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Monday, August 27, 2012

Portfolio Piece #1: Two-Faced Bitch

Trying a little something new.  Something I’ve wanted to do for a while.  For the next few days, I will be posting the pieces I submitted for my Writing Minor Portfolio.  They are all from classes I took Sophomore to Senior Year at Keene State College.  Most of them are memoir in nature, but a few are slightly different.  These are pieces I love, but know still need work.  If you would like to know more of the stories behind the pieces, let me know and I will be happy to share!  Also, any and all constructive feedback is always welcome – just because these were the final versions to be submitted doesn’t mean that they are perfect.

Oh, and also?  These are mine.  Do not steal.  Thanks.

Two-Faced Bitch
Written for: Creative Non-Fiction Writing, Sophomore Year
“I’m adopted.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Yes, I am.”
“No.  You can’t be!  You look just like your dad!”
I had this conversation many years ago in the chorus room of Hanover high school.  I don’t remember who I had the conversation with - some boy who obviously knew who my dad was.  It always amazes me when I tell people I’m adopted, and they gasp with disbelief.
“Really?  I had no idea!”
I’ve often wondered why people feel this is something detectable, like a disease or ethnicity.  Funny, I don’t look adopted.  Is it because these days the only kind of adoption people hear about is when Angelina Jolie buys another baby from Asia?  Or when Madonna “rescues” a baby from Africa?  Perhaps that is where the confusion comes from - I’m too white to be adopted.  Society seems to forget that there are many children right here in the United States who need homes, too.  I was one of them.
            I was born in Keene, New Hampshire on June 23, 1978.  It was a Friday.  In high school, I took an English class in which we had to give one of those “On the Day I was Born” speeches.  Everyone told the story of how their mother went into labor, the time of day, what the weather was like.  I always felt so awkward, as I have no idea if it was sunny, rainy, warm, or unseasonably cold.  All I know is I was born, and given a name: Billie Jo Hillock.  There is debate over whether my mother, Mary, even held me.  I say no.
            This theory that I have never been held came out after months of therapy which was actually working.  I had battled my depression for years without getting the help I so desperately needed; it was such a relief to finally make some kind of progress on it.  We uncovered a not-so-hidden truth about what makes my baggage so heavy and colorful - it all could be traced back to the fact that I was not only unwanted, but that my own birthmother never held me.  No one had to tell me this.  It is something instinctually understood within me. 
            Shortly after my not-so-joyous birth, I was taken home by my grandmother for a little while, while Mary was sent off to rehab for her illegal drug and alcohol abuse.  Or so I am told.  We’re not sure what her vice was, only that it was not me.  After a brief period of time, Grandmother could not take care of me, either.  I was put in a foster home in nearby Greenfield, New Hampshire
            Around this time, the Brayman family was moving to Etna, New Hampshire.  Ted had gotten a job as a minister at the First Baptist Church of Hanover in Etna, and Barbara would be working at Lebanon High School.  Their daughter, Rebecca, was two years old.  Ted and Barbara were looking to add to their small family, so they began the lengthy adoption application process.  Finally, in the fall of 1980, they received the stamp of approval.  In a lovely twist of fate, that is when I became available to be adopted.  
            I was never clear as to why it took so long for my paperwork to go through.  It wasn’t like they were running background checks on me.  I can only assume it is how long it took Mary to get coherent enough to sign the papers.  Maybe she died, we don’t really know.  It is a good thing those papers got signed, though.  Any later, and I would have been “un-adoptable”.  Most couples are looking for a cute little newborn they can shape and mold, not a young child who is already starting to form their own personality. 
            Ted and Barbara told the social worker they would take up to age five.  As soon as I became available, she called them and sent up a picture of me.  Barbara walked into her new Principal’s office and told him she was taking the following day off from work.   From the stories she’s told, the conversation pretty much went like this:
“I’m taking tomorrow off.”
“Um - “
“I’m going to look at a girl we want to adopt.  I’m taking tomorrow off.”
“Um…  OK.”
The following day, Ted and Barbara drove down I-89, to exit 6 and followed the long, country road which led them to a big, red farm house.  They talked to the Nichols family, and were brought into the backyard, where I was waiting, patiently and quietly to meet my potential new family…
            Yeah, ok, so that last part is total bullshit.  I was punching a little boy in the face.  Ted took one look at me and said “Yeah, we want that one!” or something to that effect.  I often think perhaps he was too hasty in his decision.  Being the self-named black sheep of the family can be rough on the ego.
            I had visits with Ted, Barbara, and Rebecca over the next month.  In October, I became part of their family, and rechristened Bethany Jean Brayman.  My earliest memory which is mine is from the day I was taken home.  I was sitting in the back seat of an old green Duster, my sister next to me.  This was before car seats were mandatory.  I’m pretty sure I was just buckled in.  My dad was nowhere to be found, and my mom was in the front passenger seat.  It was a pretty fall day, and we were parked under some trees.  Mom turned around from the front seat, and handed us each a teddy bear.  They were identical.  My sister named hers Amy Bear, and I wanted to be just like her, so I did the same.  Either that or I just didn’t know any better – naming stuffed animals was new to me.  This created a rift which would remain until we are grown adults. 
