just one more thing that made me slightly different, slightly confusing to others. Why was I, a seemingly normal girl, spending so much time hiding? What exactly was I hiding from?
These were not conversations I ever had with anyone.
I know now that having three adopted kids was much more of a challenge than anyone in my family knew. I wish we had come with handbooks instead of thin folders that contained little pertinent information about our pasts: I was adopted at ten weeks old, John at eight weeks, and Sam at two and a half years, and while the paperwork revealed the prices of the three adoptions, they did not contain original birth certificates or any identifying information of any of our six birth parents.
So my parents tried to steer a rocking ship as if it was like every other ship in the ocean, which, knowing what I know now, was insane. And not my parents’ fault. Closed adoption is one of the craziest practices I can imagine. I can’t even compare it to anything. It’s so itself. So completely bizarre. Even the fact that I call myself “an adoptee” is bizarre. I am calling myself an action that I didn’t do. I didn’t adopt myself. My parents adopted me. So I am my parents’ action.
But who am I?
And so, not knowing who I was, where home really was, I struggled in school, with finances, with relationships, with keeping jobs.
And it wasn’t, I see now, because there was something wrong with me; it wasn’t even something that was my fault. It was because I was adopted and no one was around who understood how to address and help support those (me) traumatized by birth mother separation.
(In order to keep pace with me, arrange with your maker to wake up on the moon tomorrow surrounded by aliens, but forget that you arranged to have this happen, and think you just lost everything you ever knew including the scent of your own pillow and the arms of whomever you love most and have the aliens care for you for ten weeks or so and then come home and have everyone around you act like what happened was something too shameful to mention and try to live like you never spent ten weeks on the moon, and tell me how you feel.)
I’ll try not to get mad here because I’m beginning to suspect it is adoptee anger that is getting in the way of the world being more informed about adoptee suffering. I’ve noticed that so many of the most prominent voices these days when it comes to adoption, the ones Oprah would call on if adoption was ever a topic on her show, are not adoptees. And this just adds to the craziness. Why are people who are not adopted telling the world what it is like for adoptees? That would be like me telling you what it is like to be a war vet. How could I know something like that unless I had actually gone to battle?
War and adoption affect the brain and the cells of the body in ways people who aren’t adopted and who haven’t been called to active duty can understand.
So what can the general public to do help? Listen more than you talk. Ask questions. Assume nothing. Be curious. Be loving. The adoptee in front of you is suffering, I promise, on some level, even if he or she swears to all that is good that she isn’t.
I was walking once with a woman whose son fell down hard on his knee. He looked up at her with panicked eyes, and, right away, she said, “You’re okay, Buddy. Get up. It doesn’t hurt.” I saw his eyes shift from panicked to confused to resigned. He was hurting, but his mother had told him he wasn’t. I saw something close down in his eyes and he walked a distance from us the rest of the way home. What would have happened if she had let him cry, if she had let him feel the hurt of his knee? It would have passed, and then he would have wiped his face dry and felt loved and supported, is what I am guessing. It’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to show that you are hurt. When someone listens to you talk about your wounds, there is an opportunity for trust and for love. Suddenly it’s like church out there on the sidewalk.
Adoptees historically are dreamers, for at the same time they are living in the present, they are cycling through thoughts of the life they didn’t live. Get to know these people. Let them talk. Help them to feel. It’s going to be okay. Better than okay. It's going to be really good.