Mother sat me down for "the talk" when I was 14. Not the one about sex -- dad and I had that discussion when I was 12, and I'm reasonably certain he came away far more knowledgeable than he was when we started. At least that's what he told me. No, this "talk" was mother's announcement that I had been adopted. I'd never seen her so nervous. She was almost shaking as she said "there's something we have to talk about, son. Come sit down at the table."
I could tell this was not going to be an easy conversation, nor would it be a quick one. It's funny, people ask me if I remember the day and the time we had the talk. I know I was 13 or 14, but that only because it had to have happened after my bar mitzvah since Uncle Brian gave me an extravagant gift and despite dad's protest, mom said I should keep and treasure it. I'm not sure how you treasure 20 shares of IBM, but there it was. And I know it was before I was 15, as that was the year my appendix burst and for the first time in my life my parents I had to explain that I had no medical history of which they were aware. That one has been an endless source of questions and fun during my life.
You'd think medical types could add one and one and arrive somewhat short of eight. Not so. Tell them you are adopted and they still ask, "But what about your father, did he have vision problems?" How many times have I said I was adopted and have no knowledge of my biological parents, and still it always seems to fly overhead well above the nurses comprehension zone, and the doctors are no better, repeating this routine, just doing it a bit more quickly since doctors very much valued their own time (if not mine based on the length of the wait reading really badly outdated home and garden magazines). "But did he have vision problems?" as if repetition would change the whole scope and nature of genetics.
I cut to the chase "are you saying that vision problems like you are looking for could be environmental?"
"Of course not," she laughed, "they are inherited and that's why I am asking."
"No vision problems." Sometimes, if only to preserve the few shards of sanity I still have, my biological parents, those infinite shadows, have to bend to my will.
And people to this day, finding out I'm adopted ask how I was told or when I first knew, and no I don't remember the exact words she said, although I'm certain it ran something along the following lines. "Son, I want you to know your father and I love you very much and what I'm about to tell you cannot change that. In fact, if anything, it should show you that you are more special than you ever imagined."
I tried to stifle a yawn, as mom had a bad habit of avoiding or talking around the very issue she was trying to speak to, and this one was going to be a whopper of a detour.
"I know it will be hard to take, but you need to know that you are adopted. It doesn't mean we don't love you, it doesn't mean anything really, but you have to know this. And there's more." The deep frown on her brow told me that the hardest part, at least for her, was yet to come. "You know your uncle Brian?" If that was a question, I didn't imagine she wanted me to answer it. "Well actually I used to be married to your uncle Brian and he's your first adoptive father. I know that sounds odd but Brian had a very, very low sperm count and couldn't father a child. We both wanted a child very much and so we got in line for an adoption and after a year and a half the agency called and said we have a child for you and that was you." Ah, the quintessential moment of maternal TMI. This time I was silent because I was somewhat stunned. I knew that Brian, "Uncle Brian," wasn't really my uncle but I never imagined him my father, not even for a moment.
"Brian wanted to be a very good dad, but I have to say that I think he wanted to adopt as much because he thought it would keep our marriage together as anything else. After year we both realized that although we loved you, the marriage was worse off in many ways, not better, and we decided to get a divorce. Brian wanted to be a part of your life, I wanted him to be, and we decided that he would be your uncle. A little while after that I married your father and he adopted you so consider yourself very special since you were twice adopted. Do you have any questions?"
Did I have any questions!? I had an endless list of questions but getting answers from my mother was difficult in the best of times and this clearly was not the best of times, so I said "let me think about it, mom. We will talk again."
"Yes," she smiled, "yes I think we will."
I wasn't at all surprised that I was adopted. On some level I had known it ever since my brothers came along. Or at least as soon as I knew the basics of human reproduction. And by the time I was 14 and my brothers were 10 and 12 I was fairly certain that a 5'8" blond 12 year old named Johannes and a 5'9" blond 10-year-old named Sven probably weren't biologically related to a 5'1" somewhat stocky, black haired boy, even if he was named Lars. Given that mom was well over 5'8" herself and dad risked hitting his head on door frames at 6'6” that pretty much sealed it for me. The Brian part had caught me off guard, and I suspect the amicable breakup was a convenient story written quite a bit later (as based on my experience, at that time Brian had a roving eye and I suspect that sort of visual acuity wasn't a recent development). But he gave me several aunts, all young and remarkably attractive, at least for a couple of years each, so that was something in his favor. That and I knew that Uncle Brian and dad were very close friends while mom and Brian were married, although mom says she met dad after the divorce. Hey, whatever lie gets you to sleep at night, have at it. It wouldn't have surprised me in the least if dad were waiting in the wings for Brian to screw up one more time so he could step in and get what he really wanted all along, which was mom. Worked out for him in any event. And I know he also cast more than "lingering sidelong glances" at more than one of Brian's wives.
