Sunday, December 02, 2018

The Long Haul

I was raised an only child in my adoptive family. I always knew I probably had siblings out there, but I didn't know how many or who they were.

Nine and a half years ago, I finally found out who my mother was, and in discovering that, I found that she had a son who she had kept and raised. He is almost exactly five years younger than I am. I was thrilled for a number of reasons, mostly because he seemed to be so much like me.

He has two doctorates. He is incredibly intelligent and driven. At first I was very nervous, thinking I couldn't live up to what he had accomplished, but I realized that what I do is different. My doctorate is something else, in a different field, but we match each other in many ways.

As we got to know each other--and it was difficult, given the crossfire and doubt of a mother who didn't want us to have a relationship at all--it became clear that not only were we similar intellectually, we have the same emotional structure. We are people pleasers. We doubt ourselves. We bend over backwards to make everyone else happy at our own expense: all this, and we weren't raised in the same family. We are anxious and nervous. We are perfectionists. We are harsh on ourselves. We love reading. He lives to research and publish. I--well--I have published, although I give up on myself more easily. I would say that we are both passionate about our fields.

From the start, he was committed to knowing me, and I felt welcomed and loved. But even given his commitment, it wasn't easy.

Then came the fall; it was hard and precipitous. It came because our mother demanded it, and he was raised to please her. For anyone who knows adoption, it was the same old story, the same puppeteer pulling the strings.

I don't excuse the way my brother treated me. It was terrible. Awful. I don't want to catalogue the ways in which I felt abandoned; it happened more than once over a number of years. Friends of mine saw me plummet to the bottom of a dark abyss, almost to extinguish myself. They asked me again and again, "Why do you love him? Why do you keep trying?"

I really didn't have a good answer. At one point, I had to shut the door on any relationship. I chose myself because I was worth more than I was receiving. I refused to speak to my brother for almost three years because I didn't want to be an afterthought. I wanted to be his sister.

I probably wouldn't have opened the door to my brother again if I hadn't been contacted by a surprise sister. Yes, our mother had another baby that neither my brother nor I knew about because...why would our mother tell the truth about anything?

When our sister contacted me, I was shocked and had the breath knocked out of me. What? How could it be that our mother lied about having another secret child? Oh, wait: it's our mother. It seemed unfathomable that she could have gone through two hidden pregnancies in college and done this twice, but, yeah.

I contacted my brother after these three years of silence and told him about our sister. He said immediately, "I don't even care right now that we have another sister. I am so happy that we are speaking again. Also, now you know how it feels." It's crazy to be blindsided by someone else's secrets and lies. It really is.

After this explosive event, my brother and I have worked to reconnect. Over the years, I was explicit about what I wanted and needed, and he has taken it to heart. He responds to me in real time. He is available to me. He listens. He opens up. He wants to be present, and he is. For all my saying people don't change, it's not true. It's that people don't change unless they commit to changing. They have to want to meet you halfway.

I know people who have siblings (like my husband) who aren't close to them at all. I understand that blood doesn't mean people are similar or share interests. My brother and I aren't alike in what we do or care about, although we both work in the medical arena, but we listen to each other and understand being sensitive and have a good sense of humor about what we both lack.

From the first time I met him, nearly nine years ago in December of 2009, I knew that we were on the same page. I knew that building a lasting relationship would be difficult. I trusted him, and he let me down. More than once. Now, though, I think we are in it for the long haul. I am at least willing to try.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Optimism--or--What the Hell Was I Thinking?

Why do I seek out the attention of people who can never and will never be present for me?

Why is feeling unsettled both comfortable and excruciating?

Rhetorical questions: I know the answer. It's long and complicated. Yet here I am, again.

I love to be hopeful. I have been hopeful for years. I have given people I love incredible amounts of leeway. I was told by a therapist once to see these people as rubber bands; they stretch and return (maybe). I always want to see the best in people I love. I forever want to imagine my friends being their happiest selves and also sharing their joys and sadnesses with me.

Recently I have counseled friends around me, stuck in their grooves, wanting things that will never happen; they are chasing ghost relationships. I see what they are doing, and I gently remind them not to put energy into things that cannot change. At the same time, I know that I do it, too.

