I hear as I vault two steps at a time barely avoid careening into an elderly woman in a fluffy winter coat shuffling towards the staircase. Panting I shove an arm through the set of double doors as they begin to shut. They bounce back and I jump onto the train as the monotone announcer’s voice commands, “stand clear of the doors” and in quick succession, “doors closing” once again. I turn right and make my way towards the end of the car where two rows of hard plastic seats face each other I aim for the seat at the end, scanning the faded navy blue felt coverings to avoid any undesirable foreign substances.
My seat looks clean as I could’ve hoped for on the Red Line. I sit down and look at the person sitting across from me. He is tall, long torso, with a patchy scruffy blonde beard. He has plump cheeks and his eyes are filled with uncertainty, he almost looks a little pathetic, despite his size. We briefly catch each other’s eye as I look towards the middle of the car to see who else I’m sharing my ride downtown with. I wonder what he thinks of me.
The train lurches forward as we begin our ride south.
There are about 20 or so other folks in my car, none talking to each other. Everyone is either asleep, has headphones in or is glued to their phone. Almost instinctively I reach for my phone, pull it out and begin trying to figure out what word I can possibly come up with that has one vowel, an X and a host of other hard to work with letters. I’m not used to losing at Words with Friends but am getting my ass handed to me by a friend who I’ve just begun playing with. As I rack my tiny brain for possibilities I realize the tall man across from has his eyes on me. I don’t dare look up for fear of interrupting the world he is creating for me inside his head.
“Next stop Addison”
As he devours me with his eyes he builds a reality for me. He uses my clothes, my tardiness to the train, my being out of breath and mannerisms I barely notice: slightly slouched, adjusting my clothing and touching my face. I wonder who I am to this man, who am I in this world he is creating. Is my life in shambles? Am I sloppy, late to everything and constantly missing out? Am I careless, zoned out and out of touch; jaded by the monotony of the daily grind? Am I a villain that he is chasing down to stop from destroying the world?
“Addison” the monotone voice announces as we come to a slow stop.
I’ve give skinny patchy beard man plenty of time to defeat me if I am a villain and can’t hold back any long, I look up and our eyes meet immediately. It takes him a moment to realize I’m actually looking back. He hasn’t been looking at me sitting there but at the me he’s created in my own little world. Terrified at being caught he looks away. I can tell he is angry I caught him, angry that I ruined me for him. I grin to myself, knowing he wouldn’t dare bring me back into his gaze again.
I take a perverse pleasure in catching him at his daydreaming. I do the same to others, build worlds for them as we stand waiting for the train or walk home from work together, just a few strides apart. It’s kind of weird that I don’t just talk to people instead of creepily creating separate worlds and scenarios for them to live in while they are in my sight.
He sits alone at the end of the counter. Its Tuesday and the middle of winter. Too early for anyone but the regulars to show up. Some might call him a regular but he knows better, nothing is regular about him being here. Its the same each town he’s been in. He comes in quite and sticks around for a while, just long enough for peeople to get used to him being there and then he leaves. He moves around for work. Its always smaller places never anything big enough that he’d ever have to wrry about anyone being smarter or better trained than he is. Never small enough that anyone new is an outsider. He always chooses those towns just big enough that they have a couple elementary schools, a library and at least two gas stations. He needs people to know him enough not to remember him, he needs to seem like he’s just another face in the town, nothing special, not new, not flashy and not too talkative. These places are easiest. Sure people notice you’re a new face but no ones ever expecting it to be you.
When he was younger he’d been less careful choosing towns. He was a gifted kid and that got to his head real quick. he realized early on how much better he was than the his brothers. That ego was a dangerous thing in his line of work. It had done in a couple of his older brothers and had almost gotten him too. Sir had warned him once before he scouted the first time but he was 16, handsomer than hell and more stubborn than a horse.
