Dear Adoption, You Are Everywhere
I grew up with the idea I could blame you for nothing. Because you didn’t exist in the minds of my parents who adopted me, you didn’t exist in mine.
Hold on, those aren’t the right words.
Because you didn’t exist in the minds of my parents who adopted me, I learned to keep you hidden and to only occasionally take you out, as a kid might pull a pocket knife out in front of friends and strangers.
“You look just like your mother.”
I pull out the pocket knife, open the blade. You think you know me, but you can’t because even I have no idea who I am. This is my greatest power. I’m like mercury: you can’t pin me down. Because if you did somehow get me trapped, you would see the terrifying truth I run from 24/7: There is nothing to pin down. I’m not real.
“That’s so funny. I’m adopted.”
“So your parents aren’t your real parents?”
The pocket knife goes back into the pocket.
“They’re real. They’re the only parents I know. I don’t know who made me.”
Suddenly the other person seems to have a pocket knife of their own. The car of my life, yet again, careens wildly on its tracks.
“So you don’t know your real parents?”
I’m not sure how this happened, but I’m cornered and no matter what I say, I’m going to betray someone.
“It’s hard to explain. My parents are my real parents. Do you want to go get a Slushie?”
Somehow, yet again, the carpet of my life was ripped out from under my feet. Nothing is truly mine. Not my parents, not my life. I’m not even mine because I have no idea who I really am.
But adoption isn’t a problem in my life. I’m the problem. For some reason I’m not like the rest of my friends. For some reason I have trouble focusing, trouble doing well in school, trouble maintaining my moods. For some reason almost every day I think about killing myself. This is not something I can tell anyone. I don’t know where these thoughts come from. I just have to keep trying to be who everyone wants: good Anne. It’s a full-time job.
Fifty-two years have passed, and now I blame you for almost everything. I have had more jobs, more homes, more husbands, more pets, more debt, more crying jags, more boyfriends, more trouble just getting from A to B than almost anyone I know. I am hungry almost all the time.
The funny thing is that many of the folks around me seem to think I’m a happy, go-lucky person. I blame you for the people-pleasing puppet I grew up to be. I blame you for not being able to tell my friend which restaurant I want to go to. I blame you for getting a sick feeling when my phone rings or a letter arrives with my name on the envelope. I blame you for thinking I’ll never get this life right because I’ll never know how to comfortably exist in my own skin. I blame you for thinking a married boyfriend is a safe choice. I blame you for wanting to cry when my daughter is late to meet me. I blame you for having low self-esteem. I blame you for not being able to understand maps. I blame you for making sure every room is just as I entered it when I exit. I blame you for giving away my pets. I miss them. I wish they were still mine.
After teaching writing at San Jose State University for over fifteen years, Anne Heffron retired to work full time on screenplays with her writing partner, Antonia Bogdanovitch. In 2015, Phantom Halo was named New York Times Critics’ Pick
Last year Anne left for New York on a trip she called Write or Die. She said she was not coming back home until she had done the one thing she’d been wanting to do for over thirty years: write a book about adoption. Ninety-three days later, she had the manuscript for You Don’t Look Adopted. And the name of her birth father.