Tuesday, December 4, 2012

killing them softly~

The week she moved in she was unpacking from one of those rent-a-center trucks. You know the kind, where you basically pay to borrow some furniture for as long as you need it. I remember thinking how beautiful she was; her long, black curls cascading down her back, even as her ponytail sat high on her head. She had an edge, one I easily recognized from my past work in rough parts of the city I used to live in. I smiled politely, she didn't return it; something I expected.

In the mornings, as with most parents of school-aged children, she'd be rushing as she and her ten year old would fly down the stairs, her black curls down, jumping into the car in slippers, his backpack slinging through the air into the car. They never yelled; they spoke easily and comfortably as mothers and their ten year old sons do.


I was never close with my brother.
He was adopted when he was five. We were all adopted, but his birth family abuse and the eight foster homes he was in before the adoption did, to put it mildly, a number on him. He had a lot of rage; he was the most fragile person I've met to date, his brown eyes muddied by years of detachment and disconnect. He was empty, he was full. His cup never overflowed.

At one point, this guy shows up. There's no other way to put this, but he looked shady. Everyone on the street thought so. I don't know why I did; probably my gut. I've always had a good gut about people. But my gut was also telling me something like There's More To This Story Than Meets The Eye. His eyes are dark, he has a strong nose in his profile. He also never smiles back. The little boy looks like him.
One day, it occurs to all the neighbors that we've not seen anyone at the house but the man. Did they have a fight? we all wonder, nosey as neighbors go. My son likes to stand on the top of the couch to look out the window a lot, much like a cat. I can't help but glance out and often see the man, standing outside on the porch, making phone calls or walking down to the corner market to buy small bags of chips, munching on them on the short walk back to the house across the street from my own. I see her gray Nissan there still. Why didn't she bring it if she left him? we all wonder.


When my brother and I were both 17, he went to Juvie for the first time. He was caught at a party doing drugs and drinking and told the cops to fuck off. He sent me two letters with poems I still have. I throw a lot from my past out; it provides me a haven of amnesia, my memory too sharp for its own good. His words, written in his classic 2nd-grader handwriting (spelling and grammar mistakes included) speak of his loneliness and escapism and desire to change. My heart ached for him at the time, but I was lost in my own way. I continued to work nearly full-time while going to school, subconsciously planning my own escape.

Late in the summer, we find out the woman went to jail. No one knows what happened, how a lady like that ends up in jail, we all say. Her gray Nissan just sits there and sits there, at one point getting two street cleaning tickets in a row for not moving it each week. The man suddenly starts coming by to move her car twice on Thursdays. He's always on the phone, standing on the porch, only up and down the stairs to go in an out of his house. I try to say hello but he simply stares off, his dark eyes empty. But he keeps his head high as he walks, not intimidatingly so.
An expensive television is stolen from a neighbor. The neighbor having the most financial difficulty, who also happened to be doing work on the house it was taken from, is automatically blamed. An elderly woman who lives across the street shyly calls the police telling them that No, it was not who you say it was. It was the woman with the dark curly hair. Everyone is flabbergasted. But she's in jail now. Another neighbor finds out she'd been purse-snatching and stealing TV's. Does her son have other family? I wonder, we all wonder.
She returns in October. I see her walk in and out of her house a few times, her dark curls still lustrous, she takes pride in her hair, I realize. She never looks at anyone, her eyes quickly darting away if she accidentally does.  My partner tries to say hello to her; she just put her head down, he tells me.


My brother and I completely lost touch. I had joined the military, he had stayed in Pittsburgh, hopping from job to job, occasionally going to jail, never for anything big. But you know the labeling that goes on; druggie. mooch. lazyass. good for nothing. common criminal.  Never mind that his birthmother drank excessive amounts of alcohol while pregnant with him and he was what many used to call "slow". He'd been craving a good hit since well, he was born. In October of 2005, something came over me where I had this sudden need to try to contact him, to try to reconnect with him. I asked my adoptive mother for his address, his phone number. She tells me that it isn't worth it. I ask my nun-godmother what to do; a woman I'd been writing since my early 20's. She's elderly, so I don't hear back in time. On November 25th, 2005 at the age of 25 my brother overdosed on downers. The numerical irony is, quite literally, painful.
It was an accident. Or so they say. It's never an accident to try to reach that heroin high you'd had before that you just can't reach again. Ever. So maybe that little bit more won't be too much more. Until it is. Until it was. My smile, plastered on my face at his funeral, made me look like a fucking depressed clown, but it helped me to deal with the swarm of voyeurs I'd not seen in 10 years and would've done fine not seeing for another 10. Or 100.
The next morning, as we bury him, my other brother; his half-sibling, his only blood relative, stands next to me in his Marine Corps dress blues, his fists balled at his sides. I glance at his face, his jaw clenching as tears roll down his face. I fold my arm through his; this person I never got along with and to this day, do not. As we walk back to the cars in the classic gray-skied Pennsylvania winter, I see my best friend trailing behind my family, her small legs gliding over the frosted grass, her eyes downcast, her head almost swaying side to side, as if she were in song. But no, she was crying.

No one ever sees her. The man and boy sometimes come and go, but no one seems happy, no one seems present.
Early in the morning on October 26, as my partner was leaving for work, we look out the window to see paramedics quietly entering her house. I guess somebody got hurt, he says. I tell him they're moving much too slowly for that. He asks me to take our son off the top of the couch.
Two hours later, while the little one's napping, I look again to see them carrying the stretcher down the stairs. They were not rushing, there were no sirens. All I saw were her beautiful black curls, peeking out from underneath the sheet.


Hurricane Sandy hit my town with a vengeance 3 days after she overdosed on heroin. It was that little bit more that did it. Until it wasn't. Who doesn't know about self-sabotage? The ocean met the bay in the middle of my street, sweeping away most of my neighbors' homes, along with any memory of her. To most, she seemed like just another person who'd evacuated and could never return home.
A week after we finally do return home, I'm at the post office. As I'm sitting in my car, filling out address labels, I look up and see the little boy. He is coming out of a dog groomer's shop. He has a fuzzy puppy on a leash. He's barely smiling. The man comes out shortly afterward. It becomes clear that the dog is a gift and he's still figuring out what to do with the ball of energy. The man gently tells him to take the dog for a small walk. He laughs a little as he gets pulled along. I misjudged him, the man. He's trying. He's really trying.


As I'm driving to the grocery store the next week, I pass this one cemetery I always do. I look over and see a large group of people standing around a coffin about to be buried. It is flanked by bright, colorful flowers and bows, the memory of the smell making its way to my nose. People in coats, people in no coats, feet shuffling from side to side, hair blowing in the cold air, the earth piled up on one end, still moaning from its early morning awakening. It only takes a moment, but I'm suddenly back there, standing next to my brother's coffin; the brother I barely knew. The smell of the unearthed ground, the biting chill of November...the great groaning sound as the coffin was laid down inside his second and final dark womb.

He wasn't her son, we find out. He was the man's son. She never had any children, her mother died of an overdose, too. Her obituary called the boy "the love of her life", her "adopted son", her "best friend".
I saw him again the other day as I parked my car. He was standing outside the house, waiting with his backpack. I got out and tried to smile at him, pulling my son out of his carseat. His eyes darted away from me, muddied and empty, a look of detachment I recognized all too well. He looked like the oldest little boy in the world. I went inside, thinking about bringing him cupcakes. My hand stopped as I was gathering them together.

I realized he didn't want to see me. A mother carrying her son, a son being carried by his mother.

This is dedicated to Christina and Domenic, and Jason.  

Saturday, November 10, 2012

in response: you just say it~

Dear M,

Perhaps you are right---that I'm too sensitive. My sensitivity has gotten me where I'm at in life, though. I'd prefer it over the alternative. 
I'm not trying to upset you or freak you out or seem like I am merely trying to be difficult for the sake of being difficult. 
I just don't know how to process a lot of this. Let's clarify something---the elephant in the room, so to speak (do you know what that phrase means? It is perfect for this): You and I have lived very different lives. In every.single.regard. Period. End of story. Hilariously, we still have a lot in common. But we also have a chasm between us in some regards. 
I don't resent you. Or your lifestyle. Or your money. Some people would. Some people do. I've just never been a jealous or greedy or selfish person. Your life is your own, as is mine. Yes, I'm a good person---there's a difference between "nice" and "good", by the way. If I was just saying all the things I've been saying to you these last months to be "nice" I'd have stopped playing that 'game' when you started offering me money and lavish gifts and trips and flowers---and now flipping $10,000. I'd have merely taken it. But I've worked to be a truly good person. This is not a show for you; to get you to approve of me, to like me for me. This is who I am. And this relationship with you means more to me than I think you realize. It's also harder than you realize, I think, now that our lifestyle differences have surfaced.
In the past, I've done case management for the poor. I've walked through the Kibera Slum---the world's largest----I actually know people who live on less than a dollar a day. My background is [somewhat] academic, yes---for the sake of my sanity, but also my desire to actually apply that knowledge in a tangible way. Can you try and see why I'm "too sensitive", then? This is why I'm having a hard time accepting such things from you, after the kind of life I've led. The kind of life I chose. I'm still having a hard time wrapping my head around the mere fact that we're related---let alone that you're my birthfather. Let alone that you are...who you are. 
And by the way, we are not friends. And we are most certainly not, as you said, like friends who have known each other our whole lives and have been there for each other. Sure, we're "friendly". But we're not 'friends'. I know what you were trying to say, though. What I'm trying to say though is that we can't just pick up where we left off. Where we left off was when I was a zygote and you were 22, sowing some wild oats. But that doesn't change the fact that you're my birthfather and I'm your 32 year old birthdaughter. Awkward, to say the least. Navigable? I hope so. Listen, I'm doing the best I can with this whole thing. I'm not going to go psycho on you. Ever. Like I told you in my first email to you: I'm a happy, stable, educated, "normal" person. But I do feel like I don't know how to navigate some of this terrain, so to speak. Especially all the emotional baggage that comes with it. Are you surprised? Are you not overwhelmed in the least? 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

