My friend HBL is afraid to talk to his teenage son about adoption because he imagines his son’s head will start spinning and green stuff will shoot out his mouth as soon as HBL sits on the edge of the bed to broach the subject.
Recently I have been afraid to keep writing about adoption because I could feel the upset building the closer I got to the deep ache in my gut, and I was afraid soon my head would start spinning and green stuff would come shooting out my mouth.
And then I went for a bike ride.
But first, let me tell you this:
When I used to teach college, I would sometimes do this thing when the students were bored. I would tell them to stand up, get in a circle, and hold hands. That woke them up. I would take two (usually sweaty) hands in my own and start the game. I would say a word and then the person to my right would say the first word that came into his head after hearing my word. The person next to him would say the first word that came to her head after hearing his word. And so on.
The students would usually get so nervous. What’s the worst thing you could say? I’d counsel them. Fuck? But I would also be nervous. It’s unsettling to be with a group of people and to have no idea what you are going to say next. The funny thing is the fear is unwarranted. Even if you said a foul word, the planet would keep spinning and more likely than not everyone would laugh and keep freaking out over their own word choice.
Time after time, in school and in life we are so busy thinking about what we are supposed to say we have no idea what we actually want to say. Playing this game is an attempt at undermining the planned and accessing the real.
If nothing else, I get a bunch of college students to hold hands and laugh. That’s something. At least they aren’t texting.
So on to the real.
Today when I was on my bike, trying to ride off the fury that I felt pushing at my skin, I realized the green stuff was on its way. I went home and let it spew all over the walls as I typed.
1. As much as I thought the green stuff was about anger, what I saw was that most of all it was about fear. I am terrified of loving and needing my writing partner Antonia and my dear friend HBL. I have never needed two people not related to me as much as I need these two, and I have no exit plan.
I didn’t know my ability to leave almost anyone or anything behind stemmed from my adoption, but now it makes sense to me. If your birth mother gives you up, chances are good you’ll be hardwired to expect everyone else to leave, too, and you’ll want to empower yourself by believing you can always leave first. Both times I got married, for example, I had plans for how I would survive if my husbands threatened to leave me. Essentially, I went into the marriages with one foot already out the door. You can imagine how well this went.
2. I am furious that my birth mother and birth father kept me a secret and that I can’t tell you or anyone else their names. I can’t show you their pictures. My young birth mother had me in the 1960s, and I have no idea how she was shamed into giving me up for adoption. I have no idea because she refused to talk with me. So I’m assuming. She is dead now, but her husband is alive, and he doesn’t know about me. My job is to protect the innocent. And so I keep her name to myself.
My birth father’s wife told my birth father I am not family and he is not to have contact with me, and so I can’t tell you his name, either. And so I am also furious about that.
The green stuff is all over the walls right now.
Do you know how asinine the above situations are? I think if people have sex, they should sign a document and get it notarized saying that if their roll in the hay ends up creating a child (which, uh, it might), they both agree to acknowledge and shake hands with said creature. Or something to that effect.
I would have loved to shake my birth mother’s hand. Then at least I would know she touched me once before she disappeared. It means something, knowing the person who created you touched you after you were born. It’s like a blessing. Go and be well, child. I’m sorry I can’t keep you, but I hope all good for you and your future life. It also means something when she doesn't touch you. The only other people I know who don’t get touched are lepers. (I know--you could argue that recluses and etc. etc. don’t get touched, but just let me have this one. It makes my point.)
I would also love to shake my birth father’s hand. I would feel solid. Like I’d just sealed a deal. Yup, Bud. We did good. I’d like to kick his wife in the pants, but maybe tomorrow I’ll grow up and find more mercy in my heart. And maybe not. I am family, Mrs. Whatever Your Name Is. I am actually, technically, MORE his family than you are.
Oh, look, the green stuff is on the windows.
So this is what it feels like to be an adoptee during the holiday season when you ride your bike down the street and see the neighbors put baby Jesus in the manger already even though it isn’t Christmas yet. Technically that little guy should still be in his mother’s womb. Now, remember, Mary was a virgin, and you’d think there might have been some shame and some potential discussions about adoption regarding the whole Jesus predicament, but, look: the world proudly displays that glorious child. He is the Son of the Father. We claim him. We celebrate his birth.
And claiming the child matters.
I have to go clean up. Happy holidays. I love you.