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 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_______.)