This collection of memories do not entirely belong to me. To help catalogue my infancy, I am relying on the stories given to me by four separate individuals. I have remnants of memories that I can best describe as, fragmented. I will be presenting four individual perspectives, followed by my own, fractured memories.
Every time I ask Mary about my early years, she instinctively flinches. She always begins the stories with the same melancholy toned, “You have to understand, it was all just too much for me back then”. This particular memory is from the first conversation between Mary and I. I was eighteen at the time and had not seen her for 15 years.
She began the first meeting with a big hug, some tears and some placating overtones. I got around to asking her why I was put up for adoption. She answered with:
“You would cry for hours on end and I, .. I just couldn’t deal with it. So I did the right thing, I asked for help. — Sometimes it was your sister that would help, sometimes your grandparents. It just got to be too much.” …. “I think Vanna learned to change your diaper when she was four! She was always such a good child. If it hadn’t been for her”… “I may not have been the best mother to you, but in the end, I did the right thing. You have to admit, you had a better life because I let you go!”
I stared at her long and hard, taking this new information in. “This? THIS is my mother?” I remember thinking that to myself, very clearly.
After gathering my thoughts, I asked “Why did you keep Vanna and not me? What was so wrong with me?”:
“Nothing sweetie! You were just so spirited and I couldn’t handle the both of you… She basically raised herself during those years. She was such a huge help with you as well. I was.. I was kind of out of it for a time. My social worker said it would be best.”
“Oh yeah, Julie was great with you. She found you several families, but none of them stuck until your parents came along. You had several trial runs before Olav and Jean found you.”
At this point, I sat down. I had no previous knowledge that I had been so transient as an infant. I was shaken. She went to the bathroom and all I could do was look at the floor. I had been in several people’s homes, and rejected?
After Mary returned I asked her my final question, “Did you miss me and think about me, at least?”
“I thought of you often. Vanna used to make a huge deal of your birthday each year. We would make a cake and she would make you these hand made, hand drawn by my birthday cards each year!”
At this point, I knew that at the very least, my sister had loved me. To this day, Mary and I do not talk.
My very first good memories are of my sister. I remember her dressing me, feeding me and sitting with me. We were apart for 15 years, yet when we saw each other that first time, years later, it was instant connection. I asked her to re-live those days with me and share the story with me.
“You cried a lot, but I didn’t blame you. You would be left in a dirty diaper for hours before I would be able to change it. Mama would just “zone out” and would often put you in your seat and forget about you. She used to get so mad because.. Boy could you scream.”
We chuckled over this together and then she continued.
“Miss Julie would come by almost every week to check on Mama and you. A few times she would take you to the home with her, because Mama said she couldn’t handle us both.”
“Oh yeah, the state home. I had to go twice, but I never stayed as long as you.” She continued, “I still remember when you came back from that one family’s house and you would cry every night and every time it was too dark. That got annoying. But when I asked Julie, she told me why… They put you in the closet when you wouldn’t stop crying.”
“I was actually removed from that home forcibly, by Miss Julie.”
“See, I never knew that shit. Mama always was a goddamn liar. But, I still love her to death. … I am so sorry that happened. I’m just glad you made it out of there. Your parents saved you from dealing with Mama’s shit for 15 years.”
I talk to my biological sister a few times a year. We do not talk about our childhood anymore.
- Miss Julie
“Miss Julie” was a social worker working for the state of Georgia. She was assigned to me in the early spring of 1987. She was following up anonymous reports of child neglect and parental misconduct. I had only 2 meetings with Miss Julie. The first meeting was a conference call with her, my parents and myself. The question at hand was “Did I want to meet my biological family?”. It was a resounding yes from me. The second meeting with Julie was several months later. It was both enlightening and horrifying.
She started off the conversation with normal platitudes but quickly dove into the darkness.
“I understand you have had some trouble forming attachments and being in the dark (Nyctophobia). I’d like you to know, you had a fairly rough time as a baby… Your mother (Mary) was on drugs and suffering from anxiety and couldn’t be there for you like she should have been. This led to you missing meals, diaper changes and eventually, me showing up and removing you from the home. I can’t tell you how many times I came over to find you with your sister, her feeding you and trying to change you. But…I placed you in several homes.”
“I had to remove you from one [of the homes] after I found bruises during our monthly check-in and the other.. The other home, I learned from neighbors, that you were being left in a closet when you cried. … You were underweight, bruised and abused. I can’t help but take some responsibility. I’m so sorry.”
She the ended the conversation with, “Your parents did a great job with you. You have grown to be a fine, upstanding person, I’m proud of you!”.
I thanked her for being candid, and attempting to take some responsibility for her part in my abuse. We have not spoken since.
- The Parents
When I was approximately three and a half, I was legally adopted by a family of evangelical christians. I lead with that description because everything in my life with them was tied to Christian ideology.
Olav was an electrical engineer working for IBM and Jean was a certified public accountant, working for the church. She was also a housewife and mother to three, soon to be four. Her response to my adoption was short and tagged with other memories:
“We’ll never forget the day we met you. You were so tiny! I was worried you’d been starved half to death. Remember what happened later that month? The crash? That’s right! We got in a car accident and a piece of glass flew into your face. You had to get 8 stitches. You didn’t cry once. You were so brave. Wow!”
My Dad remembers this:
“I actually flew home from Belgium to appear in court for your adoption. I remember it clearly because the judge had seen my docket and asked the crowded court if anyone had traveled further than me. Nobody had, so I got to go first! I’ll never forget that, and I’ll never forget when I first held you in my arms.”
That is the most in depth response I’ve received from my parents, regarding my early childhood. At the time, the family was preparing for a transition to Belgium. Olav was being transferred and the family was going with.
5. My Memory
The most significant memory fragments that I recollect are of Vanna, my sister. I remember her feeding and dressing me. I also remember her chasing the car when I left forever with my new family.
I also remember small dark places, associated with fear and anxiety. I remember getting in trouble but not understanding why.
I remember family; something new and not to be trusted. I remember chaos and I remember my first airplane flight…
Soon, I’d become an international child.