the fucking money~

I wish I could be elegant and articulate here, but I can't be. There's no other way to put this:
he's a very wealthy man. And we're not talking a couple of extra bucks.
Am I bragging as I write this? No, no I am not. In fact, my face is flushing bright red as I type. A bit out of embarrassment, a bit out of shame, and a bit out of...strangely enough:  rage. 
I think I just feel so cliché, you know? 'Wealthy foreigner impregnates trashy party girl'. Bleh. Oh, by the way, I was that zygote.

When I first got into contact with him and he found out I had type 1 diabetes, he wanted to send me to John Hopkins University Hospital to get a check up to make sure I "had everything I needed." I still remember his words, All paid for by me, of course. I thanked him and reassured that while I appreciated his superbly generous offer, I indeed had everything I needed and also took very good care of my disease; often lauded by my doctors as being the best type 1 diabetic they know.

When I turned 32, he said to me, For once, will you let me do things my way? I told him that the greatest gift he could've given me was not rejecting my contact and that building a relationship with him was my birthday gift. So he finagled my address and sent me 3 dozen white roses instead.

When my town got hit by Hurricane Sandy, he called me nearly everyday; you could practically hear him wringing his hands on the other end of the phone he was so worried.

Or is it guilt?

Is that what's really going on here, M? Do you feel guilty and you're trying to buy it off? Is that why I'm so angry whenever you offer me money?
Because my impoverished neighbor's lower level apartment got destroyed. My house is destroyed is the exact phrase he used, M. But my belongings, safely residing above the 5 foot ocean-meets-the-bay-flood, are intact. I can't live there though because the rest of the house is so damaged below ours it's not safe to stay in.
So we're stuck. Money is tight when you can't move twice in less than a year. But I'm not as stuck as my poor neighbor.

I can never say anything is even remotely financially difficult when talking to him because of reasons I don't think I need to explain to you at this point.
But I slipped the other day on the phone and you know what happened? He asked me if he could help me just this once. I told him, my body sliding down the wall and thumping onto the laundromat linoleum, I'm really backed into a corner here, M. So he asked me to think about it.
The next day, he sends me an email asking me why I hadn't yet sent him my account information. Because he wants to deposit ten thousand dollars into it. 
Ten fucking thousand dollars. More if you need it, of course. 
Oh, of course.

I once dated a guy who was very kind and generous.  One day when we were talking, I mentioned that I thought something was wrong with one of the tires on my car, that perhaps it was too bald? He checked it out for me and without my knowledge went to the car shop to have it looked at because the tire made him nervous. He had them put on four new tires.
I was so overwhelmed and somewhat embarrassed that I made him tell me at least half the amount so I could repay him. I think he lied about the half because I barely paid him anything. Years later, after we broke up, we were still friends and I told him, You need to be careful someone doesn't date you just to use you. He laughed at me and said,  I only ever did things like that for you. You were the only girl I ever trusted. Funny that we still didn't work out.

What on earth does that story have to do with M? I'm not sure, but some of the feelings, at least for me, are the same. Shame, perhaps? Over-the-top assistance that feels too on the sly? Savior complexes? Guilt-complexes? Male-female dynamic complexes? Father-daughter complexes?
Never-met-each other-Father-Daughter complexes?
Yes, I have yet to meet my birthfather and he's already trying to keep me from sinking. I want to scream at him sometimes, I kept myself from sinking for 32 years! Don't even try to buy me a boat now!

Ya, people say, but he's your father. He just wants to help. Even if he's merely trying to make up for lost time. And I will then tell you that any adoptee will tell you that it's a hell of a lot more complicated than that.
I don't want his fucking money. We haven't even met yet. I believe in my heart he means well, but his money feels dirty to me right now.

And, while I'm never sure if I can believe half the stories my birthmother tells me anymore, this one takes the cake: upon reuniting, she told me he offered her $10, 000 if she'd have an abortion.
All paid for by me, of course. 

Oh, of course.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

him. me. us. them.

I haven't talked about him much yet because frankly, I was in a bit of a state of disbelief.
What to say, even now, as I sit here, trying to scrape together the words for you about my birthfather, M, the supposed villain in my story. So I'd thought. So I'd been told. And let's be honest---so we all think---when it comes to adoption and birthmothers who give up their beautiful, helpless little babies and the fathers who abandon them. The fathers who were never there to see the struggle and the suffering and the questions with no answers and the stark realization that No, There Is No God Who Intervenes For The Good And The Broken, The Small And The Poor.
Except sometimes, the complicated parts of The Story come out that you are never told. The parts the mothers can't even tell themselves. The parts, that only thirty years can force to the surface, bursting through like a swimmer drowning under their own weight, water burning their lungs for release. These are the parts that have to do with growth and evolution. This involves a tremendous amount of painful admission and change and only some people in these stories, in life in general, are capable of doing it. Reflecting upon it; facing it when it shows up at the most inconvenient time in their life. Oh, but there was never a convenient time.
I was and always will be their greatest inconvenience.
Every day, I inconveniently remind them of how it wasn't my fault. I remind them of their failure to be "responsible young adults". I remind them, in short, how they got caught.
But I also remind them of their passionate youth, the magnificence of letting everything go, just for a moment, in someone else's arms. Someone you don't really need or want to see again, but someone you have a raw need for, just in that moment where everything simultaneously slows down and speeds up and you can't think clearly but you see everything so very clearly. The music is loud and your heart is racing with your most primal pulse and all you want is to feel something; everything.
She told me how, after he made love to her, he went into the kitchen and came back with an orange. Which he proceeded to peel and break apart, feeding to her piece by piece.
She told me this story months after we were reunited. Something came over her, a longing to admit that maybe she'd felt more. Wanted more. From him. For them. But all that Something and Everything got lost in the Everything It Became: The pregnancy. The fear. The rage. The loss.

After reconnecting with him, I only then realized that he too experienced things. Oh sure, he didn't go through 9 months of pregnancy and then have to make the difficult decision to give up a child he couldn't care for. He never met me, never saw me but for a photo a random friend waved in his face, screaming at him to acknowledge he was the father.  He ran away. He was a bastard. A scared piece of shit of a young guy who didn't even deserve to be called a man, let alone a father.
But his guilt was enough to make him suffer for 30 years. I think by now, they've both paid their dues in the guilt department. And they'll never stop. That's been made abundantly clear to me, what with MW's self-sabotaging poverty-stricken lifestyle, and M's over-achieving to cover up his past. His father has long been dead but M's still trying to make him proud. All this guilt---her guilt, his guilt, my guilt---my fucking sick guilt--- is frankly a hindrance. Remember that: your guilt only serves one purpose: to get you to deal with something, to face it. After that, it serves no purpose. So fucking throw it out with all your other trash, stop putting it out with the recycling.

In a sense, I feel like the adult in this whole strange situation I've found myself in. I watch them both, desperately scrambling to connect with me and save face at the same time. Sometimes I literally have to tell them, I'm 32 years old. And a mother. What the hell are you trying to say?
There is nothing they can say at this point that surprises me. About themselves. About each other. About...back then.
 All I can say right now about him is this: He cried. He gets so emotional he can't wait to read my emails. He wants to know every detail he's missed. Colors. Foods. Travel. Illness. Grades. Seasons. Music. Essays. And why I didn't send a picture like I always do with that last email.
Perhaps, over time, just like with MW, I'll see his worst traits. I'll come to resent things about him, his weakest parts screaming at me that he's a coward; a broken, dysfunctional person. Like me. Like us all.
But for now, he is beautifully and forgivably human. He is my birthfather. A man whose eyes light up as he greets my son and I on Skype, who loves my stories and photos, who freaks out when I casually tell him I have type 1 diabetes and tries to send me to one of the most expensive hospitals in the country to be "looked at". Um, that's ok. I was just telling you I had it. 

He sent me about three dozen white roses for my birthday, upset they arrived a day late. The white rose stands for true love. For purity of heart. For truce. For unity; a new bond. I can only hope so. Once, we were on Skype and kept getting disconnected. When we came back online, I said to him, "Apparently, we have a bad connection." He chuckled and without missing a beat said, "Better than the last 30 years."