            My sister resented my presence for a long time.  Even though she, too, was adopted, she was an infant when she became a Brayman.  She had her mommy and daddy to herself for four whole years.  Suddenly, along comes this feisty little toddler, with whom she has to share her room, toys and parents.  As we got older, we slowly realized that while we seemingly have nothing in common, we have something most important to bond us - we were both adopted.  This was the beginning of the closing of the rift.  It wasn’t until she gave birth to her own daughter, the rift really began to close.  We still argue, as all sisters do, but there is now an understanding between us.  She has since forgiven me for stealing her bear’s name.  She doesn’t even sleep with hers anymore.  I still sleep with mine every night.
            My life was not the easiest.  The two traits I inherited from Mary and her lineage were depression and possibly substance abuse.  I know I could easily give in and become a full-fledged alcoholic, it is in me, I have tasted it before.  My first semester of college, I was unable to write a decent paper without a strong Bacardi & Diet Coke.  As the year progressed, the drinks got stronger.  I referred to my friends as Jack, Jim and Sam Adams.  I soon feared that I could not interact with people without alcohol.  I only drank in the evenings, but sometimes I’d count down to five o’clock.  I reined it in, and hardly drink anymore, but the need for it is still there.  Thanks, Ma!
Growing up, I was always socially awkward, kind of a spaz.  I was teased in elementary school, as many kids are.  Elementary age children are cruel and ruthless, especially if someone is “weird” or unique.  And boy was I.  I sang to myself, was prone to hitting other kids, and often came off to my friends as needy and clingy.  Most kids, when insulted, can just brush it off and come up with witty and equally hurtful retorts, or stay stoic and turn the other cheek.  For me, it was devastating.  My own peers did not want anything to do with me.  That’s what brought out my depression -- the rejection.  I have always had rejection and abandonment issues, which relates directly to my being adopted as a toddler. 
            Adoption can be a two-faced bitch.  One side is loving and wonderful.  Someone chose you; they see something wonderful in you that made them say “I want this child to be a part of my family.”  The other side is rejection.  Someone rejected and abandoned you before they even really got to know you.   This can lead to a fear of going to the bathroom when you’re at dinner, because your friends might ditch you.  Or putting yourself out there with someone you’re attracted to, because you know they are just going to reject you.  Then you tell yourself it’s ridiculous to think that way - someone out there wanted you before they got to know you, and they love you even after almost thirty years.  This can be comforting, but only fleeting.
            The fact that I am adopted is a big part of who I am, of how I am.  It is why I want to have my own children someday, why I would never get an abortion, regardless of the circumstances.  It is why I feel the need to tell people I love them, and need to hold and hug babies and small children.  It is why I fear commitment and sharing my feelings with people - eventually they will all abandon me, like Mary did.  It is why the thought of being a mom scares the Hell out of me, even though I want children more than I could fully express.  It is that two-faced bitch that can make you feel extremely loved one minute, and absolutely worthless the next. 
            For all the pissing and moaning I do over being adopted, no matter how hard my life has been as a result of it, I am perpetually grateful for the family I was given.  In one of the rare conversations with my dad about my adoption, I asked why he not only chose to adopt domestically, but also through the state.  He told me the difference between going through a private agency and the state comes down to this: instead of finding that perfect baby for Mom and Dad, the State social workers look to find that perfect family for Baby. 
            I have always thought the state did its job with me.  While I was born from one woman, I was made for the Brayman family.  It is a constant struggle, and a daily reminder to myself of this fact, but it is the truth.  I was given to a family of art and music, love, faith and education.  Given what little we know about Mary, had I stayed with her, my life would have turned out drastically different.  I always imagined my life full of hardness, a dark white-trash world with little hope for a bright future.  By giving me up, she gave me the opportunity for a great life.  At times I am consumed with a morbid, almost obsessive need to learn about her: who she was, who she is now.  I know she is not my mother.  She is simply the vessel who gave me life.  The Braymans are the ones who taught me how to live; they are the people who have influenced the person I have become.  And therein lays the paradox of it all: I have both of these lives living within me at all times.  I feel both grateful and angry for the origin of my life.  I love and hate Mary for having me and giving me away.  Sometimes I feel like I’m the two-faced bitch, and not just the product of one.

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