Archive for relinquishment

Both/And

Posted in The Blog with tags , , , , on July 11, 2013 by chateaucone

I am adopted.

Present tense.

I am not someone who “was adopted.”

(Although for a long time it felt as though it were something that happened to someone else, a baby named Elizabeth Ann who lived in a fable with fairy godmothers to rescue her and magical cousins to grow up with.)

“Adopted” is a state of being. It doesn’t end.  It is not unlike being of Italian-American descent. But of course it is totally unlike being of Italian-American descent.

I say this because the very fact of my adoption is fluid, constant, present, always, fragmented and changeable, but never ending, never done. It exists never solely in the moment in the conference room in Angel Guardian in 1967 where that baby changed hands, changed identities, but in every moment since then, in 1000 different forms and thoughts, processes and perceptions, conversations and categories.

It is a molten state of being.

My father is the keeper of the adoption story, and he is losing his memory. Sometimes he asks me whether he and my mother adopted me, or whether I am theirs.

“Did we adopt you, Elizabeth? Or are you ours? I think you’re ours,” he says.

The words he uses are tricky, difficult, to think about. He never would have made this distinction before tiny strokes started destroying the neural pathways in his brains.

I was both/and, always and already, have-always-been, adopted and his.

I have written an entire dissertation about our adoption story–about the power of narrative and how it, for so long, erased the adoption, so strongly did it construct the fact of the inevitability of our family.

And yet somehow, as my father’s dementia progresses, I have become even more his, if possible, than before, the holes in his memory easing any final boundaries–the adoption now not only figuratively but literary erased.

This is a strange little paradox.

My father’s memory, the one that took all the disparate pieces of us and created our story, our family, is breaking apart like a teacup falling off the table shattering into one million tiny pieces.

My father’s memory, I think, is in that moment where the teacup has just hit the floor and the shards are bouncing back up into the air, in slowest motion, still discernable as a teacup but spreading apart, the spaces between the pieces bigger with each passing millisecond, the cup losing its shape, its curves, its teacup-ness, in movements of almost negligible increment.

The universe tends toward chaos. The teacup will never leap back up off the floor and put itself back together. This is not how I imagined my father’s stories would be lost.

But.

I believe in our family, our meant-to-be-ness, in a different way than my father does, I think–but in a way that is perhaps just as fragmented. I don’t need, or even want, the adoption erased. I can hold, have been holding for years, all these disparate ideas in my head at once: I am adopted. And (not but!) I am a Cone and a Paganelli  and connected by more-than-blood to the whole-extended-family, regardless of how I got there. And (not but!) I have another mother and father, and aunts and uncles and cousins out there somewhere, and I am part of those families too. And (not but!) I am not a whole-hearted supporter of adoption as it is now practiced, and as it has been practiced in the past. And (not but!) I am happy I was adopted, and sorry that my birth mother was probably coerced, maybe only in subtle ways, to give me up. And (not but!) my own neurological pathways are probably a little messed up from being reliquished as an infant. And (not but!) I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t change that.

My father likes to blame my college friends and the politicians I worked for early in my career for my political views. But it was the idea of the creation of our family that made me who I am– that gave me the tools–however inadvertently–to believe families have little to do with blood and genetics–that families that we construct out of disparate pieces are every bit as real, as valid, as valuable, as those that occur biologically.

My father’s neurological pathways are coming undone. But his stories and their implications are embedded in me. They are inside my cell walls.