I’ve never really told the beginning of my adoption story. I’m not sure exactly why I’ve felt so reluctant to try to write it down. Perhaps, I’m still struggling to get some grasp of it myself and always felt unable to find some definitive place from which to begin. It’s still hazy and full of holes. What if I wrote the beginning of my story as I knew it, only to find out later that I was wrong? I didn’t want to speculate or lead others to speculate until I had my dad’s side of the story. After thinking about it, I feel the need to write down my thoughts at this point. This is the beginning that I’ve been asked to accept though it was never spoken out loud or asked of me directly. Besides that, people including myself will speculate anyway.
As I pick my own brain apart for memories, I remember bits and pieces gathered from my initial, timid inquiries into the circumstances of my adoption. When I was a little girl, I found my green card in my mother’s purse. I recognized myself in the photo and asked her what it was. “You’re adopted,” she said matter of factly. I didn’t really understand what that meant. True understanding didn’t really come until I was in elementary school. Even then, I probably avoided the issue myself and tried not to think too much about what my adoption REALLY meant beyond genetics. No matter how much I tried to pretend in my own mind that it didn’t really matter, reminders of how much it did matter always popped up in both expected and unexpected places.
I remember my mother telling my brothers their birth stories. She would tell these stories just as I tell my own children of their births. She tried to create a beginning for me, but seemed unable to decide on where it was that I began. There was never any mention of my birth mother, whether she was alive or dead, whether I was abandoned, given up or taken. It was as if she’d never existed and I’d been conjured up out of thin air. I would stare in the mirror, searching for her face and wonder if I looked like her. I still do and sometimes I still cry when I think of her and hope somehow she knows that I haven’t forgotten. I remember lying awake at night as a child. I was so angry with her but sometimes I’d ask God to let her know that it didn’t matter why she’d left. I’d forgive her anything if she’d just come back. Of course, children adjust and move on. I went about life like any child except there was always something that pulled at me from some empty place within myself.
Once, my mother told me that they’d already had two birth sons but wanted a daughter. My mom didn’t want to go through another pregnancy and so they opted for adoption. She said that my dad had been serving his first tour in Vietnam at the time. He found me in an orphanage and began adoption proceedings. She said he had then signed up for a second tour to complete proceedings and bring me back with him. Being a little girl, I accepted this without question. It wasn’t until I was older that this story began to make less sense and brought an unlimited number questions to mind. It was so full of holes and left me nothing really tangible to build upon. All I had were my adoption papers and this strange tale on which to base my beginnings.
My adoptive parents divorced shortly after I arrived. My earliest memory is of one of my aunts trying to feed me from one of two jars of baby food. I was sitting in a high chair and refused to eat it. I wanted the other one. This memory is from very early in my childhood and I have no memories of my dad ever living with us. Why did he leave so soon after bringing me home? To some degree, it made me feel twice abandoned but more importantly, it didn’t make any sense. I think I lost trust in my parents after realizing too much was being left unsaid. It wasn’t really a conscious feeling of distrust, I just never asked again and pretty much disregarded anything else they might have said about my adoption. I also had this suspicion that my mother either didn’t know the whole story or didn’t want to tell me. It seemed the key to that secret door was held by my dad alone and he was practically a stranger. I’m not really sure anymore. Thinking of my adoption stirred up a strange brew of guilt, shame, gratitude, resentment and embarrassment. While all this was going on, there were the other things like racism and alienation to deal with. I think at the time, I needed that thick wall of denial and anger to keep myself from collapsing altogether.
I went to live with my dad after my mother could no longer take my rebellious behavior. I can’t say I really blame her. I was so angry and felt so alone. I grew up feeling as if I’d been bitch-slapped by life over and over again and no one seemed to “get it”. How could they? How could anyone understand something I didn’t understand myself? Even after moving in with my dad, I kept silent. I actually avoided the subject altogether. If he mentioned either Vietnam or my adoption, my brain would shut down and I’d retreat as far inward as I could manage. I wasn’t even sure if I could trust that he was telling me the truth or just something he knew I wanted to hear. It’s like feeling trapped in a corner and all you can think about is getting out. It doesn’t matter where. You just want to move on. The key to the secret room dangled in front of me all those years ago. By then, it would have been too much to bear. As with so much else concerning my adoption, I looked at it with such longing…and then swallowed it.