Not Enough Words to Tell You How I Feel
I am headed for Indiana in two days to attend my first adoptee conference. I have not knowingly been in the room with more than two adoptees at a time. Part of me doesn’t want to go. Part of me feels…disdainful. I imagine a room full of needy people, limbs missing. Truly. This is what I see when I imagine a room full of adoptees: a leper colony.
These are my people. I hope you know how much courage and trust it took for me to write this first paragraph. Insulting adoptees is paramount to telling my best friend I think she is a loser (and myself while I am at it). My friend whom I love with all my heart. My friend whom I wish nothing but the best for in her life. I want to know where this judgement comes from: where did I get the idea that adoptees are less than?
The written word is an amazing thing. How is it that I can take three scribbles: C A T, and when I order them that way, you see an animal and have a picture in your mind, stories, facts, jokes maybe; maybe you start to cry because your CAT recently died? So squiggles on a paper equal thoughts and emotions. Amazing.
If I write the letters M O M my brain lights up, my guts clench, and my heart beats a little faster. If I write the letters D A U G H T E R my body swoons. I feel as if the front of my chest opens and my heart flies out. I see my daughter’s face, smell her hair, and the world around me falls away. I should live in that world. Maybe that will be my new mantra. Maybe this is the word I will repeat to myself when I wake up at 3 a.m. and can’t fall back to sleep. A string of letters could change my whole word.
If I write the letters A D O P T E E I can feel my brain jam, like a stuck clutch on a car. My brain doesn’t know what to do with that word, and so neither does my body. My body goes still, like the moment you know something is about to hurt you but the adrenalin hasn’t flooded your system yet and you are in the still before the storm.
What if Dr. Seuss had written a book about adoption? What if the words associated with adoption made me feel as good as G R E E N E G G S A N D H A M do?
Come to think of it, what are the words associated with adopted? Pretty slim pickings. There are more words that don’t exist for the adoption experience, I believe, than do. How can you talk about something that isn’t attached to language? I have no words for the following:
1. What an infant feels when he/she has no contact with the birth mother.
2. What an infant feels falling asleep in a foster home or orphanage, hearing other babies crying.
3. What a child feels when he looks into his father’s face and sees no physical resemblance.
4. What an adult feels when meeting his (first) mother/father for the first time.
5. Etc. Etc. Etc. I’m thinking we could use a new dictionary.
Dr. Seuss would have had a hell of a time writing about adoption. There aren’t enough words. It would have had to be a picture book.
As I am headed for this conference I am faced with the fact that there is no word to describe what it’s like for an adoptee to be in a room where she doesn’t have to explain herself to the others around her. There is no word for the situation where the stories of abandonment and grief and confusion are songs playing in the brains of nearly everyone there, and so there is a familiar vibration to the bodies, a sense, I’m imagining, of home. Of acceptance.
And it is this—the feeling of acceptance, the feeling of home—that I am looking at with disdain. This is a problem. I think it’s something I learned to do when as a child I learned that my parents didn’t like to talk about adoption and that they could not handle my emotions. I learned I was too much; I was trouble, and so I tried to be good. I tried to bury my sadness and my rage, but that stuff doesn’t stay underground well.
The other day I was thinking about Pippi Longstocking. She wasn’t adopted, but she was sort of an orphan. An orphan with no mother and a dad who was out on adventures. Pippi was cool. Pippi made her own rules and lived a wild life. As a child I couldn’t be Pippi because I was so busy trying to negotiate living a lie of a life where what was going on in my brain (I have these parents but I also had other ones, which means I have this life but I also have another imaginary one) didn’t match with the world outside of me (you are our child, no one else’s; this is your only life).
I am going Pippi on my life these days, for even though I am 52 and Pippi was a child, she has so much to teach me. Be yourself. Be fearless. Have fun. Take care of your friends.
There is something in me that is terrified of loving adoptees. I feel like I’ll be sucked into a tunnel of sadness and I’ll lose myself. I’m going this weekend because the organizer of the Indiana Adoptee Network Conference, Pam Kroskie, decided I had to go, and she is a woman who makes things happen. But I’m afraid. I’m afraid of loving what feels like the center of my deepest bruise, the most tender, hurting place of all. I’m afraid I’m going to fall apart.
If I had grown up in a house where adoption was talked about with the same interest and openness as politics, I’m guessing I wouldn’t have waited this long to be in the company of so many people who were like me. I have the feeling I would not associate adoptee with leper.
At the same time, there is part of my brain that is not afraid at all. There is a part of me that suspects this weekend will be like diving into a warm pool. I have a feeling I am going to cry a lot. I have a feeling I will be unzipped.
I don’t feel very good right now, but I don’t have the word for the feeling. I can talk around the missing word: I feel I have betrayed myself and everyone around me. I feel I am in trouble. I feel so…adopted. What’s the word for that? The Boston part of me wants to say: fucked.
Maybe that is the right word. For, because of fucking, I am here. Because a man had sex with a woman and did nothing when he learned she had a baby, I am here, in this life.
Writing about my most private feelings about adoption makes me feel dirty and ashamed. But I’m going to Pippi this right now, and just let it be. I’m going to find my horse and bring him into my house and make pancakes for dinner. Or just go to the movies.
As an adoptee who struggles with issues of identity and self-worth, I’m going to figure out how to make this life the best one possible. Because I can.
What’s the word for that?