Entry #3

Just before walking out of the office and heading to the mailbox last night, I caught myself wondering what my mother looks like: Fat? Thin? Tall? Short? Stylish? Dumpy? (Maybe it’s genetic?) This, of course, led me to the corollary: “Well, she’s never seen me, ever, so she’s probably a little curious about what I look like, too.” I sat back down, pulled a few photos–some new, some old–from my hard drive, and printed them out for her.

The baby pics were fine: harmless and thoroughly appropriate. The recent shots, though…well, I don’t have too many of ’em, honestly. I don’t know why. Here’s the ones I chose to send:

Sad but true: this is the most up-to-date shot I’ve got. It’s kinda cute in it’s own way. Message I’m trying to convey: Your son’s goofy and fun-loving and has a good sense of humor. He may be a little “off,” but in a lovable sorta way.

Of course, I had to include a shot of Jonno, so why not send one of my favorites? Even though he’s doing his usual doe-glancing-up-from-the-meadow pose, it’s charming. Message I’m trying to convey: Your son’s boyfriend’s a hottie.

This shows just how limited my selection was. It’s one of the few recent photos in which you can see more than my nose. Of course, this was the pic over which I hemmed and hawed the most: do I really want my mother to know I smoke, even if I’m only a social smoker? Unconsciously, I started making some assumptions about her, like, if she gave me up for adoption then she must have been having pre-marital sex, which was a little trashy back then, so she might very well have been a smoker, too, which was also pretty trashy for women. (Ask a sorority girl sometime about the many dos and don’ts of smoking, including rules about sitting down and having a roof over your head at all times. Or just read Florence King.) Message I’m trying to convey: you’re son’s got plenty of vices, which means he’s not going to hold any of yours against you.

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Entry #2

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

Callie:

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.

–Richard

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.

Entry #1

So, yeah, basically, I’m adopted. What I mean to say is: yes, I’m adopted. Most definitely.

I’ve always known. I can’t even remember the conversation my parents had with me–not the color of the walls, not the toy I was playing with, not the cut of my mother’s hair, nothing. That’s how long ago it was.

They got me a book, mom and dad: The Special Child or The Chosen Child or something like that. It was one of those late 60s, warm and fuzzy books, telling me I was so wonderful that I had personally been singled out to go live with the fantastically fun Mr. and Mrs. _______. The book was illustrated in tones of turquoise and peach, but it got the point across.

Fact is, I’d never given much thought to the matter. As a teenager, when my parents became domineering and monstrous in an effort to curb my raging hormones, I guess it crossed my mind a couple of times to go look for the birth ‘rents, but I wouldn’t have even known where to begin. I was adopted right outta the womb, in Jackson, Mississippi, and I was jaundiced: that’s about all I had to go on.

goddess, i was  geekyTime moved on and puberty passed and I resumed normal relations with my parents–except for my mother, who’s gotten increasingly odd with age. But that’s another story. Anyway, I realized that, honestly, I didn’t much care about finding my birth parents. Mom and dad were the only parents I knew, and that was fine.

Then I saw Secrets and Lies, and I became intrigued. Well, not much, but a little–enough to mention it to my friend Karl one day, forgetting that he was adopted, too. And he sat me down and told me that the laws had recently changed, and that it was actually pretty easy to find your birth parents, or at least get your medical and social information, and that he was in the process of doing it himself. And before I knew what was happening, he gave me the number of the agency in Jackson through which we’d both been adopted, which I called and which sent me the required one page application. Name, phone number, date of birth, and a couple hundred bucks: that’s all they needed to get the ball rolling.

It took me almost a year before I sent the thing back–not because of reluctance on my part, but because I got distracted. Jonno and I had bought a house that we were trying to renovate, and with all that, we were kinda scraping by, and I felt guilty spending money that could have been used on paint or a sander on myself like that. So I waited. When I finally sent the paperwork in this past July 2, I thought of it as a kind of treat. Like buying a boxed CD set or a signed first edition: something I shouldn’t do often, but every once in a while…

Within a week, a woman from the adoption agency named Jodie (as in Buffy and…) was calling me at work, telling me that she’d found my mother and that it’d taken her a grand total of one hour to do so. Of course, there was a lot she couldn’t tell me–stuff that might hint at the woman’s identity or location–but she did pass along the info that my mother was born and raised in New Orleans and that she’d been looking for me for some time. Apparently, she didn’t even know she’d had a boy. Her name is Callie. (Calliope? Calendula? Calpurnia?)

A few days later I got a letter. It was written by Jodi after her initial conversation with Callie, the complete story of my birth mother’s life crammed onto a single page of archive-weight stationery. My birth father was given a paragraph at the top of the second page; they’re no longer together, surprise. Among the more interesting facts to come out of the letter, I learned that…

  • My mom was/is a geek: she earned an MLS (Master’s in Library Science) at college.
  • My mother is standard-issue Irish-German, but my father’s Lebanese. Which may or may not explain my attraction to hot, swarthy, Mediterranean daddies. Probably not. But it makes for a good story.
  • My uncle (my birth mother’s brother) was highly involved in the arts, particularly theatre and painting. He had a wonderful sense of humor, and he taught drama at university. It think we can all guess what that means…. I wondered why none of my adopted brothers ever took a shine to the theatre or to kissing boys. Or to kissing boys in theatres. Thanks, Unk.

Now I’ve got to do two things. I’ve got to get some sort of certification from a therapist/counselor saying I’m mentally stable (or at least stable enough to meet my birth parents). I guess they just wanna know I’m not seething with anger and planning to mow ’em down when I see ’em. Then, I’ve gotta write my birth mother a letter. They didn’t tell me what I needed to say. What should I say?