I was told I was adopted at a very early age, so I didn’t have to go through some traumatic LDA state later. I remember the day clearly. I was in the basement with my mom watching her iron. She wore a light beige sweater with a cool brown braid collar. 1940ish stylish My “real parents” ( I doubt she used that term, though) couldn’t take care of me so I came to live with them. I got the message. It changed my life, yet it didn’t. I filed it away as they “didn’t want you”, which assuredly is not what she said, and I went off to something else.
As I got older, I didn’t have the desire to reconnect with my bio mother. She was a mysterious figure to me, as you will see in a minute. What I did want was information, information information. My big obsession was nationality and who I looked like. My other obsession was my belief that I would never know. When I was about 5years old, somewhat contemplating my adoption, maybe, I’d stare in the mirror and wonder where I came from. Once, I informed my mom rather gnostically, “We are God’s dream.” I still think that might be true.
Information. Information Information.
I believe all adoptees are snoops. Starting at about the age of 10, when my parents were away at dances at the Elks on Friday or Saturday nights, I repeatedly rooted through desks, drawers, closets, boxes, storage barrels in the basement. I was looking for something, but I didn’t know what exactly. Back then I’d never heard of a birth certificate much less an OBC, but I knew there had to be something. Of course, I never actually asked anyone about my murky past. That would be rude.
I was the definition of Einstein’s definition of insanity, ripping through the same stuff repeatedly and coming up with the same results. Nothing. I must have missed something. So I repeated the ritual for years. Even into college. What did I find? 19th-century photographs, ledgers from the Buckeye Engine Company, a copy of the New York Herald reporting Lincoln’s assassination, bound copies of Esquire from the 1940s full of sleek car designs and Vargas girls, a large collection of 78’s, and some naughty records that featured a hillbilly and a horse among other social deviations
A few years before initiating my documentary search I started to watch a TV show called The Big Story. I loved this show, and it was probably the impetus for me to go into journalism, which next to archeology, was my big career goal. The Big Story was a pioneer in docudrama and was nominated for an Emmy. It dramatized local–usually crime– newspaper stories from around the country and regularly featured folks like Burgess Meredith, Ben Grauer, and occasionally wicked Walter Winchell along with the actual reporters who covered the stories. Big names, that were little back then starred in the shows including James Dean, Lois Nettleton, Warren Oates, Jerry Stiller (!), and Steve McQueen. I’ve found a few episodes online, and they still enthrall me
Two shows stick in my mind One was about a man who claimed that he was Jesse James. He’d decided to remove himself from the historical landscape after Bob Ford shot him in the back I think it took place in Arkansas.
The other episode still haunts me. I can’t recall the details, but it involved a child who was kidnapped back from her adoptive parents by her first mother. It absolutely terrified me. Unlike some adoptees, I didn’t much think about my first mother, Dottie, (whose name I didn’t know at the time), and I was so dumb. It never occurred to me until I was in high school that (1) I had a father and (2) my parents weren’t married. I reached that actualization when I watched The Proud and the Profane on late Saturday night TV, a World War II film where war wIdow and nurse Deborah Kerr goes to the South Pacific and gets knocked up by Lt. Colonel William Holden who dies. With the realization that I was probably not an immaculate conception, The Proud and the Profane sort of became my shameful scenario, which I kept secret. I had an acquaintance in high school who mentioned to me casually at a school dance, like it was no big deal, that her parents had gotten married a year after she was born, I about hit the floor I was so shocked. Why would somebody admit that? I thought that anyone who had sex outside of marriage was a pretty bad apple.,
It was a more innocent time.
Anyway, the Big Picture episode generated nightmares. It traumatized me. I dreamed repeatedly that Dottie came to me at night to spirit me away. She wore a long dark hooded coat or a cape, I couldn’t see her face. She was just a dark, Gothic figure. I think this is very Jungian. She kidnapped me whenever she came into my dreams. She took me through the backdoor into the backyard. Then I’d wake up so I don’t know what happened after that. The mystery of me would never be solved.
I was terrified of these dreams. Not much terrified of Dottie, but of being taken away. I never told anyone about them. Or about her. This is some serious acting out. Or should I say dreaming out?
The genesis of my abandonment issues. Anyone on board with that? The BIg Story unlocked that cabinet where I’d filed away my feelings. I don’t know if I really exhibited these fears before,the show, but I sure did after. I was re-living my “adoption trauma” in my dreams. The players were just reversed.
I’m wondering how common something like this is among adoptees–first, acting out in dreams and second: ambiguity in adoption That is, I wanted to know who I was, where I came from, but I sure as hell didn’t want to leave my current home, family, and safety. Of course, I was too young to think about it in those terms.
I know many say from an early age that they wanted to find their mothers; return to them. They knew they didn’t belong where they were (some with good reason.) I didn’t feel that way. I don’t know if this makes me a good adoptee or just “in the fog.” I hate that term. It seems so condescending and snooty. It’s become sort of a badge of honor if you had a rotten adoption, or if you wanted to escape. It suggests a higher consciousness or eliteness that the rest of us didn’t or don’t possess. But, it’s OK to know adoption is a broken corrupt system, to fight to destroy that system, and still not hate your own experience. There is no universal adoption experience.
Adoption is so complicated. As I wrote yesterday, it’s not normal, and adoptees don’t lead normal lives. I’d rather be doing something else than psychoanalyzing myself in public tonight just to “commemorate’ National Adoption Month.
While writing this I Iooked for Big Story episodes online, hoping to find “my” story. There were, I think, 349 eshows, but most of their titles aren’t attached to a recording of them, and I’m not about to try to figure it all out. I’d like to see it it, though– revisit my bastard awakening.
Postscript: This isn’t connected to anything above, but I thought I’d throw it in for pure weirdness. Before I knew who my birthfather was I had dreams that I found a big white ledger (kinda heavenly) with all our original names and family information in it. Under my name, my father was listed as R&B singer Junior Wells. Where in the world did that come from?
Day 12 of 30–
18 to go