Dear Adoption, This Morning I Woke Wet With Grief
This morning I woke wet with grief. Anxiety quickened in the belly. A burn, a dream residue. A lover, an anniversary of an anniversary we never reached. I’m alone, I texted someone. I can’t believe I’m still alone. Everyone feels so fractured, so scattered, so old.
I’ve always had nightmares. Terrible nightmares. Since as long as I’ve been dreaming. Which I imagine is as long as I’ve been living. Which I suppose is just after being born. But what would I know about being born, having simply arrived?
Arrived like an apparition. Like memory. Like sleep.
I once saw an astrologer who told me I was born under an unfriendly planet. Or was it an enemy planet? In any case, he said that ever since the day I was born, I have never lived under the influence of a friendly planet. The planets, he said, are either friends, enemies, or neutral. It’s not exactly rare, he said, to have never experienced a friend planet in one’s lifetime, but it’s not common either. I laughed out loud at him. I laughed at all the future times I knew I’d use this information to validate myself. The story I tell. He said I just needed to hold out another 3-5 years and then it’s nothing but friend planets for as long as I could possibly live. But I knew my future anecdotes would stop short of hope, of friendship, of the length of possibility.
Have I made it this way? Is this what I deserve? Am I doing this to myself? I texted someone.
No one answered.
I hated my therapist the first time I went to her. I almost didn’t go back. She had this affect that I’d come to loathe while living in the Bay Area. It was really breathy and soft-spoken and entirely too open-mouthed, except with her eyes. Like she had gaping mouths for eyes that were only capable of too-soft touches. It was that kind of hippie affect that always comes across as disingenuous or maternal, which feels sick. She immediately reminded me of the therapist I’d once had in Berkeley that cried during numerous sessions because my tragic story touched her so deeply. She felt so something for me. Or with me. But really it felt like at me. Look, if I’m not crying, you’re not allowed to cry. That’s just the deal. But my new therapist didn’t cry. Not for a couple years anyway. I knew she was the one when, at the end of our second session, she told me that she’d never before had a client that knew trauma theory so thoroughly they were able to flip it to successfully corroborate their own narrative of being irreparably broken. She was impressed, but not fooled. I’d never felt so seen. Months later she admitted that she’d begun to modulate her voice to accommodate my obvious revulsion.
Arrival like snow. Like a whisper. A windowsill in morning.
I’m worried about my body. I’m worried about other bodies. I’m worried about my body in relationship to other bodies—the distance, the harm, the trouble with navigation.
Shadow work is light work. The two have always gone hand in hand. You cannot walk into illumination without activating the shadow. It is impossible to stand, in daylight or moon-remembrance, and not cast a darkness at your own feet.
I mean, I have an anxiety dis/order. Always have. In letters my foster parents wrote what a good baby I was. How I didn’t make much noise. How I had diarrhea a lot and my skin kept breaking out. How I seemed much older than I was. Which was newborn. How I liked to sit in my chair and watch TV. They sent the letters to the future. So they would know. Whoever.
Arriving through the screen door. The back porch. The call for supper. The name that cuts through summer air.
When I wake with anxiety, I’m supposed to get up. No matter what time it is, no matter how tired I am. If I get up, my mind won’t spin out like if I just lie there. So I get up. 4am, 5am, 6:30, noon. I busy myself with the day.
-Return: starred emails, texts ignored yesterday, other people’s need
-Research: reproductive justice movement, crisis pregnancy centers v. BSE maternity homes, white savior industrial complex, the medicinal value of mugwort, queer & trans community self-defense class
-Email: editor, host, dog sitter or airline
Shadow work means digging up oil. Hard, crude stuff that feels like poison to the upperworld. And though we demonize it, and the damage it brings to our above-ground selves, the darkness is natural. It is the organic accumulation of so many ancient wounds. The sediment of death untended.
This morning, I came across the term, orphans of the living, in reference to foster kids—somewhere, at some point in time, people actually said this. Referred to foster kids as orphans of the living. The author found this distasteful, gauche. I immediately thought of all the times I’ve buried my mother. The sweeping eulogies. The perfect black suit. I felt gut-punched by this term. I took it personally. Do I think I have something in common with foster kids even though I only spent two months in a home? One home. Not 10 homes. Not 37 placements. What do I know about anxiety? About instability? About being alone? I think I have survivor’s guilt, which is really just white guilt, because, let’s be honest, we all know healthy white infant girls are the most sought after, come with the heftiest price tag, the longest wait times. To be a white baby girl—is there anything more precious?
Isolation is the biggest tool of the shadow. And so shadow work is often done alone. In the deep of night, under the milk of stars or wrapped in blankets on dark thresholds.
A friend picked me up in the afternoon to go thrift shopping where I fretted among oversized t-shirts and worn shoes about not being able to dress my gender appropriately. You can just wear what feels good, she assured me. I can’t tell what feels good, I said. I can’t feel my body. I hated every word that came out of my mouth and barely believed any of it.
I feel the need to assert my confidence here, my well-being, my joy. To show some teeth. Be less vulnerable. But why? And for whom? In the dark, I am constantly arriving. I am constantly beginning again.
In the span of one day, how many times does the bereaved touch grief? How many times does the beloved wait for my return? I want to tell you something new. A new day, a new dream, a different quality of light. But we only see light in terms of what it falls on. The windowsill. The wine glass. The long way home.
Liz Latty is the founder of the adoption news website, An Open Record, and the author of the chapbook Split (Unthinkable Creatures Press, 2012). Her writing has been featured or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, The Establishment, make/shift magazine, The Feminist Wire, Jupiter 88, HOLD: a journal, Tom Tom Magazine, The Wayne Literary Review, and the anthology We Don’t Need Another Wave: Dispatches from the Next Generation of Feminists, among others.
Liz has been awarded fellowships from Lambda Literary Foundation and Sundress Academy for the Arts. Her work has been nominated for Best American Essays, a Pushcart Prize, and the Jackson, Phelan, and Tanenbaum Literary Awards from the San Francisco Foundation. Liz earned an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College and is the founder of Open Record Consulting, where she offers adoptee-centric, trauma-informed adoption support and education services with a social justice framework for adoptive families and professionals. She currently lives in Brooklyn and is working on a memoir.
Suler, Asia. from Shadow Work is Active.