The terrible truth is that I see things that aren't there. I ignore the uneasiness in my gut and tell myself this time will be different. I end up in murky pools of self-loathing because I desperately want to perceive things just so. I also think I pursue people who give me crumbs, feed me half-truths, and lead me along to suit themselves because their inconstancy is weirdly seductive. What they tell me is true, but only up to a point. When I press them about what they mean, they generally evade my questions or dissemble. I know that they aren't telling me the truth, but I look past that and accept whatever partial shiny bits I like.

The most painful thing is that these situations are all very predictable. I am 49. I have been here many times. I could be a contender in the Olympics of reading narcissistic people.

I know that in all honesty, I set myself up. I blame myself harshly for this, but what I should do--and am doing--is to change my behavior. That's all I can do. The reality is that these are people who aren't meant to be in my life. I am finally accepting that. I have slowly cut them out, one by one, until there was one left, one dogged remainder. And now that is over. I am both hurt and relieved.

I remember long ago, when I first met my husband. I was heartsore and bruised. I had been with a man who didn't make me a priority. Just didn't. He loved me, but I wasn't even in the top three important things in his life, or if I was, I didn't feel it. I said so again and again. Finally we broke up, which was for the better, although I have always missed his wit and intelligence.

Anyway, not long after that I met my husband. He is steadfast, if nothing else. He always shows up. I remember maybe three weeks into dating, one long ago July, he asked me to go on a rafting trip with him that following September. I thought, "What? How can you be certain you still want to be with me seven weeks from now?" I asked my friends what to do, and if this was normal. They said it was, if we liked each other. I had no experience of this, really, because I had always been with men who were incredibly emotionally absent and selfish and barely thought past the next day.

So my now-husband called every day. He made room for me in his life. Really made room. He has issues, big ones, like being Prussian and throwing me under the bus with his mother, on top of many other things I don't wish to catalogue in public (I am not perfect, so I am not finger pointing here). But I could count on him, and 21 years later, he may drive me insane, but he still shows up. He doesn't make excuses; things will happen or they won't happen, but he is always upfront about it. Our relationship is messy on many levels, but he is reliable. That matters to me. That isn't to say there aren't huge holes in my life. There are. That said, no matter how much we fight, no matter how awful it gets, he is present--at least to talk when I am vulnerable.

All this to say that last night, I felt like Charlie Brown with Lucy, when when she pulls away the football. That's exactly it: people don't change. It's incredibly hard for me to trust people; it's hard for me to accept I am not a priority when I care about them, but c'est la vie. It's hard for me to be put away in a box, but if I am, that means it is truly time to close the door. When someone says, "Got to go, bye, see ya later!" and they don't come back, take them at their word. The first time. And don't go after them.

Part of my willingness to go after people who clearly don't make me a priority has to be related to being left at the hospital that one time. It sucks having to be the one to love myself enough to mend that, but that's the plan.

I think again to dear Charles Trenet and "Que reste-t-il de nos amours." Sometimes things should remain memories. I can't bear anymore souvenirs qui me poursuit sans cesse.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Trials of NAAM

I feel that for many adoptees, National Adoption (Awareness) month is like running a painful obstacle course.

November is terrible. I always feel myself sliding down in October, and then I remember, "Oh, fucking NAAM."

I have felt suicidal in November more times than I can count. It's not a lucky month for me, although my father loved the number 11 and I do feel him with me. Thank goodness this year I have been on my anti-depressants for a long time now; the dent in me is palpable, but I am not going down, not this time.

I have been in too many fruitless, annoying conversations with adoptive parents who told me that I am better off dead, on the street, or back in a fictional orphanage; with birth parents who wrote over my story, MY STORY, to tell me that I need to think about how my mother felt (uh, no, adoptees do get a turn, and it's not my job to talk about you); and from adoptees who are all over the place: specifically, telling others that "negativity" (however one defines that) "ruins" adoptions for others, or telling me that asking questions was uncalled for when they backed a pro-adoptive parenting award. I said, "Is it wise to time this award during NAAM when adoptee voices are already the least heard?" The response "It's unwise to question things that are already in motion," I think is the paraphrase, which makes no sense at all.

