My fingers have always looked too long and skinny for my hands, and my knuckles too large. Growing up, children ridiculed them. “Piano fingers” my mom would lovingly offer, and this might have assuaged me—had my gnarly fingers some actual piano-playing talent.
As a pre-teen, my weight fluctuated wildly, and by age sixteen I’d been humbled by a visit to Weight Watchers. I found it oddly dismaying that most girls my age could binge on sweets and fatty foods without gaining weight. I, on the other hand, was relegated to a modest, low-fat diet. Even as a teen, three meals were completely out of question; I gained a pound just ogling that third meal.
I was tall with jet-black hair and deep brown eyes. My parents and extended family members were small people, with fair hair and light eyes. I towered over most of the adults in my family by age twelve—even my feet grew to be larger than some of my uncles’. My tender teenaged ego was deflating even before its God-given chance to fully form.
City-folk swore the country water was causing my condition of gargantuism. I knew better. It was me; I just didn’t fit in. I never had. Then, one day, my cousin blurted it out during an argument. It was because I was adopted.
I’d always known I was adopted. Could this be the reason I didn’t look, act or feel like any of those tiny, fair-haired, light-eyed people?
Mom assured me that I could not have been more “hers” than if she’d carried me in the womb herself. Nestled in her wallet was a newspaper clipping of “The Adopted Child’s Legacy”—I think it’s still there. Anytime I’d seek reassurance, she’d take it out and show me. And, let me tell you that sweet little newspaper clipping had been folded and unfolded and re-folded so many times that it bore a deep ridge down the middle. During my elementary school years, I blurted my adoption status to anyone who’d listen. Most people smiled politely; I secretly wondered whether they thought I was special now.
My blonde haired, blue-eyed younger brother, also adopted, never spoke of these things. His mother had been a “genius Austrian businesswoman” who came to the states to give birth, and quickly fled the States to resume her uber-important job. Or so the story went. And it was a good story. It explained why he had been plucked from mainstream elementary school and placed in a ‘gifted and talented’ class.
I fumed with jealousy. Why hadn’t I been selected for greatness? Was I relegated to a life as a too tall, too dark, too fat girl with unattractive fingers? Give me something, God. Throw me a bone.
As a young adult, things grew increasingly awkward. It turns out that I not only looked different from my adoptive parents, but worse, just as I couldn’t swallow the flounder they forced on me at the dinner table, nor could I—or would I—swallow their fears, prejudices, anxieties, or resentments about the world.
Dubbed a “bleeding heart liberal” by my staunchly traditionalist father, apparently, “people like me” were responsible for all of the crime, disease, and famine in the world. And I thought I wasn’t special.
At about this time, home life became insufferable. I barricaded myself in my room most of the day, scared to venture out of my safe, quiet space and into the middle of a war zone. It felt as though I had been sentenced to emotional jail. We were discouraged from bringing friends over, which was just as well because it was too embarrassing. Dad suffered from severe depression and anxiety, which made him angry and unpleasant most of the time.
On good days, dad would ignore me. On bad days, he’d insult and belittle me. He would spew his venom until I felt I had no choice but to fight back. He’d complain that I never wore dresses and warn me that only rich kids went to college. And, Lord knows, we weren’t rich. Did I think I was special? I should find a man to marry me and be thankful for the privilege of raising his children.
I grew angry, too—with dad, sure, but also with my biological mother. Why had she left me? We could have made it together. At least I wouldn’t be stuck with these small, angry people to whom I didn’t bear the slightest resemblance in appearance or spirit.
I wanted to run away, but dad raised me a pragmatist and careful analysis revealed that I couldn’t survive on my own. After all, I was still in high school and didn’t have a job. And I didn’t want to turn out like the girls in the documentaries I’d sometimes watch—who had to sell themselves on the streets to survive. Besides, who’d want a fat girl with ugly fingers?
One day I asked my dad why he hated me. I was surprised to see tears well in his eyes. I always thought it was me; turns out, his dad had been angry, too. And like his dad did to him, my dad took the anger out on me.
I set out to attend graduate school away from home. Finally, I was getting out. My life, anyway I chose to define it, could begin. I could think and say anything I liked. I could watch anything I wished on television without fear of reprisal—even people of color or gay people or people who didn’t believe in the right to bear arms. Finally, I could breathe.
On my twenty-first birthday, my best friend asked me if I had considered whether my mom was thinking of me. I thought this question silly, considering that we had just left a small birthday reception thrown by my mom. “Your biological mom,” she quipped.
I felt ashamed. My biological mother hardly ever crossed my mind; did I ever really cross hers? “Certainly you don’t believe she’s forgotten the day she gave birth to you?” But I did. In fact, I didn’t even think about whether she was thinking about me. Like Santa Claus, I had long given up on believing in my birth mother. A mystical figure, she was just a sweet illusion with no tangible connection to my life.
Besides, I didn’t have time to think—I was doggedly determined to graduate college and embark upon a rewarding and successful career as a “professional.” There wouldn’t be time for a husband or a family, and there certainly wouldn’t be time to wallow in self-pity.
Still, I was angry all the time. I drank too much (a habit I picked up as a depressed teen), and I always seemed to find plenty of reasons to pout or yell or cry. I blamed PMS, traffic, the boss, but it wasn’t until someone sharply suggested that perhaps it was just me—perhaps I was simply an angry, depressed person—that I really took notice of my life. Apparently, being angry and depressed was the only family tradition I was carrying on.
The realization sparked years of playing the ‘blame game.’ Sometimes, it was dad’s fault; less often, it was mom’s. And every once in a while, it was the fault of the woman who gave birth to me, then callously threw me to the wolves. Several times throughout my adulthood, I’ve hired an adoption search firm to find her; to this day, I never have. For a woman who isn’t making a concerted effort to hide, she’s done an exceptional job.
A few years ago, I learned my biological name: Cassandra Davis. Other than migraines and left-handedness, this name remains my only connection to my birthmother. So you can imagine my dismay to learn that Cassandra was a tragic Greek figure, considered a woman ‘cursed with madness’ by townspeople and relegated to life as a social outcast—because she constantly predicted what others refused to believe.
Needless to say, it’s taken me a long time to love my gnarly-fingered self. Today, I am happily married, and enjoy a professional career in the non-profit sector. My relationship with my adoptive parents is good. I was proud to stand by my parents when my adoptive mother was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. Five years later, and by the grace of God, she’s still with us. I appreciate the gift of her more with each passing day. Dad, well he’s still dad—just as depressed, but much less angry. He’s a kinder, gentler man, and I have grown to accept his limitations. But today I also recognize and enjoy his strengths. Like the way he attends to mom, and the sparkle in his eyes when he plays with his granddaughters. Finally, and honestly, I can love him. And, I am learning, slowly and steadily, the many glorious life lessons of forgiving and letting go of what was and what could never be.
My brother married an adopted woman, and together, they have two beautiful girls—the oldest (my Goddaughter) was also adopted. Ironically, in what seemed to me some cruel cosmic joke, for years my adopted brother and his adopted wife could not start a bloodline of their own. My Goddaughter and I have developed a special bond, and I treasure this incredible gift. I see so much of my child self in her when we play.
As for my birthmother, I hope someday to be able to thank her for giving me this brilliantly flawed life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
My mother, Carol, passed away on June 18, 2007, after a long and courageous battle with breast cancer. In 2007, after a final failed attempt to identify my birth mother, I decided to abort the search and have accepted that she will forever remain an abstract reality; one of life’s many enigmas.