January 26, 2008
"Neither Here Nor There" ~ The Beginnings
Neither Here Nor There
"That's neither here nor there" she would say. Very rarely would I dare to bring up my adoption or the first years of my life, but each time I mustered the courage this is what I heard. Her unresolved pain of infertility and then bitter divorce after my adoption was alot to bear. But there it lay, underneath the surface, like flowing hot lava that never ceased - day in and day out - never acknowledged. It colored our world.
Day to day activities brought "normal" family life - friends, school, scouts, dinner, homework, tv, and sleep. "Why wasn't that enough?", I thought, using every shred of emotional energy left in my soul trying to squash the guilt and loneliness that harbored these unspoken feelings. I had a mother. In fact, I made it a point to enforce that in my mind and hers with regular cards, homemade and chock full of sentiments like "To the BEST Mother in the World" or "So Glad YOU'RE my Mother." Yet, underneath I was filled with a deep saddness I couldn't understand and constantly beat myself up for. I carried not only my pain, but also hers. It was my job to make everything right. Never daring to speak of my Dad, who "ran away" from us and responsibility, because even as a child I sensed her brokenness and thought she might shatter into a thousand little pieces, and I would have no Mother left. I would be abandoned - again.
It wasn't supposed to matter that Mom and Dad's rocky marriage had endured almost 15 years, but then destructed completely within three years of adopting me. Was it my fault? Did I drive him away, push him over the edge? My young mind couldn't fathom any other explanation - that must be it. It was me. So, my Mother became the Heroine in my child mind. The only parent I had left - out of the 2 mothers and 2 fathers I began with - she was the only one who I managed NOT to drive away. I must hold on to her with all my might. She was my world, and I was hers and I had to somehow keep it that way to survive.
She didn't make it hard, either. I was her everything. She now had a "daughter" and was complete. When I made sure to bring home all A's, which was expected from "her" daughter, she used them as bragging material to all her family and friends. According to her, I was smarter than anyone in my class, prettier, and of course since I was also "chosen" I MUST be somehow superior than all the rest. Yet, inside, I cowered in shame with waves of humiliation rolling over and over me when she proudly and loudly paraded me by for all to see. I felt like a scared rat, not the perfect little barbie doll I was touted to be - except for the fakiness - that I could relate to easily. I knew it was all a scam. It wasn't real, it wasn't me. If people knew the real me, they would turn away in disgust and run. So I tried very hard to believe. Very, very hard. But it was "neither here nor there."
After her divorce my Mother and my 3 year old self moved back to Tulsa and in with my "Nanny" - Mom's mom. So many Mom's. But where was mine? I had enough Mom's to deal with, I certainly had no time to let that question surface, though deep down it lived and breathed like a living entity in my soul. Maybe the only part of my soul that was real. Nanny became my primary caretaker while Mom worked full-time as a secretary. When I was little we enjoyed good times together. But as soon as I grew old enough to talk and had any shred of autonomy, we began to clash like oil and water. Nanny grew up in the depression and truly just didn't know how to build self-esteem or security in a child, probably never having experienced it as a child, either. She constantly berated me. Her favorite snarling words were, "You're the most selfish little girl I've ever met" and "You're just like your dad - the son of a bitch."
My 7 year old mind didn't know I had the choice to believe this or not. I had to believe it, I thought, and so it was burned on my soul like a hot branding iron is jabbed into the flesh of an animal. It only served to confirm my earlier conclusion - I certainly wasn't good enough for anyone to really want. Children are to be seen and not heard - so I lived in my own little shell, rarely venturing out.
My friends at school were my angels. We whispered and giggled and made up wild and fun games and stories on the playground and in class. I tried to always be the teacher's pet and most of the time succeeded. I had to somehow make sure people knew I was worth my existance, so I showed myself extremely loyal and helpful in every way possible. I'd never admit to the feelings of jealousy that nawed away at my insides, always feeling like the other girls were better than me. Everyone was better than me. They were normal and I wasn't. I was "special" because I was adopted, but that made me different, and I felt it every minute of every day. I remember looking at other girls and their mothers and how natural and alike they seemed. I loved my Mom with an unbridled passion and held on to her tightly, but we were not alike, except in our insecurities and the tough and competent images we tried to hide them under.
Although an only child and lonely most of the time, not all my childhood family memories were sad. We had many good times. My Nanny's rye humor could always make me laugh and every Saturday was my day to spend with Mom. We were like best friends, really, shopping for clothes at the mall and eating pizza at the local pizza parlor. I also enjoyed the attention and security of Nanny's sisters and their husbands being in my life as a child. Christmas was a very happy time of family get-togethers and gifts and laughter, with me being the center of attention, but never completely comfortable with that.
It wasn't until I was an adult did I realize that most daughters and mothers, however, didn't have to share a room and a bed and cuddle up every night together to sleep. It wasn't until I was in 7th grade did I have the privacy of my own room, and I almost didn't know how to react. Where did I begin and my Mother end? Neither of us really knew, I don't think. As an adult it was heck to figure that one out and live through it without thinking one or both of us would die if there were any boundaries erected at all. We were so enmeshed, but not nearly as enmeshed as my Mom and her mother, Nanny. That was my only saving grace. We all three cohabitated until I went off to college at 18 and I resolved myself to never let that happen again, once I was free, at least physically. It took many, many more years after that to establish any sense of self apart from her, emotionally.
