Footnotes

by Carolyn on July 2, 2009

asterisk

asterisk

It hurts my family to know that I never felt like I fit in with them.  Hearing or reading this truth is like a knife slashing across their chests.  I didn’t realize that until now.  Oh believe me, it hurts me too.  But I’ve been dealing with that knowledge since my parents remarried.  I’ve had 26 years with it.  To dull the pain.  For them the truth is fresh; raw and bloody.  And although I could have kept this truth a secret, I have learned that hiding the truth doesn’t make it any less….true.

A part of their pain seems to come from the worry that maybe they didn’t do enough or work hard enough to make me feel like I belonged.  And to that I can only reassure them that their efforts were valiant.  There was nothing else to be done.  And the other part seems to stem from the question that if I feel this way, perhaps I don’t love them as much as they love me.  But this couldn’t be farther from the truth.  For I have always loved them all as much as any sister or daughter is capable of.

It’s not that they or I or our love for each other was ever inadequate.  It was a simple matter of facts.  Of logistics.  Of circumstance.  Plainly obvious to any passer by with my family’s oblivion simply being a loving and hopeful denial.  And I never burst their bubble.  I played my part well.  If believing I was comfortable made them happy; then I wouldn’t disappoint them.  But today let’s set hopes and feelings and denials aside. Let’s look at it objectively.

Both of my parents remarried people with no children.  They both went on to have children with their new spouses.  To anyone looking in it would have appeared so picturesque.  Beautiful babies rounding out beautiful families.  And then there was me.  Ten years old and looking nothing like any of them aside from my biological parents.  Always donning a blazing asterisk.  Always requiring an explanation.  All of us lugging around my footnote.  There was never a shortage of odd looks or questioning eyes from those who didn’t already have the answers.

When we would be introduced as a family, I could almost hear the Sesame Street song ‘one of these things is not like the others..’ playing inside people’s heads.  I was the stand out.  That thing that just wasn’t the same.  I was the legacy.  And there was nothing anybody could do about that.  It was what it was.  My truth.  I remember one day during a teen-aged sulking episode, lagging behind one of my families as they walked on ahead.  I remember thinking how perfectly happy and normal they all looked; if only it weren’t for me.

And yet, I was never depressed by my truth.  If I had to assign a feeling, I would say it was….lonely.  For two reasons.  First because there was no one else like me around.  I was unique to my family and friends alike.  And second because I couldn’t talk about it.  I couldn’t give it a voice.  It’s not like I didn’t see them all trying.  Struggling to make themselves and everyone else believe that there was no difference between our family and any other.  Watching them curtly answer questions like ‘Wow, there is quite an age difference between your children.  How long have you been married?’; as if it wasn’t a completely reasonable question.  They were pretending, so I did too.  For them.

But to myself I couldn’t pretend so well.  I remember wishing that I could hurry and grow up so that I could have a husband of my own.  A house of my own.  A family of my own.  Because then I wouldn’t have the asterisk or need the footnote or be the legacy anymore.  I would finally be normal.  Simply the ‘wife’ or simply the ‘mom’.  No explanation required.  So I put my life on fast forward.  Running away and running towards.  And that part makes me angry with myself.  For I was in such a hurry to become someone else that I never took the time to find out who I really was.  I stole that from myself. Those years of early adulthood.  Being single, living alone, and getting to know….me.

So what can be done?  If the facts can’t change.  If trying harder doesn’t work.  If you can’t love it away.  What can all of the divorced parents in blended families do for their own precious asterisked children?  I can only say this: accept and embrace the truth; then give it a voice.  Of all the hard talks parents have with their children about drugs and sex and teenage drinking, how hard can it be to let them know that you see they don’t fit; that it’s as obvious as the nose on your face, but you love them anyway.