No, I won't be silent. No, I won't tell you that it's all right. No, I won't agree to disagree when you are abusive and wrong. If you want to get into the ring, be prepared. As a friend told me not long ago, I give as good as I get, so don't think I will bend to your discombobulated rudeness.

I was thinking about times in the past when civilians have said shocking and appalling things to me about my being an adoptee. Not everyone is an asshole, but many are.

My mother-in-law, that demon on earth, told me that she couldn't understand how my parents would bring me into their home: I was like an animal from the pound with unknown pedigree, and what if I turned out to be JEWISH? Um Gottes Willen. She died before I found out that I am Jewish, but also a descendant of Prince Metternich. My great-grandmother grew up in the family castle in Koblenz. I am not sure which of these I would more have enjoyed throwing in her face. Sadly, one can't properly enjoy Schadenfreude when your opponent is deceased.

I had someone I like tell me last night, in all naivety, that he likes it when people can have a sense of humor, and isn't it funny when siblings in families say "You're adopted!" to be mean. Is it funny? I guess, maybe to civilians. I refrained from saying anything, but there it lay between us. Adoptees are  funny. Ha. So funny. At times it is refreshing to see people with their masks and gloves off as a reminder of how society sees us. We are disposable jokes, no getting around it.

Then there is the memory I can't shake, the one that was so over the top that even I, with the thin skin of an adoptee, knows was a blast from some unmoored place inside the person who made the comments. It made no sense at all. It was beyond tone-policing to near insanity.

"What was your adoptive family like? How did your upbringing with your adoptive family not fit who you are? This information would give more meaning to the intro paragraphs. How lost, alone, foreign, are you in your life so far, that would propel you to pursue your birth mom like that? Even little glimpses into memories would help to draw the reader into your predicament. Were you emotionally abused? Physically? Did they put you in a cupboard under the stairs like Harry Potter?

The recognition that birth moms give two precious gifts to their adopted out children...First, the ultimate gift, the gift of LIFE. Second, the gift of self-awareness that for whatever reasons, they are incapable of giving a child the love and care they need, so they let them go, in hopes of a better life. Wow. Just wow. This recognition is a piece that feels missing from your story. 

The glimpses you reveal about [your mother's] past are important. Hiding the pregnancy, wearing a girdle, drunk at a party. I want more of this, and I want a more compassionate exploration of her experience. Was she raped? Was she living at home, hiding her growing belly from her parents, or from her dorm-mates or sorority sisters? This seems to me to be heroic, and I feel these details are tossed off in an almost dismissive way because you are so angry. I really think that your idea of writing from [your mother’s] perspective would be a very valuable next step. To dive into the story of your pregnancy and her decision to carry you although she could not keep you. To heal.

I hope you aren't offended by these comments."

Seriously? SERIOUSLY? More about my mother, and BE NICE and HEAL? Well, you can imagine that I didn't take this non-criticism passively. I don't have time for this kind of garbage, self-indulgent, emotional reaction. People say, "Oh, but you have to teach, to educate." At what price? Maybe before people make sweeping judgments about adoptees' lives and writ awful things about us, they could take stock of their own reactions and feelings--but somehow I doubt that will happen anytime soon. Humans are imperfect, and in general so unthinking and in love with themselves.

Fear, insecurity, and narcissism make for bad companions, and NAAM sure brings them out of the woodwork.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


How does one return? Can one?

I am not quite certain. I don't believe that one can ever truly come home.

Like Odysseus, I am forever an exile.

I am bringing back my blog, at least as a trial run. We shall see.

I have returned to it as a visitor. I reread some of the posts. Before I went live, I considered editing some of what I wrote all those years before to make things easier for the people I included. Then I decided not to edit. This is my truth. I love the people I wrote about. They know I do. Life is messy.

Allowing that ambiguity to hold me is a new sensation; it's not fear or panic. I own the ripples. I own not seeing all the patterns; I won't annotate; I won't explicate. I live.

I am here.