So, It's Martin Luther King Jr Day, and I’m not adopted anymore.
I know. It just happened. It’s so crazy. I go and write a memoir about being adopted and make it my life’s work to talk about how adoption affects people, and then I go and discover my adoption’s over.
Sit down if you need to. I understand. This is coming out of nowhere. And it could happen to you! If you’re adopted, you could find out at any minute you’re not, and if you’re not adopted, well…godspeed.
I was out walking this morning and I was thinking about how I don’t have my original birth certificate (because the state of New York does) and about how both birth parents never wanted to meet me, and it occurred to me that maybe I’m not adopted after all. Maybe those folks didn’t want to meet me because they really aren’t biologically connected to me. Maybe I do have my original birth certificate, the one that says Margery and Frank Heffron are my parents. Maybe 23 and Me and genetic testing is just money-making bullshit!
I look enough like my parents who raised me to have been their spawn. I act enough like them. I share their last name. All my childhood, we called the same houses home.
Adoption, to be honest, is a pain in the ass. Being adopted, for me, meant that I had no idea where I came from or who made me. It meant that I felt cellularly bad about myself because a big chunk of my brain believed I hadn’t been good enough for my birth mother to keep. My own guts hated me.
It’s a drag to have to carry those kinds of feelings around. It’s like trying to sprint across the finish line and trip yourself at the same time.
That was my life.
Until today. It had been raining all week, but the sun was out and the air was soft. Everything is easier when the sky isn’t trying to drown you. I was out walking, and I was feeling my legs move, left right, left right, and I was feeling my feet hit the ground, left right, left right, and I was feeling my breath go in and out, in and out, and that’s when it hit me: I’m not adopted--I’m a piece of work!
People have been telling me I was a piece of work all my life: friends, teachers, employers, husbands. I just hadn’t understood what they were saying. I’d thought they were telling me I was a pain in the neck, but I’d been reading Randolph Severson all morning, and suddenly, there on Lincoln Avenue , everything came together. They weren’t talking about what a weirdo I was. They were trying to tell me I wasn’t adopted.
In his book Adoption, Charms and Rituals for Healing, Severson wrote, “Adoption is unnatural. But, so, too, is human consciousness itself. So, too, is every work of art. So, too, is poetry. Adoption belongs (as with it natural companions) with the great spiritual disciplines of every age whose work is always what is called in the old language opus contra naturaam; that is, a work against nature…Adoption is nothing more and nothing less than an attempt to make poetry out of that most unpoetic thing of all, the human family.”
That made so much sense to me! My parents are smart—we are talking scary high I. Q’s—and the thought of having an ordinary family must have terrified them, so I’m betting they brought in the story of adoption just to turn the family into poetry!
That’s why my mother sat at the top of the stairs so many times when we were misbehaving and read The Little Brute Family in a loud enough voice for all of us to hear. She was turning our behaviors into the poetry of story. We weren’t crazy with misbehavior because we were adopted and at loose ends with repressed anger and confusion—we were our parents’ poems! We were just living out their dreams of language! We weren’t three wild children. We were art!
I am a piece of work. I am not adopted because I am so…here.
Do you understand?
Adoption doesn’t exist. It’s a brilliant misunderstanding of how we define who we are. To adopt means to take on as one’s own, but if we see that to be part of a family is to be poetry, the focus is on to be. And there we are, at the feet of the great bard himself:
To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
the heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
that Flesh is heir to? 'Tis a consummation
devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream..
To hell with adoption. To hell with relinquishment. To hell with wounds. To hell with a lifetime of sadness.
I choose poetry.
I choose the dream. The dream where my life is my life, my story is my story, and the poem of who I am is mine to live out in the open, no shame, no secrets, only love.