(Click on the following links to read the other parts of this series: Introduction, Part One, Part Two, Interlude, Part Three, Part Four)
I’d like to add the caveat I’ve added to the past few parts of this series: this is one story of adoption, my story. These are my thoughts, opinions, feelings about adoption, my adoption, based on my experience. I do not claim that my story is typical of all adoptions. We are a world full of unique and individual people, with unique and individual stories. This is my unique and individual story.
You’d think I’d remember the date my brother left home. It’s not every day that your adopted brother has his adoption reversed and is returning to live with his birth mother (see Part Four of this series for the entire story, if you’ve not been following along since the beginning).
I remember the date my father died: February 8, 1980. I remember that David boarded the plane to return to his birth mother later that year — September, October? It was either right before school was to start, or right before the second quarter of the school year was to start. The date had something to do with school. He was nine years old, and one did have to think about his schooling.
So, why can’t I remember the date?
I remember being at the airport. I remember the striped shirt he was wearing. I remember the flight attendant (stewardess, as they were called in those days) coming over to us, introducing herself to David, and walking him through the door, and down the jetway to the plane. I remember him turning around, about halfway down the jetway, to wave and smile at us, at mom and I. There’s a memory of a stuffed toy in his arms, but I won’t swear it.
I can remember standing there, next to my mom, and feeling dead inside. My father was gone — something that wasn’t supposed to happen in the natural order of things. I didn’t know of anyone my age, fourteen, who’d lost a father (at least, not then). My world was already upside-down. I was adopted into this family as a baby, and, five years later, my brother was adopted into the family as well. Suddenly, after a ten-month battle with brain cancer, my father was gone, our family was one-quarter gone. Now, here we were at the airport, and my family was now reduced by half — from four of us, to two of us. My brother, my adopted brother, was being sent back to where he came from.
I didn’t understand it at all.
That’s a lie. I understood that David had been a lot of trouble from the beginning, and that my mom, now locked in grief, anxiety, probably depression, had no idea how to deal with David on her own. Sending him to live with the woman who gave birth to him, who was married and who’d had other children since, seemed a good option — perhaps having a big family, with more siblings, with younger parents (his birth mother was twenty-five years younger than my mom’s fifty-six years). Maybe all those things would be good for David.
That was the hope. That is what I think my mother believed with all her heart in that moment at the airport as we watched David leave. I think she hoped for David what his birth mother had hoped for him when she’d sent him to live us when he was born: that he’d have a better home, that he’d be loved, that he’d be safe.
For me, it was the start of a lifetime of …. of what? Of fear. Of anxiety. Of isolation. Of more things than I can set down in words. In those moments, leading up to David’s departure, it dawned on me: I could be next. I could just as easily be sent away.
In a way, I was sent away — on my eighteenth birthday my mother threw me out of the house; I’d been late coming home from a job interview because the interview ran long. I missed the express bus, had to take the local bus, and was late. There were no cellphones in 1984. I couldn’t call. We were to go to dinner, to celebrate my birthday. My mom was convinced that I was having sex with a man, and that I thought having sex with a man was more important than celebrating my birthday with her, so, I should just go live with this man I was supposed to be having sex with.
There was no man.
I was gay. I’d told her — it was either a few weeks after dad died, or a few weeks after David left. I can’t remember that detail either. I can remember that she wouldn’t touch me, that she didn’t hug me again until after she found me on the streets, where I’d been wandering around for nearly twenty-four hours after she threw me out. She hugged me then, and brought me home.
I spent the years between David’s leaving, and my turning eighteen waiting for my turn to be unadopted. It seemed logical to my teenaged mind (because teenagers are known for their logic and astute insight into the workings of the world, right?) I didn’t take the time to mourn my losses — I cried the day my father died, standing there, next to his bed, watching him breathe his last, but I didn’t cry for him again until I was well into my twenties. I cried that day at the airport, watching David leave. But, I didn’t mourn for him until later, years later, when his life got even more troublesome. And, then I mourned him when he died five years ago. Mostly, I was too busy being afraid that my turn to leave was going to come.
