Today I was out hiking, and I realized I was doing something I’d been doing ever since I could remember: trying to find focus.
My friend was telling me about his son’s struggles in high school, about his difficulty in handing in his work. His son whom he had adopted at birth. “Would it have helped you to have someone explain that your struggles in school might be related to adoption trauma?” he asked. “I’m not sure I had struggles,” I said. “I just didn’t hand in my work.”
My friend was quiet.
“Ah,” I said. “Boy. Here I am, still not seeing it. Still making excuses. I guess I had struggles. I used to come home from track practice, eat a bunch of sugar, and lie on the living room floor to wait out the spins so I could focus and do my work.”
“I see it in your eyes,” he said. “Your brain is always on overdrive. You must be so tired.”
I’m trying to get my friend to write a book called “How to Date an Adoptee” because he pays such close attention to me, and he now questions some of my behaviors and gives me the opportunity to express long repressed emotions and beliefs, all tied to a relinquishment that happened at birth.
After years of raising two adopted boys, he’s waking up to the fact that adoption has long-term effects that color the lives of adoptees in ways that, to me right now at 52, seem all-encompassing. He and I are both, together, coming out of the fog of thinking adoption is an event that happens only once, when the baby or child is put into the new parents’ arms. We are learning it colors the adoptee’s life—my life, the lives of his boys—so profoundly it may even affect the ease with which we, the ones who were adopted, are able to accomplish simple tasks.
How much do I want to quit writing right now? I’d rather cut the lawn with scissors. I’d rather cook dinner. I’d rather go for a long walk even though my legs are tired from the long walk I took this morning.
But I want to beat this thing. I want to name it, see it, so I can do things like pay my bills and answer my emails and make appointments in a timely manner at the DMV. I want to call it what it is so that my friend’s son, and people like him, can get the help they need so they don’t have to sit in front of their computers, trying to lose themselves in video games because they can’t seem to get all four wheels on track, and life, and therefore themselves, feels painfully wrong.
I don’t know what to call it except for a spin that happens in my head, a spin so fast that it’s more like air than movement. When my childhood best friend told her brother about You Don’t Look Adopted, he said, “Oh! I always just thought she was an airhead.” It’s distracting, this head of mine. It’s not a noise, and it’s not an action, but it’s like a moment of suspension, the moment before the rollercoaster drops, only the moment just goes on and on, and I’m going through the day, waiting for it to settle so I can focus on whatever is in front of me. It does settle, I just don’t know when it will happen or how long it will stay like that.
It helps if I exercise a lot. Three hours is ideal. It doesn’t have to be an intense workout—I just need to move. (You can see how this in itself is a job.) It helps if I eat protein when what I crave are carbs. It helps if I get enough sleep, which is hard because my brain doesn’t stop at night. It helps if I only have a few things I have to do that day. Too many things (and too many can be one, if I’m perfectly honest), and my brain spins, worried that I’ll forget or that I’ll do it wrong or that something bad will happen.
I’ve lived like this for so long it seems normal to me. And maybe it is.
But maybe it can be easier. It’s like I spend the whole day knowing I have to pull up my pants, but they weigh two hundred pounds, and so I’m waiting for that moment when I believe I can do it. Do you know what I mean? It’s like when you have a stubborn lid on a jar, and you have to take a deep breath and focus and find the internal belief that you can do it, and then you twist with all your might and suddenly you hear the satisfying pop and you exalt in the small success. That’s what my life is like almost all the time. Waiting for the moment where I feel I can try to twist off the lid or pull up my pants that weigh two hundred pounds.
The perfect combination is morning, coffee, hike, podcasts. Catch me thirty minutes after I’ve had a shot of espresso, thirty minutes up the trail, thirty minutes of listening to smart people talking about interesting things, and I feel I can do just about anything. I want to find a way to bottle that so I can access it later in the day, in the night.
I want to bottle it so I can share it with others, so I can give it to the high school students who are lying on the floor, overwhelmed by the list of things they are supposed to do for their classes the next day.
I love taking photographs because it's so easy to get the camera to focus. I have a sense of both ownership and belonging when the shutter clicks. I am engaging in the world, memorializing its beauty. I am looking. I see you.
My eyes hurt almost all the time. If I pay attention, I feel they are trying so hard to see. It feels like they would come right out of my head if they could, as if what they are looking for is just beyond the scope of sight. I try to remember to calm my eyes, to let them look inward, to relax, to soften. It’s work to remember that everything I need is right here, right in the space I occupy. This body, this mind, this soul. Here.
I just want to know who took care of me for those first ten weeks. I want to know if she even touched me, kissed me hello and goodbye. Why? So the part of my brain that can't let it go maybe could get a break. So I could sleep through the night, like a baby.