I stink at acting. I'll stick to being compassionate instead.
Strive to Be Inauthentic!
My First Cousin (technically he's not, but he'll always be my Very First Cousin) was eager to help me. He's an elderly man in poor health, who needed the mental stimulation such a puzzle provided. He's been very encouraging, even as my moods have swung like a weather-vane in storm.
I'm one of the least emotional people you'll ever meet, although I'm self-aware enough to realize that for me this symptom is a sign of an underlying problem. But here I was obsessively combing through genealogies and bursting into tears at every photograph. I desperately wanted to know who these people were, what their stories told about them, and how their stories related to my stories. I craved the stories grownups swapped while visiting and told to the kids on the porch during long afternoons.
I cried the first time I spoke to First Cousin on the phone. It was the first time I'd heard the voice of a blood relation I hadn't given birth to.
But I'm still me, capable of burying myself in data to the exclusion of the outside world. So I was hard at work in trying to figure out my father's genealogy when my First Cousin emailed me that he had a possible lead on my mother, a young woman the right age at the right place in the right time and a promising genealogical match. I wrote back, "Great! I'm tracking down leads on the other end!" and went back to work.
Hours later the meaning behind his words hit me. I was a basket case for the next three days. Fortunately it was spring and I could pull weeds to my heart's content, as I wasn't fit for much else.
We narrowed it down to two good leads and a wild card. First Cousin made inquiries, but no one knew anything. A lot of interest was raised in me however. I became the hottest topic of gossip they'd had in ages, and my promise to show up at this fall's family reunion caused promises of attendance to jump.
I was just thrilled to get the invitation, but also amused on another level.
After my finances recovered from Ancestry's price tag, it was time to get the second of the Big 3 gene-matching tests, 23&Me. They're more science oriented instead of history oriented. First your Neanderthal percentage shows up (2.7%), then your cousins start to trickle in. Many of the same profiles were there, but I did find another cousin fifteen years older than I am who was also adopted and searching for her biological family. We've had a great time swapping stories.
Then one day there was a bright red link at the top of my cousins' list. It said "Close Relations". I clicked on it and a warning popped up. "Going any further might tell you things you don't want to know." Thanks, but that's what I signed up for. I clicked on it.
Up popped a name I'd never seen before, designated my "niece". Who, what? She had the exact same mitochondrial DNA as I do, indicating a close maternal relative. I looked up the alternate designations for a match that close: "grandchild, niece or nephew, double first cousin, or half-sibling". I double-checked my genealogy. The only one of those that made any sense in the given context was half-sibling.
Oh My God.
The first name was the same as the daughter of one of the two good leads. She must have married. I wrote her a quick, "Hi, let's get acquainted!" note. She didn't answer. Days went by. Okay, maybe she didn't check 23&Me that often. I set about trying to find another contact point for her.
Google came up with two women in America with her name, and one lived near her hometown and was the right age. I took a deep breath and called her up.
She'd never heard of 23&Me and had no idea what I was talking about.
After it sunk in that she was telling the truth, I put the phone down and tried to deal with my embarrassment and grief. Immediately I got a message from First Cousin that the woman I was looking for had moved to Canada.
First Cousin got the contact information, and introduced me as someone looking for genealogical information. She hadn't bothered to look at the genealogical information on 23&Me, just the health information. She didn't have a clue what our "close" relationship meant, so I said we could talk about other things and save that for later.
We spent a week and a half chatting intensively. Unbelievably, she has the same number of children the same ages as I do, has also homeschooled, lives in a similar town, and moved with her husband into a trailer that's the same make and almost the same model as ours, only wider.
Giving her time to adjust, not blurting everything out all at once, was a constant stress. Every time she commented on our resemblance I wracked my brains to come up with a neutral comment to make. It worked, but I burned five meals in a week from the strain. There's no way I could have done this in my younger days; I didn't have the patience or self-control.
Meantime, she friended me on Facebook, which gave me access to her journal. I read about her life, and her view of her mother. It's clear her mother -- our mother -- is troubled in certain ways. Becoming a birthmother is toxic to the soul, and she has every negative psychological symptom associated with repressing such a trauma. Reading about her troubles was like going down a checklist.
I'm saddened, but not surprised.
Finally she's ready to go over the findings. I break it down for her as simply and gently as I can, then point out that her mother's constellation of problems is associated with being an unacknowledged birthmother. I sent the email and sat back, hoping she believed me.
