"Take up room. Embrace your talents. It's okay to think you're beautiful."
It had been safely tucked away from view for 10 years. Every time I had that curious, longing itch to revisit the documents, I'd go dig it out of its hiding place, look at the words, the font; smell the pages, touch them, and stare at the two crumpled, thin, black and white paper photos with a crease right across my birth mother's top row of teeth.
My freshman year of high school, my mom took me to the adoption agency from where I was adopted to retrieve documents in a folder that were available to me.
I would find out that my birth mother was pregnant with me when she was 15.
15 years later, I would see these documents for the first time at the very same age.
I don't remember feeling much as I slowly flipped through the pages. There was a lonely stillness in my heart, like a foggy, deserted town holding its breath. Waiting. Searching.
It was a closed adoption, so I noticed that all the last names were whited out. They were all copies, no original documents. There was a stack of papers with comments of social workers who had interviewed my birth families as well as my mom and dad during their visits to each of their homes. Scenes formed in my mind as I read the narratives. My birth father's family was described as "jovial."
I had to look the word up.
I remember feeling excited as I read that my birth mother played piano and my birth father played guitar.
It was a puzzle piece that fit into an incomplete picture of me. Starting piano when I was three, violin at six, and composing when I was 10, music was about the only thing I seemed to connect with.
I was hoping to see a birth certificate, but there wasn't one (in fact, I have never seen it, and was recently informed that there are only seven states that allow unconditional access for adult adoptees).
Then I saw their faces for the first time. I wondered why I didn't get actual color photos, but it was better than nothing. It was hard to see details because the copies were so dark, but I could make out her teeth and a big smile. He wasn't smiling in his picture. It was so strange, seeing pictures of these people.
Where were they now? Were they like me? What do they sound like? I tossed the folder onto my bed and ran into the bathroom so I could hold up their pictures on either side of my face.
I was a perfect mix of both of them.
There was a poem from my birth mother, and a two-page letter, both signed, "Love, Mom."
I had a mom, so it was weird for me to see. Was it weird for her to write that? Did she still feel like my mom?
The poem was typed in Courier New font, and I read it first.
I had written poems, too, that my mom liked to taped to my parents' shelves in their office.
It was titled "Never Forgotten", typed across the top, and then underneath, "for" the name she gave me: Marilyn.
It said "by" and then her first name, with her last name whited out - all except the first three letters, which, little did I know, would ultimately end up being the key to finding her ten years later.
The letter was long, repetitive, thoughtful. It was in cursive handwriting. I could tell that she felt passionate about making sure I knew how special and loved I was. She explained why she was giving me up, how conflicted she was, how hurt she felt...how she loved my birth father so much, yet they were just so young.
Young, but in love.
I wanted them to stick, for them to fill the emptiness that had always been inside of me, but the words seemed to bounce right off my chest and back onto the page.
I had only known that I was adopted for five years after finding out when I was 10, although my body knew it before I did.
I had a family, and therefore, I should just be grateful. I shouldn't think about my past, because things like roots, where you're from, and who you are don't matter when you have such a wonderful, loving family, right? All that counts is that you're loved.
That's what I believed, though, and that's what society tells us to believe.
But how do you have language for adoption when the trauma of relinquishment is preverbal? How do you know what you feel?
You don't. So you go along with what will keep the peace at home, at school, at church, and at extracurricular activities. I wanted to be a good kid. I was constantly trying to please my parents and doing things to make sure they were still there, because that's what you do when you fear re-abandonment with such a physiological, intense terror.
I wasn't sure what to expect with my new folder of papers, but whatever it was, hurt.
At the time, I had no words to describe their value, but I kept them close to me, guarding them like they were precious gems.
I kept them hidden at the bottom of my nightstand. I was afraid that if they were visible, it might hurt my family's feelings...and perhaps also my own. They were the only pieces of my identity I now had: a further reminder that I was different. Not good enough to keep. Given away. Not chosen.
The folder was all around shameful, and it needed to be out of sight.
So I put it away, closed the drawer, called it gratitude, and left it alone.
But there's an internal battle that brews when we subconsciously deny things we're unaware of - things inside of us that bubble up for a reason. If we don't know to face them, the battle brew eventually overflows outward and into our lives.
As a 15-year-old, however, I didn't have vocabulary for this. I opened the drawer every time I felt three emotions: lonely, angry, or sad, like an adult secretly indulging in addiction to suppress those things.
I had formed this relationship in my mind with my adoption through these papers - staring at them, crying at them, crumpling them when I felt enraged, smoothing them out in desperation, and then staring at them some more as if the text on the pages were supposed to change or turn color.
Going through this initial process felt kind of like opening up a box of cereal for a nice, big bowl of breakfast and then pouring out the last few puffs. You want more, but you don't have any more and you should probably eat something healthier anyway. A part of me wished I would have never seen any of it.
What does a 15-year-old do with hope and shame at the same time?
I had opened a magic box filled with pieces of treasure. Pieces of me that could never be put back together; and therefore, I was not whole.
Artist | Singer-Songwriter | Composer