Double Living

“One person can trigger a million thoughts.”

There are five us in the room, three males and two females. The youngest is a male and he is seventeen years old.  The most senior person is my mother and she is 65. I am there at 42. My 46 year old fiance and my uncle, aged 59. Generations. Family members. The seventeen year old is my uncles son, my cousin, only I have never met him before. Seventeen years old and I am only just meeting a cousin that is twenty five years younger than me.

The room is filled with chatter. My uncle and his son are standing. Uncle is in the door way.  I smile over his silly clothing. Typical uncle. Green pants belted up high on his belly, Ed Grimley style with added perk of being high waters. His light brown hair fringed with grey is messy. I doubt he combed it this morning. His thin tee shirt says “My daughter wears combat boots in the Army”.  This also makes me smile. I know that it is true. His daughter, my cousin that I have met before, is indeed in the army. She would like that he is wearing that shirt.

My fiancé and I are sitting. Fiance appears bored. My mother wanders around the kitchen as she preps the roast she is preparing for dinner. She has splattered pork roast juice on her sweater. Her good sweater that she wears to church. I motion to her to wipe it. She smiles. Uncle chuckles, fiancé continues to look bored and cousin fidgets nervously in the doorway. My mother is her chatty self and goes out of her way to make male cousin feel comfortable.

I hear the conversation but I am not  understanding it, not fully engaged, the sounds of their voices are barely audible to me. The sounds are muffled and low and at other times loud and clear.

I feel strange. I stare at my cousin. He is a very good-looking boy.  Blonde, blue-eyed, all american looking. His teenage face is splattered with serious acne that threatens to fade his good looks. The acne will lose. He is that handsome.  He is of medium build, short cropped light blonde hair, a skater boy. This is clear from the clothes he wears and the conversation he initiates about getting a skateboard on the airplane. I smile.

I am there but not there. Just like my cousin.

I muse over the fact that he hugged me upon meeting. I was not expecting a 17 year old boy that I had never met to hug me. I extended my hand to shake his. He shook it and then pulled me close to hug me. Very warm. Friendly. I am momentarily startled but I hug him back.

As the conversation progresses I find myself wanting to move closer to him, to stare at him, to talk with him.

I don’t. It would be inappropriate, off, not quite right considering the tone of the room. So I stare and continue to feel oddly drawn to him.

He is like me. There but not there. He belongs yet he doesn’t. There is more to him that we don’t see yet I can feel for it is similar to my own there but not there quality. We wear similar masks for the world. His is a different color than mine and not quite as old. Mine is hand made, his was made by others but they are both masks. Masks for the world to hide what we really are, what we were meant to be, what we are in a different universe.

The others, those in the room, they are all there but they wear no masks. My mother, my fiance, my uncle. There. Whole. Complete. They don’t live in two worlds like I do. Like my cousin does. They don’t wear the masks we do.

Two different faces for two different worlds. Me, the birthmother/notmother/mother  and my cousin the surrendered/adopted/ son.

My adopted cousin.  The fifth child my uncle and his former wife adopted. He is my family, yet he is not. I am his family, yet I am not.

I feel this peculiar split, this skewed reality, this alternate universe that he and I live in at other times.

Does he feel it too? Does he know about me? Surely his sister has told him? Perhaps my uncle, his adoptive father?  Did he tell him that I was one of “those”?  One of those women, like his own birther, that gave away her child.

Does he sense that I am in that alternative universe with him? That I can relate? That while he sits here and considers my uncle his father that he has another man, somewhere else, that is also his father?  Does he realize that I stare at him and don’t think about him being in our family but rather I think about his other family, out there, without him. Does he have brothers like my daughter does that would like to know him? Does he realize that somewhere he has people that look like him? Talk like him and have his talents?

My mother’s voice invades my thoughts, an earlier conversation. “He is a good artist but he draws evil things, mean, scary faces..he is an angry boy”. I respond to my mother by stating that adopted children have a great deal to be angry about.  I ponder commenting on her use of the word evil. I want to tell her she has ingested too much Catholicism. I dont. My mother looks at me like she always does, perplexed and annoyed that I am on THAT thought train again. She is fearful I will start preaching again about the damage done to mother and child by unnatural separations, about the damage she and I did to me and my first born, her first grandchild.

Recalling that conversation with my mother leads me back to cousins mother. Not my aunt but rather his birthmother as the public prefers to call her.

I think about his mother. Has he talked to her? I know his sister has. Has he? Is he pretending? Being the good loyal adoptee to my uncle or is he truly comfortable with us, this family not family that he has only just met.

My own duality floats above the room. I am at one moment the mother of two sons and a few moments later I am the mother with a daughter and two sons. I am confused, lost in my own thoughts, pondering my two lives crossing paths with my cousins two lives. Somewhere across the crowded kitchen, in a corner by the basement door, standing on the dirty pergo floor by my mothers handmade flowered cafe curtains, stands me, the mother not mother, with the surrendered adopted son cousin. I stare at them. They stare back at me.

What was his real name? What did his mother name him before my aunt and uncle changed it to M?

