As I have blogged about before, my birthdays of late have not been very happy occasions. I've been haunted by being off certain people's radar, and it hurts to feel that I am not remembered that day, of all days. I am not one of those types who always likes to be the center of attention--far from it. I hated having people's eyes on me at my own wedding, even. If I can fold into myself and escape notice, so much the better, except when I am hoping for the attention of people I love and whose love I crave.
This year looked to be shaping up much better than any birthdays of the last decade. My family had welcomed me back, and I'd told my brother that I hoped he'd remember. He said that he would. I was sure that C wouldn't forget, as she'd sent me a box of gifts weeks ago. I had plans to go to the Berkeley Rep to see Baryshnikov perform in a Russian play, adapted from a short story by Bunin, with two friends. Another friend said she'd take me to lunch. I figured it would be nearly foolproof, and it was unlikely I would spend all day crying in bed.
Mark told me that on Thursday night, he had an early birthday surprise for me. I was excited to see what it was, but figured that it was probably a vacuum cleaner, given that our Dyson is on its last legs and Mark is practical-minded. I spent Thursday afternoon in the city with Joy, walking and talking and shopping, and on the way home, called some people to say hello. C was busy; she said she would call me back in an hour and a half. I figured she was watching something on TV. I called my aparents, and they were entertaining. I knew this, and didn't want to disturb them, but hadn't heard back about my mother's checkup with her oncologist. When my mom picked up, she was strangely cheery. I guessed she was just happy to talk; she gave her update, made excuses, and then went back to her party.
Later on, after I had the kids ready for bed and we were watching a movie, Mark called to tell me not to come outside. He was wrapping my gift. He would let me know when to come out. "Whatever!" I thought. "I'm tired, and I just want to finish watching Frodo and Gollum have a slapdown." Finally, I received the all clear and went out to the garage.
There was a box, about vacuum-size. I tried to lift it, but it was heavy. Tobey helped me peel off the wrapping and...inside was C! She had traveled to spend my birthday with us.
Shockingly, I did not cry. It was such a unbelievably wonderful moment to have my mother want to fly across the country to be with me on the day she gave birth to me. Holy shit! Again, is this the same reality that I've inhabited for 43 years? Really? How does it come to pass that the pain is wiped away? How is it that all that stiff heaviness can be thrown aside? How is it that I am valued for who I am, which is all I ever wanted to be? I would never have dared imagined myself in this place a year ago.
I suppose it all happened one little step at a time. I have spent the past eight years doing a great deal of self-evaluation and trying to remove detritus from my life, in the form of people who are cruel, pursuits that don't bring me pleasure, and bullshit that weighs me down. It's been an achingly hard road; I've wanted to give up more than once. I do have a tendency to be addicted to sadness, although perhaps I need to allow myself more compassion on that count. I was learning who I was, at the very least!
Friday, on my birthday, more than ever I wished that I could go and speak to myself as I had been on April 27th in certain years, offering advice and encouragement. Being 43 and in a place of security really does have some things to recommend it, although the wrinkles perhaps aren't so welcome.
On Monday Joy and I and C met for lunch and talked about how debilitating shame can be. I know that I was wracked by shame for different things in my life, and certainly being adopted was no picnic, despite my wonderful afamily. As Joy has said quite sagely, we need to get rid of the barriers between ourselves and our OBCs to begin to throw off some of that shame that is so deadening, wearying, difficult, and dangerous. When we are treated like lesser than, as secrets that society wants to ever-so-discreetly sweep under the rug, it cannot help but affect how some of us see ourselves and our place in the world. Some are affected more profoundly than others: some are paralyzed completely, some of us become criminals, some of us battle depression worse than any dragon could ever be.
Now I watch C with pride, and see how happy and loving and fabulous she is, freed from her burden of shame. She has been shocked by the response of many people in her life, and how warm and open they've been to finding out about the story of my conception, birth, and relinquishment. I can only imagine that carrying that burden of shame for over 43 years must have been exhausting and painful and intense for her, even if she tried hard to put up barriers and pretend that it never happened. My uncle and aunt have told her that she is a different woman, so much, much happier than they remember her being for decades. I thrilled to have been able to help her over the hurdle, although I know at the time she didn't thank me much for it. (Now she does, and she's thankful that I didn't give up and stay in the closet. It's not my job!)
It's a gift to be able to build our relationship now, and to see myself in her, and to hear Mark say, "Oh, THAT'S where Kara and Tobey get it from." C and I are not alike in many ways, but in some ways we're amazingly similar. It's like bathing in warm sunlight to have these revelations and to love each other for everything we are. I love having a mother and a friend, unburdened by the pains and memories of adolescent power struggles. Yes, we lost a great deal in the past, but we have so much to gain as we move ahead.
Today, I went on strike with my fellow RNs at the hospital where I work. We are in a contract negotiation with management that is frankly insulting to us. I don't want to bore you with the details, but C spent the day with me on the picket line, met nearly all of my coworkers, and and had fun introducing herself to people, saying, "Hi, I am C, Kara's mother. Have you heard our story?" She's a gutsy one! As my uncle said, C and I were both stubborn, and neither she nor I was going to win. So we both won. I can live with that, quite contentedly.