But I never did have that follow-up conversation, there wasn't much need to do so. It didn't change how I felt about my brothers. We would be as close as older and younger brothers could be and no closer, and the fact that they would each grow to be over 6 feet tall and blond, and the girls thought them Adonises, while I grew to be a 5'6", always somewhat pudgy, rather Mediterranean looking geek didn't seem to bother any of us. And anyway, we all knew I was the smartest of the lot of us by a fairly long shot and that counts for something.
He was 11 when he first discovered it. Jimmy knew immediately that (1) it was something remarkable, (2) he didn't understand it at all, and (3) he dare not let his parents know he had it. It was (3) that gave him the most worry. Not what they would do to him if they discovered he had it, they were mostly bark, very little bite. It would be the mutual looks of disappointment, faces that shouted "You are a failure in every possible way, and we would disown you if we could, but we can only shun you, so we do." And he hadn't even asked for it or imagined he would find something like it. And really it was their fault, whoever left it to be found, for it had no value to them whatsoever. Thirty or so years on he still had it. He still hadn't told them he had it, had never even hinted he might. They never missed it. They once, he couldn't or wouldn't remember quite when, intimated something about it but he quickly changed the subject to deflect them from trying to find it, and to avoid having to admit what even then in their eyes would have been a mortal sin. Though he wasn't sure who in the family it would kill if it was disclosed, he knew the odds clearly favored non-disclosure. He wouldn't talk about it even with close friends, fearful it would get back to his parents, never mind most of his friends had never seen, much less met his parents living most of a continent away from him. It was not nearly far enough, since the world had been electronically shrunk to the point that no distance was too far. He knew the time was running out. It may already have run out, but he had to wait a bit longer. It wasn't that he didn't want to know, he was dying to know, but he feared the answer in equal measure. That was the nature of uncertainty. There was a reason for everything, and the more surprising the result, the more shocking or more adverse the reason was likely to be. At least that was his experience. And knowing wouldn't, he imagined, change anything. The time for that was on the day he found it. Its importance diminished with the passage of time. Well, not importance, but impact. He knew the fact that he was thinking about it said it was still important to him on some level. That was the thing, importance was not linked to impact, or he hoped that it was not.
He finally decided to act. His first efforts yielded little more than it had already given him. A bit more here and there, but nothing that advanced his search. With each effort he felt a growing need to go forward and an ever greater nagging fear that it would all blow up in his face, that he would once again be the failed child, the greatest regret realized. He was on the verge of giving up hope, made one more effort, and got a step closer to comprehending what it had hidden from him when the door was then slammed in his face. He was used to failure, even as he feared becoming one. But in this search there was no failure for when you start rock bottom there is no real down in which to go. Or so he hoped.
One evening, checking his email for the last time, except for the fifteen last times before that, its cousin arrived. A cousin, first or nearly so. An email to a different name than the cousin. The story of his life, he thought, but he replied. The results and the realization that he was, in half, so very different than he imagined. You grow up in a family, even as the odd one out always, and they define you. Their history is grafted onto yours roots since you have none of your own. But a geographic discovery is so damned remote from a human one. Still it gave him half a sense of place, a grounding he had only imagined and cast aside. His loves in music and drink found genetic purchase. And the cousin was from the part of him of which he felt certain, that he knew already, and the old it took form and shape. It was a cascade of news and emotion. Out of the mist she appeared, a face, a name, a history. He could see himself in her. Jimmy was certain it was not merely be desire but biology. And there was family. He would now lead two separate lives. The family life he had always led would continue. They would call Jimmy son, they would be his parents. Each would know it was a lie, but a lie that neither would ever acknowledge, and such a lie is a truth of sorts. And there would be the new life, the one he would gently probe, and family he would hopefully discover. And all because of it. It was the letter that simply said: "His birth was unremarkable. He was 19 inches, 9 lb. 4 oz. The birth mother declined to see the baby, feeling that might lead her to question the adoption decision. There are no known family health issues."
About the Author
Louis Faber is a poet and retired attorney and college literature teacher, residing in Rochester, New York and Coconut Creek, Florida. His work has previously appeared in Exquisite Corpse, Rattle, Cold Mountain Review, Eureka Literary Magazine, Borderlands: the Texas Poetry Review, Midnight Mind, Pearl, Midstream, European Judaism, Greens Magazine, The Amethyst Review, Afterthoughts, The South Carolina Review and Worcester Review, among many others, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. A book of poetry, The Right to Depart, was published by Plain View Press. His first and only novel is still homeless. He blogs almost daily at: https;//anoldwriter.com.