The white rose is often also depicted as stained with blood. A reminder that we are all pricked and blushed by our imperfections. Truly, our imperfections make us who we are.

Monday, September 24, 2012

a new lease on life~

In 2008, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.
It was pretty much the most horrifying day of my life. First though, are you sure you know which diabetes I'm talking about? I'm referring to an autoimmune disease that has no cure. 
The reason I'm blogging about my disease is not to gain your sympathy, but rather, your ear. 

I used to be a worrier. I mean, we're talking like, The World's Worst Worrier. If there was an award for worrying, I'd have won it every year. People used to say things like "You're dwelling on this." "You've got that look on your face." "Just let it go." But I couldn't. I was too worried.
When I got diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, as unfortunate and difficult as it's made my life at times, it's also offered me a new lease on life. I don't say this lightly. I almost died and it took me a long time to come to terms with how close I came. When I did, strangely enough, looking death and a chronic disease diagnosis in the face basically forced me to give up on Worrying. It hit me like a ton of bricks that I survived; relatively unscathed, and most importantly: a different version of the same me.
It suddenly came over me that yes, we survive everything. Until we don't. And then, we really have nothing to worry about.
I'm trying to avoid sounding cliché here, and I wish I had magical words to allow you to see inside my head and my heart somehow to understand the depth of that diagnosis experience and what effect it had on me. But all I can offer you is this pathetic blog post in an attempt to tell you to live. Fully. As if something could come down the pike any day that swallows up a good amount of your mind and your time and you still manage to wake up with a stupid grin on your face and say Fuck it, I'm alive. 
Because when I think back on all that time wasted worrying, I want to take up running just in an attempt to catch up to it and change things. The problem being, of course, that no one takes up running backwards. What's done is done.
So I truly live for the moment now. Mostly because I laugh at my old, worrying self and know that everything has always, often in strangely serendipitous ways, worked out. Despite how worrisome my old self was. Things don't get to me anymore. I'm not trying to sound enlightened here. It's just a fact: I can listen to people say awful things to me and I just don't take them personally. I'm sitting there, looking them in the eye, or dealing with their awful behavior, and thinking quite kind thoughts, actually. And not the condescending 'kind' thoughts people often have; a barrier to what they really feel about the person. It's the strangest thing in the world because I tried and tried for many years to become this person. When I was religious, I prayed about it. Then, I just read a lot of philosophy. Then I just journaled and cried a lot. Then I got sick.
Funny how the most terrifying things are often the ones you need the most to grow. Even the ones you don't choose. Well, especially those.

The waking up was just that---a waking. A gradual process I was mostly unaware of, stubborn and impatient with. Struggling and itching and angry, I thought I would never see the end of that tunnel. And then, about a year ago, it started lifting. Like a fog. The kind you see standing against the railing on a dock by the river early in the morning and it's happening so slowly, at first you forget you started out by complaining how little you could see, how heavy it felt. And it is only after you've finished saying it, the fog has lifted and you can see...everything. Because it's a new day. A fresh start. The one you've been waiting on forever.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

you'll know him when you find him, part 3~

In late August, just as the semester is about to begin, we spend a Sunday together after he offers to take me to Mass. He has never been, and despite the fact that I am not trying to convert him, he is curious and unflummoxed. We were sitting in his apartment, talking about all sorts of things: everything and nothing, as great friendships do. Only ours had some secrets, obviously.
I remember he was leaning back in a chair, his hands folded in his lap when he suddenly said, exasperated,
I love you! I'm in love with you!
I did not react the way you're thinking I would. Or should.
I vaguely remember starting to cry, although it might've been more of a weep. Hey, at least I didn't sob.
And then I started saying things like, You don't know what you're talking about. You can't possibly feel that way...this is all too much...
Yes, you can say it---I had some obvious issues to work out.
He then gave me a letter he'd written to me a while back and left the room. It was a love letter, entitled "Letter to Emily (never to be sent)". An honest to god love letter. It made me swoon, and not because of it's titillating romantic quality, but precisely because of how unpoetic his words were; so simple and real. To this day, every year on my birthday, four days before his own, I read that letter.
He always had this very calm and collected, formal aspect to him. He didn't even kiss me that day. He just wanted me to know how he felt. He wanted to know how I felt, if I could ever feel the same about him, despite our differences. He was very polite, but also genuine and warm.
I was so taken aback by his old-fashioned approach that I honestly had no idea what to do. I think I cried simply because of this fact. When he drove me home, I looked over at him and the windows were down; it had just rained. The desert air was so fresh and he began to blast Bach. I kid you not: Bach's Cello Concertos. This is a person who is known as a connoisseur of Punk.  He had tears in his eyes and he was smiling in a way I'd never seen him do. He exclaimed, I'm so happy! even though I was still so obviously overwhelmed and had not really given him an answer about dating. But something let go in me in that moment and I knew that I loved him. He knew that I was just afraid. To this day he often knows me better than I know myself. But it was pretty terrifying; the jumping in. Finding the one person I knew would take care of my heart and trust me with his, the one person I couldn't just easily break up with because that was what I always did: date guys I could easily break up with.
But I couldn't do that to him. No, never.

Fast forward 8 years. Here we are in 2012.
Now we have our first child together. This tall, lanky guy still gives me butterflies. We've been through hell and back, he and I. Oh, people love to say that: We've been through everything together. But after listening to half the stories, I've learned that most of what people call "everything" really means something like We've finally learned to take turns unloading the dishwasher. But as soon as the Littlest Big Thing happens, people seem to throw in the towel. That's how I know this thing MAC and I have---it's rare.
We've held each other through family heartache, rejection, and death from overdose, personal paradigm shifts, chronic disease diagnosis and the mess it makes of living (and dying), job losses and no money, pursuing goals others scoff at, homesickness, psychotic bosses that even bring their poison into one's home, sudden cross-country moves with a baby.
Oh my, the baby.
The little boy who is our greatest delight. We delight in each other, but he is what we are most proud of about ourselves, about each other. We wanted him so much; he makes our family. He makes our Home.

So this is to you, MAC. On your 30th birthday.
You're the best thing that ever happened to me. You are, as an elderly man told me a long time ago about how you know when you've met The One:
Well, you'll know him when you find him. That's the person who makes you want to be the best version of yourself.
Your soulmate is the person who challenges you. And that, you have done well.
I loved you the day I set eyes on you, even as I feared I didn't deserve you---you in all your talent and quiet joy and laughter, you in all your radical ideas and dreams. You in all your radical love and light.
I am blessed to know you, to spend my life around you; hearing your thoughts as you listen to mine.

Truly, you are not only my better half, but my best.

Friday, September 7, 2012

you'll know him when you find him, part 2~

One day, our professor told us all to meet at the library to go over some research methods. As I was getting off my bike, my classmate approached me with one of the funny guys as I walked inside. He was smiling and laughing, more relaxed than of late. I cautiously sat down at the wooden table, and he handed me a paper to read that he'd just written for another class, entitled Life Without Principle: A Modern Dilemma.
Everyone was very chatty, with Spring break starting soon. I was secretly excited to read more of his work, and so I read the piece in bits during an exam study session for my Astronomy class; glancing up every once in a while at the professor, trying to act interested. I realized when I was done that I hadn't known his last name yet. It was Cone.
We begin talking again. A bit here and there, before class, after. Sometimes he walks me to my bike. We even go to the coffee shop off campus once and spend all morning talking about politics, our dreams, our simple and complicated likes and dislikes.
A couple of weeks later, I was unlocking my bike and we were talking as usual. He asks me if I'd like to get some food. I'm confused. Right now, you're hungry? I ask. No, no. This Friday, he says, laughing. I tell him "sure", because we're finally friends, right?
And then I realize This Friday is Good Friday. And at the time I was a practicing Catholic and could not miss Good Friday Mass. On Wednesday, I gingerly approach him after class and tell him how sorry I am that I can't go, but could we do it next Friday? His eyes dart away, I can tell he thinks I'm lying. He says ya, that's fine a little too quickly and I try to explain, but it comes out sounding ridiculously forced. I promise myself that on Monday, I will remind him.
That Monday, I can tell he is up for more ignoring. I bee-line him at the end of class, forward compared to the girl I usually am, easily embarrassed around guys I like. At the time, I didn't admit this even to myself about this particular one.
I ask him directly if he's still up for Friday. He tries to mask his surprise but can't; he says, Ya, ya, ok, Friday. Wanna say 6? He gives me his number. Just in case, he says.
Friday comes and I am not nervous. I am literally in gardening clogs and watering my tiny flower bed when he pulls up, Joan Osborne blasting out of his speakers. As we're driving, he says, So I was talking to my roommate about how I was sorta going on this date and how I didn't really know where to take you.
[Date?! Who said anything about a date?] This is the honest to god truth. I was literally in jeans and a t-shirt. I may or may not have combed my hair before getting into his car after watering the flowers. I did change out of my gardening clogs, though. I know I did that.