He sipped his coffee angry at himself for thinking about how reckless he was as a kid. “Shit”, he muttered to himself, “we was all damn kids.” Candace, the plump, yet still beautiful in her own way, waitress passed him by filling up his cup as she asked Mr. Anderson how he thought the market looked this morning. Same damn conversation they had with each other every morning. Candace always trying to cheer the early birds in the diner up before they headed off to work. Most of them were bankers, insurance agents, car salesmen or traders getting ready to hop on the train to the city. “Poor bastards” he muttered to himself again as Candace swept back past him to attend the city slicker that jus sat down a few seats away from Mr. Anderson. These small town-folk don’t know shit about the world. They barely traveled outside of this little miserable place except to head to the city for a holiday or to visit a son in school.
Thinking about how much more he knew about the world than all these sore sons ‘o bitches made him smirk. He stole a glance at his watch even though there was a clock hanging right up in front of him on the other side of the counter. It was one of those ones that was supposed to look like it was from a diner in the 50s, it had a gaudy plastic rim that was supposed to look like chrome and a yellow neon light wrapped in a circle on the inside. He tried not to remember these types of things. He did his best not to remember anything from any of the towns he’d worked in. Sir had always said it was a bad thing to remember too much. Remembering meant you cared which meant you were as good as dead. Caring meant you’d slip up and they’d have to cut you loose. That’s what Sir always said. “I never knowed what the hell being ‘cut loose’ meant,” he thought to himself, but he had a pretty good idea.
It was 6:07 am and he’d just finished he 3rd cup of Joe. Candace, hearing the clink of his white porcelain up hitting its saucer made a move to fill it up again but he caught her eye and gave a stiff dead shake. He’d gotten to the Whistle early this morning, he’d left early because he’d heard the roads were a mess but it wasn’t anything more than he’d seen in his day. A few inches of powder, it was cold enough now that all that came down was powder, no more of that nice crunchy warm snow that soaks everything it touches. It was winter now.
He decided he’d have another cup of Joe after all and would leave by 7:00 am. Just as he was about to try and find Candace to have her pour him another cup of Joe a veiny hand with chipped yellow nail polish slid a piece of torn paper folded haphazardly underneath the white saucer. He looked up and he barely caught Candace’s eye as she withdrew her hand hastily grabbed his cup and filled it up setting it down too quickly and spilling coffee on the saucer. She turned away without a word and continued down towards Mr. Anderson who was making a fuss about how cheap a cup of Joe and eggs were back when he first moved to Lincoln Port. Slowly, he slid the piece of paper out from under the saucer and his heart began to beat faster as he turned it over. He had received notes like this before but usually from a woman trying to get him to take her out. He knew this was not that kind of note. He smoothed wrinkles in the paper, keeping it folded, to reach what was written on the front. Keeping a straight face, making sure not to seem uncomfortable or distressed, he read the letters, slowly, on the outside. He mouthed them as he went, “L” “E” “O”, “Leo” he mouthed. He didn’t get it until he said it out loud “Leo.” A wave of terror passed through him as he attempted to place the note in his breast pocket. He fumbled with the button as his hand had begun to tremble. He needed to leave and leave now. He needed to read that note.
“I’ve never even met her.”
“What? Why does that even matter? She’s into you. Dude just fucking chill.”
“Are you serious? Honestly, I can’t even believe you told her I was into her. I mean, I’m not really, I just said she looked cute. She’s not even that cute. There are plenty of girls hotter than her.” Laughing, Ben responds, “I fucking knew you liked her. You bastard.”
“Shut up, man. Is it just going to be me and her? I fucking hate first dates. At least we didn’t meet on one of those dumb ass dating site like Okcupid. Those are such bullshit.”
Ben looks at me grinning, “like you have room to talk, you’ve been single for 3 goddam years and this is your first real date in months.”
I light a cigarette and inhale. I feel the tobacco buzz coming on. I’ve just started smoking again and Ben thinks I’m just doing it so girls will think I’m reckless. “Yeah?” I respond, “well at least I’m not married like your whipped ass.” After a few seconds we catch each other’s eye and burst out laughing. Neither Ben nor I have been in a relationship for years. We’ve probably seen each other naked more times than we’ve seen a woman naked in the last couple years.
