What emotion now?
Most days, I am a sad grieving adoptee. Some days I am an angry adoptee. But today, today I am a guilty adoptee.
What people forget is that anger is not an isolated event. It is near the end of a long process. Prior to anger is frustration, and prior to frustration is confusion, and prior to confusion is sadness, and prior to sadness is a wound. And after anger is guilt and blame, not necessarily in that order. And to deal with all of the above, we are forced to work backwards.
Today my guilt is over my adoptive mother. I have written publicly recently that she deprived me emotionally. That was such a hard, hard admission to make. I feel just awful about it. Even if it is true. I never would have come to that admission, even an acknowledgment of that, if a therapist had not pointed it out to me. I refused to believe it was even possible. I wanted so hard to believe there was something good about my adoption. Only my mom seemed human to me. Because I felt sorry for her. And because I felt sorry for her, I chose to not hold her accountable for anything that happened to me. But now I do, and yet I still feel guilty about it.
Look at my mom here. Before K-mart existed. So smart and stylish. In their mid-century modern furnishings, in their ranch house in the suburbs. She went bowling, she held a cigarette like Lucile Ball. She was in the church choir. She went to the beauty parlor every week. My parents were on the cutting edge, adopting a child internationally.
Look at my mom here. Stuck in the house all day. Nothing to do except read romance novels, eat candy, and chain smoke. Try and keep up with the Jones’ on a teacher’s salary. Wear a girdle to fit into the form-fitting shift dresses. Iron a mile of white shirts. Every day scheduled with a different household task. Then off to church on Sunday. Year after Year after Year. No real friends. Nothing personally fulfilling to do. Just have babies and keep house.
My mom and dad had two children two years apart. Four years later they had another baby on accident, after which my father had a vasectomy. Six years later, they adopted me. “Why,” I asked her, “Why did you decide to adopt?”
Why, we just saw those cute Korean babies in magazines and we wanted to do something good and Christian and charitable for them.
The truth is, my mom was bored out of her mind. The truth is, once the youngest was in school there was absolutely nothing for her to do during the day. The truth is, my parents’ marriage was strained. The truth is, my mother had a competitive streak and low self esteem and she wanted to be envied. Adoption was going to fix everything; and it did, for awhile.
Adoption made my mom a celebrity in our neighborhood, in our small town, in their church. She had someone to shop for, to dress up on Sundays. I was like a doll for her. I remember how upset she was that my feet were too tiny to buy black patent mary janes to match the outfits she’d made, for instance. It REALLY bothered her. All the time I sensed little irritations coming from her, just under the surface, over anything and everything. Feeding me lunch was laborious. Reading me a story was annoying. I’d ask for something, and she would sit me in front of the television. There weren’t a lot of hugs and kisses. Actually, I don’t remember any. She would hold my hand in public, but that’s about it. The only thing I remember that was remotely bonding was a brief while where we walked to a department store and she would treat us to a float at a bakery/soda shop on the way. When I got a little older, she would say, “why don’t you play outside like the other children?” and be annoyed that I chose to sit inside and read a book. My reality was a burden, but without me, her days were totally empty and pointless.
When I told the therapist how cold my siblings were and how much they resented me, the therapist told me my mom was a bad mom. She pointed out that my siblings must have felt emotionally deprived too, or they wouldn’t have resented me. She pointed out that if my mom had been a good mom, she wouldn’t have tolerated that kind of attitude, that she would have sensed something was wrong and taken care of it.
I got defensive over my mother. She obviously had issues of her own, from her own childhood. I felt nobody understood her but me. She seemed as fragile as my father claimed she was, sitting there with an absent longing look in her eyes as she devoured romance novel after romance novel, candy after candy, cigarette after cigarette. She sighed all the time – her life was a life of quiet desperation, resentment, and passive aggressive hostility. I told myself it didn’t bother me that she never spent any time with me. I told myself it didn’t bother me that I was left to waste away the hours by myself. I knew she had been an only child and she probably gave me the same amount of attention, or lack thereof, that she had received. I told myself it didn’t bother me that I was a prop or a project or even just a topic of conversation. I voluntarily shouldered all of the secrets of my incest so as to not hurt her. In my eyes, she had absolutely nothing worth living for. I felt sorry for her.
