I wrote the letter. It came much quicker than I thought it would. Thirty-two years in 2 1/2 pages–not bad.
Of course, I’m not entirely pleased with it. It came out a little flat and flip, like one of my journal entries. Maybe I’m just used to writing that way. Or I’ve grown too used to emails and business memos. Or I’m trying to put some emotional/psychic distance between myself and her. Whatever. I’m tired of looking at it and just want to send it off. I mean, she’s my birth mother. The agency tells me she’s been looking for me. What’s she gonna say? “I don’t want to meet you now?” I’m banking on her curiosity.
Even the most casual of my acquaintances know more about me than she ever will. Ergo, I’m not going to bother with the whole letter. It’s essentially a Kubrik-length Director’s Cut of my bio, anyway. Here’s an expurgated version:
30 July 2001
Jodie at the Children’s Home Society asked me to write you a letter in preparation for our eventual meeting. She wasn’t very clear on what I should say in the letter, but of course, how could she be? I guess I’m supposed to sum up the past 32–almost 33–years of my life. I’ll try to limit myself to the high points.
So…I grew up in a small town in southern Mississippi. You’d be very happy with the folks who adopted me. Dad was a little distant when I was young, but I understand now that he was busy working and getting himself established. (No one could ever accuse him of being lazy.) As a kid, I didn’t care much for him, but once I graduated from college and began living as an adult, our relationship changed. Today, I can honestly say he’s one of my best friends.
My mom, she’s a little different. For the first 18 years or so, we got along like gangbusters, but around the time I left for college, things changed. She divorced my father in the middle of my freshman year, and since then, I’ve watched her mental condition spiral downward. (Unfortunately, it’s genetic.) Nevertheless, she’s always been a loving, caring mother. She fits the cliché perfectly: if mom’s guilty of anything, it’s of loving too much.
I have three brothers: I’m the oldest. I was adopted because the doctors thought my mother couldn’t have children. (She’d had a couple of still births.) Then, almost the very day I came home from the hospital, they conceived my brother. They waited a few more years, then had two more. I’m not very close to #2: like my mom, he’s a little odd. He’s never really found himself; in the past two years, he’s worked as a missionary, a welder, and is now studying to be a truck driver. We don’t have much in common. I get along much better with #3 and #4–especially #3. He’s a physical therapist. Number 4’s finishing his degree in finance, with plans to become a stockbroker. Our house, as you can imagine, was loud.
I had a great childhood. The four of us spent a lot of time with my dad’s parents in an even smaller town, population 195. There were acres and acres of rolling farmland; it was idyllic. My brothers and I attended a good, if somewhat pretentious, elementary school that put us ahead of the pack when we reached the public junior high. I excelled in French and English language and literature, drama, and, oddly enough, chemistry.
I performed in my first play in fourth grade–a stage version of Hansel and Gretel my teacher had yanked from the pages of Ladies Home Journal or Redbook or McCall’s. I was hooked: the better part of my high school career was spent working on plays or preparing for drama/debate tournaments. I found an “artsy” crowd–as artsy as you could get in Mississippi–and we had a great time being outsiders together. In fact, we all shunned the prom my senior year in favor of attending a debate tournament in Natchez. We came home with 16 trophies. All in all, it was much better than listening to some crappy band crank out Led Zeppelin covers.
College went reasonably well, too. Practically everyone I knew was going to Ole Miss, so being the willful outsider that I was, I chose Millsaps. I had a very pleasant four years, made some great friends, did a lot of partying, and somehow managed to graduate with a good GPA.
After graduation I moved to New Orleans. I already had a wide circle of friends there–half of Millsaps was from the area–and I’d always liked the city, so it seemed a natural fit. I spent a year becoming an adult: working retail and trying to make ends meet for the first time in my life. It was eye-opening. Suddenly all my father’s admonishments and Protestant work ethics and home-spun wisdom made sense.
. . .[grad school, etc.]. . . [ugh]. . .
There’s something I should mention before I sign off: I’m gay. I’ve known, more or less, since 7th grade, but I didn’t fully come out ‘till college. In all that time, I’ve only had a few boyfriends–but then, I’m not the sort that goes out looking for love. When it lands in my lap, great, but I’ve found that when you actually search for it, it never works… Or maybe that’s just me.
I guess I’ve seriously dated about four guys in my lifetime. And of them, none has meant more to me than the one I’m with. His name’s Jonno. We met in the early 1990s when I was living in New York; I was instantly smitten, but he wouldn’t give me the time of day. Four years later, I was at a party in New York and a mutual friend re-introduced us. He didn’t remember me, but I filled him in. Six months later, he moved to New Orleans. We’re going on five years together. We are very, very happy.
Well, I think that’s probably enough for now. I’d wanted to keep it short, but I tend to babble. Lucky for you, my fingers are getting tired.
Anyway, I look forward to meeting you. I’ll see you soon.
P.S. I apologize in advance if this letter looks a little weird by the time you get it: I imagine Jodie will censor some of the more specific bits, so if it’s not entirely coherent, there’s a reason–apart from me being scatterbrained, that is.
P.P.S. Sorry to have to call you by your first name, but it sounds equally odd to call you mom or mother just yet…
Formal, distant, something’s wrong. I think there’s an element of respect that’s missing.
Screw it. It’s getting stamped tonight.