Heartened

The whole kit & doodle!

Growing up and garages

My "blogging buddy" Manuela asked if I have blogged about my adoptive parents. I realized that other than a few brief mentions and a complete paragraph, I haven't said much about them or about my childhood. I believe therapists call this "avoidance."

Growing up in my adoptive family sucked. So much so that I am loathe to refer to them as "family" or "mother" or "father." But I do so for clarity, I do so so that you can understand the "characters" of my life. (Off topic: Have you ever typed out a word you know you are spelling correctly but when you look at the word, it doesn't look right? "Characters" doesn't look right, even though I know it is. LOL)

My father was sterile. My mother, I would assume, was not. My father was trying to get ahead in business and they were both trying to get ahead in their social circle. Having children was apparently some sort of prerequisite to both. "Having" children was an impossibility, but adopting was not. I've often said that the only requirements for adopting back then were the "Three W's" – White, wealthy and willing. They were all three. I have serious doubts that the agency looked very closely at the familial environment. I know for a fact that another family member tried to discourage the agency from placing any more kids with my parents – his concerns were ignored. He only met one of the Three W's, so his opinion was unwanted, apparently.

My father was involved with a number of fraternal organizations and served on all the "right" boards and committees. We knew that as his children, we had a job to do. Our job was to present the best social face we possibly could. We were to always be well-behaved, polite, graceful, respectful and flawless in word and deed. Anything less was met with harsh punishment and recrimination when we returned "home" at the end of the evening. Our sole purpose was to make him look good. If we failed in that, we were punished.

Let me share the other dynamic which was an ongoing part of my childhood – a budding psychopath for a brother (also adopted, no blood relation, thank god). After several years of torment, abuse and trauma, it seems a lightbulb was turned on and everyone realized he needed to be institutionalized. He was (and is) a nutjob. In all honesty, as bad as my parents were, I have to say that the physical abuse I suffered at his hands was much worse. It makes the behavior of my parents look like child's play.

However, as bad as he was, the burden of blame rests with them. I absolutely blame them for his actions. He was a child – a messed up child, without question – but still a child. They were supposed to be the adults, the parents. It was in their hands that the responsibility for protecting the rest of us lay. They dropped the ball for years. When your son chases you (the parent) through the house wielding a weapon and threatening to bash your head in, you do not leave your other children in his care a few nights later so you can go to a Christmas party. This is what we refer to as "poor parenting decisions."

I remember the night I told my mother that my brother had been molesting me for several years. She labled me a liar, told me I was making it up and said I should never mention it again. She based her assumption on the fact that I was unable to verbalize "the details." I could not speak the words spelling out, step-by-step, exactly what he had done to me. She only gave me one opportunity to do this and, faced with her anger, I couldn't do it. Ergo, it never happened. I wonder if she ever looks back and recognizes that it was at that moment that I went from being "the perfect child" – straight A student, genius, kind, friendly, well-behaved, non-confrontational, the model of good behavior – to my grades bottoming out, my behavior taking a drastic turn, cutting school, lying, stealing, acting out, etc. I doubt she'd recognize it even now, let alone acknowledge that one had anything to do with the other.

We made a few half-hearted attempts at "family" counseling. After all, "one must try everything to resolve the issue." Only problem was that "family" counseling revolved around my brother and his behaviors as they affected my parents. Never were the rest of us permitted to voice how we were impacted by his behavior or by our parents' behaviors. All that mattered was getting brother under control so that he could reflect well on my parents. Nevermind the fact that the rest of us had to deal with kids at school bringing in newspaper clippings from the police blotter when brother had once again been arrested. That was not something to be "dealt" with. There was a boy in band with me who used to put the clippings in picture frames and pass them around the orchestra. Ah, what a wonderful life.

Finally, brother was shipped off to the first of several institutions. Finally – peace. Or, not. Nothing improved, the root issues had never been dealt with. Nothing changed in the way my parents behaved or treated us. If anything, things just got worse. My father had a talent for cutting us to pieces with a few carefully chosen words. It was as if he knew exactly what to say to cause you the most pain. A hundred beatings were better than one sentence from his mouth. He has been dead for several years but I can still hear his voice cutting me to the quick in a way the belt never did.

