Today I partook in an unanticipated bit of spring-cleaning. It started out as a straightforward cleaning of the kitchen and dining room. The kitchen was a snap, and I moved quickly to straightening and sorting the accumulated piles of papers on my dining table, which led me to the family computer desk and the massive pile of papers to be dealt with later. Later turned out to be today, and this led to cleaning out the single file drawer I have because there were a few papers I needed to file and not sufficient room to do so. In the end, I filled two kitchen garbage bags stuffed to the brim with shredded paper.
This little piece survived the massacre.
I pulled it from somewhere in or possibly behind the file drawer; it’s at least five years old. I was sorting quickly but my own handwriting caught my attention and the words at the top, I saw you, stopped the movement toward the shredder. I shifted it aside, into the file again pile before giving myself too much time to think about it. Finishing the job, I barked at my son when he asked a harmless question and ran away to my bathroom to hide and take it down a notch.
I’ve come back to my computer this evening and pulled it out of the slim file sitting by my open laptop. Surrounded by chocolate eggs, writing notebooks, scraps of papers I’ve scribbled on at work, my Ipod and other detritus of writing, it appears harmless. However, this hastily scribbled page requires a little bit of back-story.
I was adopted when I was two days old. I have seven siblings, also adopted. Of the eight of us, six were adopted at four months of age or younger, the other two were four years old and eight years old. We were purchased in two sets, the first four adopted in the early seventies, the second four in the early eighties.
Any discussion about adoption between siblings is a mixed bag of emotion best served with much laughter, tears, strong drinks and some crunchy comfort carbs. My mother’s death sixteen months ago has managed to both intensify and simultaneously free the discussion. You see, most of the stories revolve around her, as do the scribbles on this paper.
My sisters and I have spoken more than once about writing the truth about adoption, as we lived it. Partially in response to a novel, my father wrote, of the life he enjoyed which none of us recognized and partly in hope that somewhere there are adoptive parents that might read it and recognize the need to ask for professional help. What follows is a stream of consciousness, written after one such discussion. It’s harsh, hard for even me to read, almost feels like speaking evil of the dead. However, you see, sometimes it’s important that shameful things are spoken.
I saw you, banging a child’s head against a wall in rage and I learned that children aren’t safe in their own homes.
I heard you scream obscenities at your husband and slam doors in his face and learned anger is more powerful than sanity.
I watched you break a hairbrush over my brother’s head, a wooden spoon across his back and a yardstick across his bottom and learned that childish frivolity was bad.
We stood by as you smashed a stack of plates on the kitchen floor and then demanded we clean up the mess you blamed on us and I learned the truth didn’t matter if you were big.
You left my defenseless younger siblings at home with a known child molester and I learned that religion meant more than common sense.
My mother did her best in later years to make amends, in some cases, for things she could not even remember. In the months since her death, I have thought more and more of telling our story, the children’s story. It is a real story, with laughter and pain, joy and sorrow, suffering and release. It is not a re-telling of the highest peaks in a life but rather a diary of the slog through the ruts, across the rivers, up the hills and down again, with some pleasant stops along the way. Crossing paths with these scribbled thoughts, I am once again caught in the boiling river of memory, the fast moving water, some bits over my head, other shallow places and rocks to break against.
To be continued…