Thursday, April 11, 2013

Who Am I, Really?

The semester is over. Yahoo! For my final in my creative writing class, I had to write a short non-fiction story. I chose to write it on my life. I never realized how "Oprah" my life was until I started writing. Ha,ha. I hope you enjoy. I hope in sharing my experience, it can help someone else who has struggled in their life too.

Who Am I, Really?

" The two most important days in your life are: The day you are born, and the day you find out why." Mark Twain 

I remember always knowing I was adopted. I never grew up thinking I was different, or that my parents were any less my parents than if they had been my biological parents.Every now and then as I was growing up I would encounter an ignorant child who would treat me like I had the plague when they found out I was adopted.  I never looked at being adopted as being different. As a child in elementary school I soon found out how cruel children could be. I thought it was sad some people were so closed minded they honestly believed you could only be family if you shared the same "DNA."
I was never ashamed of being adopted, and yet my entire life I felt like I didn't fit in. Don't get me wrong. I love my adopted family, and couldn't imagine my life without them, but I felt like no one truly understood me. I longed for a connection or bond with my adopted parents I would see with my friends and their parents. My parents and I didn’t share that closeness.
 I wanted to know where I came from, who my ancestors were and who I looked like? People often asked what my ethnicity was and I would say, “I don’t know,” sometimes I would tell them I was Mexican, Italian, or Indian whatever someone thought I was, I would agree.
I was always wondering what my life would have been like if I hadn't been adopted still believing "the grass is greener on the other side."
My childhood wasn’t an easy one. When I was five years old my adopted parents got divorced. I remember vividly the day my father left. I went in my bedroom and took my Disney Cinderella suitcase and packed it with clothes that a five year old would only find necessary to bring. Went into the bathroom brushed my teeth and did my hair; put on my favorite dress to look pretty and show my dad I could take care of myself. I then walked past my mom in the kitchen and opened the door to our garage where I found my dad sitting in his red Jeep Wrangler.
He looked up at me and asked, “Where are you going?”
“I want to live with you and I’m going with you.”
He then said the words that crushed me, “You need to stay here with your mother. I will see you soon Babe,” (He always called me Babe). 
He started his jeep and slowly backed out of the garage and soon he was gone. My mom tried to comfort me, but I shrugged my shoulders at her and ran into my room crying and yelling,
“ I hate my mom! How could she want my daddy gone?”

 Not understanding why adults do the things they do at my tender age of five, I was going to show my mom I was right by not eating anything or talking to her for the rest of that day and I didn’t!

 The majority of my childhood was spent in the middle of my parent’s court battles, and feeling like I had to choose. Every time I would chose my dad the courts kept placing me with my mom, and I became very bitter and angry. There was nothing wrong with my mother, except I felt a distance between us. I never felt like we understood each other. We were so opposite from one another. She was conservative and more concerned with “Keeping up with the Jones,” and what people thought. I was more liberal and didn’t care what anyone thought. I was happy with my T-shirt and Flip-Flops. I never got much support from my mom emotionally growing up, so I built a ”Halo” around my dad and believed he was going to save me.

One of my many memories that stick out in my head growing up is a time when I was ten and my dad came to visit, my mom wouldn’t let him in the house. I wanted to give him a hug and visit with him and my mom wouldn’t let me see him. I ran to the front window and waved at my Dad crying. He stared at me from outside and waved then got in his baby blue ford bronco and left.

 I wasn’t told until years later the reason I couldn’t see my dad that day was because he had been drinking alcohol and my mom didn’t want me seeing him drunk.

As I got older, the times with my dad became more infrequent. I would stand outside on his days to visit and wait all day for him to pull up in the driveway, but he never came.

