Friday, May 13, 2011

The Undead

I have a huge soft spot for movies and television shows and books about the supernatural, as I've mentioned before. I remember seeing Pet Sematary when it came out back in 1989. Although back then I wasn't equipped to think about it in the critical terms I am today, I remember thinking about some of its moral quandaries: what does it mean to bring something/someone back from the dead? What is lost at the threshold of death? What forces are involved that change things?

I especially remember thinking about the great sadness of the couple who lost their son and thinking that the father's attempt to bring him back as the child he had been was doomed to failure; the undead Gage was going to be the impossible replacement child for himself. He might as well have been adopted. And in his homidical rebirth, he fits the adoptee stereotype to a T. Sad, but true.

A brilliant friend of mine sent me an e-mail this morning on the topic of reunion. She wrote, very aptly: "I feel that adoptee reunions are straight out of Stephen King's book, Pet Sematary--you can bring them back, but they will never be the same again." We lose what we lose, and it's gone. Forever. We will never be the kept child. We will never have the place in the photographs or at the family table for holidays past. We might be in photos now, or at holiday feasts, but we will be haunted by our ghost selves, and we are ghosts for the family that didn't include us then. We can build relationships with our mothers, fathers, and extended families as adults, but our natural parents will not be the people who nurtured us.

I think many of us come to grief in reunion when we want what we lost and what we can never have. It's tantalizing to think about the "what ifs." I wish, for example, that C were a person on whom I could call for comfort (as one might do with a close friend, if not a mother). At least for now, I wish she were someone who would return my telephone calls. My adoptee hypervigilance is in overdrive, as I fear she is backing away just as surely as she took tentative steps forward. She might have good reasons; I just don't know, and if she won't tell me, I still won't know. I am excellent at inventing possibilities, such as wondering if she told her husband more about our contact on her trip to Paris, and he put the kibosh on what we have. Truth is, I just don't know and need to stop guessing.

I am trying to get better at living with uncertainty and realizing, as Joy told me so sagely, I will be okay either way. She's left me before. She can/might/will leave me again, although I hope she won't. I can't control what she does, only what I do in all of this. Perhaps I am finally mature enough to take in those difficult lessons of mindfulness and breathe, letting the worst of the doubts slide over me while acknowledging the ghosts and not allowing them encase my heart and soul in chill.

I have plans to visit A at his home for a weekend in June. His wife and son are going to be staying with C for a month while A is busy with work and fellowship applications. He invited me down, saying that he'd welcome the company. He has been a little distant and uncharacteristically quiet of late. I catch myself wondering if there is something he's not telling me about Newman family politics. Probably. But he'd tell me if he wanted to, and in the absence of that, I need to look forward and take his offer of a weekend away at face value. I treasure opportunities to spend time with him and get to know him better. Frankly, I adore the man, and I do wish I'd known him from the time he was born. We missed out on so many years.

Then I stop myself, and remember that we cannot resurrect the dead, or we will likely come to grief if we try. I will enjoy the man he is now and let the ghost little girl of me find and play with the ghost of the boy he once was.

And in honor of the Mother's Day just past, I want to share a picture of that ghost little girl with my amom, taken when I was probably about three years old, on Easter Sunday. I love her dearly, as she loves me, warts and all.

I have been enjoying our discussions about family in the wake of my uncle's death, and some interesting tidbits of family history have emerged, such as my father apparently becoming drunk and disorderly as my uncle's best man! Dad, you are very naughty.


elizabeth said...

This is such a profound post. And one I can appreciate even moreso being an avid Stephen King reader years ago. Yes, Pet Semetary is an apt analogy for the harsh truth that "reunion" can't bring our meant to be selves back to life. It is a brutal and sickening truth. At least for me. xoxo

ms. marginalia said...

Thanks, Liz, for the support. What we've lost is immense, and what we can recover is such a hollow version of what we might have had. Given that our natural families want us, that is. And even then, there are missteps and numbness.

I adore you.

Trish said...

That is a very profound analogy, and gives perspective to those of us who are not adoptees or part of first families. Thanks you for always sharing so openly,

shannon said...

I just finished reading "Her Fearful Symmetry" by Audrey Niffenegger - it touches on many of the themes you mentioned. If you haven't read it already, you might want to consider it.

ms. marginalia said...

Shannon: I looked up reviews of the book you mentioned and I admit I am at a loss to see the connection to adoption loss that you are drawing. Perhaps you can clarify it for me, having read the book yourself.

In the analogy my friend made to "Pet Sematary," she was thinking about the intense longing that someone has for a family member who is gone. Another example that comes to mind is that of "Wuthering Heights," with Catherine Earnshaw/Linton and Heathcliff (who were probably half-siblings with GSA, IMO). Heathcliff's grief at being separated from Cathy is so intense that the desire to cross the barrier of time and death consumes him, not unlike that of an adoptee wanting to be reunited with his or her natural family. And yet the fantasies of reunion can never be met by the realities.

The Publisher's Weekly review of "Her Fearful Symmetry" called the twins "incurious," which doesn't sound very obsessive at all. Being dead, and having a past that's dead, are quite different things. I would very much appreciate your feedback and clarification.

Third Mom said...

"We lose what we lose, and it's gone."

If it makes me as sad as it does, I can't begin to fathom how hard it is for those who live the loss.

Hard stuff.

L said...

I read that book and there is indeed an adoption/abandonment twist. Worst birth mother ever. Pure evil.
Besides that,the book is absolutely dreadful.