A Love Letter to Jessenia Parmer
I got a text from Haley Radke last night at 9:23. I was ready to get in bed and go to sleep. It was early, but I was tired. Haley wrote, “I think you’re going to like this episode. It’s up.”
A year ago, I was just a fan of Haley and her podcast "Adoptees On". Friday mornings were the best because I could go hiking and listen to a new episode. I had never heard adopted people speak of their experiences before, and listening to them tell their stories and to Haley ask informed questions was way better even than finding out my father had Playboys hidden in his bedside table, for, as he told me later, the writing. Listening to these stories was like breaking all the rules—people were talking about what I’d been encouraged to keep quiet all my life, and the stories were gritty and depressing and surprising and loving and wonderful. Sort of like a naked, airbrushed woman splayed over the page. (Don’t think too long about this comparison because it doesn’t hold up, but the feeling in my belly was similar for both so I’m keeping the words as they stand.)
And then Haley had me on as a guest. I was no longer just a listener. I was participating in the dialogue of how it felt to be adopted. This was like adolescence. I was a fifty-two-year old woman learning to be 16. I was learning to be myself, for to have a person not only listen to me talk about adoption but to encourage the talk, to ask questions was balm to my brain. After a lifetime of uncomfortable looks and quick subject changes, this felt like being handed a hot fudge sundae after decades of Styrofoam in a cone.
All of this is to get to this, Jessenia: last night I lay in bed in the dark and listened to your episode. I think it was the longest one Haley has posted yet, and for good reason. Your story is big. I have seen pictures of you on Facebook. Videos even. You are stunning. You look like you were born to some wildly cool and beautiful, successful New York couple and that you have spent a lifetime making others want to look and act just like you. You have a hot husband. You look like life is fun. You exude love and style and energy and class and intelligence.
Jail? Insane asylum? Suicide?
Why people who are adopted don’t have a free lifetime pass to stellar psychological and medical counseling is beyond me, too. Adoption is like cutting off a dog’s legs and handing the bleeding animal to its new owners, saying, She’ll be fine, and walking away as the owners nod and agree, Yup. She’ll be fine, looking away from the wounds to consider, What should we call her? What do we want her to be? I think she looks like you.
Jessenia, I listened to the entire podcast with a broad smile. Even the part where you talked about wanting to pull out each strand of your hair, even though I felt in my guts what that kind of self-destructive desire does to the body, I was still smiling, and here’s why: listening to you talk was like watching the Olympics or Cirque de Soleil. Humans are capable of so much, but only a few individuals take their bodies and minds to the magical level of high performance where, as observers, we stand in the church of what is possible and gape. Athletes sing the body mind and make us hopeful. They remind us what it means to be alive.
And your talk did that for me last night. You are so articulate, and even when you spoke of very difficult, painful things (being left by your mother, being abused, wanting to kill yourself), you sounded like you were singing. You sounded like you were put on the earth to show people what grit and grace and resilience looks like. Listening to you was holy for me, for you are still here, and we as a world need to support you in every way possible so that you can continue to be here because that is what we do as humans when we are operating at our best: we love each other and we make sure we stick around.
I am sorry you had to suffer to get to where you are—but the truth is I think that is how we become amazing. Read any hero’s story and you’ll see these people aren’t called heroes because they sat on their asses and drank tea all day. They suffered and they preserved and their stories made other people’s lives better.
I am here for you, Jessenia. You changed my life last night because you showed me what is possible. You showed me the gorgeousness of fortitude.
Then the end of the podcast shocker came: you spoke to me. You said my name and you talked about my book, and I listened to what you said again four times later this morning. I felt seen in the most glorious, wild dream kind of way.
I think adopted people need help in working with the brains we have. I think they are often developmentally damaged in a way that can actually make us think suicide is a good idea. I want us to learn tricks to replace “I should just finish what she started when she abandoned me" with “the world loves me”. I’m doing a lot of reading, a lot of work on myself. I want this for me, for you, for all adopted people who struggle with self-worth.
Please stick around. I can’t wait to see what you do next.
I love you and will never leave,