Between Moses and Oedipus Rex…

My decision to move across the Midwest from Wichita to Denver in the last few weeks of 1996 were precisely because I wanted to go “off the grid” and slip away from any possible handlers that might be in my life. I felt as if I could slip out from their overview by leaving Kansas. Later, I would again act on this anxiety when I arranged to move from Wichita to Troy, NY a decade later. In both cases my world in Wichita felt uncomfortable, my nest too tight. I had outgrown the egg and sought to crack its shell.

Collective worship in religious settings put me in a panic. I found the zeal in those around me suspect and performative. I became increasingly convinced that I was an experiment, and that those around me, my adoptive parents, the therapists they chose for me, the psychiatrists they recommended, were all attempting to control my actions. In a sense, it was a strictly provable theorem, and I ultimately recovered equilibrium after removing myself from the sphere of influence of my adoptive parents.

Each time I did this my lot in life did significantly improve, and I’m certain they were the right decisions. I felt drawn to the choices, like there were omens meant for my eyes that led me to make the narrowest of choices across a weirdly diasporadical route through all the regions of the United States. I have a deep appreciation for the country, and the people that I’ve met in every region. This country’s greatest untapped resource is empathy. My fears and paranoia were founded on a perspective poured inward, focused on the “primal wound” that N. Verrier delineates. Recovering from being an adoptee isn’t possible, it’s a legal designation, and I can’t undo it, or ignore it. Recovering means showing up, engaging, looking up. Forced, relentless optimism, in the face of the absurdity of life.

Now, I’m no longer convinced I was under constant surveillance. I realize that much of what I felt was displaced rage, an unending scream, buried behind my silent, infant mask I assumed at birth. As an adoptee, I feel I have always had a life-long infection, a buried, festering sore, at the breaking point where identity and the self in relation to the world index, the nexus where I meet others. Bridging that chasm means having a vision of what is possible. The bridge must be precise, but the chasm is itself unchartable. Adoptees are all left, more or less, with this bridge to construct, on their own, from their side of the canyon. I feel as if I achieved an impossible task, bridged an impossible abyss, I’ve solved a riddle that had been at the back of my brain, occupying all of my subconscious processes, for decades. Now I’ve begun clearing out that space, using it to do more, be more aware, more centered around my friends and family. I don’t feel rushed, or as if my time is misspent, that I could be doing more, somehow, to answer these questions.

Adoptees are never “the good adoptee” all the time, we are all afflicted with some residue from our pasts. I am no expert on what families are healthy and which are troubled. All I know is my own experience and the layers of pain I’ve navigated to understand what affected me most directly. More importantly, the roles I see played out in fiction, that I’m tagging in these films, are never the totality of one’s life. I found great resonance in the stories of Luke Skywalker finding his ancestral narrative come to completion over the course of the various Star Wars films, and I found a great deal of empathy for the stories played out in The Truman Show and Flirting With Disaster. I do not necessarily think I am caught in a horror film, or even a drama. Life as an adoptee, particularly once I uncovered the central confusion around my identities, began to feel more like a farce. My fears were unfounded, my anxieties misplaced. I have trauma, yes, but no more or less than any other child growing in that world, there at that time. To be at peace with the life I led, and instead mourn the relationships I might have had, did have, perchance, in some universe next door, that is where I land. That, and a deep conviction that relentless optimism is the only flame strong enough to keep alive hope.

When I left the house of Jerry and Karen the first time, soon after I returned from visiting Idaho, I felt adrift and aimless. I did not have a direction, and was instead led and driven by my neurosis and my fears, led from opportunity and shielded by privilege in a world that I felt was actively hostile. I lived in the cheapest apartment I could find within walking distance of the gas station where I worked third shift. I felt like I presented such a clearly destitute target that no one would bother me when I walked through the light industrial area alongside highway 54, in summer of ’93. It was a two mile walk or more, and I maintained the pace for several weeks before I encountered an ex-classmate who needed a place to live, but had a car. I had a bed, and I split it in half, taking the box spring and giving him the mattress. Without him there, I knew it was a matter of time before I’d have had someone break into my studio apartment. As it was, I was evicted and he was picked up by a bondsman by the end of summer, but at least we both somehow survived.

What I do know is that my survival is luck. That there are many people who see their family tree as a stump in the yard. Even worse, the current political climate means all past bureaucratic determinations are prone to revisitations. Adoptees from overseas and across the north and south borders are facing deportation in some cases. Identity erased, these discrepancies aren’t taken into account as cases for additional empathy by federal agencies. Instead, the tendency recently has been to assertively enforce deportation. I can’t imagine the degree of mental stress an adoptee would feel being deported to a country they likely already have conflicting emotions about, and then being banished from the land where they’d been led to believe they were part of a family. The stories I’ve read about these “bad adoptees”-adoptees so without standing in our country that they have been rejected by the federal government as even being worthy of citizenship, often are strangely Kafka-esque. They read like absurdist fiction, struggling to integrate into a country they were taken from… Phillip Clay only one of many suicides as a result. My politics are shaped by these attitudes about identity, particularly when identity is wielded as a weaponizing force.