By May, we'd begun to instant message and email. He tells me how he is planning a backpacking trip up a big mountain in Colorado. I invite him to my end of the semester party. He comes, brownies in tow. I secretly think about him all of the time, even though the pilot is around. We fight a lot, he makes me cry. I stop writing to my classmate, sabotaging a perfectly good friendship because I feel bad thinking about a guy so much who seems to only want to be my friend now, as I simultaneously date/nondate someone else. Besides, he's an atheist: a big no-no for the good Catholic girl I was raised to be. In spite of myself, I enviously think of the cute philosophy major hipster he's probably dating. Perfect match. Barf.
He suddenly writes me again in July. He picks up where we left off, wondering how my summer is going, even though we both know I didn't write him back last time. He wants to know if I'd like to get some ice cream.
That summer, we were solely responsible for doubling Ben&Jerry's profits.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

you'll know him when you find him, part 1~

I met him in a Literary Analysis class my first semester of college. It was January, 2004. I had just finished my time in the military---I served as a U.S Air Force medic for 5 years straight out of high school. I remember only signing up for the minimum twelve hours required for full-time study because I was so terrified of failing. I had never been to college before, I had no idea what to do, surrounded by sleepy 18 year olds. Only my roommate-like-a-brother guided me along the way, taking me to this office and that, filling out paperwork, showing me how to get from one class to another on time. I rode a really cheap bike to school that eventually got stolen and had a love of 1940's wool coats. I was 23.
I remember sitting in that class in a circle, as the professor, who took a strange liking to my novice writing, had asked her small group of students to do. I noticed him on the very first day, as he would appear to me the next four months: in a corner, quietly reading his assignments clearly for a philosophy class, head bent down under an old baseball cap, wearing a hip-but-not-trying-to-be-hip grandfather button down shirt. He was lanky; over six feet tall and had razor burn. He was 21.

The course was from 8-8:50, Monday-Wednesday-Friday. I went to every one. He tended to miss at least one a week. He didn't care. I noticed. Sometimes, I would glance over at him, while our odd, old, worn professor was waxing on about the lack of published female writers in the 19th century, and find him staring, his hand tightly folded against his mouth. He would blush and look away, attempting to seem irritated.
He rarely spoke, only laughed with the two guys who were always cracking jokes, somehow finding ways to even warm up our cold professor. Sometimes they would make us all laugh so much we'd be holding our stomachs; I'd glance at him and see him wiping tears away, he was laughing so hard. There was also a classical musician and creative writing major in the class. The musician made me uncomfortable and yet somehow finagled my number from me and I somehow always accidentally answered when he called. I had no interest in him. The creative writer was genuinely kind and very good looking. We got along swimmingly, but I  knew he was gay. All the guys in the class disliked him because all they saw was Zach talking with all the girls and making them laugh.
But I thought about my tall classmate sometimes, even mentioned him to my roommate, in passing. There was not much to say. There's an interesting guy in my Lit class but I don't know why I find him interesting because we've never spoken? Maybe not.
One day he asked me if he could read the paper I'd just gotten back. It was my first. Ever. In college. I didn't want to give it to anyone to read, let alone him. I said yes.
He took me to the basement of the library, where all of the published dissertations and other old forgotten manuscripts and articles were. We sat next to each other in one of the wall desks. He handed me his paper to read, I handed him mine. I was eager for pointers, considering that I'd heard he was an English-Philosophy major. He chuckled and said, She gave you an A. That's good, you deserved it. I had no idea what I was doing there. He could write. She gave him a B. Why did he want to see my paper and then tell me something like that?
We talked for 3 hours. We asked each other about our families, our lives. I could sense we'd been raised political opposites, but the conversation flowed easily. I'd been going through a paradigm shift since, oh-I-don't-know-9/11, but was having a hard time finding my real voice. I secretly questioned and criticized everything. Nothing made sense to me any longer politically or religiously. I felt angry and vulnerable. Like most college students, I suppose. But I was also just out of the military, feeling angry and vulnerable for other reasons. We shared our personal insights and hopes and dreams. He wanted to be a writer, he wasn't sure how it would work out, but that's what he wanted the most. I was passionate about working with impoverished groups, providing healthcare to the most marginalized. We gave each other space in that quiet basement to be ourselves, no one watching or listening but us.
I went home and told my roommate about him, The Guy In My Lit Class. He was worried about an upcoming exam; he barely heard me. My heart wasn't soaring, but I looked forward to feeling that I'd made an interesting friend. The next class, when I said "hi" he responded and looked away. The next few classes, he left as quickly as he could, ensuring our only contact be with our eyes. I was hurt.

I soon met a C-130 pilot. I didn't like him because he was a pilot. I thought I fell for him mostly because he was a Catholic, and also a bit disheveled and silly. I just got out of the Air Force; he was familiar, but what I needed most was disheveled and silly---seemingly perfect. We quietly started to sort-of-but-not-really-see each other, even though he was in the midst of a divorce that my naiveté was too naive to realize was a terrible idea. He seemed complicated in a sweet way. I laugh to myself now about learning what the term rebound means the hard way---and how dating is simultaneously so easy and difficult in your early twenties.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

bitter birthmother~

You don't remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened.  John Green

Self-loathing is an interesting beast. It usually starts with something that happened to us or that we did that we're a bit ashamed of.  Much of what actually happened is forgotten to us, as we're caught up in all of the personal details of our own actions in the situation. Sometimes, none of it was our fault, not one tiny thing (rape victims) and other times, we're a part of a complicated story that we played a major part in. We are not a victim; our choices placed us directly in the circumstances we found ourselves in. The narrative, standing alone, would be lost without us. It just didn't turn out the way we'd planned.
It starts with the realization that we cannot go back. We begin to neurotically replay the details in our heads over and over, a way to deconstruct and contain our anger. We project everything we can onto as many people as possible until we find one that can last: our final target. It is two fold, this target. It is someone else, but deep down: it is us. 
When the thing that happened had a lot to do with our own role in the way things played out, the rage becomes unfathomable. I could've done something different becomes a painful theme in the back of our mind, a theme that eventually buries itself so deeply, all we see is the face of That Other Person, the Other Target. This is better known as scapegoating: placing blame upon someone for the mistakes or wrongdoing of others. It can shape our entire life, after we've found someone or something to blame for Everything That Went Wrong.

MW is not happy. She is beyond all rationale. Her rage, contained and targeted and wrapped around my birthfather for so long, is not just leaking out of her; it is like a beyond-compromised water levee. Breaking and gushing, filling everything around her with her angry poison. She cannot forgive herself or him and so I am her new target. Of course, she is trying to make it appear to be out of concern for me.
I just don't want to see you get hurt. 
I'm worried he's just being nice for now and then he'll just drop the ball. 
But most of the time, she just calls him a Motherfucker.
Well, that's one way to put the truth, I suppose.

Then she continues by questioning every time I can't answer the phone, or email back right away. Or whether or not I am willing to visit her in Shitty Louisiana (her words, not mine) after telling me from the beginning that I can never visit her house because she's too embarrassed. Jealousy and rage do not merely coincidentally go hand-in-hand with paranoia.
I think the saddest part for me is that she's being so obviously manipulative, pulling all of the classic things people do when they hate themselves. Because that is exactly what's going on here. This has nothing to do with M, my birthfather, and how he is just as happy to reconnect with me and everything to do with how angry she is at herself for having no leverage regarding our relationship.
She didn't raise me. She gave me to someone else to do that. I had to remind her of that tiny fact.
I owe neither of them anything. My choice to find them was just that: a choice. A choice I'm happy I made, but a choice made by an adult child who never knew her birthparents, nonetheless.

I would like to believe that someday, this will all come together in some loving, forgiving, redeeming, beautiful way, but I am not so naïve. We're talking about two people who could barely remember each other, but regarding each other have experienced some of the deepest pain and regret of their lives surrounding a choice they both made.
People have been saying to me lately, "Oh my then, aren't you just so glad she gave you up for adoption? Your life turned out so much better---despite the problems in your adoptive upbringing."
Hmmmm. All I have to say to this is, if you know anything about either set of my 'parents', you will realize that I am living proof there is such a thing as nature versus nurture. Oh, the nurturing plays a role, I don't deny that. But after a while, we all find our way to ourselves; we just are who we are. This can be good and bad, no doubt. As Nietzsche said, You will become who you are. And I indeed, turned out to be just that. I am nothing like my adoptive family, and I am nothing like my birthparents. Yes, I have some personality traits from my birthparents, but as far as my interests and dreams and accomplishments and what I fear and don't fear----that's just my nature. By all counts, and this has often been my only comfort in this whole mess: I almost too easily imagine myself retreating to my room or the local library to read and journal, bikeride alone, work at a bookstore, save money for college exactly as I did growing up. And so, just as I looked at my adoptive mother growing up, saying to myself, "This person is crazy. Not well. Not happy. Not balanced.", I would've looked at MW had she kept me and said to myself, "This person is crazy. Not well. Not happy. Not balanced."
There is great comfort in this truth, don't try to take it from me. Sometimes, it is all that keeps me steady regarding this strange journey: that at least I have myself to hold onto. And that the life I've made is a life I've chosen. Rather than the shitty, filled-with-bitterness one MW chose and would've given me, rather than the one filled with unbalanced religiosity that my adoptive parents chose and tried to give me. I found my own way; this is and has always been, a great source of peace and strength to me. I'm not going to let anything change this fact even at this point in my life.