After she got over the shock, she called her parents. Her -- our -- mother confirmed the news, said she had told her husband-to-be when they met (they married shortly before my first birthday) but they hadn't told their children, said she was too traumatized by what had happened to remember much (not uncommon), but gave the name of my father.
So, all's mostly well on that front. My sister and I have had several long conversations. She's excited to finally have a sister at this late date, and grateful to know the cause of our mother's condition. Our mother isn't up to talking yet, but that's to be expected. It may be several months before she's ready. But I've been welcomed into the family and told her husband would not have objected to rearing me.
That is huge. It meant my childhood didn't have to be the way it was. There might have been someone around on the same wavelength as me. I didn't have to be alone. I probably would still have been an oddball, but not an alien.
There's also a severe grief associated with that fact, and anger. This is what I should have had; and a bunch of prissy, greedy, no-nothing busybodies took it away from me. It's going to take a while for that emotional constellation to settle out as well.
Without the trauma of relinquishment, my mother would doubtless be in better shape today. I don't know if she had problems beforehand, but that certainly didn't help any. Although even with problems she didn't do that bad rearing my brother and sister, so she wasn't incapacitated or anything.
Of course now other cousins are starting to "remember" the details they had "forgotten" earlier. Sheesh.
A few days ago I took a break from the constant emailing to give my feelings time to catch up. I guess I feel elated; it's hard to say with all the stirred-up muck my emotions have to traverse these days to make it to my consciousness. There's a few tons of shock, and the stress of having to adjust to new relationships. It's similar to becoming a stepmother, only to two different families at the same time and on top of enormous other strains.
I've felt emotionally overwhelmed before, but always with negative emotions. It's a numbness with barbs attached. I've always sneered at Pink Floyd's phrase, "comfortably numb"; there's nothing comfortable about feeling too worn out to hurt anymore. This is a numbness without barbs. There's some trepidation, but that's common with any new relationship. It will take time for everything to sort out, but I knew that going in.
I haven't mentioned that I was an abused child yet. I will have to keep that from my mother until she gets over the initial shock. I may have to keep it from her forever. Time will tell.
Meantime I feel strange. More solid, like I'm not about to float away in the first stiff breeze. There are people who look like me and to a certain extent think like me that I can compare notes with. That's new. I can now sort out what's unique to me and what I share with other people. I never really had that opportunity before, as what was unique to me then was "everything".
I'm working on approaching my father. I'll get back to you on that effort later.
The biggest thing that's happened locally took place about half an hour from here, right outside Philadelphia. Fifty years ago last Saturday night three civil rights workers were murdered in the cause of defending state's rights against those who would help the state's citizens register to vote. It's hard to find the exact spot these days. There's no marker.
It happened just down the road from the Neshoba County Fair, a teeny-tiny gated vacation community for second-tier rich people out in the middle of nowhere. It's not what you usually think of when you hear the words "county fair", more like a miniature Jackson's Hole (without the scenery) than an amusement park. You find it by looking for the tiny pastel houses enclosed in a huge, black iron fence. Sixteen years after the murders, Ronald Reagan would kick off his first Presidential campaign with a rousing speech defending state's rights. Not one word did he say about the blood spilled on the ground just beyond the gates.
I remember Mississippi folks being surprised, and quite a few of them disturbed, by that omission. Some people defended him, saying he was incompetent, not amoral. "He's an actor. He doesn't know the context."
It was 1980. The world did not yet know that Reagan was a supremely competent political campaigner who always knew the context.
But we would learn.
Last night they told me they were up to Victoria's witchcraft trial in the 18th Century. Seizing the opportunity, I said, "Those scenes are based on a play called The Crucible. It was written around the same time as The Mouse That Roared and was about the Salem Witch Trials. Let's read it next week when this sequence finishes so you can see how they're alike."
Whew! I thought The Crucible was going to be a harder sell than that!
They wanted to talk about their current book, Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class. They're up to the fashion chapter, which, alas, time has provided even more glaring examples of how conspicuous waste generates ugly clothes since Veblen's death than before the book was written. We talked about the similarity of purpose between Leisure Class and Darwin's Origin of the Species. I began pitching Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century as the modern update.
Not bad for the first part of the supper conversation.
