Thursday, March 31, 2011

I speak to you with silence

I am horribly slow--as in months behind--at reading my Sunday NYT, but last week I finally got around to the edition from February 6. In the Book Review, one author opened her critique by quoting from "Dedication," a poem by Czeslaw Milosz:

You whom I could not save
Listen to me. 
Try to understand this simple speech
     as I would be ashamed of
I swear, there is in me no wizardry of
I speak to you with silence like a 
     cloud or a tree. 

I was introduced to Milosz's work some 18 years ago, as a newish grad student at Berkeley, where Milosz would spend part of the year as an emeritus. I went to his readings in the small Maud Fife Room in Doe Library, and sat transfixed by the eloquence of his words and the soft cadence of his voice as he read aloud. His poems often speak to damaged part of me, the part I try to keep locked up and safe.

I was unfamiliar with this particular poem, but it has resonated through me these past few days. His sense of speaking with silence is intensely meaningful to me. There are so many silences in adoption: about birth, about relationships, about what adoptees and aparents and nparents feel or don't feel. Adoption is deeply rooted in painful emotions that are buried, things that are difficult to put into words and that cause pain and controversy when voiced. It is hard for me to accept this silence. My post from last week attests to that. Trust is difficult when there aren't words of support and affirmation from those I love. I have also thought of C's silence as saying the same kinds of things that Milosz touches on in these few lines. She saved me by sacrificing me; was I really saved? She would like to think so. She doesn't mince words, and she doesn't speak unless she has something to relate. She doesn't lure or adorn with false praise. I admire her for that. And she does beg me to forgive her for the long, bitterly cold silence during which I suffered such excruciating pain from her rejection. I do, of course, forgive her.

She called me today, on her birthday, out of the blue. For the first time I was able to wish her "Happy Birthday" and have her hear me say it. She thanked me with a laugh and told me she needs eight margaritas to deal with being 64. She wanted to tell me about her trip to San Diego. For the first time she said that she feels she wants to meet me (and my children) in the not-too-distant future. She told me how happy A is that he has a sibling, at last. She told me how much A likes Mark, and how she hopes to meet him, too. She apologized for being locked in the 1960's view of herself for so long. She told me that she appreciates how I am letting her direct the course of the reunion, and that she feels safe that I am not judging her. I don't, or I try very hard not to. I love her, although I cannot tell her this yet; it suggests that the stakes are higher than she wants them to be. It is still too much, she says, to think of me as her daughter. She said she felt terrible for not being able to see me as a human being until last fall. The defensive wall has come down, she said, and she is happy for it. She cannot be happier than I am. She laughed as she told me that A told her that he, she, and I are all from the same mold: stubborn, fixated, and up to a thousand things at once. Noses buried in books, curious about everything, loyal.

She also told me that A told her that I am "scary smart" and use vocabulary words he's never heard of. I will take the compliment, but the conversation then led to A's and my discussion about the contingency of our relationship and how much I feared that contingency. I didn't want to get into the grittier parts of this equation, but she immediately said that she supported me 100% in setting boundaries and asking him to choose either to be in or to be out. As she put it, I "deserve so much more than to be kicked around by someone indecisive." I can get behind that, and I love that she gets it.

While her 11-year stony silence was brutal, she is not going faster than she feels comfortable. She is clear about what she can do and what she cannot offer. Since she committed to talking to me last December, she has kept her word. She has reached out to me at least as much as I've reached out to her. She has been more reliable than A, when I look at the big picture. I think I am really less afraid of her leaving me than of A cutting ties. I feel that she respects me, which is a very big deal. She isn't the one keeping secrets and not telling me where she is.

It is unnerving to want to trust her. It is safer to keep people at arm's length, but it is also seductive to have her draw me in closer and make herself vulnerable to me. It is wonderful to hear that I might meet her before too long, but I am of course terrified that I will break down in front of her and become a quivering mush of emotions. It's one thing to talk to her on the phone and keep myself detached, but in person? To stand in front of the woman I most look like--and from whom I was born--and be nonchalant, just like I am meeting a pen pal? I don't think my adult armor is quite strong enough to protect and mask the lost little girl inside of me who is still her daughter.


Jenn said...

Wow. Your story gives me hope that maybe someday I too can have a semi-happy ending.

I think it's wonderful that she's starting to come around. That's wonderful :-) Yay!

sostinkinhappy said...

Your writing, beautiful.

I sit here with tears in my eyes and few words to say other than thank you for sharing your experience with us.

mari said...

"Dedication" or "Widmung" for me is a Lizst transcription of a song by Schumann that I picked up on 9/14/01, the day it seemed okay to play music again and the day I was supposed to leave for my annual vacation in ASTURIAS (!!!) but decided to stay in NY with my friends.

Du meine Seele, du mein Herz,
Du meine Wonne, o du mein Schmerz,
Du meine Welt, in der ich lebe,
Mein Himmel du, darin ich schwebe,
O du mein Grab, in das hinab
Ich ewig meinen Kummer gab!
Du bist die Ruh, du bist der Frieden,
Du bist der Himmel, mir beschieden.
Daß du mich liebst, macht mich mir wert,
Dein Blick hat mich vor mir verklärt,
Du hebst mich liebend über mich,
Mein guter Geist, mein beßres Ich!

You my soul, you my heart,
you my bliss, o you my pain,
you the world in which I live;
you my heaven, in which I float,
o you my grave, into which
I eternally cast my grief.
You are rest, you are peace,
you are bestowed upon me from heaven.
That you love me makes me worthy of you;
your gaze transfigures me;
you raise me lovingly above myself,
my good spirit, my better self!

It became a people pleasing hit in my repertoire so I kept it polished up so that four years later I thought I'd play it for my mother when she came to visit.

She did not melt or swoon or quiver or anything. She was unimpressed and had absolutely nothing to say other than... maybe...can we eat dinner now?

I guess what I'm getting at is that I am so happy for you that your mother is finally coming around and that she respects and appreciates the intelligent and gifted person that you are. I'm so glad you were able to hang in there.

Thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge. Your writing is beautiful.

Susie said...

Oh how I hope that your mom continues to open herself up to you! This is a beautiful post, from the beginning poem to the hopeful end.

When the time comes that you do get to meet in person, try to not worry about your armor being strong enough ~ just relish the moment, tears of joy and all!

Trish said...

Thank you for sharing, thank you. Your mother's metamorphosis is truly amazing.

Von said...

Such a moving never know it may be she who breaks down after the pressure of the years, decisions and all she too has been through.

Unknown said...

Your persistence and patience are remarkable. i love your ability to both set boundaries, thus respecting yourself, and to allow others to grow, thus respecting them as humans as well. You are an inspiration!