I suppose what I'm trying to say here is that when we hate ourselves, it sucks the life blood right out of us. We break our own spirit. We need no enemies, even as we turn nearly everyone we meet into one, simply because we do the job just fine by ourselves. In the end, even the very thing that can redeem us, all the joy that surrounds it----even that is something we come to despise. Because we think we don't deserve it. So then we think if we could just hold onto it, possess it, really----then maybe no one could take it from us. It would be ours and ours alone. This of course, backfires. Because besides food and water and shelter, people need to be free.
Love does not equal ownership. Love does not result from competition. Love does not come from pity.
It comes from a place where you truly accept what is right before your eyes. As is.
But you can't see Love if you can't accept what is right behind your eyes, right?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

explosive devices~

After I hit "send" and imagined the electronic pathways filling with my million and one hopes that M would write back, I began what I assumed would be the long process of what we all know as The Wait.
I'm not lying to you when I say that I'm the most patient person you'll ever meet. I don't really know why, but it's just a strange quirk about me people comment on. Maybe even a little too patient. However, this whole thing had me in a bit of an anxious mess. So I headed out to our local park, a place with hidden trails filled with Birch trees that is truly magical. This grove, with a quiet but just long enough dirt trail cut into it, embraces me and whispers truths to me that I can only reflect on and never repeat as perfectly as they present themselves to me. When we first moved here, I was so lonely I thought I was losing my mind. Then I found the Birch grove and I looked up as I walked through it one day, my toddler on my back, his hands reaching up towards the all-encompassing green and suddenly, I realized the only thing I heard was the sway of leaves. I begged for answers through my tears and all I heard back came in a whisper that held no words. But there were still answers. 

When we arrived back home, my neighbor, a fifty year old woman who lives with her family in the basement apartment of the house next to us, began telling me about the cellulitis in her leg and why she doesn't vote. My son tried to steal the little metal flower out of the bark surrounding their tree. The entire time, I didn't think of my email to M once. 
But when we got inside, I went ahead and opened my email just to see. Maybe to reread the one I sent him. You know how we all do that? Second guess ourselves or boost our confidence, hoping the words we choose really can make a difference. So we stand there rereading our own emails as if it will encourage the other person to reply faster. This is also a way of sending out our energy and true desires into the world, I believe. 
I almost choked as I stood there looking at a Re: U.S research student questions in my inbox. 
In that millisecond of time between my finger clicking "open" and reading the first line for negativity, I felt every rejection I've ever had in my entire life wash over me. My brain retrieved it, relived it, and then, strangely enough, rejected it; because in the end: the truth never hurts as much as a lie. I live by this. 
I only read the first few lines, bracing myself.

My Dearest Daughter, Reem.
Needless to say I am in a state of shock. Not angry nor afraid, and I would never delete your email. I have searched for you but had no idea where to start. I knew that one day I would meet you. 
I embrace you wholeheartedly, Reem. 

Without even finishing reading the whole thing I collapse in a pile onto the floor because the tears are spilling over and I'm sobbing. I pound the hardwood. My shoulders shake. I sweat. I laugh. I am truly in a state of hysterics. My son comes running over to me and puts his hands onto my back, his eyes wide and his mouth open. The dog pants nervously next to me. They want to calm me down, but I can't. I just can't. I've never felt anything like that in my life, not that raw, that uncontrolled. Even when I found MW, I somewhat made the assumption (I know this is terrible) but... well, she's my mother. Oh, I still cried. But it was almost out of relief. It had also been somewhat clear from my adoption papers that she did not want to relinquish her parental rights. Complicated times in Family Social Service agencies. 
But M....all that was listed were statements like "father's rights have been terminated based on legal abandonment" and "it is believed he has returned to Saudi Arabia." He didn't exactly sound like the wholeheartedly embracing type. Not back then. 
He then asked me to write him back as soon as possible to tell him all about myself. He closed so eloquently by saying, It won't be easy on either of us or those around us, but something I've learned after watching it destroy others is that one masters life looking forward and not by beating one's chest about the past---a period one has very little control over. 

A day or so later I am on the phone with Bashar, his old friend I met. They have spoken. He's laughing a little too hysterically himself. He tells me about how last week after I'd left their house, they talked about the Muslim prayers that bring back the dead to complete important unfinished work in life.

That night, he said, we wondered: is there a way to bring back the living, too? 

Friday, August 10, 2012

never assume, always be kind: or, There's Always Two Sides to a Tale

When I found him so easily on the internet last October after learning his name from MW, my birthmom, I cast aside what I'd found. It seemed too easily accessible to be him. Or perhaps, I didn't want to believe it. She was telling me so many terrible things, frankly, and the relationship with her was still so new, so fragile. I wanted to trust everything she said. So I successfully compartmentalized him. For a time.
I began to have doubts. Perhaps it was more important to find him and make a judgment later? I'm a firm believer in "the truth is somewhere in between" and "there are always two sides to every story". So I waited to let my gut tell me when the timing would be right.
Bashar and D, my birthmom and birthfather's old friends from That Tempestuous Time wanted to meet me. Badly. I almost cancelled. I was tired of talking about...it. Adoption? MW? Our "reuniting"? I'm not sure, but I felt a bit drained by the time my little family and I traveled to Pittsburgh just for a visit and one of the things on the agenda was Go See Birthmother's Old Friends To Learn More Overwhelming Information. Oh joy.
When I called D to get their address in Highland Park, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Pittsburgh---where big old trees grow amidst old Victorian homes, she started getting choked up already on the phone. I'm one of those people who doesn't actually start getting nervous until it's too late, so it wasn't until I was kissing MAC and Birdy goodbye that I realized how much I was actually dreading going. What do I say to them? What do we talk about? I know, I know. Me, the talkative extrovert asking what to talk about. Hey, it happens to the best of us.
As I was driving through East Liberty, it started raining. Ani Di Franco randomly started playing out of my iPod:

I've got
No illusions about you
And guess what?
I never did
And when I said
When I said I'll take it
I meant,
I meant as is.

When D opened the door, I was shaking out my umbrella, my face to the side. She gasped as I turned to face her. "You have his face! Please, please come in, come in, Reem."
Her husband, my birthfather's old friend was in the kitchen, barefoot, making pita bread and kebab. He grabs my face between his hands. "Reem! The last time I saw you, you were a tiny little baby!" They both keep staring at me. Especially at my dark hair.
He's starving, he says in his thick Arabic accent, because it's Ramadan and he hasn't eaten since 4 in the morning. It's now 8 at night. They're waiting for the sun to go down completely. At one point, he accidentally puts a piece of rice in his mouth to see if it's done. He spits it out before he can chew it, laughing at himself for his folly.
He serves me rosewater infused date juice, the sweetest, most interesting concoction I've ever had. I've never tasted it before, but for some reason, it's familiar. Arabic music plays in the background as we all sit down to a traditional meal of lentil soup, hummus and pita, kebab, saffron rice, and of course, tabouleh salad.
For a few minutes, no one really talks, happily gobbling up food after being famished. I wonder to myself how diabetics handle fasting in such a conservative religion. I sit there, imagining myself passing out multiple times during Ramadan. I keep it to myself that I don't believe in God.
But they are warm. They go on and on about the past. Their eyes look off sometimes, teary, remembering what happened. They can barely bring themselves to talk about the circumstances surrounding my adoption. Instead, they focus on M, my birthfather.

He was such a gracious man! A real gentleman! So smart! So charming! So generous! 
We took ESL together in our very first semester of college, then he made me take Ballroom dance with him---he wanted to know how to dance, hahahaha! 
He was such a prankster, always making people laugh!
He never drank, never smoked. No matter where he was with anybody. 
He respected his father so much; that man made me have more respect for my own father!
One time, I had no job, had no money. He heard about it and one day I answer the phone and he says he got me a job as a translator for the embassy making good money! That man would give you the shirt off his back, that man!
I bet I want to see him more than you want to see him! I miss him that much!

I sit back in my creaky straw chair, full. I don't know what to make of it. He sounds not just nice but...kind. Genuinely so.
I pull out my usual frankness.
"Would you say he was a womanizer?"
Well, he did love beautiful women! What man doesn't?!
"Did he just leave when MW told him she was pregnant?"
Reem, it was complicated. They barely knew each other. It was a bad time for everyone. She was so scared, he was so scared. They were just kids. We all were. Her family...they were not good to her. She's had a rough life. And he was so terrified of his father. 

I suddenly remember that I'm 31 and have never walked a mile in M or MW's shoes. I picture myself at 19 and 21, a young woman and man, getting pregnant. Holy hell. A blush comes over my face as I imagine that mess. One bloody mess it would've been. And that's exactly what they keep saying. It was a mess. It was a mess. It was such a terrible mess. Unplanned pregnancy and resulting adoptions inherently are. Always.

D tells me she remembers calling MW to come over to a party at their house, and next thing she knew, MW was saying she was leaving with M. And the rest is history.
They barely knew each other a month when she announced she was pregnant. He kept saying It Can't Be Mine, It Can't Be Mine, but none of us saw her with anyone else. We believed her. 