We cross Stafford and Main to wait for the bus. Its just us standing there. Its cold out. Mid-January in Cliff can be rough. Its no Minnesota or Wisconsin but every once in a while the wind from the lake comes down and give us a beating. Its steady, not gusty. As per usual I forgot my damn scarf and am trying to find warmth in my windbreaker collar. Ben, dressed like a Portland yuppy in his pee-coat, Frank and Oak scarf and poly-whatever-the-hell-ear muffs notices I’m freezing my ass off and begins to berate me as usual, “I told you to wear a hat, you knew it was windy out. Seriously, man why don’t you just wear a damn hat or something? I know you have one, cause you stole the one I got for Christmas last year.”
I’ve never been good at admitting I’m wrong, especially not to Ben who is mister fucking-know-it-all. “I’m not cold I say” pulling my neck out of the top of my windbreaker like a turtle popping up to catch a passing meal. I immediately regret my decision as I feel the cold Erie wind whip against my neck causing the hair on the back of my neck to stand and shivers to run up and down my spine.
I bring the Newport to my mouth again. Ben shakes his head and steps out on the curb to wave down the 43 as it barrels down Main towards us lurching up and down breaks screeching. I take one last drag and flick the cigarette to the curb. The 43 stops in front of us hissing as the hydraulics exhale. The doors open and two elderly women brush past us: one of them is still in her Kroger cashier blue vest. “Fuck, I couldn’t do that shit, not till 10″ I think to myself as I follow Ben onto the bus. He swipes his card and heads to the row of hard plastic empty seats at the end of the bus. I rummage in my pocket for my card, no luck. “Ben!” I shout, “I forgot my card, can you spot me?” The bus driver, a middle aged slim man with a thick brown mustache gives me an exhausted look as we wait for Ben to walk back and swipe me in. “Thanks man, I’ll get you back next time” I say under my breathe as I follow him back to our usual seats.
We sit down, Ben sticks in his ear buds and closes his eyes. I rest my foot on the yellow metal railing in front of me and slouch back, the 43 takes forever but it sure beats the hell out of walking.
Originally posted on Angela Tucker:
This poem is exquisite in its beauty, and poignant in its words. I’ve chosen to share her voice on my platform as our society continues to grapple with what it means to be privileged, what it means to have privileges and how to reconcile that within yourself so as not to feel ashamed for being born in to a society that overtly values or devalues you, nor to be ignorant of this same point. I can especially empathize with Diku’s frustration around spellcheck not recognizing the word microagressions, as I have often wanted to punch my computer screen for giving the red squiggly line under the word, “adoptee” — what a clear example of one way adoptees feel that our very being is less than.
Dear Writers, Listeners, and Writers who do not Listen
This piece was originally published at Soar. Diku Rogers is a junior in college from Brooklyn, New York.
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The sky is blue. Outrageously blue today. It is the kind of day that makes you forget clouds exist. A breeze kicks up and cools my sweaty brow. I feel good today, no stress. I can hear the rumbling of bike gangs in the near distance, out of sight, but within earshot. I’m in our yard. I have been standing in a patch of grass, what is left of our lawn, for about 15 minutes trying to figure out where to start. Our yard used to be orderly and clean, well at least as much as it could be. Today and every summer for the past few years it has become more and more jungle like.
Grape vines have climbed up our fragile cherry tree. The small apple and pear trees are nowhere in sight. The rock wall that divided the yard in two is overgrown and falling down. I can barely make out where the pond used to be beyond the wall and up a small hill just out of reach of one of our fine pine trees. The other pine, the taller skinner one closer to the house used to have a green wooden bird feeder hanging from its branches 10 feet above the ground. There is no use looking for it nor the huge black rubber tractor tire that sat beneath the tree and served as a sand box for us as children. The growth has taken over and turned what used to be a roughly tended yard into a thicket filled with vines to trip you, insects to sting you and thorns to prick you.