One of my fondest childhood memories is of my mother.  Being a new mother again, she would sometimes get overwhelmed (she had her next two children 17 months apart).  And amid those early and frazzled years she would sometimes smile at me and  say ‘if this gets much worse, I’m going to pack you up and we’ll run away to Timbuktu’.  I knew she never meant it, neither one of us actually wanted to leave.  But I could actually feel myself swell as she spoke the words.  Because what I heard her say was ‘I know you don’t fit in here.  I know this feels weird.  But you belong with me.  And no matter what changes you’ve endured or what changes are to come, you will always belong with me.’.  And in that moment, the truth would shine from her and suddenly I’d find myself home.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Maryann July 2, 2009 at 10:44 pm

Thank you so much for this post. It helps to see into your world and how you felt. Its much easier to understand at 24 than at age 8. I know I don’t understand everything but this helps so much.

Love you!

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2 Carolyn July 3, 2009 at 7:31 am

I’m glad this helped. Of course I wrote it for you. These are difficult things to understand at any age but maturity always helps. As long as you know that you never did anything wrong and that I love you as much as I can. I love you.

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3 Urchin July 2, 2009 at 10:54 pm

The more I read, the more I see how very alike we are. You, the grown up child of divorce, and I the grown up child of a bad marriage and an adoptee. Oh, I know, I briefly mentioned it before, but it still comes as a shock to some people. Particularly when my family gets together. I look more like my adoptive parents than their biological son does.

My oldest brother, Daniel, has red hair and blue eyes. I have dark brown hair (most people mistake it for black almost right away) and mold green eyes (hazel). My mother also has dark hair, and my father… well he’s balding now, but what’s left of his hair darkened up to brown, he claims it was red once. I’m not so sure.

I’ve always ALWAYS known I was adopted. It was never a big secret. I even had a special baby book. Much thinner than my brothers, but no less important. So I’m told. But he had 8 extra years to fill his out. It’s a book specifically for children of adoption. There were kids books, explaining how I was a “chosen” baby.

Now all of this sounds very sweet. It is, I suppose, difficult for any parent with an adopted child. Do you keep it a secret until later? For ever, or do you tell them right away? The former, could turn around and bite the parents for the child may feel as though their life were a lie. The latter… well I never really felt like I fit in either. Even if I looked more the part than Dan.

Let’s fast forward twelve years, when I met my biological mother, Pam. She had an older son, Justin, and a younger son, David. Justin was older than I by three years. He had to watch Pam carry to term then come back with nothing. I wonder how that made him feel. But David; when I met them, David gave me the strangest look. He didn’t want this usurper coming into his life. So I didn’t fit in there either. Not at first. I’m not sure I do anymore now than I did then, but we talk more. And this is good.

Fast forward another few years, I’m 21 and meeting my biological father for the first time. He never knew. He wasn’t told nor given the chance to raise me. I know he felt robbed. He’s told me so, several times, mostly when he’s lush. I fit in better with him than I do most, but I’m still not quite right there. He’s a southern good ol’boy. I’m… me.

Both sets of biologicals are very staunchly Republican and on my biological father’s side, he’s very staunchly Southern Baptist. I’m not. I’ll proudly say that I’m a granola-munching, tree-hugging, protest-attending, gal. I don’t claim liberal, I’m me.

Three families. None of whom I fit exactly. It’s awkward at times, sure. Hurtful, absolutely. But through it I was as true to myself as my masks, walls, and fortress would allow. Besides, now I get to confuse people with: “I am the only child, the middle child, and the youngest child.” It’s so much fun to watch eyebrows inch towards the hairline.

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4 Carolyn July 3, 2009 at 7:35 am

You approach everything with such a warm sense of humor; I love it. I can’t imagine what your situation must feel like, but it is certainly hard not fitting in. The fact that you can be yourself (as yourself as you will allow) at all is admirable. Being able to throw riddles out and enjoy people’s reaction is simply gravy!

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5 Urchin July 3, 2009 at 11:09 am

It’s really the only way I can approach it. Otherwise I’d be a little curled up ball of tears. I was that for too long, if not physically then emotionally, and I refuse to let it take over my life the way it had. It still happens, but as I mentioned once before, I’d much rather be the happy-smiling girl.

Riddles are fun, aren’t they!