Mom and Nanny continued to live together until, in my 20's, I was forced to admit Nanny into a nursing home during my Mom's battle with cancer. I felt extreme guilt and burden, to the point of feeling like I had no other purpose, but to ensure that my Mom and Nanny were ok. It took a huge toll on my body and mind. I became the "bad guy" because I couldn't step up to the plate and somehow physically care for both of them in bad health. Inside I was battling a rage I didn't understand. It was an inexplanable compilation of twisted emotions that had lay dormant for years - rejection, rage, and fear.
Alot of adoptees will tell you that when they look in the mirror they see nothing. I would look in my eyes and blank circles would stare back at me in the mirror. No matter how deep I would look, trying to find a glimmer of life or substance, there was nothing. Just blue eyes with no soul. My soul - mind, emotions, and will - were defined by whoever I was trying to please. I had no identity of my own, really. Just nothing. On the outside I was the "good daughter" who brought pride and joy to my Mom, and great frustration and jealousy to my Nanny, but inside I was pretty much a void. Even though Nanny was emotionally and verbally abusive to both Mom and I, she was our center. We shared the task of making Nanny happy at all costs, yet never being able to even pool our resources and succeed. Nanny was bitter and no one could change that. But we all lived together and laughed and loved as best we knew how. Three hurt women. Three "generations" with me being grafted in to this trio of what I called my "family."
My likes and dislikes were never acknowledged or celebrated. I had to be like them, no matter what. We were the same. We liked the same foods, shows on tv, everything. Even today my Mom confidently spouts off "she's always liked persimmon pudding" and I have to remind myself that I'm not crazy, and I haven't forgotten - she is. I never liked it and probably never will. In her mind, because she and Nanny did, I did also. I never developed or changed in her mind....I was always little "Sammy" and exactly as she conjured me up to be.
I have used my adult years to fight through these deceptions and messages and form and find who I really am. In college I felt free. I could come and go and decide and live and make friends of my own. It was then that I silently resolved in the back of my mind that as soon as graduation day came I would begin my "search." Even though I didn't conciously dwell on this, it must have been a driving force, because that is exactly what I did.
After graduating, search became my goal. I was lucky, I guess. Or was I? I don't know. My search took probably the whole of 2 weeks or less. My college roomate and best friend had heard from another adoptee that a judge in our college town opened adoption records upon request. I hopped on down to the courthouse and walked into his office without much thought. There I sat for an hour or two just waiting patiently, not really feeling or thinking anything, but shaking inside. He finally welcomed into his office and when I made my request he said I needed to bring back a letter from my doctor and he would happily grant me a court order for my original birth certificate. Original birth certificate? What was that? I had no idea, but was to soon find out. Within a few days I found myself back in his chambers hearing the words, "I hope you find what you are looking for" and I walked out with an official court order.
I now look back and cannot believe what a caring and fair judge I was blessed to encounter. So many adoptees don't experience such and are left feeling ashamed and angry when told they don't have the right to their own personal information and records that pertain to them alone. It is maddening.
I immediately and non-chalantly trotted across the street to the Bureau of Vital Statistics. After giving the worker the document I sat down and waited again. I can't even tell you what I was thinking or feeling. Just numb. There I was sitting on a cold slab of concrete bench as a 21 year old "adoptee" who never thought being adopted was a big deal, but was actually defined by it in every way. Truly, growing up I never conciously "thought" about my first mother that I remembered. Yet traces of memory here and there make me now realize that somewhere deep down I thought about her often. All I "knew" was the little information my Mom had told me. She was in cosmetology school and my first dad had red hair and probably went to vietnam.
I always silently figured that my first dad had died in vietnam and that made me completely fatherless because my adoptive father had "left" when I was three. Of course, I later found out what my Mom never cared to mention was that my adoptive Dad had supposedly "wanted" to see me, but was threatened and pushed away by my Mother and Nanny. I grew up thinking he didn't care and simply "ran away," leaving us without a thought. I see pictures of my adoptive father and I, when I was a baby, and sense that I felt very close to him, even overhearing comments that I was a "daddy's girl." I don't remember once crying over him when he "left", though. I had learned from my Mom how to deal emotionally with loss by pretending it never happened and I became so proficient with this way of coping that I forgot huge chunks of my childhood. My Dad being one of them.
I do have one humorous memory of me in elementary school in deep conversation with a small group of friends about our families. They asked me about my "father" and I adamantly stated over and over again that I didn't have a "father." They argued with me trying desperately to convince me that I HAD to have a father, that it was impossible NOT to have one. My naive mind could not be changed, though, honestly believing I came to be without the aid or existance of a man. My family proved it - you could live perfectly fine without the help of a man. Who needed them, anyway, "men were good for nothing" as far as my Nanny was concerned, so I knew it too. That is how "split" I was as a child. One minute thinking that my "real" father died in vietnam, with helpless conclusion I'd never know him, and the next, arguing vehemenently against the idea of originating from a person of the male species at all. My adopted self and "real" self never touched. Primal stirrings from deep within were all I had to go on, without the ability to verbalize - like an infant laying in her crib unable to make sense of abandonment and incapable of making her caretakers understand either.
"Baby Girl Lowe?" Who is that? I was reading my original birth certificate but not able to register the "truth" written. It would take many more years for it to finally sink in, and many years after that to even start assimilating this "truth" into my identity. But it was part of the missing piece that would help me begin to know myself as more than a stranger.