I didn’t know adoptee suicide was a thing until this year when I started my reading binge. It’s holiday season, and the pressure is high for many. I hope you all stick around. It’s been my experience that for as bad as it gets, it always gets better.
But maybe the fact my brain believes that is why I am still around and other adoptees aren’t.
I read on Facebook about a married mom who had recently killed herself and I put down my phone and went for a walk. I couldn’t sit still for that one. It’s one thing for a single person to kill herself, but a married person with kids? That means things are busted.
I don’t remember wanting to kill myself, but I remember wanting to erase myself. I didn’t want blood and pain. I didn’t want to leave the mess of my dead self for people who loved me have to clean up, but I did want a great escape. I wanted a time out so I could catch my breath, recalibrate, and come back into my life with steady feet and a clear mind. I didn’t want a final goodbye. My life was one of the few things I had that was entirely mine. I didn’t want to lose it, but I didn’t know how to inhabit it. More than anything, I wanted to go away, if only for a moment, so I could come back as myself.
I wanted to meet her: Myself. I’d met the edges of her when I was reading books I loved or when I was walking down the street wearing matching running outfits with Erin Sugrue or when I was working in the barn or when I sat in a movie theater and felt the images in my bones, but there was a constant numb spin in my head that kept me from knowing her completely. Erin’s brother called me an air head, and it wasn’t until I was 51 and out of the fog of thinking adoption had no effect on my life that I realized it wasn’t air that had kept me so floaty and moody. It was the spin of confusion: Who am I? How did I get here? If my birth mother didn’t want me, why would anyone else?
I first wanted to disappear when I was a kid and had a pile of overdue library books in my closet. I was not a good girl after all, and a good girl was clearly the one thing my mother wanted most, for it was what she had named me. My good girl, Anne. If I wasn’t good, and if my mother only saw me as good, I was...what? Not even bad. I was some sort of negative nothing.
When I was a teenager, I was not able to contain my frustration. “I’m not a good girl,” I’d say, furious that she didn’t see all of me, the parts that cheated and lied and stole. “Yes, you are,” she say. “You’re my good girl.” I would feel angry and desolate. The person who I loved the most had no idea who I was.
I am always looking for answers.
Yesterday I was reading about Edgar Allan Poe in Mary Oliver’s book of essays Upstream. She wrote:
A normal life includes the occasional black mood. But most of us have some real enough experience with certainty, which helps us to sustain ourselves through passages of metaphysical gloom. While Poe had none. Not little, but none.
This lack disordered him. It is not a spiritual lack, but rather a lack of emotional organization, of confidence. And not self-confidence, which is already a complicated asset, but a lack of confidence in the world entire, and its benevolent as well as malevolent possibilities. In the deepest sense, Poe was without confidence in a future that might be different from the past. He was, forever, reliving an inescapable, original woe.
At this point I was thinking, Poe is so adopted.
And then I got to the part where I learned that his mother had died when he was two and his father had abandoned the family. Poe was taken in by another family but “never legally adopted”.
In 1834, when he was twenty-five, Poe married his cousin Virginia Clemm; she was thirteen years old. Does the future seem ensured? Eight years later, while Virginia was singing, blood began to run from her mother. It was, it is fair to say, consumption. In 1847 Virginia died. She was twenty-five.
Poe had two years to live. With terrifying gusto, he drank his way through them.
So the proof piles up that mother loss is traumatic. I can turn to Nancy Verrier’s book The Primal Wound and I can carry it like my banner and say: SEE! ADOPTION HURTS! IT WOUNDS!
But I don’t like that life plan.
I don’t want to think of myself as wounded. There is a weight to carrying a wound, and I would rather think of what Verrier calls the wound as the gap, the empty space where I existed in the moment between being with my birth mother and not being with her.
Space equals opportunity. It equals potential. I think I can find myself in the gap. Certain meditations teach you to seek the gap between the inhale and the exhale. There is stillness in the gap. Peace. Home.
When I was in my twenties, my friend Brian Brennan introduced me to William Gass’s story In the Heart of the Heart of the Country. It is possible that I have thought about this story in one form or another every day since then. That story has meant so much to me, but I have never been able to articulate why, until, perhaps, now. I read it again today, looking for the line about at last living in my eyes, when I read this: “Why should I feel a loss? How am I bereft? She was never mine; she was a fiction…”
Good lord. Even William Gass, in his own way, was adopted.
The narrator is in a house in the country, hating and loving in his heartbreak. There is the story, and then there is the writing. The language is so beautiful. The feelings are complicated, yes, but the writing sings.
What if I focused less on the story of adoption and more on the beauty of the telling? It’s like making the most beautiful cross to hang in a church. The craft of the object is glory enough, perhaps. What do I mean my glory enough? I mean I have the need to feel my life has purpose. I don’t want the purpose to be for me to carry the wound of adoption. I want it to be about fully realizing my potential. About naming, cursing, and praising, but all from the deepest part of myself.
I found her.
She is here.
In love with it all.