Thursday, May 26, 2016

Chapter 10: This Story Has a Beginning - One Year Later

It’s been just over a year now since I sent away for my original birth certificate, one full year of knowing for certain the truth of my adoption.  

On the surface of my life, not much as changed. I still look the same. I still act pretty much the same (I think). I still live in the same apartment in Chicago. Still single. I act in plays, I write, and I tell stories. I’m still surrounded by the best friends a guy could have. All of this was true for me a year ago and still is.

So one might ask… Do I regret anything? Has knowing the truth been good for me? Am I better off knowing? Or, as some might argue, should I have simply “left the past in the past?”  

I journal a lot, and so I can look at some of the things I wrote privately at that time, during the weeks between sending the request for my birth certificate and the day it arrived, to see where I was then. It both amazes and embarrasses me to see some of the things I wrote and how I was feeling then. I’ll share a few excerpts here.

The profanity has been deleted, but you can add it back as you see fit.  

On May 11, 2015 I wrote: “Am I wrong? Well, I'm going to find out. Because I just now found out that the law has changed in Ohio. So I am going to apply for my original birth certificate, and I am going to find out who I am and where I came from. And so what if I am wrong? The overwhelming evidence points to me being adopted. But even if I am wrong, I deserve to know. What’s the worst that could happen? I look foolish to others? To myself? It doesn’t matter. I need to know.

I now see that this feeling I have... this feeling of not knowing who I am, of not having the right to even ask, has pervaded my entire life. Whenever there is a discussion of heritage and ethnicity where people tell the stories of themselves, I always feel like I am faking it, as if I’m an imposter. It's not that I wish I wasn’t adopted. It's the fact that it’s a secret. A big secret that was kept from me. For 43 years, I was denied the dignity of knowing the truth. And I felt guilty and wrong for wanting to even ask.”

May 18, 2015:  “Last week, I sent a request to the Ohio Department of Health to see my adoption records, if they exist. I still add "if they exist" because until I have proof in my hands, all I have is just a feeling, a suspicion... I want to call it a deep knowing, but I still don't trust myself yet. In many ways I feel that this is a test. Can I trust my intuition?  Can I trust what I feel to be true?

Writing this out, I feel both crazy and, at the same time, amazed that I think I'm crazy. My whole history has been about doubting what i know to be true. I have never learned to trust myself, to trust my gut instinct and intuition. I’m trying to do that now.”

May 28, 2015 (The day after receiving my birth certificate):  “Tomorrow I will join the Adoption Network in Cleveland to find my birth mother. I will tell my sister what I know. I will tell everyone what I know. I am done with shame and done with the secrets. I am adopted. That is my truth now. Take it or leave it”

So... have things changed? I would say yes. There are some who say that the truth is a burden to be carried. But for me the heavier burden was the pretending, the faking, the avoiding. The truth has been a burden lifted. I am sometimes sadder knowing what I know, but I am lighter with the truth. I know who I am. I can look you in the eye and hold it just a moment longer than I once could. 

This past year has been one of sometimes painful and frustrating searching. But I have surprised myself with a newfound dogged determination that hadn’t previously known. With the help of others, and with a deeper spiritual well to draw from, I have tapped my reserves of patience and impatience, breaking through at the last moment, trying one last thing before I give up... That's new for me.

My desire to search will, on occasion, go into hiding. I can’t really explain this, but it hibernates, or rather cocoons, for a while, and I do other things. Times like these, I’d prefer to talk about anything but adoption. (Get me going, though, and even then I'll talk your ear off.)

But then something comes along... A quote, an article, a story from a fellow adoptee that gets me gets me angry, sad, or fills me with gratitude and love… sometimes all of it at once. I get stirred up. I’ll see a post on a private Facebook group of late discovery adoptees... some new members who just discovered, after 20, 30, 40, or 50 years, that the life they thought she knew and the people they thought they were turned out to be a lie. I can tell by their words that they are devastated, that they are writing to perfect strangers in the hopes of not feeling so crazy and alone. And then I get angry all over again, and I remember fresh the feelings of betrayal and loss and the total and complete sense of disorientation.   

But that’s okay, because these are no longer pointless emotions on an endless, internal, self-pitying loop. I can, if I choose, use them to push my fingers to type, to reach out and write a simple note. “Yes. I feel that way too. It’s okay. You’re not crazy. You’re not alone. “Because these are the simple words that can save us. I know this now because, yes, I am different and things have changed.

