Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Losing Myself Around Others

Amazing how many "personal issues" are related to being adopted (which I will explain in next post). Like this one: Losing sense of myself around certain people. Strong people. You know the type. The kind who take up a big space. Doesn’t matter if they are 5'1" or 98 pounds. Sometimes they talk a lot. Have strong opinions. They aren’t afraid to tell you they are right and you are wrong. Or maybe they are the strong, quiet type. The kind who specialize in disapproving glances and withering silences. Whichever. When confronted with an uber personality, I feel myself fading. The edges blurring. Subsumed.

It happened just last weekend with a relative of the in-law variety. One of those strong women who have even stronger likes and dislikes. German cars are the best. Organic is the way to go. Discount shopping is for slobs and poor people. Most workers (dry cleaners, handymen, gardeners) are incompetent. Which, of course, is nonsense. But instead of my position and self solidifying in the face of such an inflexible world view, I’m pulled into her energy field where I swirl around. Lost. I allow myself to be pommeled by the onslaught of the uber personality.

Except this time, I am aware that it’s happening. It takes 48 hours to "get back to myself." I finally grow tired of listening to her go on and on. With great effort, I sternly remind myself of my values. I like cars that are solid and a good value. Organic isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. I love discount shopping and hate paying full price. And, dear relative, I’d be more impressed if you took me to a great bookstore instead of dragging me to Escada. By the time we say good-bye, I have regained my edges, my boundaries, myself. I don’t like this feeling. This losing myself around certain people.

It isn’t the first time it’s happened. It’s something I’ve experienced throughout my life. It’s not the other person’s fault. They are who they are. But my reaction is strange. Off. Being "subsumed" is exhausting. Uncomfortable. I have finally outgrown this "issue." Where does it come from? I vow to figure it out.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Father's Day Blues

Three Weeks After Connecting With Birth Mother & Family:

It is Father’s Day. The day we honor the man who raised us. This Sunday brings its special challenges. My adoptive father calls my husband at 6:45 a.m. to wish him well. This is new. Not the calling, but the hour he phones. Before dementia, he never would have done such a thing. What is not new is that as soon as the obligatory "Happy Father’s Day" is uttered, he immediately moves on to more important matters. Himself.

Him. Him. Him. Every day is Father’s Day in his world. A world in which his only daughter listens and nods and reassures and promises to make that phone call to fix things. The problem, this year, is that he suffers even more greatly by comparison to my birth mother and family.

Comparisons are impossible to avoid. A whining father, with the social skills of a kindergartner, is going to look and sound even worse after talking with a calm, reflective, no-nonsense birth mother. Did I say regret is a non-productive emotion? It is. Yet, it’s my companion on this Father’s Day. Regret threatening to slide into anger. At whom? My birth mother for failing to hold on despite her awful circumstances way back then? A new target is beginning to emerge, like prey in the mist. The system. The social worker. Whichever brilliant person who interviewed my father and didn’t see what everybody else has always extremely odd man who presents himself to the world as a Walking Talking Living Example of the Narcissistic Wound. My adoptive father is old and sick.

How terrible to feel resentment instead of sympathy. Frustration instead of love. Anxiety instead of patience. And the guilt. Guilt that I have never loved my adoptive father. Guilt that I’ve always wanted to escape. Guilt that I should at least be grateful. There is no well-spring of fond memories to tap. The well is dry. Has always been dry.

And on this Father’s Day, what of my birth father? My birth mother says she can’t remember his last name although she knew him for about a year. This man she says I so much resembled at my birth, whose features and hair color were his. Is this possible? She talks about him willingly enough, but his last name is elusive. My birth mother is elderly. Maybe she can’t remember. Maybe she doesn’t want to.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Anger Resurrected: Memoir Part 2

The universe dials back to normal. I go about my life. My life. All mine. My husband. My children. My house. My things. My opinions, my books, my favorite T.V. shows. The sum of my adult years.