Last week I snuck up on them with The Mouse That Roared, but that one didn't need ice cream. All I had to mention was some of the sillier plot twists and they were all over me to produce a copy.
It had been a few weeks since I was told that my results would be ready in a month and a half. I checked the site everyday, but the expectation of seeing anything had long since slumbered. I almost forgot to check that Saturday when I remembered it before running off to do some outdoor work.
I logged on to Ancestry.com, expecting to see the now-familiar white page with a tiny "come back later" notice. Instead I saw colors. There were greens, beige, browns, oranges, blues, pinks, blacks, and even a few tiny full color photographs. Some of the colors formed words, but I couldn't read them, too shocked to see that there was something -- quite a lot of something -- there at all.
The page was full. How could the page be full? My origin had always been a blank page, how could it be full?
How could there be enough to fill a page?
How could there be enough to fill a page and I not know any of it?
Slowly the words started to make sense. There was one word repeated over and over -- "cousin".
I had never had any cousins before who wanted to do anything with us. What the hell was a cousin anyway? At that moment I could not have told you the definition of the word if you had held a gun to my head.
My mind was completely blown. "Come here!" I shouted, "Come here!" But everyone was outside or playing video games on the other end of the house.
I scrolled to the end of the page. It said Page 1 -- of 168????!!!
I'd been told most adoptees were lucky to find a single third cousin, how could I have 168 pages worth?
It was too much. I retreated to the ethnicity page to calm down. That said British -- a little over half, some Iberian, tiny bits of Scandinavian and Irish -- what would be expected if my non-identifying information of "half English, half French-English" was correct.
So those evil wretches at the adoption agency had told the truth about one thing. Good to know.
I took a deep breath and went back to the match page.
The first one was a "first cousin/second cousin" match, and listed as being available to help others with genealogy. Brain go splodey time....
I stopped, pulled up a blank file, and began madly copying and collating. I had to make my own list in case someone took this one away from me.
Think that's irrational? Why? They did it once before.
I had one 1st-2cnd cousin, 1 2cnd-3rd cousin, 6 3rd-4th cousins, 86 4th-6th cousins, and page after page of possible (margin of error here) distant cousins.
I had to look; I couldn't stay still. I was leaping in and out of my seat like a Jack-in-the-box. My family finally joined me. I turned the computer over to my husband. I ran out of the house, craving fresh air, needing to move.
My five year-old ran after me. After a few yards I turned around and went back for his sake, but if he hadn't been there I don't know how long I would have wandered the roads in a daze. I wasn't sure I could look after myself at that moment, let alone him.
I got hugs from my husband. I went online and got moral support from sister adoptees. When my nerve was high and before it could crash again, for the first time in my life I got to emailing my cousins.
The first person I wrote turned out to be solid gold. A first-second cousin and an experienced genealogist willing to help newbies, he wasn't the least put off by my adoptee status but dove straight in to trying to help me find my roots. He has a huge tree for me to wander though. We speak to each other most days, and it's always a pleasure to hear from him.
The second one said he didn't know anything, don't bother him again. I believed that, until a few weeks later I found out that he is a noted genealogist for the other side of my family who has published a book on the family genealogy. I guess bastards don't count in his book.
The rest of the people fell in between. I spent most of the week just prowling around family trees, looking at photographs and learning stories. The photographs were a revelation. It took a while before I stopped crying whenever I saw one.
The next Friday I told my therapist what had happened. He asked me what I was feeling. I told him it was something big, but I couldn't put a name to it. It took the poor man an hour and fifteen minutes before I could bring myself to realize it was overwhelming joy.
I spent another week looking and learning stories. The family had been poor during the Depression, but they had done well for themselves since then, and many of them were now professional class people, lawyers and doctors. They were doing quite well for themselves. That tickled me after all the years of being told I wasn't good for anything.
Two Saturdays after my results came in the other shoe dropped. I woke up in the morning to find one of the analytical insights that I get in place of PTSD flashbacks waiting to slot into place:
They were doing good. They had some money, contacts, education. They had choices. That meant ditching the infant me wasn't a case of them being poor and not having choices.
They had choices. And having choices, they chose to throw me away.
The gentleman's agreement between my mind and my heart that we weren't going to to go there splintered into a thousand shards, and all of them pieced my soul. The pain hurt like nothing I'd ever dreamed of, like half my body had been sheared away and what was left was one giant aching wound. I wanted to scream, not just at the top of my lungs but with every cell in my body. I realized I had been screaming for a very long time and not letting myself hear me.