Throughout my life I have heard that the greatest “sin” of the liberals was that they “played identity politics” –a statement that I heard throughout my teens. My extended family was avid listeners of Rush Limbaugh. The only periodical that my adoptive father received was the “Conservative Chronicle,” a weekly compendium of articles, penned by a deep roster of conservative columnists and editorial cartoonists. That my adoptive father would use this phrase whenever he talked about politicians is not surprising, but the frequency by which I recall it being brought up led me to think about identity politics in a way that related to my own sense of identity. I started to see that expressing an identity could be a political act. I believe identity is the essence of representation, for example. I struggle to articulate my identity as an adoptee because my experience is Nothing and I speak from Nowhere. Or I did – all adoptees who are searching without answers are de facto voices from the void. I spoke from that place years ago, I sent my howls moonward, seeking others of my ilk. To be from nothing, and named nothing, and then overlayed–this is all dramatic fiction. But it is also how I play my identity politics out–I am a ghost, a mask, a thorn in amidst the “Blessing” that is the “adopted child”–I and all those other bad adoptees are the voice accomplice within a shadow cast by a myth. I have always felt that I exist somewhere between Moses and Oedipus Rex, and it didn’t end well for either of them…

On Discovery

not alone

this portal broke

drain even

drain odd

drain policy

festering eagle Eyed

stress.

I hear words in the white noise

too distant to obey

words in the tiles, on the flooring,

words in the stars,

words humming behind

the sounds

of the dishwasher

and these words

are lost, are

seeking homes,

ears,

hearts,

theaters.

yesterday, grimace

perplexed and then onward

she shelters seers

in her waters

then move warding passages

and get those meanings

thrust sainted moorings

across liminal spaces

between these winded passages

glands swollen

there are things left to do

moments not set to order

springs cocked, seeds watered,

mulch set to rights

laws motioned forward

sowing, I one yes away

from moving forward,

being undone

and forgotten

wall sheen, broken window glance

shattered, miscreant, a poke from the watcher,

I am straddled by cats

and gracious, like smiles, smoke

I have my minions,

they lurk, corners of wood floored rooms,

glance furtively

move to shadows

and in the words blue, gold

she was older, held over,

cornered by the moment,

honest,

broken, I grimace

conquest–this offset.

being right about a moment

a hunch

leaves paths trod down familial trees

echo, ghosted

a haunting

that gaslight memory from another time

yes.

of course.

I am broken by time, shattered crystal soul left battered and sold the won like jewels, shards glistening wound display victed, victor, victemy, solace gross betwixt and between

you console it

me

I am dream

to be sacrificed, blue tone sifted, glean

skin fixed, I am whole

and faint, shimmering by the wayside, complicated

and able, though shattered

there is no safe space to sob

these motherfuckers will eat you

there is no safe space to sob

these motherfuckers will eat you

I am over,

the end of am

death to because

cancel the accounts

of duties, frauds

consorts, broken styles

I am, now the lost

breath of fire, downward dog, be ye all damned

back-masked, inverted

the walls we are

endure beyoundgrounds

for censures.

I am done;

my life is begun

and beyond that, the sun to which I sink.

Secrecy, trauma, & DNA

The registry to which I was sending my personal information did nothing to provide me with any sort of starting point in my search.

Today there is a better chance of spitting into a tube or sending in a cheek swab and running a DNA search than of a registry providing a name and address to an adoptee in search of their biological roots.

DNA search does create a whole new layer of concerns, particularly about how DNA data will be collected and utilized in the coming years, but it does provide a way to route around adoption laws that vary wildly from state to state. US citizens are unequal, and nowhere is this inequality more absurd than in the criminalities associated with adoptees in search of their own identities.

In my situation, I had finally found and connected to biological relatives on my mother’s side of the family, but was asked to take a DNA test to confirm my relation by my birth mother’s brother’s wife, or my birth aunt-in-law. Once the results showed I was related, that unlocked a different kind of relational stasis between me and several members of my blood relatives.

Every adoptee who knows they are adopted will search for their identity in some way. Some may only ever search within themselves, as a way to orient themselves without genetic mirroring within the social world they inhabit. But we, as a cohort, as a diaspora, are destined to search. Many of us may find something of substance, but we will all be altered by the experience of searching. This search is the processing of loss; searching is grief in motion.

I lost an identity and a relationship with the woman I had been inside of, and every scrap of information I’ve assembled paints a picture of a woman who did not want to give me up.

When I contacted her, she relayed an unwillingness or inability to remember details about those years, pregnant and after I had been born. My search did not provide me with the answers I was looking for, but it did lead me to a place of deeper empathy. My ancestry is one of uncovering, my heritage is one of loss, lack, void and concealment. I am driven to uncover, to unrune, to destroy secrets and sense pain. I am drawn to trauma, to narratives of pain, of recovering, of remembering. My coming into awareness of the implications of my adoption have broken down all the social bonds that were imparted by my adoption.

To find myself I had to undo all the coercive and constructed social fictions that came with my adoptee status. I remain estranged from my adoptive parents as I write this, and I doubt I could write this were I to be in contact with them. The clarity I need to be aware of my past can only be accessed if I am not repressing the emotions to remain civil with them. When I am honest with myself, and recall their actions and attitudes, I am awash with rage. My anger is a desire to protect that younger version of myself from the physical attacks from my adoptive father, often in the form of whippings with his leather belt. My memories are tied to back pain, to a sense of bruising on my upper thighs, and a dreadful malaise that renders me nearly immobile. My anxiety attacks arise from these and other moments, and have driven me into moments of self-harm, cutting myself to wake up from these near-day-dreams. These reveries are crippling. Adoptee-trauma differs from individual to individual, but, as with searching, some form of trauma is near-universal.