Or something else comes along… a complete surprise. Someone I never met, a classmate of my birth mother’s (Thanks, Rosalie!) sends me a photo, like the one I just received last week. And it all comes back... this desire to know and find what is left in this world of my mother, to gather more of the pieces of herself she left behind in the lives of those she knew.

Here she is at a party. The one wearing the cool cat glasses. Eighteen years old. The summer after high school. Five years before she had me. I see her smile… that shy, goofy smirk that is also mine, and it all wells up inside me again. The grief of losing her and of never knowing her. The gratitude that I am getting even this much, when one year ago I didn't even know her name. The anger that so many others cannot know their own stories, because they live in a state with backward laws. And then I get that goofy Judy smirk on my face too, and I'm happy just to see it. I feel these things, and I want to know more and do more and wake up again, because these feelings tell me that I am alive and that, yes, I am different and things have changed.

One year later, and a simple photo has the power to open me right up. I hope that never stops happening.

In this past year, too, I have allowed myself to further grieve my own father Norm, the man who raised me.  

I have learned that grief is not a one-size-fits-all process. Sometimes we are angry at those we grieve and we play out arguments in our minds that we can never have, let alone win. And then, at some point, we have to let them go. 

That my father lied to me about my adoption will always be a part of me. It will always color the way I remember him. I know that It will always make trusting people a little more difficult. That’s not to say I can’t or never will. But I have a guard up, a wariness and a reluctance to believe anything you tell me, hook,  line, and sinker. We all have our inner hurdles to overcome, and this is one of mine. Maybe that hard shell will actually serve me well someday in situations I haven’t encountered yet. But I’m learning to shed it when I need to. It is not a natural thing for me to let you in and believe what you tell me. I have to decide to do it. I have to take a leap of faith.  

On the plus side, I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting a lie. My BS detector is strong, so please folks, just don’t do it.

But this is also true: That my father rooted for me, supported me, and did his best to make me happy and teach me what he knew… that will always be a part of me as well. I still hear his voice when I am trying too hard to please others, working too hard for recognition, pushing myself too hard when I should rest.  “Slow down,” he says. “Take it easy. You’re doing just fine. If they don’t like it, that’s tough.” I also hear, "I love you, Kev." And I know that he did.

He was a good-hearted man who made mistakes. He wanted things to be true so badly that he made himself believe and thought he could make me believe too. What he didn’t know and what I wish I could have told him was that the truth would have brought us closer, not pushed me away. He lied because he was afraid. Can I truly say that I’ve never done the same? I can’t.

“You can be anything you set your mind to,” Dad used to tell me.  And here, I take exception and disagree, wishing we could have one last argument.  “No, Dad," I'd say. "You can only be who you are. But you have to know who that is, first. Then you can try like hell to be the best version of yourself that you can be." This I truly believe. 

But I know what he meant. So I'll let this one go... 

As I move into this next year, I still have more to find. Through DNA testing, research, and lots of help from the Adoption Network Cleveland, I may now have one of the strongest leads yet on my birth father's side of the family. For the longest time, I was not ready to go there. I recently read the biography of the late Steve Jobs, another adoptee, and about how he would go into the restaurant his birth father owned, eat a meal, and never once reveal that they were related. Steve knew. His birth father didn't. Part of me somehow understood his need keep distance. I can only imagine it was plain old fear. But to never once make contact? To be only a voyeur on someone's life and never break through? I know that I could never do that.  

I want to find him, if only to know, to make contact, and to let him know that I am okay. And if he is alive and somehow finds his way to this blog before we meet, I hope he knows that I will respect his wishes. His name will not be mentioned here unless he gives his blessing.

Maybe I needed this past year to get a little stronger, to go through what I had to go through, before I was ready to get here. This next step may be another dead end, another disappointment, perhaps even a rejection. But I know better how to deal with those too. As my new friend Kay, a woman from the Adoption Network who has helped me so much in my search, said: “Whatever happens, we’ll do this together.”  For me, there exist no finer words in the English language.

Yes, things have changed and I am different. I have grown and at the same time become more fully myself. I am doing my best to let that guard down one inch at a time. My life is filled now with those who make a habit of telling me the truth, challenging me to do the same, helping me get back up when I trip, which I do...quite a lot. It's a good life and one I wouldn't trade back for the world.    

Do I regret anything about opening this bag of fearful wonders one year ago?  No, I don't. Not one single thing.

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