What does his father, his natural father look like? He must be dashing. Cousin is. My uncle isnt. My uncle is tall and oafish. Cousin looks nothing at all like him. No similar nose, no similar body style, hair color. I note that even their skin is a different color. I begin to think about my daughter. How much she looks like me. Will she ever stand in this room? Will she ever stand nervously in the doorway that my adopted cousin now stands?

Conversation continues. I feel as if the room is losing oxygen.  I am there and not there. Mother but not mother. Cousin to a non cousin.

I motion to my fiance. I tell him I want to go out for a bite. I tell my mother we will be back.

We exit out the back door of the kitchen and I inhale the cold winter air deeply, providing a soothing breath to both the mother and the nonmother.

My cousin is a nice young man. His mother, wherever she is, would be proud.

9 Thoughts.

      • I had so many instances of that in my adoptive family–feeling like I was in the room, but not part of it. To put it in science fiction terms, like I was slightly out of phase from everyone else. They could see me and I could see them but we existed in totally different worlds. No one else in my adoptive family that I know of has an adoption connection so I felt isolated. I was isolated in age too because my a-cousins were all either much older or much younger than me. So I remember well the feeling of standing in the doorway, watching but not participating.

        • Triona – I get that exactly. Also understand the scifi reference, like a wrinkle in time, like I am existing in two places but expected to be in only one, I feel both, I am both, but only one of me is recognized, only one of me is seen by others.

  1. Wowzers, my Suz. I felt slightly anxious just reading this, for numerous reasons…you always kinda make me go…’Hmmm…’ and then go deep in thought. I’ll toss this around in my heart for the next day or so and then decide what I think and feel about it. (And when I say this…I mean, to myself.)

    But one thing is brought up to me…is that (I’m using adoptive/birthfamily words here only to make it clear who is who) my adoptive mother’s first ‘Cousin’ who she and her older brother (my a-uncle) and sister (my a-aunt) placed a child – her son – for adoption when she was almost 30 years old…and that would be like…40 years ago…at least. I see Cousin on a regular basis. She’s always there on Thanksgiving, Easter, summer bbq’s and that sorta thing. I think I was around 15-ish when I was informed that Cousin was a birthmother (she never dated, got married or had any further children).

    I have never been very fond of Cousin…even before I found out. We just don’t ‘gel’. To be honest – this is so so so mean of me – I don’t like the woman. I judge her (not admittedly about placing her son…I’ve never had a convo w/her about this…she doesn’t speak about it, ‘tho I’m told that she used to talk about it incessantly), about anything she says. If she says white, I say black. If she says she’s scared of spiders, I say I love them. If she gets ‘scared to drive in the snow’ I chuckle and think ‘wimp’.

    It is the WEIRDEST thing ever.

    I think I needa blog about this.

    I can’t even believe I’m sharing the above. Because, it’s not my most shining moment(s) and really isn’t who I am.

    I kinda wonder if maybe she feels the same way about me…and maybe it IS adoption related. Maybe she, like you, looks at me, like you did your cousin. Maybe I judge her for my birthmother leaving me…because she left her own son.


    • Laurel – I believe, for me anyway, it is very easy to get trapped in others trauma, to get entangled, to struggle with separating the threads of your life from theirs. Its a big messy ball of emotional yarm. I believe those of us who have felt the pain of adoption can feel it in others, good bad or otherwise and that it can be reflected back to us, projections, trasnference, etc. Again, my experience only. Not saying all feel that way.

  2. Such a thought provoking piece.

    Sigh about the evil word being thrown out.

    I recently found a disturbing image that was drawn by my oldest daughter. I learned so much from her, about her, when we talked through what that image meant and what inspired her to draw it.

    Evil- the Valentine that I received from my oldest today contained that word. She gave me an origami flower and this note-

    “This flower came out today. It caught the sun and light and more and more it grow to fit more light. It takes evil and good too….JUST LIKE YOU!”

    We have had so many conversations about her not being ‘bad’ but being ‘hurt’. It saddens me to the core that she sees her behaviors that stem from adoption loss as ‘evil’. She truly does not have an evil side- but a broken one.
    Thank you for sharing.

  3. I often find myself in adoption situations. As if I’m a magnet for them. So many friends who were adopted and not searching (people my age, almost 60, yikes!). So many friends/family members who have adopted. I watch all of them like hawks, looking for signs of what I have experienced, the trauma I know. It’s always kinda weird and interesting, and I always mind my own bee’s wax.

    Every situation is different and yet there is a thread. If only we could open up to each other without being intrusive or vulnerable.

    A year after I found my son, I learned that my mother (her big secret) and her eight siblings had been abandoned after their father died and mom deserted them. Most were fostered (not legally adopted), some were old enough to go out on their own. It gave insight into my mother’s willingness to lose her first grandson, to put me through what she did. The point is, when I met my aunts and uncles decades later, and my cousins (their children), I found most of them traumatized by that one act.

    The era doesn’t matter, the circumstances don’t matter. We have a shared experience that is beyond words… to a point, and if we get lucky.

    Great post, Suz.

  4. That’s like when I was in Taiwan. I was there but not-there. I was a part of them but not “really” a part of them. I feel like I am a duality.

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