Adopting an Identity
It's a day just like any other in my freshman year, and my mom tells me my dad cried over the contents of the envelope she just handed to me. I have a hard time believing her because I've never seen my dad cry and because dads, by the laws of nature, aren't supposed to cry. But the envelope concerns me, and it concerned my dad enough to cry about it.
Pretty soon I'm crying, and my mom's crying. Our faces are like shiny red beets while tears fall into our open mouths as we try and fail to talk to each other through the tears. We only manage blubbering, guttural noises. Inside the envelope are letters and pictures. My mom says they're from my biological parents and that idea doesn't process because the hand-written letter from my bio-father looks so much like my mom's handwriting that I think she's playing some sort of trick on me. She's not. I flip through pictures of Chimene and Richard, these accidental lovers, and of the two half-siblings I never knew about. It's surreal; I feel only half awake as I flip among the pictures and wonder who these people are and wonder who I am because of these letters.
I felt out of place in my family. I would see families stockpiled with love. But love felt awkward since I didn't know how to give it because I didn't, and in some ways still don't, appreciate everything my family does for me. And I didn't see myself in my parents. They didn't read; they didn't like the kind of movies I like; they didn't share my atheism, my cynicism, or any personality quirks. I didn't understand the concept of all this familial love because I wasn't sure how to love my parents when I felt disconnected from them.
My mom lingers. I think she feels as though she's obligated to help me along this emotional journey because she's my mom and that's her job. All I can think about is how similar this is to the moment in the second grade when I was told I was adopted. I laid on the king-sized bed in my parents' room talking about my day, wide-eyed at the fact that a girl in my grade was adopted. And then my mom told me that the girl and I had similar life stories. My mom claimed she told me when I was young, but I didn't remember. At eight, I was told I was unique in a way I didn't want to be. We sat in silence for a while, and I wanted nothing more than to go away and cry. So I excused myself and got a Pepsi from the fridge. My mom accompanied me, and I can't remember feeling more sad, embarrassed, and angry in my entire childhood at the fact that she wouldn't leave me alone.
My biological mother uses an abundance of "teehees" in her structurally strange, typed letter because apparently she's funny and laughter can't be captured on paper. I can't connect with her "teehees." I can't see any humor in the impersonal black ink. I can't connect with a person whose letter is like a resume, a list of altruistic hobbies and likable characteristics. Yet, I look at this paper and see myself in her love of books, her terrible humor. And I feel almost a sense of... relief.
I can't relate to my parents. And now I'm reading about this woman, seemingly so foreign, this woman who's training for the Iraq war and likes to plant, whose first love is God followed by her husband John, this woman who's half like me. Only half, but that's half more than I can say for my parents.
I sift through her computer-paper memories printed in the dull-colored ink. Then I move on to Richard. I already like him. He gave me actual pictures, glossy, without fingerprint smudges, true and genuine, just like his hand-written letter that tells me he took time and effort in this compilation. I almost feel like an intruder looking at his best friends, his brother, his beard that makes him look like The Dude from The Big Lebowski. Richard begins by feeling obligated to tell me that I wasn't a mistake, that there was a good reason why I was brought up by a different family, blah blah. I don't need comfort from a man I don't know.
But I do know him. It's terrifying to the point where my hands begin to shake.
I know him because I'm the carbon copy of him, from his cheekbones to his aspirations. Our canines are identical, our eyes mirrors, our dimples cousins, our smiles duplicates. As I read the letter, I grow more and more dumbfounded. I want to major in film, and I think NYU is just about the most amazing school there is. So when I read that he majored in film production at NYU, I'm literally scared. The similarities don't stop there. We're both adopted, we both love movies to no end, we like math, we prefer Judaism to other religions, we're both this and we're both that. This letter is staring me in the face, telling me that I'm not random, that it's okay to not be like my family because I'm not exactly a part of them.
It's natural to want to believe that humans are independent. We all like to think we have freedom, that we're not controlled by anyone or anything. But science suggests that we are biased creatures with predispositions originating from either our genes or our environments. The nature versus nurture debate has been going since the dawn of psychology. Some say that we are a product of our environments; how we grow up and the conditions we grow up in help determine who we are today. For instance, someone can be a bitter adult due to a poor upbringing, or a selfish adult because of a spoiled childhood. The opposing view of this is that we have genetic predispositions that shape who we are. It's in our genes to like or dislike something; we're already programmed to be a certain way. Scientists have looked into this study by observing twins who have grown up in different environments. Theoretically, if nature wins out, they should be very similar people; however, if nurture is the dominant factor, they would be completely different people.
Home life, culture, and peers definitely play a role in the makeup of a person. But then there are people like Oskar Stohr and Jack Yufe, identical twins reared apart. One was raised as a Catholic and a Nazi while the other was raised in the Caribbean as a Jew. They both liked sweet liqueur and spicy food, tended to fall asleep while watching television, flushed the toilet before using it, kept rubber bands on their wrists, and had quick tempers. When they met, they were both wearing blue, double-breasted shirts, moustaches, and wire-rimmed glasses. And this might seem like freakish coincidence, but it's not an anomaly. Among other examples, there are also the two Jims; twins reared apart named Jim who had sons named James, first wives named Linda and second wives named Betty, dogs named Toy, vasectomies, a woodworking hobby, fondness for Miller Lite, chain-smoking habit, and more similarities they shared.
It seems that nature wins this debate. But I didn't need studies to tell me that. I learned it in a letter.
