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Welcome to the blog website of Anne Heffron: writer, mother, adventurer.

Cock

Cock

In an interview with Krista Tippett about race in America, Eula Biss said, “If you can’t talk about something, you can’t think about something.

That sentence stopped me dead in my tracks even though it was cold and snowy in Massachusetts and the one button on my spring coat had popped off half a mile down the road.

Just that morning I’d gotten an email from a woman who had read my memoir about being adopted. The tag line was “I’m going straight to hell.”

What had she done? She had sent me a page of writing about a lifetime of not feeling supported by her mother, the mother who had adopted her. She wrote about how dissimilar they were, and how she was sure there was something wrong with her for being so critical of her mother. She wrote that she feared the whole world would hate her if they ever read what she wrote. 

And now she was going to hell because she was putting language to experiences and emotions she’d been trained to repress, to leave half-formed, roils of life not yet languaged for the peace of mind of those around her.

I learned from a very early age that the way to get my mother to run out of the room was to say the word “adoption”, so I didn’t. I grew up doing what good adoptees do: I decided adoption wasn’t important to me; it didn’t affect me; it wasn’t something I thought about, talked about, dreamed about. If someone had come up to ten-year-old me and had said, You know those weird feelings that come out of nowhere and wash over you, telling you that you are in big trouble? Those are common to adoptees. Losing a mother is traumatic, only the grown-ups in your life don’t know it, so they haven’t been able to teach you. They think their love is enough for you, but the truth is, even though they love you with all their hearts and you love them with yours, it isn’t enough. You need more, well, the truth is I can’t even imagine how I would have reacted. I am not sure I would have had the words.

If someone names your deepest thoughts, the thoughts that are so deep you haven’t even seen them, the thoughts that are you but in the burial have become not you, what do you do when those mulched over thoughts and feelings are brought to light?

Maybe you sit down at your computer and try to imitate the language this other person used, try to recreate it, and then maybe you write “I am going to hell” because you know you are doing the thing no one wants you to do. You are bringing the buried to life, and that is forbidden business.

Why can’t you be happy with what you have? Why do you need to search for your birth parents? Aren’t we enough?

Many adoptees want more, but they are so afraid to ask. All they know is they have a longing in their guts that tells them they are not safe, that things are not okay, that there is another life out there they were meant to live. These feelings are very confusing. No one talks about them, so adoptees have no words for them. It’s easier to say nothing than to try to talk and be misunderstood, so they get quiet about adoption. They say nothing and soon they don’t think about it, at least consciously. But their subconscious is silently running the show, and the next thing they know, they are at the store stealing a shirt.

Who can you talk to about this? No one. So you stay quiet and you get increasingly afraid of what you might do next. If you will steal a shirt from The Country Store, if you will go into your mother’s wallet and steal two dollars even though she worries over every penny, if you will lie to your teacher and say you lost your homework when you didn’t do it, what will you do next? Why aren’t you good? What is wrong with you? Why can’t you depend on yourself? What are these things that happen in your brain that make you act out?

There are no words for these fears, these experiences, and so you get more and more isolated in the fortress of your confused self.

For me, as part of a closed adoption, that was my life experience until I decided at 51 I didn’t care anymore if I died: I was going to break the silence. I was going to find a way to shape language to fit my needs.

It took me 93 days and 66,020 words to write my memoir, but I think I showed the reader what it is like to be in an adoptee’s (my) head.

I’m still finding words to tell you what it feels like to be adopted.

Today, Valentine’s Day, I’m thinking about the word “mother” and “father”. While my birth mother and my birth father created me, neither wanted to meet me. I struggle with this information. Mother and father, in my mind, are words that mean someone who loves and takes care of the child. I don’t want my mother and father (the ones who adopted me, the ones who loved and took care of me) and this other set who didn’t even want to meet me to carry the same name. Do you know what I mean? My parents earned the title mother and father. They not only wanted to know me, they raised me. To be a father, it seems to me, you at least need to be willing to shake your child's hand. 

So I’m going to invent new words. I’m also going to invent a new word for adopted. The word itself sounds like a mistake. Your throat has to make a little choking sound just to get the word out. Yuck.

I also want words for feelings that I have: for example, I want a word for the feeling I had when I learned that my birth mother didn’t ever want to meet me. That way, I could have called in sick to work and said I was “     “, and my boss would have understood, Oh, jiminy Cricket, Anne’s birth mother refused contact. Maybe the company should send flowers…

I have been writing about adoption for about eight months now, and this is what I know:

Writing about adoption is like stealing. It’s like overeating. It’s like lying. It’s like slapping the person you love most across the face. It’s like singing. It’s like praying. It’s like breathing. It’s like hauling rocks. It’s like flying. It’s like giving birth. It’s like throwing up. It’s like carving a gravestone. It’s like standing on a tightrope. It’s like beating someone’s knuckles with a ruler. It’s like skating. It’s like spinning a web. It’s like drowning. It’s like being born.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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