By the time I reached my early teenage years my mom decided to move us two states away, so she could have a new start. I only saw my dad one time after we moved. He came to visit my brother and I during my sophomore year in High School for a week.
My father died when I was nineteen. We were out of town visiting my maternal grandparents when my mom got the call my dad had been killed in a car accident. He apparently fell asleep at the wheel and drove straight into a bank, he was pronounced dead on arrival.
The three hour drive back home from my grandparents you could have heard a pin drop. It was the longest drive ever. My mom still hadn’t told me what had happened; yet I felt this awful feeling inside. I knew something had happened to my dad I could feel it. I didn’t want to ask my mom what was wrong, if I didn’t ask she couldn’t confirm the feeling I was having so I kept quiet and stared out the car window the entire ride.
We pulled into town and my mom drove straight to the rehab center where my younger brother was currently staying in for drugs. (My dad not being in our lives had already affected him). I knew something was seriously wrong when we were put in a room and the psychologist came in. I had a sick feeling in my stomach.
“Did you tell them?” The psychologist asked my mom.
“No, I wanted to wait to tell them with you,” my mom said.
They were talking as if my brother and I were not in the room.
I wanted to yell, “I already know! It’s Daddy, isn’t it?” But I kept quiet still hoping my instincts were not right.
Finally, the words came out of my mom’s mouth.
“Your dad was killed early this morning in a car accident.”
 As I was digesting what I had heard the psychologist looked at my brother and I and asked, “How does this make you feel?”
Are you kidding me! I was just told my Father died and he is seriously asking me how I feel?
“How do you think I feel, you idiot? My father just died, I’m devastated.” I ran out of the room and down the hall to exit the building. My mom wanted them to keep me in the facility because I was so upset, because I was over eighteen they couldn’t legally keep me there and let me leave.
I ran and ran until I was physically drained I couldn’t run anymore, and then I just fell to the ground sweating and out of breath. I began to weep, I’ve never wept as hard or as loud as I did that day. I was so upset I could barely breath. I cried until I was so emotionally drained I couldn’t cry anymore. I was oblivious to my surroundings. I became so weak my body and mind shut down and I fell asleep. It wasn’t until I was woken up by a police officer asking me if everything was ok, that I realized I was not in a good part of town. After explaining to him my ordeal he drove me home where I received the final blow.
When I walked in the house I checked the answering machine. There was a message from my dad he had left the day he died. He called to tell us good-bye and that he loved us. He ended the message playing his guitar and singing the song by Cosby, Stills and Nash, “Teach your children well.”  My dad had left us the message before his accident, which, meant he knew he was going to die. He planned it!! By this time I was numb. I couldn’t take anymore. I emotionally shut down. I went into my room and didn’t come out or talk to anyone for a couple of weeks.
 I had built this image of my dad to be my “Superhero.” I thought he was invincible. He wasn’t supposed to be weak. How could he do something so selfish? Why didn’t he think of how my brother and I were going to feel? What if I had been there, maybe I could have changed his mind? He must of felt all alone? I felt an enormous amount of loss and sadness. There was a huge void in my life and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with all my emotions. 
Dealing with my dad’s death and trying to figure out where to go from here I had the desire more than ever to discover Who I was. My mom had raised us with a strong religious background and I was beginning to question all of it. How could God have let this happen? I wanted to run away and get lost in a world I knew nothing about.
During this time in my life, I remained numb and I became angry with my dad for not loving me enough to stay alive.  I began to question life and my beliefs.  If my father didn’t believe what he had taught me then why should I? I started drinking and not caring about anything or anyone. I became depressed and destructive. I had given up on life.  I had forgotten I was still living.
 In this dark period I met someone who I dated for a brief time. The relationship ended when he told me he was using me to make my friend jealous because he liked her. In his twisted mind he thought by dating me it would make her like him. It backfired on him when both of us wanted nothing to do with him. Not long after I found out I was pregnant.  When I told him, he made it very clear he wanted nothing to do with the baby or me.
 In less than two years I went from a naive, sheltered “churchy” girl to an overwhelming reality check of how cold and cruel some people in this world could be.
