I spent too much time looking backward, looking into the past, looking into the mirror to frame a dream history of my desires and fears. He called one morning, left a message, “Mother died, more details will follow.” A mother his by birth, mine by legal act. I should have felt stunned anger, I said quietly to myself he’s cocky, has issues, and went about momentary mourning. That is the psyche of the adoptee who was never family, always an adjunct. Later my antediluvian dreams gave way under a torrent of deoxyribonucleic acid rain. She who I imagined in the mirror took name, took shape from and old yearbook, offered a history, a family, a heritage. When I knelt at her grave she told me her story in hushed tones, or was it the breeze in the pines on the hill overlooking the Kanawha? I bid her farewell that day, placed a pebble on her headstone, stroked the cold marble and mourned an untouched mother.
I remember the afternoon was cold and damp, with a persistent drizzle that escaped the clustered umbrellas, the sky a blanket slowly shedding the water that soaked it as it sat out on the clothesline.
I suspect you would have liked it this way, everyone in attendance, everyone shuffling their feet, wanting to look skyward, knowing they would see only a dome of black umbrella domes.
I recited the necessary prayers, kept a reasonable pacing despite the looks of many urging me to abridge the service, but the rain didn’t care about their wishes and I knew you wouldn’t so I carried on to the conclusion.
As they lowered your coffin into the puddled grave, I imagined you laughing, knowing in the end you had this day gotten the last one.
My history is like an ill- sewn quilt, odd pieces of parents stitched loosely together, always ready to come apart, fade or be thrown away.
Perhaps my history is more like a beloved old pair of jeans, holes appear and are patched, patches wear out and are replaced, or the hole is just left, as if it were somehow a fashion statement.
There is little normal when you are adopted, loved perhaps, but always on the edge of being an outsider, and when that is repeated, the distance grows exponentially, until you find a birth parent or two and the holes are patched with dreams of what might have been.
I carry my past in a monk’s bag that rests on my shoulder.
In it you will find my history, or bits of it, names I have been given, given up, memories of childhood, pictures of my parents who I never knew, aged in my mind from the photos in yearbooks, all that I have of them..
I still have room in my bag, perhaps more room than time.
How many times have we heard someone intone the never ending expression: “in the best interests of the child.”
Never, I imagine, has anyone asked the child what he or she thought was in their best interest, for children, we assume, cannot know what is in their interest.
A child would gladly tell you but an adult would often disagree, anchored to the memory of their parents always deciding what was in their best interest whether or not they agreed, and assuming that is how things always ought to be.
I have never been to Liszkowo but I have been to Charleston, West Virginia and visited the B’nai Jacob Cemetery and for me, that is as close as I need to come to Liszkowo for I don’t speak Lithuanian though it runs through my veins. I have visited the Highlands and the Isle of Islay but I never saw my father’s kin reach out to me, although they speak to me in my dreams.
Even long after he had left his childhood behind, or such of it as he had actually had, he could still stare up into the night sky, at ceiling of stars with more than a little awe.
And even though he had left childhood behind, no one had yet answered the one question his parents ducked time and time again, one so simple a child knew its answer, but asked anyway, for validation or irritation.
If God created the heavens why did He or She arrange the stars so that people could see in their order other people, lesser gods and all manner of animals?
Children have an innate sense of their ancestry. I was a child of the city it’s streets my paths, always under the watchful eye of my warden – mother.
Dirt was to be avoided at all possible cost, so I never dug my hands into the fertile soil of my village in the heart of Lithuania, or tasted the readying harvest that dirt would remember.
I never stole a nip of poitin only the Manischewitz which, in our home, masqueraded as wine fit for drinking. It is only now in my second childhood that the ancestry very deep in my DNA has finally found purchase in my mind and soul.