BIO: “As an adoptee – I write to break into my heart and the readers – then put the pieces back together again.” ~ Bev Thompson
Her first memoir was learning where she lived and her telephone number, even though she never committed them to heart with total conviction. The zip code never seemed quite right. Always feeling like a tumbleweed, she blew East to NYC finishing grad school at NYU where she has taught Speech Communications for the last 22 years. A published writer and playwright, her play Prisoners was commissioned and produced Off-Broadway for The Year of The Child.
I’m No Secret from Ladies Mile – 17 Stories Up, a memoir anthology, gives us a glimpse into the first meeting with Bev’s biological mother and the difficult request – to put her identity into hiding again. –
“Adoptees have a unique voice all their own; a life-long memoir worthy of telling.” ~ Bev Thompson
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE ADOPTED?
I’m No Secret
September 7, 2013 by Bev Thompson
The day I had searched for had finally arrived as One Huge Blur! The details, that is, details like faces, or expressions, or smells, or voices, or anything I usually remember about a special day, that makes my sensory memories drift back. Like my hearing, that still to this day startles at icicles breaking from roof tops; or my palate revisiting from long ago, the salty and sweet of home-made peanut brittle and walnut fudge; my nose remembering the wax on my grade school floor, the bologna from my lunchbox, and the milk-stained rug I took out in kindergarten for nap time.
All I remember from that day is the secret that I couldn’t talk about. A secret I had uncovered and now had been asked to put into hiding – again.
I was less than 1-hour into what had taken me 33 years, 2 months, 7 days, and 8 hours to uncover. For 20 years that secret stalked and played with me as I pondered, revisited, dreamed, fantasized, agonized – over and over again. Thirteen years kept me seriously on edge sniffing out my secret and now that I had climbed out of the womb my sister and grandmother unexpectedly dropped by. Dropped into my drama like those characters do on soap operas and then leave everyone breathless with a cliffhanger.
“It’s my daughter, your sister, my mother, your grandmother on their way to a doctor’s appointment that just pulled up,” her eyes darted left then right signaling her concern
I didn’t have a chance to feel or think, instead I was instructed to follow a cover-up script cleverly crafted by my birth mother. Barely an hour since we had met for the first time, she was explaining away my presence – yet again.
“We worked together at the Capitol on the floor of the House in Jeff City and you stopped by to see how I’m doing. OK?” she pleaded.
“OK” was all I could reply, I think, as she rose to greet them, her food bag bouncing off the aluminum pole, the tubes trailing behind her silver hanger. I couldn’t very well argue the secret with a dying woman, now could I, with the body that had pushed me into life, feet first I might add.
I do remember one thing — that I said little — and then the blur. The room that was so clear when I entered had become cloudy and lifeless. I remember outlines of my grandmother, her height diminished by age and rather round. My sister present, but not really, was there more out of an obligation to transport her grandmother, my grandmother to her destination, with time to spare – time to kill.
When grandmother and sister faded away and we were alone again, 1-hour and 22 minutes approximately, my birth mother offered me a glass of sweet wine from her homegrown still. I don’t remember clinking glasses or even the glass in my hand, or what was said in response to what had just happened. I remember thinking how her sickness had made her thin and what was she thinking drinking wine in the morning – drinking wine at all.
I barely remember leaving, but I do remember the screen door, the door that separated us when I arrived, and her first response to seeing me through the mesh for the first time.
“You look just like him,” she said.
“May I come in?” I replied, hoping to enter, as if I were selling the latest vacuum cleaner, Bible, or Avon product door-to-door. No, I thought, I was selling my heart and soul.
I made a couple more trips through that screen door. I skied with my brother pulling me and waved to my birth mother as I rounded the cove on Lake of The Ozarks. A postcard shot as I sailed by on my slalom, the sun fading behind me. I have pictures of the sunny slalom ride fading into dusk as evidence that I did indeed have a long ride in time with the characters from the secret at the lake. We kept up the pretense even then, even after I met everyone. My birth mother’s husband knew about me from the beginning. He married my birth mother after I was out of the picture. I remember him pulling me aside in their living room and saying how he regretted he couldn’t see what I looked like. He had lost most of his vision to cataracts and diabetes and could only see shadows and outlines. We shared my secret in common, he the only cast member in this charade that seemed real.
Seven months later the phone rang over 1500 miles of airwaves in New Jersey. It was my brother, Bill. I was expecting that bad news was eminent, but to my surprise it was a bittersweet dialogue at best.
“I have always wanted another sister,” Bill said, “Mom told us.”
“How’s she doing?” Was all I could think to ask.
“She’s back in the hospital.” He said awkwardly not knowing what to expect from me, or the situation.
“Oh.” My mind registered that she was failing quickly and when could I arrange a flight out to see her, perhaps for the last time.
When I arrived at the hospital, my sister was there. Almost as soon as I arrived she found an excuse to leave. It was obvious even before the secret was out that she had an estranged relationship with her mother and I now had become the interloper, the competition. She had a son, Timmy, whose father was missing. Oh, how karma comes back to haunt the family line again and again, until someone changes the tragic flaw.
As she left the room a smile returned to my birth mother’s face. How was I? How was the flight into St Louis? How was it different than arriving in Kansas City? Did I have a good drive in with Bill?
Yes, she was dying but I wanted my birth mother to do her part. The secret had grown to include the fact that I had found who I thought was my birth father. She had confirmed it on my last visit but had not been given the details of my recent meeting with him.
“He said you dated other people during that time and- – -” She cut me off propping herself up on what was left of her elbows and leaned into me, her thin fingers rested upon my wrist, fingers that were identical to mine, hands sleek and expressive always moving with thoughts of their own.
“He knows damn well who he is, and when I get outta here I’m going to call him and we will all have coffee together.” The color in her face had returned from anger, I suspected, rather than health.
“OK,” I replied, a word I could depend on, knowing that I didn’t want to get overly excited about something, anything, that may never happen. OK had been the story, the response to my life and in this moment I was “OK” with her asking for us to meet, if God granted her the extra time. And if we ever got there we may need something a bit stronger than a cup of coffee. Perhaps some of that wine from her still.
I knew she didn’t have much time left as we shuffled down the hall to the visitor’s waiting area in the hospital. Together, we greeted her sister, my aunt, and a few cousins and friends. I had the strangest sensation that her sister knew exactly who I was. My birth mother never filled me in on who now knew, or who didn’t know about “the secret”, that blur, that always descended upon me when new characters entered the drama.
Whatever strength we both had left to give to our secret, I wanted my birth mother to be a part in making it right. I knew once she was gone, the truth would be tentative and shaky at best.
It would be hard to fill the divide of 33 years and 1500 miles once she left this earth.
Story above from the anthology: Ladies Mile ~ 17 Stories Up
Entire collection available with two additional stories by Bev Thompson at:
About the Author
Two years ago, six busy New York City women added a new activity to their crowded calendars: Memoir Writing. Meeting around a big table, at a Fifth Avenue apartment in the historic Manhattan district called Ladies’ Mile, the six experienced many rich moments of awed recognition, hilarious laughter, and sympathetic tears. They realized that every one of them had something important to say—and wanted to invite readers into their varied and fascinating lives. As they continued writing, critiquing and honing their work, the idea of creating Ladies’ Mile 17 Stories Up was born!
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