             As weird as this may sound becoming pregnant save my life. In a time of my life where I felt I had lost everything and didn’t have any reason to live being pregnant gave me a purpose. It wasn’t just about me anymore. I was responsible for another life. When I got pregnant I stopped living the destructive lifestyle I was living and turned my life around.
During my pregnancy I began to understand the bond between a mother and a child. I felt this heavy burden knowing this baby was going to depend on me for the rest of his life to love, teach and protect him. I couldn’t mess this up! From that day forward I devoted my life to my son and vowed that any pain he felt in life would never be because of my own doing.
Somewhere, somehow my dad forgot his commitment to his children as a parent. For the first time I saw my dad through the eyes of an adult and not a child.  I began to cry not because he had died, but because I understood his pain, his loneliness, and the dark world of depression he had been living in because I had been there too. Instead of being angry with him, I felt compassion for him and sympathy that he had never discovered his reason to live. I realized at that moment God didn’t choose for this to happen, this was my father’s choice. I will never forget my dad’s selfish act that left my brother and I fatherless, but I could finally let go of the pain and forgive him.
            I experienced a lot of ignorance amongst people when they found out I was not married. I didn’t receive much emotional support from my mom during my pregnancy. She was more concern about how my pregnancy affected her. My mom is a good person, but social status matters to her. The way you look, dress, and behave is everything. Being pregnant and not married went against our church teachings. My mom was more concerned with what people in our church were going to say, than trying to understand I was struggling too. This made me think of what my biological mother must have experienced when she was pregnant with me. I started to understand what she had felt being unwed and pregnant.  I realized the apple hadn’t fallen very far from the tree.  Living this experience only made me long to know my biological mother even more.
            For my "first" Mother's Day my mom’s gift to me was a ripped piece of paper. I took it from her hand thinking this was an odd gift. I looked at the paper and saw a name written on it. She had given me a piece of paper with a name on it? I looked up at her confused.
“The only thing I know about your biological mother was she had long dark hair and her name. When your dad and I went to pick you up from the hospital we saw her backside as she was walking down the hallway of the hospital with her mother to leave.”
My mom continued with tears in her eyes,
“I wrote her name down to make sure I never forgot it in case someday you wanted to find her. Now that you have become a mother, I feel you are finally mature enough to understand where your birth mother was coming from and you are ready to handle whatever you find out.”
             Giving me the name of my biological mother had to have been the hardest thing she ever did. The anxiety she must have been feeling knowing I could find my biological mom and wondering how this would change our relationship must have been excruciating for her. I looked at my mom differently that day for loving me enough to give me the missing piece to my puzzle.
The journey to find my biological mother took less than a year. Being born in the "1960's" adoptions were closed and records were impossible to gain access too. I took a chance anyways and contacted the State Capital Building in California where I was born and they directed me to their Vital Statistics Department. The secretary explained to me that because my adoption was closed it wouldn't help to petition the judge, I wouldn't be granted the records under any circumstance. The lady then went on to explain to me, that when the biological mother is at the hospital she is given paperwork to fill out with basic information in case the child should come looking for them, if she had filled out that paper I am allowed a copy of it. She took my name and information and told me they would look up my records and see if she had filled out the paper, if she did I would receive it in the mail within four to six weeks.
 Everyday I went to check the mail and when there was no letter from the State of California it made the rest of the day drag on and the wait for the following day seemed like it took forever. I will never forget the day I checked my mail and there in my hand was a letter from the State of California Statistics Office. I was excited and nervous, like a child on their birthday waiting to open their presents.
 As soon as I opened it, there was my entire life I knew nothing about; who I was, where I came from, information all about my biological mother and father, circumstance of why she gave me up, my heart was pounding as I quickly read why I was given up.
My biological father was married, and was the older brother of my birth mother’s best friend and he raped my birth mother. What? I reread this sentence probably a hundred times. What does a person do with that information? I was the product of the inevitable! The one thing an adopted child prayers isn't what happened. There it was written in a single sentence in pencil.
Do I dare erase it? I thought.
