Being with Joyce Maguire Pavao
I’d seen pictures of Joyce, but she was not her pictures. She’s more…real. Her hair is a red I wanted to touch, her face even sweeter, even prettier than in the pictures I’d seen online.
She’s really good at getting people—me—to talk. When we met for dinner, I kept trying to steer the conversation back to her, and before I knew it, I’d be talking about my mother or my childhood again. As she listened and nodded and chipped in, “But he can’t say he’ll never leave! Eventually he’s going to die!” or “What was she like?” I thought, and said, “Goddamn it. I want all the money I ever gave to any therapist back. You are what I needed.” An adoptee who had made studying adoption her life’s work and who comes across, not as someone who is wounded, but as someone who is deeply delighted by her life. And someone who was now delighting in mine.
I used to be fascinated by snow globes. I loved shaking them and creating weather. Normally the sky produces snow, and it’s not something you have any control over, but, with snow globes, you are the boss. You want snow? Shake shake shake. You got it.
Snow globes are also a reminder that the world we live in is not the only world. There are secret places of wonder and beauty that we can hold in our hands. They are magical, worthy of attention and purchase.
But we can’t get in snow globes. Holding one is like a parent looking at his or her baby in the hospital through a thick pane of glass. Or like when you have had an irreparably damaging fight with a loved one and something invisible but permanent has come between you.
Snow globes are beautiful and they remind you of where you are not.
Being with Joyce was like being inside a snow globe. I kept having that feeling that usually makes me want to smile, only I didn’t have to because I was so busy listening and talking; I just got to have the feeling of I want to smile without having to effort my face into the stretch of it. I got to be happy.
At one point in our conversation, she said something about the work she wanted to do before she died, and for a moment I felt despair. My brain panicked and cried, Noooooooo, but then I became adult Anne and did some math. I decided death might well not come for Joyce for another eight Presidential elections, and since just the last few weeks of this most recent one seemed to have lasted forever, I didn’t have to worry about her disappearing any time soon.
I felt at peace with her. Like everything was going to be okay. I’d also felt that during the week when I’d talked with the three other adoptees I’d met with, and I was getting used to the balmy waters of common experience. Just a year ago I’d told someone I’d be as likely to go to a leper colony as to any kind of gathering for adoptees, but now I had my bags packed. I wanted in. They were my people. I was so adopted, and I loved it. Loved other adoptees. Loved understanding them, feeling understood by them.
Joyce gave me the book The People They Brought Me written by her friend Penny Callan Partridge. In it, Penny writes about people questioning her when she first went public about wanting to search for her origins. “Well, aren’t you opening a Pandora’s box?” they would ask. Years later, a friend of hers, also sick of the Pandora’s box question, went to the library to do some research. She called Penny and said, “Guess what happened when Pandora opened her damn box a second time? She found hope! If she hadn’t let all those other things out first, we would never would have gotten to hope!!”
When I left Boston this morning, it was snowing. The city as I knew it was slowly disappearing and becoming even more beautiful. Joyce was out there in the world and the bubble that I live in was that much larger, that much more full of potential, of what can I make happen next?
Last year, when I opened the Pandora’s box of inquiry into my adoption, chaos ensued. It felt like my whole world fell apart, but this morning when I walked back from Peet’s in the snow I cried because I felt so lucky. I had so little money in the bank. No real job to speak of. No home with my name on the mailbox. A car that was not mine.
But I had everything I needed. I had more and more and more than what I needed.
It was so strange. This life of mine where I seemed to be breaking all the rules was working. I still can’t figure out why. I think it has to do with faith. With hope. I can barely stand to talk about it because I am still afraid it’s all going to come crashing down around me.
But I am learning to live a new life, one that is mine, and so I’ll just keep going because I want my daughter to have a mom who is comfortable in her own skin. I want her to look at me and to see love, to see and to feel in her bones that she came from love and that she is love, and that everything is going to be okay.
Better than okay.