Our house seems bigger without my father in it. It’s quieter, too. My husband says it’s much less entertaining. He actually likes my adoptive dad. Not many people do. Somehow, my husband can see beyond the quirks and into the damaged person inside. My husband also greatly respects my father, this man born in East Los Angeles to a poor seamstress and her alcoholic, abusive husband who beat them both until she finally divorced him.

Whenever I complain about my father’s shortcomings, my husband points out that my father somehow managed to rise above terrible circumstances and went on to live a productive life. He worked as a printer, helped his mother buy a home, then saved and bought his own home, married and adopted a child.

But he's never let me finish a single sentence, I say.
It’s always all about him.
He’s the most self-centered person on the planet
All of this is true. Still, despite the occasional racist remark and constant chatter, he’s a good guy. But when I am with him, I am diminished. Not a person, but a role. He needed someone to take care of him. To listen to him. To help him. He's not a parent, but a person with voracious emotional needs.

The trouble, I have always suspected, is that he does not feel like my father. He is a man I lived with, listened to, then couldn’t wait to escape from.

But the more days that pass, the more it’s clear something has changed. My father’s words still haunted me. A ghost from the long and distant past had finally paid a visit.
I had forgot. Totally and completely. My father’s distorted story of our little family was not new. It wasn’t the result of an aging brain succumbing to dementia. When faced with the occasional, "she doesn’t look like either of you" comment, my parents would launch into nervous explanations. She looks like her grandmother. She looks like my wife when she was a little girl. It didn’t matter that I was standing right there. So traumatic were these incidents that I had forgotten they had ever taken place. But now, as an adult, exposed to the same public denial of my status as an adopted person, it felt like the earth itself had opened up. Like a grave holding long dead secrets. Except they weren’t dead. They had come alive. Resurrected by the power of words.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Contact made with birth family! Has gone shockingly well. So far. Elderly birth mother ecstatic. Half-sister weepy and welcoming. Other birth relatives also amazingly receptive. So far. Keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Just hope it's a sandal and not Doc Martin.

Was not prepared for the crushing sadness after lengthy phone chat with original mother. I am so like her. Not our voices. The way we look at the world. Our vocabulary. The way we start talking about one thing and connect to another, zig zagging our way through conversations. Enormous relief. She is elderly but does not have dementia like my adoptive parents. She is sharp and a tough cookie. She does not have all those qualities that I find so annoying in my adoptive family.

This I could have had! Well, that and a tougher life to be sure. But how much worse? Worse than living with a family where I didn't fit in? Where the desire for a college education away from home was considered a betrayal that resulted in being financially cut-off at 17? My adoptive parents never picked up a book in their lives. They mocked me for wanting a higher education. Only to learn that my birth mother places enormous value on education. In fact, at the time of my relinquishment, was told by the social worker that I would receive a wonderful education. My birth mother was shocked to learn otherwise. In fact, she was shocked to hear that I had been adopted by a Mexican family and not a rich white one, as had been implied by the social worker in the closed adoption system. It's all coming back to my birth mother. What the social worker had promised. The false reassurances.

I am angry. But at whom? At my birth mother for failing to hold on to me, despite her tough circumstances? She was, after all, an adult and not a befuddled teenager. At the county adoption bureau for placing me with people who would turn out to be bad parents? My dad has always appeared, even at best, extremely odd to people. How could someone like him have passed muster? He with his non-stop self-absorbed chatter and out-there neediness? I know I'm mad at my adoptive parents. The good adoptee has finally turned into the angry adoptee. THAT at least is a production emotion. Much better than it's suppressed counterpart...Depression.

They are all out there. All those birth relatives with whom I bear a striking resemblance. Just miles from where I grew up in my adoptive family, in not much better circumstances. Oh, and one more thing about talking with long lost birth relatives. The little things hurt. Learning that my half-sister is also a mystery novel fanatic practically did me in. A small fact like that.

Adoption really is the ultimate crap shoot. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose.