The journey of adoption – lost and found, part three
I knew it was possible to be terrified, grief-stricken, confused and numb all at the same time, so I wasn’t entirely surprised at how it felt as I contacted the searcher of my choice, got my reply and sent her the $300 she requested to do the search. For the most part, I managed to be patient, or, at least, polite, but getting the information from the courts took as long as it took and there was no hurrying it up.
Slowly, the information dribbled in, at first, none of it good. Biological grandfather died in 1972. Two page obituary so he was “somebody,” but she wasn’t allowed to tell me more. Biological grandmother died in 1984. Both times they only mentioned one surviving daughter, my biological mother’s sister, as it turned out, but no word whatsoever about a another child. No word that she had predeceased them. Nothing.
And then, another body blow – news that my biological father had not only passed away but had been gone for 32 years.
I’ll confess that when I’d found out that my biological mother admitted in the nonID information that my biological father never knew I existed, I didn’t think about him as much as I did her. After all, he hadn’t given birth to me, and because he didn’t know about me, could not have yearned for his lost child. And honestly, the damage I had suffered at the hands of men had made a potential relationship with my bio mother more important.
So while news of his death hit hard, I breathed through it because it had, after all, been so long ago.
And then, more. The searcher emailed me to say “It appears your birthfather had two sons during his marriage.” Sons? Two of them? I had brothers???? Suddenly this was coming closer to home. The still-lost birth mother faded a bit into the background as I contemplated the fact that not only did I have brothers but they were undoubtedly ravaged by their father’s loss at what had to have been a relatively early age.
I walked around for days, shaking my head, bursting out quietly with “I have brothers? I have brothers!” I quite likely appeared a bit deranged. I tried to visualize them and came up with young men in their 20s, despite knowing perfectly well that they couldn’t be that young.
The searcher continued to dig, going so far as to hire a private detective, contacting my biological aunt, my bio mother’s sister, through her church. The private eye turned up nothing. No death certificate. No nothing. Not a single trace. The aunt, even if she knew anything, made it abundantly clear that she wanted nothing to do with any of it and stated unequivocally that any further attempts at contact would be rejected.
For a while the searcher and I wondered if my biological mother had committed suicide. Would that be shame enough to have been excised from the family? But if she had, there would still be a death certificate and there was nothing. I fretted for days over the thought that life could have ravaged this woman to the point of killing herself, a woman who had loved children enough to become a teacher, and who had been forced by society and circumstance to cast her firstborn into the winds of chance and hope for the best.
Or perhaps she had simply chosen to vanish. Perhaps she had, as one could back in the day, commandeered the birth certificate of a child born near enough to her
own birthday and reinvented herself as someone else. People did that back then. Her father was a complete tool and her mother, while supportive, was an old-school wife. Could her life have been so dreadful that she felt impelled to become an entirely different person and disappear forever? It would have explained a lot. After all, prison, death and marriage all leave traces. My biological mother left not a single one.
At last the searcher conceded defeat. She wrote to the court, requesting that since my biological mother might as well be dead for all the signs we could find of her, that I be given at least her identifying information.
And once again, we waited.
I was at work when the call came from the court. The woman, whom I’d come to see as the kind of person who saw herself as a very good Christian but was actually judgmental and paternalistic (despite gender), who had lectured me on adoption and the morality of the time as if I had no clue about any of it, gave me the news first that they would not be releasing my biological mother’s name, but that they would give me the name of my biological father.
And in one sentence – one breath, one set of sound waves transmitted electronically from thousands of miles away, I became someone in ways I had never been before.
When you were adopted back in the way way back, the first thing they did was eradicate your entire original identity. Nationality, name, origin, parents’ names – all gone. A new birth certificate was issued as if your adoptive parents, by dint of wand-waving, legislating and courtroom procedure, were your actual biological parents. The child was officially recreated from scratch to be someone entirely new.
Problem is, it’s a lie. Another problem can be, as it was for me, that while they removed my original identity, my adoptive parents did not actually replace it with anything. They did not discuss nationality. They did not discuss origins. Rob made it clear he despised his family of origin, for the most part, and Veva, whose ongoing rivalry with her sisters was fought on the battlefields of money, housing and the accomplishments of her children, despised her own mother deeply, for reasons I was never truly able to ferret out. I did know that the Drake girls routinely devoured their girl children as if they were guppies while lionizing the boys, which makes me suspect that my mother’s gorgeous oldest sister, Virginia (not her actual first name, I was later to find out) was quite galled to never have had a boy and that she was less than pleased that her plainer sisters, particularly Vera (also not her actual first name), who had inherited both her father’s intelligence and also, unfortunately, looks, had both at least been able to adopt a precious son.
I was left without history, without ancestry, without identity, without background. I sort of had something vague and ephemeral, but I was left with the sense that it was their family, their history – not mine. The adoptive parents divulged as little as they possibly could, just as the court would, later, when I tried to get information about my lost birthmother. So it was that I was “nobody from nowhere” and a “nameless, faceless bastard” in a world of connection, of similarity, of family fully, if sometimes with deep reluctance, claimed.
And then, in that one breath, in that single sentence, it all changed forever.
“We can give you information about your birth father, though. His name was Oliver Darwin Stiles, Junior. He was born on September 22, 1934 and he died October 12, 1983.” Born on a date eight days before my birthday of October 2. Died on a date ten days after it.
Oliver Darwin Stiles, Junior. I stared at that name in absolute fascination. It was a beautiful name, that. Distinctive. Intelligent. The name ran in circles around my head. I confided quietly to a coworker, “I know my birth father’s name,” and I repeated it to him.
“Pretty cool,” he replied. Yes. Pretty cool, all except the fact that he was gone.
He was gone and I would never be able to meet him, to tell him I loved him, as it turned out, as much as I had ever loved my mysteriously vanished birth mother.
I set out to discover who this person was and, perhaps, to find the brothers whom I now had a chance of knowing and, if the stars were kind, of giving them the love I had been stashing in that deep, protected part of my heart where my hurt little girl had been waiting in hope for all those years.