This place is a nightmare I think to myself. How did we ever let it get this way? I mean all we had to do was mow a few times a year and it wouldn’t have gotten so bad. “If dad were around this wouldn’t have happened,” I think to myself. I’ve thought this a million times and in every possible situation I could imagine. Whenever something is hard or I feel overwhelmed I think this wouldn’t be this way if dad were still alive.
I feel this way about a lot of things in my life, especially things I don’t know how to confront or address. I feel that if my dad were still around things would be different. No doubt that feeling is true, but it in of itself it is not an overwhelmingly helpful insight nor does it help me better understand how to deal with the sense of loss I associate with his absence.
I sigh, look around and begin to feel overwhelmed by the wall of green intertwined life staring me in the face. I have my loppers, a pair of leather gloves and long pants on. What would dad do if he were here? He would enjoy the time spent outside and plunge into the thicket and turn it back into what he wanted it to be and would be smiling the entire time. I grin, pick up my loppers envisioning my father out here beside me and step into the thicket.
For many, birthdays are a time to rejoice, celebrate and of course tell birth stories! For me birthdays are not imbued with the same sense of gleeful nostalgia. They are subtle reminders of an uncertain past and an unknown beginning.
The first birthday is not simply a date. It is an experience that, although no one remembers, is possibly more unique than any other human experience. The first actions during infanthood are often used as metaphors for that person’s developing personality. Memories are cherished and retold, affirming the foundational identity of the new person. Even stories of the womb are used to infer what the soon-to-be-birthed-baby will be like, what kind of person they will be. Many of those initial actions, in the womb and throughout infanthood, are not actual indicators of a person’s identity but when they do come true they can play a strong role in providing that person with a sense of continuity in the story of their identity. A sense that they have been the way they are since birth and therefore should be that way, which can act to reaffirm themselves during moments of identity crisis.
I have felt the lack of that continuity my identity story for as long as I can remember. I feel like the uncertainty of my past (not knowing my exact birthday, having no actual birth records, not knowing my first family…etc) is masked in the present as uncertainty in the daily performance of my identity. What the hell does that mean? It means I feel unable to make decisions that I feel reflect my own desires or feelings. I find it incredibly difficult to know what I want to express preference. I know what you are thinking. You are thinking is this kid really suggesting that the reason he cant decide what meal to pick of a menu is because he doesn’t know his birth details? Don’t hate me, but yes, that is kind of what I am saying. I am saying I believe that the uncertainty of my beginning has had reverberating effects on how I see (or don’t) myself as a person today.
I believe that much of the uncertainty about my past coupled with the difficulty I have with creating an image of myself in the future (see My Kids Are White) has played a role, who knows how significant, in my low self-esteem. I think that is why I have a hard time enjoying my birthday. I think because I don’t recognize much of the value (obviously being birthed is something I am glad of and value) in the date since it really is meaningless. Without the memories, stories and certainty of the date my birthday feels as meaningless as celebrating Christmas on June 15th or the New Year in August.
I was scared, terrified. It was probably midnight and we had just walked off the plane. Off the plane and out into the cool night air. I was with my older sister, but was still scared. I thought being here was going to calm me down, make me feel comfortable and “normal”. I thought being here would be like being home, like being in a place of complete comfort, surrounded by people who looked like me. It was dark and we were unsure what we were supposed to do. I expected the streets to be filled with people, bustling and jammed together. It was quiet and calm. There were a few groups of men, taxi and rickshaw drivers, standing around waiting for people like us.
It seemed like a bad idea to have planned our flight so we got in so late, especially since no one was meeting us. We would meet up with our guide in the morning and had to figure out how to get to our hotel on our own.
Anyone who has read this blog knows I love to fantasize. I love to think about all the possible outcomes of every decision I make. I daydream about being a world class soccer player. Breaking every scoring record that’s ever existed. Before this trip you can bet I fantasized about all the great things I would do when I got there. I believed this trip would dissolve my insecurities. Returning to my “homeland” would bring out my superhuman capabilities and I would lift this nation out of poverty, eliminate rampant corruption and, of course, make its soccer team the best in world.
