Being an adoptee meant contorting myself into family spaces. First, there was my adopted family. Then, there were my biological families — once I tracked them down. And finally, there was my found family. In each case I was an outsider, invited to join other, functioning human beings as part of a family. In each case it was assumed that I was a functioning human being; that I was similar to them; that I could assimilate.
My adopted parents brought me into their lives to fulfill their need for a ‘complete’ family. After two children and a number of complications, my mother was told she could not have any more children. A crushing blow. They proceeded to the nearest Catholic hospital, where innocents were ripped from the wombs of unwed, teenage sinners and thrust into the loving arms of god-fearing parents-to-be.
They picked me from a line-up of similar babies, future sinners all of us, and took me home like a frozen turkey to be thawed and consumed later. They already had two children; how difficult could it be to bring another into the fold? I would never know the difference, surely. They made a space for me, and placed me in that space. They never considered if I fit that space. I didn’t. It dug into my back and pinched my legs.
Then the unthinkable happened — my mother became pregnant. I now had a little brother, and my space shrank to accommodate him. He was ‘the miracle baby’; the child who was never meant to be. I was the interloper, occupying corners and shadows. Suddenly, I was taking up precious space that was not my birth-right.
I grew throughout my adolescence, as most of us do. My clothes were replaced as I grew taller, and new shoes were bought at the start of each school year. Yet I wasn’t permitted to take up any more room as a teenager than I was had as a small child.
Time passed, and my siblings needed more — attention, chattels, space. But resources were finite in our house. These things had to come from somewhere. The most logical response was to take them from the stranger and give them to the blood-kin. I would never know the difference, surely. I mean, they saved me from a life of sin. Right?
I knew, I just knew, that somewhere out there was family with a space for me; a me-shaped hole that only I would fit. My Cinderella space. All I needed to do was find them.
My biological mother was a blast. She was beautiful, funny, intelligent, and the life of the party. I couldn’t believe my luck, finding her and finding out about her. I nodded and smiled and laughed and was awed. She had been looking for me. Me! All her life she felt me, missing but present. I couldn’t wait to step into the space she had saved for me; my space.
Yet when I did, I found it very crowded. My mother had filled it with people and places and memories, anything to remove the guilty sight of my absence. My face pressed against my brother’s back; my sister’s elbow dug into my ribs. In the dark corners I could hear her lovers whisper and snigger. And hovering over us all were the unholy images of her own parents.
It seems a space cause pain. She had been in pain for so long, after I was stolen from her, she had to treat that pain with any remedy at hand. The first salve was marriage, followed by a replacement son, then a daughter. The marriage was doomed from the beginning of time, and the children’s trust was lost. Then came the lovers, leaving footprints on her heart.
She tried so hard to fill my vacancy that by the time I returned to her the position had changed so much it was no longer mine. No matter how I contorted, no matter how I twisted my mind, I could never fit in that space again. I wasn’t that baby anymore.
I lingered on the periphery of their spaces; a brother and a son who once didn’t exist. A ghost relative. I no longer required room of my own, for no specter can reside in the material world.
My biological father was a space thief from birth. Born at the end of WWII, to a French mother and German soldier father, he was an outcast in his remote mountain village. He was shipped off to be raised by an old couple in a nearby town, relieving his mother of the need to defend his space-wasting presence. She replaced him with a newer, shinier model — a brother with an American soldier father. He didn’t take up space; he made space appear out of nowhere!
I met my biological father for the first time at a restaurant. I was jammed into a corner between the wall and his wife; between a rock and a hard place. He barely spoke to me all night. Over time I began to trust him, and he opened up more. We shared stories and thoughts and opinions. He was old school, though, which was the downfall of our relationship.
At a family function he didn’t like something I had said (to this day I do not know what this was, he has never told me). A week later I received a text message from his wife, absolutely decimating me. She accused me of all sorts of behavior and judgement toward my father. I knew this attack was coming from him, as his other children had told me this was his modus operandi — hiding in the background while his wife did his dirty work.
That was that. A relationship given, a relationship taken away. He closed all the spaces where I might get in; nailed boards across the windows of his emotions to keep me out.
But my found family. Ah! There’s a tour de force!
They are a collection of disparate people, amassed over the years like a snowball growing as it rolls down a hill. Some of them made space for me. Some I asked to make space for me. And others jumped up and down in excitement when they saw I fit perfectly into the empty space beside them. In every cases, I was given space to be me.
Like my other families, my found family assumed I was a functional human being and could assimilate. Unlike my other families, they did not withdraw when they witnessed the truth. When I failed to function, they entered the space around me to ensure I was supported. When I fought against assimilation, they widened the space to give me room to find myself again.
This is the true essence of family. This is what I found in my chosen family. These are people who decided I did not take up space; that I deserved to have my own space; and whose space I defend in return. They are the people who give freely, and expect nothing in return but love and laughter.
We are all adoptees in this family.
First published on Medium.com, 12/08/2021. (c) David McKenzie