Bereft. I used to think I knew what the word meant, but I was wrong. Now I knew.
I didn't know why they threw me away. I didn't know the story. But it wasn't the easily forgivable one of being poor and having no options. I grieved for the termination of that possibility. I mourned the loss of the easy answer more than I had mourned any death save that of my son.
I had to go shopping that day. I walked around town with tears streaming down my face, babbling my story to complete strangers, too wrapped up in agony to care one whit.
But the thing I didn't say, the thing that if it had come out would have been screamed to the heavens so loud they'd have called the police, was, "What the Hell is the point of having resources if you can't keep your family together?"
IDK, maybe I'm betraying my lower-middle class upbringing here, but --- seriously? Nobody could have used those resources to figure out a way to at least keep me in the family?
They threw me away. They dumped me before they even had a chance to know me, before they gave me any sort of chance.
I'd been dumped in college. It was, "Well that stunk, but it's also an (unpleasant) learning opportunity. I need to find the part of me that's attracted to that sort of person and switch it off so this never happens again." And I did, and I'm a better person for doing that.
But we're talking about the primal connection between baby and mother, the foundation of our connection to humanity in general. You can't just switch that off without ended up a psychopath. Granted, that does explain why so many serial killers are adoptees, but I've no wish to go down that route. But leaving the connection open means continuing to hurt like -- there are no words for what its like.
But time has applied a local anesthetic to the wound. It usually doesn't hurt quite so much unless I do something like, oh, rake over the memories and try to write down what I'm feeling.
But better out than in. The unexamined thoughts and emotions were taking up an inordinate amount of my internal landscape. Getting them outside makes me feel - empty. But light. And I can feel thousands of hairline cracks in my psyche starting to heal.Which is good, because there were more challenges ahead. But give me time to recover from finishing this entry first.
Let's start with the basics, shall we? I found out I was a human being, homo sapiens sapiens (at least mostly, I haven't compared it with the non-human samples yet.) This actually was a concern for my younger self. There were no people around who looked or acted like me in my adopted family or in the society around us, and everyone was quick to point out how weird and alien I was. So what's a kid supposed to think? Where was the evidence I hadn't fallen off a UFO? I became sensitive to attempts to "other" me or anyone else.
My questionable humanity became a sore spot in adolescence. I played D&D in my teens and I noticed this huge disconnection between myself and some of the other players. A lot of players never, ever wanted to play a human character. They despised humanity. It disgusted them. For them, the whole point of playing D&D was to explore the possibility that they were not human. At least not wholly human, safe within the confines of a RPG game.
I stubbornly insisted on only playing characters who were 100% human, which caused a certain amount of consternation among the anti-human crew. Everyone else thought I was weird for playing D&D in the first place, and they thought I was weird for how I played D&D. There was nowhere I felt at home, nowhere I felt safe.
Looking back, I realize safety was the core issue. They were normal adolescents who felt confident enough in their own identity that they could start to take on and explore other identities. I wasn't. They knew where they had come from; I did not. They were secure enough in their humanity that they could reject it, but I always had this tiny doubt that maybe I really had fallen off Witch Mountain.
Of course they would have been highly insulted if anyone had pointed this out to them at the time. Daring to be different was strictly a sign of their own courage in the face of overwhelming social conformity, not of any underlying safety net.
And for some kids it was, but not for most of them.
Just like some teens had these huge fights with their parents over reasons that seemed oh-so-important to them at the time but other people could plainly tell were mainly because they felt confident enough in their parents' unconditional love that they knew they weren't going to be kicked out of the house for it. I obsessed day and night over telling my abusive adoptive parents off, and day and night I reminded myself that I had nowhere else to go and no way to survive on my own.
I secretly seethed at both groups. It made me furious that they could get away with doing things like that because they had a safety net and I did not. I couldn't even tell other people how precarious my own safety was without potentially making the situation worse by calling attention to it.
And that was the real problem, not the other kids.
So anyway, I 'm glad to have actual confirmation that I really am a human being. But that wasn't my first thought when I saw my DNA matches. It wasn't even my hundredth or thousandth thought.
My first thought was utter and complete mindblowing shock.
To be continued....