 No! I couldn’t, this was her story. I didn’t write it. As much as I wanted to pretend it wasn’t there on the paper, it was.
My brain was storming with mix feelings needing to soak in what I had just read. I had hesitation if I should continue reading but curiosity got the best of me and I continued.
My heart was beating fast, my stomach was in knots, I was so nervous I became nauseated as I was reading; this was a surreal moment for me. I took in every word and paid extra attention to the handwriting, it was her handwriting. A paper written by my “Birth” mother with all the answers I had been searching for. In less than a page she had become a real person, not just a dream.
 I discovered I was a "mutt" having American Indian, French, Jewish and Irish from my mother's side, and Italian from my father's side. I continued to read until I came to the section "RELIGION”, then I read her reply and saw she was the same religion I was. This took me by surprise because my adopted parents didn't convert to our religion until I was one years old. My biological mother never new I was raised in the same religion as her.
That is when I got this brilliant idea! I could petition the church to look up my biological mother’s church records and see if they would send her a letter for me, without having to give me her location, then it would be up to her to contact me.
I wrote a letter explaining my situation and journey to find my biological mother and enclosed a copy of the letter I received from the State of California with all my basic information and decided to leave it in Gods hands. If it were meant to be the church administrators would feel inspired to mail her my letter.  I mailed the letter to the church headquarters.
A few weeks later I received a letter from the church administrators stating they had located her and mailed my letter. I was shocked and pleased that it actually worked. It wasn't but a few days after receiving their letter I received the phone call of a lifetime.
I was sitting in my living room; it was in the early evening when the phone rang and I picked it up,
A lady's voice asked, "Is this MJ?"
She then said the words I thought I would never hear,
 "MJ, this is your mother Ruth."
There was a brief pause of silence before she went on to explain she had gotten my letter and how much it meant to her. She went on to tell me she had been waiting since I turned eighteen for me to find her. She didn't dare come find me because she didn't know if I had been told I was adopted. She explained to me what I already knew concerning her circumstances of becoming pregnant with me, but she caught me off guard when she said,
“I never wanted to give you up, because I was only sixteen legally it was up to my parents and they didn’t want me to have you.”
She went on to explain in the 1960’s being pregnant and not married had a bad stigma. Her parents sent her to an unwed mother’s home in another town where she stayed until I was born. She told me the day I was born the nurses took me so fast she never got to see or hold me. She never gave me a name. After I was born she went back to her home and no one ever knew she had been pregnant.
My biological father was never told about me and to this day doesn’t know I exist. At her request I never searched for him. She did tell me at the time she got pregnant he was nineteen and his wife was also pregnant. They had a baby girl a few months before I was born. He worked as an auto mechanic. A few years later she mailed me a picture of him and his sister. I have held on to that picture in a special box with other pictures I have collected of Ruth and my siblings over the years.
Ruth went on to tell me that my entire childhood growing up in California I was only twenty minutes away from her. When she was older and married, her husband was a Sherriff in the county and had found where I was living. They would sit in their car across from my house and watch me play. Never wanting to approach me or disrupt my life, but she always knew where I was. Eventually, she got divorced and didn’t have access to my whereabouts any longer. When my family moved away she lost what little contact she had with me. We talked for what seemed to be a lifetime, but in reality wasn’t any longer than thirty to forty minutes, before ending the conversation and making plans to meet.
Two weeks later I was knocking on the door to her apartment. It wasn’t a mansion with extravagant cars or a butler and maids like I imagined growing up. When she opened it I couldn't help but stare at her trying not to stare too much and make the moment awkward. I wanted to take in every little detail about her and discover all our similarities. She was a simple person, dressed in a button down plaid blue shirt and blue jeans. She had dark brown hair and sky blue eyes and was taller than me. While scanning the inside of her apartment, she had very simple furniture nothing to brag about. On the couch I saw a girl and a boy sitting with huge smiles on their faces; they looked to be around my age. Ruth introduced them as my half-brother and half-sister. Their father was Indian, and they looked Indian both with long dark brown hair, brown eyes and brown skin.  I knew I was part Indian, but I couldn’t see it. Ruth and I both had dark brown hair, blue eyes, and white skin. I noticed right away that out of all her children I was the only one who bore a resemblance to her.  My half siblings commented right away on how much Ruth and I looked a like. Wow! I finally knew who I looked like.