I spent those four years, from fourteen to eighteen doing everything I could to push my mother’s limits. I can distinctly remember thinking that if she was going to send me away it was going to be for as many reasons as I could give her. I was angry. I was full of unexpressed grief. She was the one who was there to direct it at.
I started ditching school. I started having sex with men. She’d marched me into therapy the minute I told her I was gay, because it was just a phase, and she didn’t want anyone blaming her for my being gay — Mama’s boys, was the polite term for faggot back then, and my mother did not want anyone to think that she was the dominating mother who’d turned her son into a Mama’s Boy. The therapy didn’t work — the therapist never even tried to cure me.
She’d stopped hugging me, which, to me meant she’d stopped loving me. I couldn’t get her to talk about it. So, let her see me doing it, then she’d not be able to pretend it wasn’t true. I was good enough to not let her actually catch me having sex. She just caught me after it was done, and the man had to flee, out a window, to avoid her wrath.
She was my scapegoat. Every drop of grief, loss, fear, and confusionI had was directed at her. I ditched school more. I had more sex with men. I stopped going to school, dropped out, and just spent my days having sex with men.
When I was sixteen, I told her that I was no longer going to church. My mom, staunch Catholic, was devastated. First I was gay, then I’d dropped out of school (she was a teacher, and my decision stung), then I rejected religion. I would have left the church eventually, as I’d never felt any sort of feeling towards the whole thing — no matter how hard I tried, I never did find faith. But, I left the church early not just because it meant nothing to me, but because I knew it would wound her. As I write this paragraph, I realize that I spent my time rejecting everything she stood for. Maybe that was the point. If I reject all she believed in, then maybe it would be easier for her to reject me. There was a part of me that wanted to be sent away, because once I was sent away, I could stop worrying about when it was going to happen.
Do I blame her for throwing me out when I was eighteen? No. I’d been trying hard enough to provoke some sort of reaction, though I admit to being surprised when I got a reaction.
In many ways, my teenage rebellion is no different than many teenage rebellions, so I can’t, and don’t, blame it on being adopted. I don’t blame it on my mother — logically and rationally, at least. What she did, sending David away, was something she felt was the best decision for her and for David. I don’t think anyone thought about what it would do to me. It took away my sense of security, my sense of safety. I was already in a state of emotional turmoil, trying to come to terms with my father’s death, dealing with my own budding sexuality — something that was still Very Wrong back then; then the one unimaginable thing happened: my brother was unadopted. To use a well-worn metaphor, I went over the edge of the emotional cliff.
My mother and I were both locked in our own emotional vortex. We avoided each other when we could. We clashed when avoidance was impossible. She hated my being gay; I hated her for taking away my sense of safety and security. We were mean to each other during those years. I acted out, and she volleyed back with words like “fag” and “queer” and “whore”.
In those years I wished she’d never adopted me, and, I wonder if she didn’t feel the same. She’d questioned it before, years earlier. I was five or six, and was caught playing with a pair of my mom’s pantyhose (I had them on my head, holding them up, pretending they were a conical hat, imitating a picture I’d seen in a fable of some princess — the women of the court had on conical hats, with little veils at the top, one woman in the drawing had a hat that had two cones, almost horn-like, with a veil on each one — hence the pantyhose). My mother turned to my father and said “Oh my god! Do you think they sent us one of those kinds of boys? What if he is? Would we have to keep him?” I had no idea what kind of boy she was talking about, but, the part about keeping me I understood. I never touched the pantyhose again. So, she’d questioned the decision to adopt me once, I wouldn’t be surprised if she hadn’t questioned it again in those years. I certainly gave her reason to question her decision.
Those years ripped our souls apart. They very nearly destroyed us. I think some parts of us were permanently destroyed. Something held us together though — perhaps it was a fear that without the other, we’d each be alone. None of my parents blood-relatives lived here, though there were family friends who filled part of the gap. But, when it came down to that concept of family — the micro-definition of family, the Mother and Son definition, not the definition of Family Can Be Made Up Of Whomever You Surround Yourself With — but, the simple, basic family law of mother and son, it was clear: together we were a family; apart we were each alone, orphans. So, maybe it was that fear of aloneness that kept us together.
Maybe, just maybe…. it was something more. It’s entirely possible that love played a role.