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.