People say, That’s a deal breaker, and it means enough. I’m done. When I told my second (ex) husband I needed a studio apartment of my own, a kind of office, a space where I could work and be closer to my daughter so I could see her more often, he said, That’s a deal breaker.
I hadn’t known it was an option, that one of us could state a need and the other could say, That need will end this marriage.
We’d only been married a short time and I was living in shock because moving from Los Gatos to Palo Alto meant I was now a thirty minute (or an hour plus) in traffic drive from my daughter when she stayed at her dad’s house instead of the five minutes we’d been for years and years. I hadn’t thought it would make that much of a difference, but it had. She was staying at her dad’s more now because her friends were in Los Gatos, because sitting in the car to get to your mom’s house who now lives twenty miles away when you are a student athlete means your small slice of free time gets carved down to a sliver. And because, let’s be honest, going to a house your mom shares with a man she married after knowing him less than a year could be seen as slightly awkward. Just another pain in the ass thing you have to do as a teenager when all you really want to do is to be left alone.
That was the moment I realized now our marriage died for me. What I had proposed was a deal breaker for him and his reaction was a deal breaker for me. I just didn’t know it at the time. I went into quiet heart shock. I cried and walked, cried and walked, quietly panicking about how to negotiate this new life where I was suddenly far from the one I loved most. I went into survival mode. Okay. No place for myself. No place closer to my daughter. I have to make this marriage work. I have to bury my needs and grow a thicker skin. I went adoptee on my life yet again.
I am telling you this story because yesterday I talked to an adoptee who joked about wanting to kill herself. This isn’t an uncommon thing for me to hear when I talk to adopted people. It’s like, I was driving and I wanted to slam into a telephone pole, but I went to work instead. Or: It’s sunny out and everyone is headed to the beach and all I can think about is swallowing pills but I went to the beach and went swimming instead.
There is relief in talking adoptee-to-adoptee because there isn’t the tight pull of Oh, no! Are you okay? What’s wrong? Do you need medication? It’s more like: hahahaha. I hear you.
You know that feeling when you have on your work clothes and by the end of the day all you can think about is how good it’s going to feel to go home and change? Get out of your tight shoes; take off your belt, pull off your sweaty socks?
Imagine if you could never change into more comfortable clothes. Imagine that you would be wearing a tie or high heels for the rest of your life.
That’s how being adopted can feel, like your skin has become the clothes you wear to work, and you just want to go home so you can step out of your constricted self and finally relax.
It’s having a house and wanting another house so you can maybe feel at home there, closer to who you are supposed to be, closer to who you are supposed to love.
This is how I think adoption affected my body and mind. I think that when my roots were chopped off at the source, a seed was planted in my abdomen: this is the root of who you are without your mother, without the living experience of your body history. The seed was like the worm in a Mexican jumping bean: it kept me moving, always moving away from my self. And as the dark seed grew, the discomfort spread in my body. The roots of something’s not right spread through my guts, through my organs, my muscles, touching the periosteum, the bone, the marrow. I think the roots went through the dura mater, into the center of my spinal cord, and they curled into my brain where the message became part of who I am: Something is not right, and because my self only knows itself, I think that something is me.
It’s a strange thing to see the container-shaped tangle of roots, like a white glistening plant brain, when you pull a root-bound plant from its pot. There isn’t any dirt left and there is nowhere for the plant to grow.
I find at 53 I have roots, but they are in a big tangle, and they hurt. The thing is, I don’t know how to own the dirt I live in. I don’t know what that feels like. I have spent my whole life ripping up roots and starting over.
It’s hard to talk about being adopted because the and then I got over it and moved on part is elusive. It gets tiring to start over. I think this may be one reason adoptees talk about suicide. Roots are supposed to spread, to have room. It’s like being a train and desperately wanting to be on the tracks that run alongside yours because you just aren’t operating smoothly on the ones you are on now, but you have no idea how to get from here to there. How is it even possible for a train to jump the tracks? How would all the cars not tumble and crash?
How can you live on the tracks of a life that feels really yours when you were derailed at the start? How can you spread roots when someone tore them out at the beginning and you keep tearing them out because it’s what you know?
I don’t think it’s that adoptees who talk about suicide want to die, or at least most of them, the ones who weren’t adopted into nightmare homes and lives. I think what they want is some sense of control. A feeling of this is my life. These are my roots; this is my dirt; these are my tracks.
When you are busy trying to keep everyone around you happy so that they will keep you, it’s hard to focus on what you need, what you want, who are you.
This life hurts too much. It’s too hard. I hate myself. I want to kill myself.
Tell people you are in pain. If they don’t seem to hear you, tell other people. Keep telling people you need help until you get it.
Help is there.
Just ask. Be specific. Write it down. Talk it out. Paint a billboard.
It’s so worth the trouble.