To say I was naive would be kind. I was 15 and believed, n0 knew, that nothing could stop me! The difference between most of my fantasies and this one was that I, actually, believed that going home, to India, would actually make me feel more comfortable. I believe it could actually dispel my deepest insecurities and propel me to my fullest potential.
Stepping of that plane in Bangalore would be the first time I would have to honestly look at myself in the mirror and acknowledge I was who I was, no matter where I was. It is easy, growing up somewhere where you feel out of place, to always make excuses for why things don’t go right. For why you aren’t the best at everything or why you feel so insecure. It is easy to blame those things on something else, besides yourself. Growing up I placed a lot of blame for my own personal short-comings on my life circumstances. I always felt held back. Held back by a culture and world that didn’t understand me. Held back by being different than most around me. I
By choosing to get on that plane and subsequently spending 17 days in India I chose to confront this resentful narrative, unknowingly, of course.
One of the taxi drivers approached us (they knew we weren’t Indian immediately). We showed him the name of our hotel and he showed us to his minivan. The vans really were mini, not like in the U.S. where our minivans are gigantic. These looked like vans from the early 90s but shrunk. Inside were two sets of benches along each wall of the van. We clambered inside, suitcases and all. My sister and I looked at each other as the door slammed shut and the small gray van darkened inside. A few windows let in yellow street lamp light. We looked at each other, grinning, both realizing how clueless we really were.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this post for quite a while and today I came across a few pieces, one in particular, that have helped me greatly. I found these pieces on Pactadopt.org, specifically the Grief and Loss in Adoption section. Thinking about adoption as loss is something tons of people have written about and I have been overwhelmed by the wealth of information I have found through reading other people’s accounts and experiences with adoption as loss. Here are my two cents.
Adoption equals loss. Although I use the term I’m not super into it. I dislike when people just focus on the negative and this statement surely seems, at face value, to emphasize the negative. That being said, I use it because I think it draws attention to the part of adoption that is seldom, outside of those involved in dialogues about adoption, mentioned: loss. I’ll admit that as a child I always used the line of reasoning that my first family must’ve been poor, sick or in some way unable to care for me and so that I am lucky to have been adopted into a western culture with access to all sorts of wonderful privileges, all of which I have benefited from tremendously. As a child I rejected the framing that adoption equals loss I amended it, as many do, to a much more positive perspective that adoption equals opportunity.
A few nights ago I had someone ask me where I was from and I launched into my little schpeel. I felt more uncomfortable than usual with a phrase I’ve used over and over again. “I was born in Indian and adopted by an American family and grew up in small town Southwest, Ohio.” This time that phrase felt woefully inadequate. I was able to come to the realization, through reading others’ work, that my story didn’t just start with being adopted. There was a year and a half after my birth where I lived in India. Not being able to talk about that year and a half or at least acknowledge that time as a valid experience in my life story hurt. I want to be able to tell people that there was a life during that one and a half years, not because I think that time is more important than the rest of my upbringing but because it is totally left out of my life story. The part before being adopted is en empty box. I know the only way to fill that box and remedy the situation is to learn the details to fill in what is missing. I think this personal conundrum is representative of the larger tendency to silence the loss in adoption.
It is this exact conundrum that leads people to the belief that adoptees should be grateful that they have been adopted. Not just grateful, but that they should see their situation as ONLY fortunate and not involving loss in varying degrees. If people, generally speaking, had a better understanding that the adoption process includes the breaking up of a family, I wonder if they would be less inclined to pressure adoptees into feeling grateful or some form of indebtedness. I think this piece also harks back to an earlier, much shorter post about feeling like I was born at age one and a half: Born After Birth.
One of the pieces that I felt was particularly helpful, although not 100% relevant to this post was “Don’t You Dare Repeat Any of This” Thoughts of Adoption By An Adoptee-By-The-Sea by Joyce Maguire Pavao. Joyce Maguire Pavao does a great job, personally speaking, of articulating a lot of feelings I’ve had over the years in one piece. I hope you enjoy it and find other resources on Pact that are helpful.