I dreamed she would divorce my father. The two of us would run away and she would become a liberated feminist and we would learn to have fun and be girls together. She would save me from my father’s attention, and I would help her become independent. Maybe we could become friends…Of course, that would never happen.
Instead, when my father confessed he had been molesting me for years and years, she called him a bastard and, besides that one word uttered SHE NEVER SPOKE OF IT AGAIN. Not to me, not to him, not to anyone.
I never got one hug. Not one question. Not one tear. Nothing. She never said even one word to me about it. Ever. My entire childhood of abuse just never happened. So much for my fantasy of her protecting me and us carving out a new life together. My mother kept her emotions to herself as much as she kept her affection on ice. I was on my own. But hadn’t I always been?
There had been a time where, as a CPS case aid I monitored supervised visits with potentially hostile mothers. Mothers who sided with their partners instead of their children who had been sexually abused. I guess if I had reported my father, my mom would have been classified as a hostile mother. But even those mothers hugged their children. I would sit there and record their visits and watch them interact, and in one hour those children of hostile mothers got more physical interaction than I got in my entire life from my mother. My therapist was right. I WAS emotionally deprived. I can count on my fingers and toes how many hugs I have gotten in my life, and none of them were from my parents. (except for when I left home)
On one occasion, my mother spoke wistfully of how I used to lay my head in her lap as she sat on my bed in the morning to wake me up for school. Actually, this only occurred four times. And it was I who initiated that affection. And it surprised me she did not pull away. And these four times, which amounted to all of ten minutes, was the highlight of our life together, the sum of our affection. So yes, I feel guilty about including her in the dark portrayal of my abusive childhood. Because she was so emotionally bankrupt herself – she just didn’t know HOW to love anyone. I wanted her to love me so badly, but there was nothing there. And she wanted to be loved, but she had nothing to give. She expected all the mother/child loving and bonding to originate from me. We both needed a mom but we were both deprived children.
I’m sorry, mom. I’m sorry I couldn’t be your mom and love you. I was just a kid. I’m sorry dressing me up wasn’t enough. I’m sorry your life was meaningless. I’m sorry I was your husband’s surrogate wife. I didn’t ask to be. I didn’t ask for any of this. I’m sorry.
Grandma Holt, why would you let people like this adopt? I would rather have had a hug than three square meals every day. I would rather have lived in an orphanage with other children than be sexually abused. Instead I was left to take care of these needy people on the verge of collapse. I had to dance around the unspoken impending doom of their collapse every day. I was the well from which they both dipped. I don’t really blame them for being broken and emotionally depriving me or sexually abusing me. I blame you, Grandma Holt, for irresponsibly placing me in their swansong of dysfunction. I blame you for introducing me to them. I HAD to care about them, they’re all I had. I had to care first about them – and now that I care about myself, I feel guilty about them – and it’s all your fault. Because you wanted to do God’s work, but you didn’t give a damn how.
Fuck you and your damned saving the world with adoption. It’s over forty years later, and I’m no better off than when I left Korea. It’s over forty years later and I have to go half way around the globe in search of one hug from one familiar heartbeat. It’s been over forty years of silent grieving. Your irresponsible missionary zeal was the root cause of yet more pain and sufering – and it was all unnecessary. The war was long over by the time you took me. The Amerasian war babies were safely off the penninsula. Your rescue mission was done. If there was a period of economic hardship, and you were such great Christians, why didn’t you do more to help Korean families feed themselves? You’re no Christian. You are an exploiter of vulnerable people. You are a peddler of human flesh. Yes. I blame you, Grandma Holt. The abuse I suffered was all due to your negligence. I am holding you accountable.
Now I’m an angry adoptee again.
Adoption is so fun.