A clear picture of my birthmother's rage begins to form in my mind. I'd caught glimpses of it talking with her on the phone and when she came to visit me. She didn't exactly try to hide it. But it was still somewhat contained. She was always somewhere else when she went to it. Now I could see it, all red and booming and screeching and anguished, trying to convince a man who barely spoke any English that she was pregnant with his child.

After dinner, we sit around with a group of other Arabic speaking friends who have joined for hookah and strong tea and ridiculously sweet middle-eastern pastries. I look around and see faces like mine, and  realize I am part of the group. Bashar and D's son arrives, a half Arab/half white person like me. I am 3 years older than him, we talk about the failed economy and at some point he introduces me as "MW's daughter" to someone. I am in a waking life, someone else and yet still me. More so, it seems.
As the hookah passes around, I admit to them I've never smoked anything in my life. They giggle and without pressure, coach me on how to take a puff and not inhale the smoke. I cough the first time and impress them the second. It tastes like roasted strawberries.
At 11 pm, I get a text message from my partner saying that the baby is screaming his head off and he's resorted to hiding in the closet with him to muffle the volume. I figure it might be time to go.
As I gather my things, D says, You really should consider looking for him, Reem. I really think he'd like to know you. It's not all as MW told you. I think she even remembers some of it wrong. He wasn't a bad man. He was just a kid who made some bad decisions. We're all older now. Just think about it. 

On my way back to the hotel, I think about change. I think about how I've changed. How I've grown as a person. And I think about how I'd hate it if someone assumed they knew everything about me based on the person I was half my life ago. I feared his rejection, and I fully admit that finally.

That night, after cuddling my toddler and traumatized partner to sleep, I sneak out of bed and look up the D.C think tank website I found him on. I look through the pictures of him all over again, trying to see some of that kindness, that warmth they spoke of. In the glow of my laptop, I find an office person to contact.
Tomorrow, I tell myself.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

smart bomb~

I found his name in connection with a D.C think tank many, many months ago after my birthmother and I were reunited and she gave me his name.

I had to be discreet, to say the least. What's worse than finding someone who may not want to be found is finding them and humiliating them. Then, you can be sure they won't speak to you. So I emailed the office email provided on the website and pretended to be a college student with questions in his field of expertise and "would he mind terribly if I was given his personal email to do so?" She was kind. She sent it on.
I sat there looking at his email address for a long time. It was so easy I could've guessed it, I told myself, laughing.
Without waiting too long though and causing me to lose my nerve, I typed "U.S research student questions" in the subject line and hit "send", hoping for the best as it miraculously traveled to Saudi Arabia in a matter of moments.

And so, without further adieu, my very first correspondence with my birthfather, M:

Dear M______m, 

My name is Emily B______. We have never met, but you might remember me because I was once named Reem. 

I am the child that resulted from your pregnancy with M___ W___ in Pittsburgh in September 1980.  She gave me up for adoption a few months after giving birth. 

Please, hear me out before you:
A) become angry 
B) become afraid
C) delete this email before even finishing reading it. 

I want to reassure you first and foremost that I don't want anything from you. 
I am not looking for someone to father me. I am not looking for money. I am not looking for a particularly deep relationship. 
I'm a 31 year old grown woman. I am intelligent, well educated, thoughtful, and take care of myself---I lead a wonderful and happy life. I want no "thing" from you and am certainly not contacting you to extort money or conduct a smear campaign and ruin the somewhat public, political life you appear to lead.
I am a completely normal, stable and good person--- that is all I can reassure you with for now in the hopes that you will believe it. Please try and trust that.

However, I am asking for a bit of your time and understanding.  

I'm simply reaching out to learn about who I am and where I come from. My story, so to speak. Surely, as you have grown and matured from that time in your life, you can understand where I'm coming from. It is hard to know nothing about oneself: the past, the circumstances, the reasonings, the people who make up one's story. This is essentially what makes adoption so complex.

Pennsylvania is what is called a legally "closed" adoption state. I only have your name after requesting information from the Pittsburgh Adoption Court System and being permitted to open my file. I did this when I turned 30 and only now have been able to contact you after finding your name and several photos on the U.S/Middle East____ website. Please excuse my telling the contact, Gail, that I was a student doing research and wanting to ask you some questions. I did this out of respect for both yours and my privacy; and of course, because it was the only way I found to ensure personal with contact you. Your information on the organization's public website fit the time frame, and I can only say this bluntly: you and I look very much alike. 

I was able to get into contact with Bashar, the old friend you made in ESL class at Point Park College. I met him and his wife, D___, recently in Pittsburgh, where they still live. They both remember you and spoke highly of their old acquaintance. 

Please read my email a few times before impulsively deleting it, and please consider responding to me with understanding and compassion.  I am not here to threaten or embarrass you. We are both adults. I simply want to talk with you. 

Sincerely and with great hope, 

"Reem Marie M______m" 
(that is the name my birthmother M___ gave me on my original social security card, but because I was adopted my legal name is Emily B_______.)

Friday, June 1, 2012

on becoming a writer~

Ever since I can remember, I was a writer. First and foremost, it's the only natural talent I have. Of course, I had to learn to read and write before I realized this. But it was the only thing that came naturally to me. I didn't have to try hard at it; to understand the beauty of all those swirling and tilting vowels and consonants pushing and pulling together in our consistently confusing language. But when I did try hard at it, I could make the words on a page even dance for others. Being a writer made sense to me (as lost as I was when it came to the rules of math) and writing was a great comfort to me. I soaked up stories like a long drink, thirsty for the words within as a world to escape to in moments.
But I'm a nervous writer. As I am about many things I do, but I still do them: writing, cooking, baking, photography, studying language. The deeper things: searching for meaning in this messy world, being in a longterm relationship, raising a family. And I'm not always good at things, but the only sign of a failed life is one in which you sell yourself short, as spoken so eloquently by a new friend. So I continue on, as I always have, competing with no one but myself, leaving behind those and that which I've noticed dangerously inhibits my breathing. This is also known as anxiety. 

I first realized my birthfather was a published writer when I did that crazy search way back of him after learning his name. And there was his curriculum vitae out there for all to see. Little did he know that I'd ever see it. Little did he know that of the many people who've read it, I am the one soaking it up like ink on paper. Little did he know that while many may be impressed with his authorship, I am the one who most craves to read his work. 
So I ordered his book. It's out of print; a political research piece with a qualifying, psychological twist. I realized after staring at it on Amazon for the last several months, there was only one used copy for $10 and all of the others after that were over $40. I realized the former one was mine. 
When I received it, MAC and I stood there in the kitchen just staring at it. As if opening it would open up the past and he might speak. He did, in a sense. He dedicated it to his father, a man I've been told many things about, none of them in that warm dedication. In his acknowledgements, he declares deep, true love for his wife, loyal from so many miles away. He thanks his entire family for their "unfailing love and encouragement in good times and bad" and his mother, for her "boundless love and belief" in him. 
These are big statements. Statements I know nothing about, am not a part of, and yet am so close to because I was the one who delayed his work for a time. His very important work of finishing college and getting a PhD and writing this book about how much Saddam Hussein's personality played into his decision to invade Kuwait. I was his problem to solve and with the help of his "unfailingly encouraging" family, he succeeded. Now he lives the luxurious lifestyle awarded to him for doing exactly as he was told by his father and mother, denying the pregnancy, abandoning M, and jetting back to Saudi Arabia in order to attend his suddenly-arranged marriage to his ever-so-loyal wife. Now he is the middle-man for the corrupt corporocratic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. How much did his personality play a part in his decision to become intimately involved with a woman and then deny impregnating her? 
Does he ever think of me? 
Because I think of him. For god's sake, I look like him. I write like him. I was around one of my [adoptive] cousins recently and knew how many problems he'd had with his father, my uncle, over the years; how painful that relationship has been for him. And I will admit, his father can be quite obnoxious. The funny thing was, here he was, a lot like his father. Not obnoxious, it's just that his sense of humor was quick and tart and sarcastic like his dad's. A much kinder version of it, but similar nonetheless. 
So I read between the lines, trying to understand not only the words of the author, but the author himself. Where was he coming from in writing that phrase? And why did he choose this semicolon over simply starting a new sentence? Is he longwinded in real life? Is he soft spoken? Does he talk fast and laugh loud and hard like me? I'm trying to gaze into his soul as I read his words. How much am I like my birthfather? 
These are the losses I cannot trace and hold and have. So I sit here reading this book of his, touching the pages, a tear or two spilling every once in a while. I'm proud of who I am and where I come from, but it's difficult being the bastard child of someone like him. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

heart complications~

The day that M was leaving snuck up on me too quickly. Of course, I was expecting it. Of course, I knew it was coming. I knew the time and day exactly. She was leaving on the 12:42 train from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, to visit her ailing mother there.
But she was leaving me. Again.
We decided since we had to drive in to Philly anyway to take her to the train, we'd make a memorable morning of it: enter, the incredible fun of the Reading Terminal Market. I was dying to show it to her.
As we were packing up her stuff, more questions started flooding out of me, they felt so important and immediate at the time, but for some reason now, I don't remember them. All I knew was she was leaving me and I had more to ask. 
But about what? I remember it had something to do Muhammed, the guy she was with after she had me who had basically hinted that I was putting a dent in their relationship. Maybe I blocked her response out already. Sometimes (I'm being serious here) I think I have a hard time remembering things because of this, no joke. People literally bring things up from the past and I'm literally like, "I do not remember that. Was I really there?" Anyways, I think I wanted her to reiterate the situation. I think I wanted to double check about that whole "did he pressure you to give me up?" After all, she called him the first real love of her life. Sigh. Oh, M.