As I write this, I find myself remembering a million little hurts – small things taken individually, none of which seems all that awful until they are taken in context with the other 999,999 things. I find myself wanting to write them out, one by one. We'd be here forever if I did. But when you combine them together, they speak a clear message – one I am still learning to overcome:
You are worthless. You are unwanted. Nothing you ever do can be good enough. You are dirt. You are fortunate we took you in, no one else would have. You should consider yourself lucky. Stop whining. You always had enough to eat, clothes on your back, oh, and a beautiful museum for a house. That should be enough. Many would kill to have grown up in your house – don't forget how jealous your classmates were of your big house and fancy furnishings. Ignore the filth that pretty house hid within it. We must always pretend, you must wear a mask. The world must not see underneath that mask, underneath that shiny veneer. You must always present the perfect face to the world. Anything less will have horrific ramifications. We didn't want you, except for what having you could do for us. You were only adopted to serve a function. Once you served your purpose, we had no further need for you. You deserved everything you got. You are undeserving of happiness. You cannot possibly succeed at anything. You will always be less than second best.

Need I go on?

It's strange – it is never the physical abuse I find myself still in pain from. I think about the belt or the paddle or the spankings or the face slaps, and I just sort of shrug. The beatings ended quickly and, since they were always followed by kindness (which I now know was a way of manipulating us into not reporting it), I forgave them shortly thereafter. But the emotional and verbal abuse still lingers. It impacts my relationship with my husband. When I know he is on his way home from work, I rush around making sure the place looks spotless before he arrives. Mind you, he doesn't care – the house could be in shambles and he would just be happy to be home with me. It doesn't matter to him. But in my mind, it is 4:30 PM, the garage door will go up any minute, and when it does, I am in deep shit if every inch of the house isn't spotless. My father will walk through the door, see a shoe out of place on the mat, and I will be punished. For me, it is always 4:30 in the afternoon and the garage door is always going up any minute.

You think I'm kidding? I will not ever buy a house with an attached garage. Ever. A 10 foot breezeway between the house and the garage, fine. But an attached garage? Not in a million years. You should see the look on my face when I'm visiting a home with an attached garage and the door goes up. One friend observed that I turned white as a sheet and questioned why I began straightening up the magazines on her coffee table.

Old habits die hard.

I was tossed on the street at 17. Happy Birthday. In hindsight, I'm glad. It was the first step towards breaking away from them completely.

I'm sad to say that if and when I meet my birth parents I can never give them the opportunity to see pictures of me from when I was a baby. I left those behind along with the rest of my childhood. It's a shame, I was a cute kid. Maybe when my mother dies I'll show up and collect them, but I doubt it. I can't really say that I'd look at my baby book as anything other than a fraud, created because it was what you were "supposed" to do – not because of any real joy taken in the fact that they were fortunate enough to have a beautiful baby girl. My father has been dead for several years. I was glad when he died. The only thing I miss about him is what our relationship COULD have been. I miss the same with my mother. She is still alive, still out there somewhere living her life. I miss the potential of what a mother and daughter can have together. I don't miss what we actually had. I am intensely jealous of those who have a good relationship with their parents. And the part of me that buys into the bullshit drilled into me by my own says that I did not have a good relationship with my parents because of my own failings. My mind knows better, my heart still takes convincing.

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February 1, 2006 - Posted by | Adoption Rants, Adoption Void

4 Comments »

  1. Oooh… how I wish I could reach through the screen and touch your hand right now… what you’ve been through… so horrible… so familiar…

    My heart goes out to you as I read your words… and then I stop… and realize… we share so many of the same feelings… insecurities… long-held wounds… and I just wish… I could make it better for both of us. Thank you so much for sharing this…

    Much affection…

    Comment by Manuela | February 1, 2006 | Reply

  2. oh. what a terrible story. I’m so sorry.

    Comment by susan | February 1, 2006 | Reply

  3. I’m so sorry you went through all that. My heart goes out to you. I don’t know if you’re much for reading, but “Captivating” by John and Stasi Eldredge is really good…it deals with some of the “million little hurts” you mentioned.

    Comment by Adopted Life | February 2, 2006 | Reply

  4. You are not alone… I don’t talk about it either. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Anonymous | February 2, 2006 | Reply


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