Looking at a mirror I often times, more so now than in the past am startled by my reflection. I almost don’t recognize myself. My face, it looks, well, different. I’m not the young undistinguishable American looking back at me. I’m…I’m Indian. I look Indian. I mean, well, I can tell, just by looking at me that I’m Indian.
I always remember being surprised, almost insulted sometimes, when someone guessed that I was from India. I would always ask them in response, “Just out of curiosity, how did you know I was Indian?” it was a serious question, I did want to know how they knew, but really I wanted to know how they found out. Often times I felt exposed, embarrassed and like I had been found out. I’ll admit it happened a lot less when I was a preteen/teenager than it does now, as an adult. Nonetheless it irked me. I felt like in order for them to find out I must’ve done something to tip them off.
I think this all goes back to a few keys things in my upbringing, most notably that I didn’t grow up with any other Indian people around me. There were no Indian families, no other Indian children and scarcely any Indian adults that I interacted with growing up. In addition to the lack of Indian folks near me growing up the Indian culture I was exposed to was a mix of negative racial stereotypes about Indians and sheer ignorance. Like many people faced with no real life counterexample I chose to believe the stereotypes.
To me Indian culture was communicated as emasculate, heavily traditional religiously, weak, hairy, unattractive, physically inferior, primitive and short. I know, its fucked up in more ways than I even know how to begin to unpack in this post. The Indian male that I felt was communicated to me as my future made me feel destined for social ostracization. In the context where tall predominately white males were most present I felt I needed to do whatever I could to push back against Indian culture and excel at things Americans excelled at. Believing the stereotypes about Indians meant I had to do whatever I could to disassociate myself with Indian culture.
On the one hand my response to Indian culture, predominately as a teenager but remnants last to this day, was rejection. I watched what happened to other kids who stuck out and decided I wanted no part of that. I chose to adopt a lifestyle that overcompensated for what I felt was an identity liability (being Indian). On the other hand I had no strong Indian figures in my life, or advocates of Indian culture and identity, for me to take ownership of. I felt I had no counterexamples to the negative portrayals of Indian culture and I went looking for none.
The experience of growing up without Indians and Indian culture has been a strange absence in my life. It makes me feel out-of-place and self-conscious when I am around other Indians. You know, that feeling where you feel partially one thing but partially the another. Or you feel some sense of obligatory kinship to a group of people but you don’t know what that kinship is made up of. You know that feeling? It’s a weird feeling and it makes that sense of kinship feel fake. Just like when your friends go and visit India and come back and talk to you about things they expect you to understand because, well duh, you are from India. Its embarrassing. I feel fraudulent a lot of the time. Like I am co-opting an identity I haven’t earned. As I’ve said in other posts I often think my lack of knowledge of Indian culture offends other Indians as well (somewhat justifiably I’d say), which reinforces my feelings of inadequacy and fraudulence.
This whole rejection of Indian culture and identifying as Indian is coming full circle. I still lack strong Indian role models or images, but for the first time ever, in my life, I have begun to see myself (quite literally) as Indian. It’s terrifying in a way. I don’t know what or who I am looking at in the mirror. Not because being Indian is terrifying or inherently weird, but because I feel I have spent much of my life building an identity that rejects what I see in the mirror today. It’s difficult to embrace who I see in the mirror because I have such strong negative connotations with that image (myself). It’s not that I now hate myself or something equally self-deprecating and depressing, it’s that the foundation on which I have structured my identity has begun to shift and it is hard to feel ok with that shift.
Great piece. I strongly encourage taking a few minutes to read the piece and follow The Adopted Life blog.
Originally posted on Angela Tucker:
NPR contacted me and asked me to be a part of the Sunday Conversation that aired yesterday morning. I spoke in depth about my story, my upbringing, the challenges and joys of my experience being raised by White parents, only to receive an email the next day stating that they had chosen to go another route. I responded kindly by stating “I sure hope you’ve chosen to include an adoptees perspective for your segment.” I awoke to hear the one-sided, tired, age old perspective that we’ve heard so many times before. A loving, White adoptive parent of three African American children was the only voice to hear. While her voice is valid and valuable, it should not have been the only voice featured on…
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