As we drove the hour to Philly, I was just talking. I do that when I'm nervous. My apologies to everyone who has had to suffer it in the past. I don't think it's going to change, though.
When we got to the market, we walked all over it, greeting the Amish, me buying butter and cheese and homeopathic pellets. She bought shea butter, tomatoes, fresh kibbeh, and some spices. Then we rubbed patchouli on our scarves. I bought her a lavender cupcake to have on her 7 hour train ride. After all the wandering and gazing at things like authentic french linens and imported italian oils and fresh fish, we went to Kamal's for some middle eastern food.
I remember telling her to pick what she liked and we could share it, since I like all mid-eastern food. I know this sounds crazy, but sometimes I still had my doubts. About her being my mother. I mean, look at her! And how can she know so much about this culture? Did she really sleep with a Saudi Arabian?  And have me?! (go ahead and laugh, but at least I'm being frank here). Plus, I look like no one I know. Hell, even my son looks nothing like me. Sometimes I truly feel like a lone reed in this world. Well, obviously that would be a "Lone Reem", haha. But I'd have doubts and then she'd do something like what she did at Kamal's counter: order all this food in this way that clearly illustrated she knew exactly how it was prepared and cooked and what she wanted a little extra of, a little less of. I swear, they were looking at me like "why are you not ordering and um, where'd you get this lady?" Then M laughed because she said the cook looked up and was checking out my butt when I turned around to go find a seat. She said, "See? Anytime your own people see your heritage in you, they know it!" I'm like, "M, all he was looking for was some ass."
So my birthmom and my little babybird and I sat down and proceeded to share our first meal made up of only middle-eastern food: taboule, persian rice, hummus, pita, and chicken kebabs. Yum. It didn't hit me how important this act was until we were actually sharing it. But food is not only cultural, it's ritual---and that's why it's cultural. We eat when we're happy together as humans (showers, weddings, baptisms, graduations). We eat when we're sad together (breakups, funerals, goodbye gatherings). We eat when we're just...together. This is why we all know, deep down, it's not good to eat alone.
So M and I ate together. For happiness. For sadness. For celebration. For what we knew was goodbye. For now.
She'd been worried about missing the train, but I google mapped it for "on foot" and thought I had it all calculated so we'd make on time. We asked the guy at the cafe on the way out if he thought it was too far. His eyebrows went up and he said, "It's a hike, but you can make it." The old lady we met on the way did not agree. But she was pushing a city-grocer cart, so I'm gonna say her input doesn't count.
They aren't kidding when they say that the 'Market's on 12th Street and we had to walk to the 30th Street Train Station. I mean really,  Emily. Who were you kidding? I now know I subconsciously did this on purpose because I am that bad at goodbyes.
So we booked it. We dragged her little suitcase, my baby worn on my back, hiking up those Philly sidewalks, past the many universities, over the bridge...into the old train station. We made it just in time to print her ticket and step into the already moving line. We got into line, and I began helping her to get all of her stuff together. "Here, hold this." "Oh, I've got that. You just..." Like all of us trying to get on a plane, train, or bus, it's overwhelming to get all those passes and papers and id's together at the last minute. Suddenly, we were coming up on the woman scanning tickets and only then did I realize that I wasn't going with her. Oh my gosh, how did I miss that part? Oh ya, this is it.
Uh, M. I have to get out of the line now. I step awkwardly backwards over the red velour cable.
She suddenly stops rummaging through her purse. The man in front of her is almost done handing over his ticket, headed down the escalator.
She looks at me and we fall into this massive embrace over the cable. She whispers, I love you.
Surprised by the words coming out of my mouth, I say Love you, too. 

And then she was gone, down the escalator. Just like that.
I turned around. I looked out into the sea of faces. I wanted to stop everything for a minute. Freeze time. Run down there and have us keep moving together, swaying in time, just the two of us in this massively busy city. There was still so much to be shared, unchartered terrain to navigate together, facial expressions to memorize, noise to shut out, unsaid words to say. Was my blood sugar low? Maybe. I walked dazed through the station, stopping to buy a latte for the cold wind and my nearly 15 block walk back to the car. As I was paying, my hands shook, my heart still beat. But my blood sugar wasn't low.
We meandered. We stopped to look at pigeons. We admired brave pink blossoms on the trees in the city landscape.
But mostly, we just wandered back to the car dazed and confused. All while people rushed past us, too many places to go. I felt I had no where I ever needed to be again in my life. As we crossed the bridge, a train was pulling out of the station. We stopped and looked over the railing and waved. M, are you in there? 
It took me a bit to pull myself together. I was grateful for the hour long drive back. When we got home, we both just crashed onto the bed and napped.
In some sense, I feel like I crashed that day and haven't woken up. I won't lie, it's been hard. I've been having a really hard time. Just as we were opening up, warming up, we had to part ways. Oh, life and all its jobs and limited time off and distance and different cities to live in. She has admitted as much to me. Yes, meeting each other made it better, but it also made my heart open in a way that created some crevasses to fall into. And I do. Every day now. I miss her. And she misses me. It's amazing to be missed by a mother. No, she didn't raise me. She didn't mother me. She's not my friend or my confidant. She's my birthmother. And while I'm still figuring out what that complicated title entails for this reconnected, very complicated relationship, I'll take it for what it means to me each moment we have together from now on. It's that simple.

Friday, May 18, 2012

on matter~

Did we used to say "I'm matter"? and then just shortened it to "I matter"?
Because, truly, I am matter. You're matter. We all take up and inherently are matter. Nothing but and everything matter.
I matter.
I matter because I breathe. And with each particle of oxygen that I inhale, with each carbon attached to two oxygens that I exhale, I matter. I matter because I take up space. My many cells, down to every nucleus of every atom inside myself, takes up space. My space. It creates space. And space wouldn't matter...without matter. Just like you can't define community without the individual because individuals make up the group that makes up the community. And vice versa. You can't have the individual without the community because you wouldn't have even differentiated the individual apart from the community had you not noted a collection of people standing there together in the first place. There's no place for loners and isolationists in the world. This beautiful world in which everything works together, goes together, comes together even when we don't like it. This is, at heart, the nature of Fibonacci's logarithmic spiral.
What I'm trying to say here mostly is that I'm over this whole I Don't Matter phase of my life.
I do matter.
Because I am matter.
It's my matter, and your matter, and we're all the same matter. So let's all stop acting like some people matter more than other people matter.
Do you see how, when you repeat a word over and over, it takes on a new sound, a new shape, a new feeling on our tongue and stops to, dare I say, matter?
This is why we need to be careful with our words. To see our tongues as double edged swords; simultaneously a gift and a curse. If we're not careful, they can do great harm. But if we never open our mouths on the other hand...we cannot speak what's on our hearts, simply put: the heart of the matter.
So today, I do that. I do just that. I let the words that leave my many-particled and somewhat shattered-but-still-whole heart speak my matter. All of it. Nothing less. I release it into the air to take up space and literally become me outside of myself. That's how we're all connected. You're breathing me in and I'm breathing you in. We're all taking in each other's matters, whether we like it or not. This is why saying "it doesn't matter" means nothing. Things matter---have matter. Even when we say they don't. And I've found especially, when people say "it doesn't matter"--- it's usually about the things that matter to them the most.

Monday, May 14, 2012

on hair dye, hysteria, and happiness~

The Monday after Easter we have things on our list. Hiking and hair dye. M hates the brassiness of her hair color. She won't ask me to dye it, so I offer. For some reason, this seems very intimate to me and I can tell she's nervous about asking anyway. But I want to do it.
So we go to Kmart, one of her favorite shops [insert the sound of me cackling here] and as all women, no matter what shop you find yourself in for one item, we end up trekking through the entire store. (Hey, I found a bunch of toddler clothes on sale for my son, so it turned out to be a great idea.) But something else, something about sidling up next to her, doing inherently female things together, nay, mother-daughter things like shopping...it felt so natural. I didn't realize how much I'd craved it, considering my non-existent-maybe-my-birthday-card-won't-say-passive-aggressive-things-in-it-this-year adoptive mother.
She tried on 3 different pairs of shoes while I stood there laughing and commenting (we have very different tastes: cork bottomed platform sandals? Meh, not so much.)  I tried on scarves (she says I have too many, but then sends me one after she returns home from her visit.) We looked at cute bras, handbags, and even make-up. She buys a lipstick that she ends up not liking. She tells me it would look better on me. I don't think so, but try it and realize it's great. I've been wearing it every day since.