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6 Peter Pan July 3, 2009 at 8:10 am

Urchin, I can relate to your story and add.
I am adopted as well, my birth mom was a teenager and gave me up for adoption. My mom and dad lost their first child to a preganancy gone wrong and they could no longer have children. They adopted my sister 3 years before me and that made-up our little family. I want to state that my parents were good parents and showed us allot of love and support but something was missing. For years we watched my dad spin out of control through alcoohlism and my mom trying to be the nurturer and keep the family together. I couldn’t really understand why someone would continue to drink when he knew how destructive it was to himself and his family. It wasn’t until I met my wife and her uncle that I pieced it together. You see her uncle lost his son at age 2 to a boold disorder and he never got over it. I think my dad was the same, and it wasn’t until I held my first child did I understand his lost.
Then 30+ years later my sister meets her birth parents and they have it all, they regretted giving her up for adoption and welcomed her with open arms into their home with white picket fences and several new whole siblings. So here I am lost and after a short testicular cancer scare I decide hey me too I want that fulfillment as well. So I proceed to find my birthmom but it wasn’t the white picket fence I thought it would be. It became so damaging I had to ask her to take a break for a while until I can figure things out. Now the guilt set-in for me, as an adult I cannot handle it, how selfish am I? I ask her to give me some space, yet I know how difficult it was for her 34 years ago to carry me to term, change schools give me up for adoption go on with her life etc.. all that as a 16 y/o.

Anyhow I can relate, adopted child of a marriage with troubles (good parents) for 17 years, my dad got help and got better then I was the child of a good marriage for 10 more years. All this + many other bad things along the way. Now on the outside looking in it’s me who appears to have it all but until I find a way to deal with the 34 years of hurt I am enjoying moments of my life and not the life itelf if that makes any sense.

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7 Urchin July 3, 2009 at 11:04 am

Peter Pan,

First, you aren’t selfish for asking for some space You reached out and found her. You wanted to know, and you learned. The statistics (I had countless books on those too regarding adoptees finding biological parents and how it turned out) aren’t great. That she wants a relationship at all is good, but if it’s damaging then you did the right thing asking for a break, I think. If that is selfish, then I’d be right there with you.

What you said about enjoying moments of your life but not the life itself DOES make sense. Last year a new friend sat me down and had a very candid discussion with me. They were concerned because they saw me just going through life existing but not living. They wanted to know if there was anything they could do to help. I told them I wasn’t sure. That I didn’t know. That I didn’t see anything wrong. All lies, of course, but the truth was too painful. I didn’t know how to be happy. Not really. My adoptive father isn’t an alcoholic (though he’ll claim to be, I’ve never witnessed him sweat, stare, or lust for a drink) he’s abusive emotionally. I spent too many years trying to please someone who would take away his love if I did the tiniest thing wrong. I would be reminded that I wasn’t his “real daughter.” There was that + many other bad things as well.

I’m learning better now, as are you it seems, but 25 or 34 years of the hurt is a long thing to get over, and it’s going to take time.

I’m really glad, however, that your dad got help and got better. Too, I’m glad that you have ‘it all’. Keep enjoying the moments, let’s hope those moments become longer with each passing day.

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8 Peter Pan July 3, 2009 at 12:05 pm

Urchin,
My parents were very supportive and never,never made me feel like “real son”. The extended family on the other hand especially 1 aunt/uncle/cousins surely did. Now looking back it was their own unhapiness and insecurities that feed into that. As a young child though you don’t have the capacity to understand, you sit there confused and hurt.
When I said I have “it all” I meant the white picket fence and family, I wasn’t trying to sound arrogant, if anyhting the opposite. Verbal abuse it a difficult one to overcome especially when a child does have the capacity to comprehend, digest or defend.

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9 Peter Pan July 3, 2009 at 12:06 pm

OOps I should have wrote my parents never made feel like “not their real son” but the extended family did.

