Wednesday, March 14, 2012


After having spent the majority of the past 30 years trying to be happy without being able to trust happiness, it's a difficult adjustment to make. I didn't like myself, and I didn't trust that people would be there for me. I wasn't wrong; by and large, the people around me, even if they did love me, were reliable in being unreliable (my aparents and a few friends being notable exceptions).

Looking back, it's no wonder that I always felt slightly (or more profoundly) off-balance. No wonder that I sought refuge in my head, in books, in museums, in music, in film: anywhere that people couldn't really get to me. I see now that I consciously--and unconsciously, to some extent--surrounded myself by people who would continue to treat me in the way to which I had become accustomed. Then I would hang on for dear life, because I am not the kind of person to let go. Dysfunctional was all I knew!

Ruminating on my mistrust of happiness, I was struck by two quotations this week.

W.B. Yeats on J.M. Synge: "Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through many periods of joy."

Jeanette Winterson: "Pursuing happiness, and I did, and I still do, is not at all as being happy--which I think is fleeting, dependent on circumstances, and a bit bovine."

Like Synge, I believe I spent most of my life up to this point more comfortable being a tragic figure. It's what I lived. My experiences reinforced this, although it wasn't what I would have chosen for myself, and it wasn't what I wanted, to be sure. It was the palimpsest of rejection. I would have given anything to rewrite it, but somehow I consistently ended up with the same message of not belonging, of not being enough. I don't think it was self-fulfilling prophecy, although I cannot fully say there wasn't a component of that. Still, the ache was intense, and every time I thought I had found my place, I was wrong.

I would also, like Winterson, see people who were perpetually happy, or at least claimed perpetual happiness, as rather cow-like, unable to admit that there are other experiences, other views, other ways to think about things. Defensive, even: "Someday, you'll be as happy as I AMMMMMMM!" Without critical perspective, without passage, the moment of happiness doesn't mean much to me. As Winterson goes on to say:

What you are pursuing is meaning--a meaningful life. There's the hap--the fate, the draw that is yours, and it isn't fixed, but changing the course of the stream, or dealing new cards, whatever metaphor you want to use--that's going to take a lot of energy. There are times when it will go so wrong that you will barely be alive, and times when you realise that being barely alive on your own terms, is better than living a bloated half-life on someone else's terms. 

Winterson writes from the point of view of an adoptee, in her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? An adoptee friend IRL pointed me to this brilliant book in the past week, and Winterson's words have meant the world to me. They provide clarity and strength; they validate what I have been trying to come to terms with since my reunion. 

When my family told me that I was brave, I wasn't brave so much as living by my own terms, as I've always done. It was better to follow my heart, and to barely be alive at times, than to live in a haze and pretend to be what I wasn't. I stink at pretending. E, my amom, has had to coach me more times in my life than I can recall for not wearing appropriate masks with Powers That Be. I used to be unable to hide contempt. I lacked a poker face. I either liked you, or I didn't, and you would know. I can play a great game now, of course, but I always hated doing so as a child. Of course, I could always read game-playing a thousand miles away in others. If you try to play games with me, I know it. Don't try to pretty it up with words. Don't tell me you love me. Show me. I could overlook transgressions in boyfriends and friends and other loved ones, but I knew, I always knew when they were pulling away. 

Now that I am in a solid place with my first family, and I have greater, and perhaps calmer, perspective on my life, I feel as though a missing part of myself has been replaced. I am rooted. I am loved. It's not work just to live. 

My brother and his family spent the past weekend with me, and it was long overdue. I love him with all my heart, and I am so relieved to have all that went before put away. I will lose no more to the demon of adoption. A and I are learning about each other, and each new shared thing is precious to me. I love taking care of him, I love finding out about his childhood, his friends, his passions.  We are so much alike. We will be together in San Diego in May, in Hawaii in July, and in Indiana for Thanksgiving. Every time he calls me "Sister," my heart melts.

Every new day on this path brings fresh knowledge; this is the meaning of life that Winterson describes, I believe. I don't have to fight to be seen anymore. I am loved just for being me. How glad I am that I persevered. 

Being home is worth all the pain that went before.