Later, we meet the sitter at my house so that she and I can take our little hike at the local wildlife refuge near the bay. It's spectacular and our conversation is just as amazing. She shares with me how plain she felt growing up and how it caused her to act out to get attention when she was a teen. She looks me square in the face and says, "after I had you, I went on birth control. That's why I look so fat in those pictures." For the record, she wasn't exactly fat. But considering what a stick she is now, I guess some would call that fat. She was terrified of getting pregnant again. It sounded like it didn't stop her from dating shitty guys. But hey, that's some people for ya. Apparently, her husband literally pined after her all those years. Interesting how we come back around to ourselves, our original selves. The one in the end that we always were anyways. She found her true love in a man she rejected for years because...he knew exactly who she was. They've been married nearly 25 years now.
We hiked and hiked and hiked and...hiked. Not realizing that we'd missed our turn in order to take the short route, we had no choice but to continue on our way and finish the 5 mile loop. To the chagrin of my babysitter, whom I promised I'd be back at a certain time. Well, that time came and went and of course, I started to royally freak out. I mean, I was really trying to hold it together, but with every new bend we came to in the road and no end in sight...my heart started racing.
Of course, too, I had no juice on me just in case I had a low blood sugar while hiking---which I never do. Oh my god, so unsafe. Then, I realized as we were turning a bend that looked familiar (Yay! we're almost back to the car! This was supposed to be a fun hike not a freak-out death-march!) I realize that I do not have my phone with me. One word: fuuuuuuck. 
So I start jogging. I kid you not. I'm leaving M in the dust as I try to get to the car and hurry to then, in a confused and weird sort of way, save maybe 1 1/2  minutes by picking her up? Anyways, we still have a 30 minute drive back to the house. Nice.
I know what you're picturing and you are 100% right: I flipped-out. As we're driving home, I'm just going on and on about how awful this is. How upset my sitter must be. How rude of me. How I can't believe I missed the turn on the hike. And basically just repeated OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGODs. Irritatingly so, to be sure.
But M just sat there and listened. She was calm and understanding and told me not to worry; everyone's human.
After I paid my sitter about double to make amends for my folly, M just started laughing at me. In a very amused sort of way. When MAC, my partner got home from work, they just had a giggle fest over  me. He goes, "Ya, she goes to this place and there's no bringing her back---you just have to ride it out with her". I'm thinking, Screw you guys! But they were right. They were spot on. And they were both people who'd shown me they were indeed willing to accept that weird part of me and ride the wave of my random-onset-why-the-hell-is-she-so-worried-anxiety out with me. By my side.
Later, it hit me that it was important she see me like that. I do generally stay calm. Not too much fazes me at this point in my life: people cussing me out because of their own personal problems, weird admissions, crazy and painful incidents in people's lives---I'm all ears and no freak-outs. People actually constantly comment on how collected and neutral I stay, I kid you not. It's something I pride myself on. However, if I think I've hurt someone, insulted someone, made someone feel disrespected, look out, I flip! Even if it's a honest to god mistake, even if they know it and tell me to calm the hell down. But especially if they catch onto my anxiety over it and kind of start manipulating my feelings, oh man, do I become an emotional wreck the size of the Titanic. Forget a life preserver, I need the flippin' Coast Guard in a seabird at that point.
My point is that she saw me with my guard down. We're talking completely down. And she was ok with it. She actually said she was relieved by it. She even admitted to me how her husband said to her before she came, "What will you do if she gets really angry at you, M? About your giving her up for adoption? What if she gets really freaking angry at you finally?" She said, "Well, I'll have to deal with it. And then probably get a hotel room." Ha! But little did she know I tend to only flip out when I think I've hurt others. Sad, but true. I'm still doing the heavy, personal work of allowing my valid anger to surface with people---especially those closest to me.

So that night, after a giggly dinner that definitely involved everyone having some beer, we dyed her hair a rich, reddish brown. Her hair is quite thin. It was nice just to be close to her. Strange as that sounds. I think, deep down, I just wanted to be near her face. I never got to be. I forgot until recently how much children like to be close to our adult faces. My son is officially a toddler now and so his dexterity and coordination gets better every day. He often comes up to my face just to look at it, grab it, pet it, caress it.
This is the only way I can describe my feelings about dying M's hair. I just wanted to be close to her face. To examine it. To stare at it. To memorize it.
Never let it go, really.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Opus #past

It's funny how in real life, after months of conversations on the phone, my hunger to hear The Story all over again, became vital to me. I literally ached for it.
On Easter, we decided to take a walk down the boardwalk by ourselves. MAC had already taken our little one in the stroller and said to me, "do we want to all go together?" I said no. Something came over me because I never speak to people like that. As we were walking, halfway down the walk, we saw MAC coming towards us with the stroller, heading home. He said to me, "do you want us to walk with you the rest of the way again?" I said no. He couldn't hide his surprise, he kind of laugh-gasped. But he understood. I said to him, "I'm not ready yet." M just looked out at the ocean. As Matthew turned to head home, she let out a sigh. The time had finally come, she knew, to try to help me make sense of what happened.
It wasn't like I suggested that Easter morning walk to do that. It just...happened. It was where the conversation was going, nay, where it had to go.
The story started changing, reshaping, swallowing me up. To an outsider, it didn't change by much. But to me, the tiny baby inside me was screaming and pulling her hair out.
M had been leaving me with "friends" and it came out that it was to just hang out with people. She had met another guy and over the few months of spending more and more time with him, he started hinting that the baby was getting in the way of their relationship. When one of these friends who watched me lost their own toddler to a drowning in a swimming pool, they became a bit more than 'ok' with babysitting me, soothing their own loss by watching me. M took advantage of the opportunity to have time by herself. However, tensions built and this girlfriend got it in her head that she wanted to adopt me. Another girlfriend's mother then said the same. Odd.
My birthfather's uncle, living in Pittsburgh at the time, also showed an odd interest in me, wanting to take me back to Saudi Arabia. At least four people M mentioned talked to her about giving me to them. Random people, people who had no reason to want me. Unless, of course, they did. As one friend told M later in life, "you had a baby with the prince and that little girl of yours was their ticket into a house of gold." Or so they thought.
Clearly, people know very little about Saudi culture. I'm technically a bastard. And a half-breed. Oh, I was good blackmail for my great uncle to use against his nephew to gain access to hush money from his powerful brother. And you can also be sure that after taking me to Saudi Arabia and getting what he wanted from his brother, I'd have been dumped on the streets. God knows what kind of sex-trafficking I'd have ended up in in a place that doesn't value its women---let alone someone like me.

As the story continued, she tells me that after her friend wouldn't let her in her apartment to come pick me up, determined to keep me, something in her snapped. I looked at her and said, "See that's the part that I don't get."
She just looks at me, knowing where I'm headed. But it had to be said.
"M, the mother in me is dying here. If someone wouldn't let me in their house to come pick up my child, I'd have come back with a gun. I'd have come back with a firetruck. I'd have broken windows, thrown molotov cocktails. Hired a hitman. That person would be dead if they tried to take my child from me."
But she waited 3 days. She just....went away.
When the social worker from CYFD called after her "friend" filed a report, M said that she felt backed into a corner. How could she defend herself? How could she explain her situation when the chips had all fallen on their side? She felt like the only way to keep me from the two twisted maniacs who told the social worker to just let *one of them* adopt me since clearly the mother didn't want me, was to, in a way, get sweet revenge by just putting me up for full and bloody adoption after the social worker informed her that was one of her options. Well, that and going on welfare. And for some reason, that took her over her humiliation-edge. God forbid, a mother use welfare when she needs it so she can get on her feet and I don't know, go off it when things get better. Just a thought.
I'm crying as I type this. Be patient with me as I get something out. Don't judge me:
My birthmother was scared. Frustrated. Angry. Overwhelmed. Humiliated. Shit poor, broken, lost. But at the heart of it, she was a coward.
She let what other people say to her, about her, and behind her back, get to her. She was not a fighter. She was a weakened 18 year old with no prospects, no goals, no hopes, no desire to right her situation for herself or...her daughter. Her self-esteem hit rock bottom. She just freaked out and gave up.
About 2 years after she gave me up for adoption, her mother said to her, When I told you to leave the house that day you told me you were pregnant, I didn't mean forever. I just meant that day. 
Shortly after she gave me up for adoption, her older brother Tom was visiting the house and was looking at a little picture of me. He studied it and suddenly said, Why did she give her away? I don't understand why she didn't just say something so she didn't feel like she had to give her away. 
Oh, families. All the unsaid things. All the unsaid things said much too late.

But I didn't say all the things I felt ripping my heart in two on that windy Easter walk. Even though that's what I felt. Even though, for a second, I had this moment I wanted to run and scream until I brought the sky down.
Instead, when she said, "Do you think I didn't try hard enough?" I clenched my fists tight at my sides and replied, "I didn't say that so you'd feel judged. It was just a statement that needed to be made. What you did is what you did. You were 18. You're 50 now, hindsight is always 20/20. Our lives turned out just fine. We're here now, aren't we?"

We're here now. Walking side by side, next to a sea overflowing with thirty years' worth of both our salty, maternal tears.