Sunday, April 12, 2020


It's been quite some time since I have felt able to write anything at all.

It isn't that I've lacked ideas. They've been elusive phantoms, arriving and then disappearing without taking form. They've visited me while I drive, or take walks, but then when I sit down with a pen or at the keyboard, they're gone. It's been odd.

I grew up writing. So much of me is based in my intimate relationship to words.

I believe part of this long break was due to compound trauma. Five years ago I joined a writing group with disastrous results, around the same time that my father's family disinherited me. In the writing group I chose to revisit parts of my failed reunion. When I put what I had on the table, my readers reacted violently, intensely, and negatively. People didn't want to read what I had written so much as project their feelings about it with a fury. They had a need to contain me, and to tell me what they felt adoptees should think and say. They asked me inappropriate questions that left me speechless, such as "Did your parents force you to live under the stairs like Harry Potter?" and "I want to write what your birth mother's experience is." I didn't write a single word about being abused by my adoptive parents. I wasn't writing about my childhood, nor is it my job to write about my birth mother's experience, except tangentially. More than one respondent asked, "Why do you feel the need to hunt her down?" I wasn't "hunting" anyone down. I wasn't a predator. I was a human being, but I wasn't seen or treated as such. Even worse, the moderator of the group--I believe because she was conflict averse--didn't step in to moderate. She even suggested that my story needed a content warning. Why? To create an atmosphere of expectation that my life is horrific? There was nothing in my story that required a content warning. As I said to all of them, "People cannot handle anything that questions the Cult of Mother Love." I had no stomach to continue sharing.

As far as reunion with my father's family went, up to that moment, things had been fairly pleasant. Some people were more open to me than others, and I accepted that. Then my grandmother died. I was heartbroken but happily surprised to be included in the obituaries. A month later, I received a phone call asking me to sign away my claim to my father's part of the inheritance; I agreed readily. I had never wanted anything financial fro reunion, and when I had met them I said as much. Then I received an e-mail from my aunts, which was cold and full of excuses as to why I didn't deserve my father's share. I wish they had left things with our phone call, but my sense is that one aunt, one in particular who had never wanted me around, needed to make it patently clear how much she didn't want me to have anything. The e-mail said that I didn't deserve the money because I wasn't around for my grandmother's life. Consider for a moment the emotional knife that was. Did I choose not to be around for my grandmother? How was that in my control, as a baby given away? My aunt insinuated that I had abandoned my grandmother. The e-mail also insinuated that I had found a way to worm my way into my grandmother's life and change the will before I had even met her. How was that possible? How horrid and rude could my aunt be? I had gladly agreed to sign away my part. Telling me that I didn't deserve it because I am not family; why? Why say it? Why say that I was a petty thief? I immediately called one of my other aunts, in tears, telling her how much the message in the e-mail hurt me. She pulled me up short, saying that I was ungrateful. WHAT? Ungrateful for signing away my inheritance? Excuse me? She said I was ungrateful because they had given me so many things already. Ok. Photographs. A mug. Two pieces of jewelry that clearly they didn't want. What part of this was a hardship for them? What part of this was a sacrifice? None of it. All the sacrifice clearly had to be mine. The line was drawn. It was clear. From that moment on, a door closed in my heart. It was too late.

I refused to be grateful for being alive, what happened to me that was beyond my control, or for scraps.

Then I was on holiday with my husband and children. My aunts were clamoring for me to sign the papers. I was out of the country, but clearly only they were allowed to travel and enjoy life. When I returned, I found out that the court date to disinherit me was MY BIRTHDAY. I cried again.

I decided to sit on the papers until after my birthday; it was too much to be disinherited on that particular day. I signed the papers April 28th, sent them off, and then I cut ties with people who clearly didn't care for me at all. It was emotionally liberating.

Do I wish these events had better outcomes? Do I think things might have been different if my father were living? Yes, of course. I am left to live with ghosts. That's my curse. I refuse, however, to allow others demand that I conform to their idea of how a "good" adoptee behaves.

I have spent the past five years thinking about how and why people demand particular things of adoptees; why some adoptees feel that they must conform or get stuck in a loop of needing constant affirmation from inaccessible resources; and how society is structured to maintain a painful, layered hegemony that people don't even recognize is present. I have also seen a strange phenomenon of people who claim the mantle/identity of "adoptee" without substantiating it. Being an adoptee is rather like inhabiting a role outside the human world. We aren't treated as human beings. People fetishize adoptees as well as abuse us. Adoptee status is a way of being an outsider whose membership is loose, and questions about it can be conveniently explained or batted away. It's confounding that people would want to claim to be adoptees, but people do many otherwise inexplicable things. Performing allegiance with people who struggle is an alluring prospect for some.

It leads me back again to fairy tales. In many ways, I believe adoption represents a ghostly, ghoulish outgrowth of some of society's worst fears, like those recorded by the Brothers Grimm and others. That might also explain part of people's attraction and desire to play roles in what they see as drama, rather than lived reality. This is a complex set of thoughts I need to assemble in a more sophisticated manner, but I am excited about where it will go. I have more ghosts to meet.

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