 I stayed the night in her home, getting to know all of them talking, playing cards, and eating dinner. I found out a lot of my interest and hobbies were the same as Ruth’s, things I would tell her about me she would comment she did too or she also like. It was refreshing to talk with her. Ruth understood me because she thought like I did. My adopted mom and I rarely thought alike.
 Instantly, I was intrigued. It was a moment I had dreamed of my entire life and here I was in her home, wondering if this is how it would have been if she had kept me. Wondering what my name would have been? Would I have the same personality or have been the same person, if Ruth had raised me? I was trying to envision my life with these new people. I would have grown up with a sister; I grew up being the only girl and always wanted to have a sister. I was excited to know I had a sister and yet, the awkwardness made it so I didn't know what to say to her. I couldn’t help but wonder if our relationship would have been a close relationship, or if we would have fought and been rivals. My visit with Ruth and her family was like an outer body experience. For a moment, I was in their lives but I wasn't part of it.
A search that took Twenty-two years was over in a weekend, I felt like I was floating on a cloud. I couldn't have been more blessed to know the most important missing link in my life didn't turn out bad. I was wanted! They did want to meet me! Her children grew up knowing about me. I wasn’t this awful secret nobody talked about. I never forgot this moment. It’s a memory I will cherish deep in my heart for the rest of my life.
 I am fully aware that not all children who search for their biological parents have the same outcome as me. My visit with Ruth was unique because my outcome could have been a disaster, but by some miracle it wasn’t. I will be forever grateful. This is the only time I saw Ruth but we have stayed in touch over the years. I have to thank modern technology for keeping us connected.
 Ruth and my half-sister and I have built a friendship through many conversations on Facebook and emails. My half-brother came and lived with me for a year. We figured out we had attended the same elementary school at the same time but never knew whom each other was.  He and I are the closest in age and we seem to have the most in common.
I don't know if finding Ruth answered all my questions but it did fill an emptiness I had inside.
Over the years I have continued to think back on one thing Ruth said to me when she first met me and asked how my life had been.
I gave her all the details of my childhood and she angrily replied,
            “If I had known your life was going to be like that I would have kept you. I gave you up to have a better life than what I could give you.”
I wondered would my life had been better, if she kept me?
The year I spent with my half-brother he repeatedly said,
“Be glad our mom didn’t raise you?” He told me they raised themselves, He always said Ruth wasn’t ready to be a mother. Each one of them had dealt with their childhood in their own way; two of them were recovering drug and alcohol addicts, and the third one(the youngest) was in prison for attempted murder. I’ve never met him.  I know their childhood wasn't easy either, but even with all my trials my adopted life didn’t seem as bad as theirs.
I learned to appreciate my adopted mom and come to accept that we will always have our differences. I’ve been able to build a friendship with her. She is my mom. She raised me and loved me. After years of my parents trying unsuccessfully to conceive their own children. I was their miracle baby. I wasn't wondering if " the grass was greener on the other side," anymore.
Do I let being adopted define me? Does coming from a broken home define me? Does my father’s suicide define me? Does being a single parent define me? I wouldn’t be human if these life events haven’t defined me, but they never destroyed me.
I learned to appreciate the life I was given. Even though it wasn’t the life I had imagined, it was still my life and my lessons to learn. I choose who I am, not my circumstances of how I was born or the way I was raised; They may influence my choices, but they are still my choices and who I become is ultimately up to no one, but me. How I chose to live my life, my character, my spirituality and the example I set for all those around me will define the destiny of my soul.
I spent my entire life putting the value of my self-worth on “who I was,” I never allowed myself to learn the biggest lesson of all that I am simply ME!  A daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a friend, and that is, all that truly matters.
I traveled a long journey to realize it; the important thing is I realized it.

"I guess WE ARE WHO WE ARE for a lot of reasons, and maybe we'll never know most of them, but even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there." The perks of being a Wallflower, By Stephen Chbosky

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