Monday, February 22, 2010

I was just listening to The Story on my iPod, and the story for the day was two elderly women who found out that they were sisters when they were in their 70's. One had been essentially stolen by a woman who ran an adoption ring in the south; she led unwed mothers to believe that they were giving up their babies to be cared for for a month while they recovered and found a place to live, only to realize too late that they had actually signed their children away. The women signed the papers under duress / while they were still under effects of drugs given to them during labor, so they had no hope of understanding what had happened, and as young unwed mothers at the time, their recourses were about nil.

It got me thinking about lost family, and who might be out there that I am related to. I'm not adopted (although I used to spend a lot of time wishing I would have been), but when my father left, he took with him the only connection I had to his family - his eight brothers and sisters, parents, grandparents, his aunts and uncles, and now my cousins, of which I estimate I must have easily sixteen or so. It boggles my mind to think about it sometimes. I usually tell people that I really have no family other than my mother, which is technically true although now that I know where my father is and this time, chose to walk away from him. Really, though, I have a huge family; I just don't know them.

When I was in high school, my father contacted me for the first time since I was a preschooler, via one of his aunts, who was in her seventies. It was the strangest feeling, coming home and seeing a fat envelope for me in the mail from a woman I had never met, talking about herself, and how he had always been interested in me, etc. When my mother found out, of course the first thing on her mind was getting money from him, since he hadn't paid support in years (he later told me that if he wasn't going to be allowed to talk to me, he wasn't going to give her anything, which I have to admit makes some sense, although I will never really know how much of what either of them says about that is true), but for me, it was like Pandora's box opening on its own. There it was, the potential for information about people I had wondered about for my entire life. My father sent me a few letters, and it was the strangest thing ever to see his handwriting. He offered no explainations, but just wrote about everyday things.

Within a few weeks, a younger cousin - the only one of my cousins I have ever talked to - wrote to me as well. She was lonely, I think, and was looking for someone to talk to. We wrote for awhile, but her letters stopped coming, and I guess she was just too young, or immature, to really keep it up. My great aunt, though, wrote for several months, and a few weeks before my graduation from high school, she actually called me. She said that my grandmother - her sister - wanted to be in touch with me as well, and that they would be sending me a package for graduation. It all seemed too good to be real.

It was. I never heard from her again. No packages arrived. It stopped as suddenly as it started.

My father actually did see me; he was coming to the state because his wife had children here as well, and was going to see them, so they stopped in the town where I lived. My boyfriend and I went to meet them at a restaurant, and then we wandered the local mall. I don't recommend meeting a parent for the first time at a restaurant when you're 18. It was awful, so uncomfortable. He kept offering to buy me things while we were at the mall, but by that point I was Done. I couldn't wait to get out of there. They left town the next day, and I never saw him again, either. He wrote a few more times, but it was strained, and I stopped writing to him after he called me one time, drunk, to lecture me on not getting too serious with my college boyfriend. He stopped writing to me, too, and that was that.

I didn't see or hear from him again until I found him when I was about 30, because my therapist said it might be a good idea. It ended up being too much pressure, and his wife was way too much to take, lecturing me for not calling enough, etc, and that, combined with his refusal to tell me anything about his siblings, or put me in touch with any of the rest of my family, led to my writing to say that I couldn't handle the pressure they were putting on me to be Their Little Girl. Some days I regret that decision a tiny bit, but not usually. The growing, gnawing concern about what he didn't want me to learn about him from his siblings was the final nail in the coffin, I guess.

Now, I actually live not too far from where I was born, and I'll bet there are people I'm related to within an hour of my house. I don't know why none of them chose to continue a relationship with me, especially my grandparents. I would never allow myself to lose touch with the children in our extended family, and it's not like it was a secret where we lived - my mother moved us back into her mother's house, in the same town my parents had lived in while they were maried. I would really, really have loved to have known my cousins, especially being an only child. I don't know if I would really be able to trust any relationship I could have with that side of my family, at least not for a long time, but it would have been nice to have the option. I will always wonder what I've missed out on, since 8 siblings, plus 8 spouses, plus about 16 kids, plus all their kids = about 50 people I should know, and don't. Surely, somewhere in there, there must have been people worth knowing, and loving.


AndreAnna said...

My husband has a brother his mother put up for adoption when she was 17. She mentioned it once and never again. It's a very buried thing, ya know?

But *I* want to know about this boy, this other brother my husband has. Does he look like Mike and Mark (his brother)? Does he live close? Is he looking for us? Do we have nieces and nephews?

Finding him as never been an option for Mike as I don't think his mother wants to. But I know he thinks about it. And I do too.

d e v a n said...

that must be hard sometimes. ((hug))

Swistle said...

I wonder if you could find those other relatives yourself, like on Facebook?