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10 Urchin July 3, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Peter Pan,

You didn’t come off as arrogant. I had pretty much pictured the white picket fence, the happy family, smiles, laughter, dinners together. It’s a pretty mental image that I have, using the faces of actors or people I know to fill in the gaps of knowledge in appearance. ;)

I really am happy for you. I’m getting there. I live with someone who treats me like the world. Buys me random things (against my arguments that I don’t need it) and supports me in ways I never thought someone could. He’s seen the raw of me. Accidentally of course, but he’s seen it, and he’s still here. So I guess, I’m getting it all. :D

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11 Peter Pan July 3, 2009 at 12:44 pm

Good for you, it’s important to have someone standing by your side. I have my wife, she’s my strenght my life and my love. A big problem for me is that this all came to fruitition about 2 years ago. Before then I was wearing a “mask” as Carolyn so aptly named it. Worst of all at the time I didn’t know I was wearing it, I thought I had dealt with all the issues, until I met my birth mom and realized the feelings were just supressed so far down and then they surfaced. All the bad things that happended to me + her was overwhelming. This site is wonderful for me because it gives me some insight to divorce, this is a hurdle for me because my birth mom gave me up @ 16 married @ 18 had 2 more children but then came divorce and the downward spiral in here life.

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12 Urchin July 3, 2009 at 1:18 pm

My biological mother also got married. She hadn’t been married the first two times so David is the only legitimate one out of all of us. (I really hate that word, but it’s what society deems “correct”). Her husband and I got along just fine… up until a point. I tolerate him now, but I will not forget.

13 Carolyn July 3, 2009 at 12:49 pm

“Now on the outside looking in it’s me who appears to have it all but until I find a way to deal with the 34 years of hurt I am enjoying moments of my life and not the life itself if that makes any sense.”

I feel much the same way Peter. It is the reason I wrote the entry Worthy of my scar. Sometimes it feels like the fortunes of your present should somehow counteract the pain of your history; but it doesn’t happen. I guess it proves that in the end true happiness comes from within, not from our pretty surroundings.

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14 Liz July 3, 2009 at 8:58 am

I truly enjoy reading your posts – they resonate so deeply with me! Actually, most of what you are writing are thoughts and feelings that I’ve shoved deep into the back of my mind because going back “there” hurt for so many years.

I left home at 18 because I craved the opportunity to define my self (without the asterisk/footnote you described)- without the family, half-sisters, step parents, whatever. I accepted the fact that a series of events (divorce, remarriage, new children, etc) ultimately resulted in my somewhat forced independence. I hadn’t fit into my family for 14 years (I was 4 when the divorce/remarriage happened).

For many, many years I blamed my parents, biological and step for this time in my life (and for that fact all of the years beforehand!). I mean, I was a child – and they weren’t blind – they knew I didn’t fit in! Didn’t they see the pain on my face or through my actions? As a parent now, I KNOW when something isn’t right with my children, I know! And I react – I am proactive and don’t dismiss. My parents didn’t give this a voice – it was dismissed.

I was in a hurry too…a huge hurry to leave and find a place where I did fit in. I wanted out so badly that anything seemed better than where I was at in my life at that point. So there I was with 18 years of life and not a clue…and as you know, maybe I should have rethought things a bit. BUT I didn’t. Ironically, inside I was me (the genuine self) on the outside, I was someone else, a new role (a new footnote!) …all to “fit in”- but at that point in my life, I still wanted to be anyone BUT me…still. I still didn’t find my fit.

So I had jumped both feet into adulthood, independence, etc and I still didn’t have what I wanted – to fit in, to have my OWN life. I was still in a hurry for my life to change and I know I robbed myself from that. I was lonely before and I was still incredibly lonely at this point too.

You mentioned a moment when your family walked ahead and you were thinking of how happy and normal they looked. I thought this also – many times. But eventually when I did leave the family equation, I became the outsider looking in – and what I noticed was with or without me, things didn’t always appear so happy or normal. I am convinced that the problem of blending me into the family and adding new siblings and making all of it work (or obviously not work) was THEIR problem. I was just caught in the middle and not able to put real meaning behind it at such a young age.

Luckily for us now, we know we aren’t alone anymore and we finally foound our fit.

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15 Urchin July 3, 2009 at 11:07 am

That was absolutely beautifully written. Thank you. (complete stranger)

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16 Carolyn July 3, 2009 at 11:49 am

Liz, thank you for so eloquently sharing your story. I hope to one day find more of us. Because I think it’s comforting to learn that during all those years of feeling like a misfit, there were others just like us. Others who had the same feelings and made the same mistakes because of them. Knowing that makes me feel like less of a pariah for making those mistakes myself. Strength in numbers, my friend. Strength in numbers.

Thank you again.

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