For much of my life I was defined by the circumstances of my birth. As far back as I can remember I have been aware that I was adopted and it defined me, both in the ways I have regarded myself and in the way other people have considered me.
I don’t remember being told I was adopted so I am guessing I must have been very young. Growing up I was told a story several times about why the need to tell me had arisen, that I had heard something that had caused me to question it’s meaning.
The story goes that an aunt of my adopted mother had called to visit, not having seen the family for some time. After initial greetings she had looked at me and said, “Oh, is that the one you adopted?” which caused me to ask the question, “What does adopted mean?” and resulting in hasty explanations.
I have no recall of this happening and whilst it is possible that it is true, I have reason to question it. In the context of my upbringing it seems too innocent and naive and almost as though it was created in order to erase the truthful events of its disclosure. I am aware of an overriding feeling and possibly a deeply held subconscious memory, that it is more likely that the facts were hurled at me during one of many vitriolic rages and verbal attacks, as were many the details of the circumstances of my beginnings.
I was, however, to hear a similar sentence again many years later at the age of thirty at my mother’s funeral. Her sister whom we had not seen for many years attended the funeral and the wake afterwards. There was chatting for a while and then, when she thought me to be out of earshot, she asked, “Is that the one she adopted?” Already reeling with the shock of my mother’s sudden, unexpected death, these words were to hit me like clap of thunder. Despite having spent the previous week together with the family, organising the funeral, drinking endless cups of tea, crying, laughing and talking about my mother and her life, I already had a sense that the person who had tied us all together was now gone and the family, as we knew it, was likely to drift apart. The words served as yet another reminder of what separated me from the rest of the family and isolated me away from their blood ties. they once again defined me and the way people regarded me and I was acutely aware that, for many people, I was viewed as and would always be ‘the adopted one’.