I don't resent my parents because I'm not able to relate to them. What used to bother me was my brother. It's clear to see that Gerald Singleton King, Jr. is my father's son. They have matching hot-heads and hair lines and a knack for business. My brother borrowed my dad's eyes and my grandpa's height to become who he is. And when you turn to my mom, you can see how G.J. has her social skill and empathetic demeanor.
Then there is me. The shortest person in my entire extended family, the only blue-eyed girl, the sort of person to read Infinite Jest for fun while everyone else has a magazine in their hands. My entire family always told me I was an artist, but I'm pretty sure that's because they didn't know what else to call me. I always wanted to do something different, and I'm not sure if that's because I was already labeled as different or because I genuinely wanted to. But then my brother went to Brown University and then to Stanford. I had no room to do something awesome because my brother was better; my brother was biological.
It took me a while to stop comparing myself to G.J. I stepped back and remembered: yeah, I'm different. We don't share the same biological source, so how can my brain cells compare to his?
And I have to remember. It doesn't happen often, but I have to remember that my parents aren't useless. I know I take them for granted; every suburban teenager does. If they didn't raise me Christian, I wouldn't have found my voice through atheism. If they didn't provide for me well, I wouldn't feel the need to provide well for others. If they didn't teach me the laws of the world, I wouldn't know how to rebel against them. While I found solace in the letters, I had to remember - have to remember - that my ability to relate to strangers doesn't compromise the fact that my parents are, and always will be, superior because they raised me.
Richard is rather poignant. All biofathers should be as cool as Richard. No one has ever told me that I'm special the way Richard is telling me I'm special. He writes, "Your existence in this world means a lot to me. It's difficult to put into exactly the right words, but it's kind of like... When you were born, it validated my existence. No matter what I did or did not accomplish from that point forward, there would always be you."
I think I needed Richard's letter more than Chimene's letter. Maybe that's because I was able to relate to him so well, and I needed a father figure to relate to. My dad always had my brother; they bonded over sports and muscle. And I had my mom, which was fine. But I think I rejected my dad a lot; not only because he was sports-crazed and I wasn't, but also because I only ever remember the bad things about him. Like the time he threw mashed potatoes in my hair at Thanksgiving. Or whenever he would yell something rude at me, then adopt a gentlemanly Southern accent for his customers on the phone. Or when I called 911 when he collapsed unconscious on the stairs and never received a thank you.
I'm not saying I needed a father figure or that Richard would fulfill that gap I (perhaps) have in my psyche left over from an unrequited relationship that was never really formed. Bottom line is, it's nice to hear that I'm special.
My mom told me she's scared that, when I'm upset, I lock myself in my room and look at the battered envelope and dream of a life with a family that would accept me. I don't. I hadn't even touched the envelope for a second time until last week, trying to write this paper and remember why my bioparents are still important to me.
I wanted to meet them when I was younger. I wanted to live a different life when Hinsdale was too small or too dull for me. I dreamed of the day I would turn eighteen and find them, where ever they were lurking. It frightened me to think that there were people walking and talking and living out there who came together under erroneous circumstances of which I was a product. I struggled with the idea that I had two sets of parents, four sets of grandparents, double order of everything, and I'd never get the chance to know half of them. It didn't seem fair that there were two people whose blood I shared living normal lives without me. I never grasped the phrase "blood is thicker than water" because I didn't know whose blood ran in my veins.
I understand my mom's fear that I might get along with my bioparents if I met them and abandon her to have a hunky-dory relationship. But I think my mom's fear is irrational. She's my mom. It's not as though I'd go running off with some woman I didn't know only because she gave birth to me. My biological mother wasn't the person I talked to everyday after school about my day. She wasn't the person that drove me to all the soccer games I never even played in. She wasn't the person who bought my Christmas presents, who wasn't afraid to touch me when I got the flu because I was stubborn and didn't want a flu shot, who searched online for weeks to find a replacement for my striped Ralph Lauren comforter that I ripped unintentionally while taking a nap. Chimene had nothing to do with my life, nor did she have the right to because she had never been a part of my life.
I don't know whether or not I want to meet them now. I'm not sure I could stand the humility. "Oh, hi, my name is Maz, and I think I'm your daughter." Yeah, I'm sure Hollywood has already covered that conversation. And I feel as though I'd be an inconvenience. Out of nowhere, a daughter of sorts comes into their lives. I know they basically plopped right down into my life with that envelope, but I needed to know who they were; I needed just a little bit of information about them in order to accept myself and the differences between me and my family. If we reversed the scenario, if I contact them, I would feel obligated to keep talking to them, or else it would be too awkward to have a potentially life-changing encounter, only for communication to fizzle out after one or two meetings. And I'm sure that's a hassle, for both them and me, as well as my parents. I don't think my mom could handle it; all her fears would come creeping back and horrid little ideas would form in her mind in my absence.
But, most importantly, I don't see the point in getting to know my bioparents anymore. When I was little, I nearly begged for a different life. And now I'm off to college in a semester - I'm forced to have a different life. I don't feel that longing anymore, the sort of longing that requires endless amounts of hoping and pining for something not quite in your reach. Because the thing is, I'm sure my bioparents are wonderful people. They sound like wonderful people. But I don't need or want their approval. I don't need or want a relationship with them. I know they exist. And that's enough for now.
Такси следовало за Беккером, с ревом сокращая скорость. Свернув, оно промчалось через ворота Санта-Крус, обломав в узком проезде боковое зеркало. Беккер знал, что он выиграл. Санта-Крус - самый старый район Севильи, где нет проездов между зданиями, лишь лабиринт узких ходов, восходящих еще к временам Древнего Рима.