In the early hours of the morning, shortly before waking, I dreamed I opened a trapdoor in a wooden floor and discovered a pulsing, hot ball of pain. I recoiled immediately, as if burned by fire. In my head I heard a voice saying "If you really want to heal, you are going to have to deal with this."
"Not now," I answered. "Not yet."
When people ask me when I learned that I was adopted, I usually answer that I've always known. Of course, I recognize that this is not true in a literal sense, but saying so was my way of explaining that my adoptive parents brought up the subject in a child-friendly way from such an early age that the fact of my adoption was woven seamlessly into my life's narrative. There was no shocking moment of discovery.
As is often the case with narrative, this story has elements of truth and elements of untruth. Today I must peel away the untruth.
Because here's what's underneath:
Because here's what's underneath:
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I do remember. I remember struggling to wrap my young mind around the idea that I had another mother -- an invisible mother, a faceless mother. A mother as inaccessible as the most distant galaxy. I might lean toward her, but I could never touch her. I was discovering her and losing her in the same moment. And in that one brief fragment of time, sadness and loss and confusion rose up. But the shapeless, wordless grief was not mine to keep. In the next instant I was given the replacement. Before the sadness even had time to settle through my body and register on my features let alone escape my lips, it was taken away.
My loving, well-meaning adoptive mother spoke the words she had been given by the adoption agency and the literature of the day, with the assurance that these words were all that was needed to make everything right. She told me that my other mother, the one whose belly I had been in, had loved me, but had simply been unable to take care of me. She told me that she and Daddy loved me -- as much, or possibly even more, than if I had been born from them. She gave me the word "adoption" and explained that it was simply a different way to become a family. Some kids were born into their families; others were adopted. It wasn't a significant difference or something we needed to think about much. The main thing was that I should always remember that I was wanted -- really wanted. She and Daddy had waited a long time for me; I was the answer to many prayers. She gave me the word "birthmother" for the other mother, the one who loved me but wasn't there. She assured me that all was well.
She was my mother and I trusted her, so I took what she gave me. I closed the trapdoor and placed the cheerful, colorful rug of her story on top of it.
She had no way of knowing how much I was losing in the exchange. She could not have known that this would be the moment when I would wall off an essential piece of myself and learn that my own feelings could not be trusted to guide me. She could not have guessed that I would judge my own emotional compass useless, tossing it aside and replacing it with a habit of looking to others for clues of how I should think and feel. And she would never really know of the disorienting numbness that would exist for years from that moment forward beneath the facade I presented, to the world and most especially to her.