FELLOW ADOPTEE FRANCES TELLS YOU HER ADOPTION STORY IN HER OWN WORDS. AS PART OF A MEMOIR SHE IS WORKING ON, HER STORY IS UNIQUE IN THE WAY SHE WRITES AND TELLS IT. SHE IS ONE MORE VOICE WHO CAN SHARE THE EFFECTS OF ADOPTION ON THE ADOPTEE. SHE IS ONE OF MANY WHO, GROWING UP DIDN’T KNOW SHE WAS ADOPTED…
“THE MYSTERY OF ME, excerpt from a memoir in progress
Frances A. Rove
I thought I knew who I was until I discovered the poems. I found two poems in my deceased mother’s puzzle box and, for the first time, I felt in my DNA that I had been adopted.
Despite my mother’s and my periodic arguments and her angry retreats into silence, I had tried to mirror her perfectly as she required. It had been hard to tell where she ended and I began. The adoption revelation unraveled my identity. Who was I if not her “mini-me”? She had said that she and my father tried to have children throughout their twenty-year marriage. She said I was her miracle baby born just as she went through menopause. If she kept my adoption from me, what was the truth? Was I really born in Texas? Was I really forty-two? So much time had passed, could I find my original birth and adoption records?
I phoned my cousin Sandy to confirm my intuition about the poems’ meaning. I was almost twenty years younger than Sandy, so we weren’t close, but she probably remembered when I joined the family.
My mother had told me that she lavished gifts on Sandy before my birth. They always joked and interacted without expectations like Mom and I never could. I admit I was jealous. They’d been more alike than my mother and I. Now I thought maybe they shared a gene for light-heartedness that I lacked.
I phoned and asked Sandy to lunch. She responded as if I’d invited her to the running of the bulls at Pamplona.
“Us? Lunch? Why?”
“My mother hid two poems about adoption, ” I said.
Sandy chuckled. “Well, it’s about time you knew!”
I swallowed hard as an earthquake cracked my fragile foundation as if a hand reached back and changed my past like a naughty time traveler.
The next day, Sandy arrived at the restaurant carrying a faded tote bag. We ordered, and I described the puzzle box and the poems. She laughed and looked out the window.
“That sounds like your mother, playful to the end and beyond. She loved a mystery.”
My mother had been “playful” with my identity. It was hard to believe she had lied to me for so long about something so important. I looked away. I didn’t want to alienate Sandy by venting my growing irritation. She might have more information.
“Everyone knew you were adopted, but we were afraid to tell you,” Sandy said.
I felt like I’d been slapped. “Everyone knew?” I whispered.
Sandy unrolled the silverware from the napkin and said, “Both sides of the family knew, but I don’t know the details. Your parents brought you home from Texas and tried to pass you off as their own child.”
I glared at her, suddenly wanting to kill the messenger. My face smoldered with embarrassment for my parents and myself. I couldn’t believe I had discovered this, decades too late.
Sandy continued, “You looked nothing like your green-eyed mother or your swarthy, Italian father with your reddish hair, fair skin, and blue eyes.”
I clenched my jaw, willing myself to sound composed despite my shock and anger.
“Why didn’t anyone tell me?” I asked.
“You know better than I do, your mother had a temper. No one was willing to risk her wrath, not even your father, even if we disagreed with her.”
“People thought my mother was wrong and still didn’t tell me? Daddy wanted to tell me?” I still thought of my father the way I had when he died when I was eight. My voice was intense and shrill. I’d forgotten where I was.
“Franny, calm down. It wasn’t our place. Your parents were both forty-six when you were born out of town. We let your mother have her fantasy.”
I wondered why was I merely a prop in her fantasy, not a real person worthy of respect?
“I always thought the whole family hated me because there was something wrong with me! Now I find out there was this secret, this wall, I felt between us.” I was almost shouting.
Sandy turned to see if we were drawing attention.
I gritted my teeth and said, “No wonder I felt like I had no real family except my mother.”
“I think your mother wanted to keep you to herself and to keep everyone at arm’s length so you wouldn’t discover the adoption,” Sandy said.
“And what about after she died? It’s been two years! No one could tell me then?” I got out of my chair. “I’m leaving. I’ll pay the check.”
“Wait, Franny. Your mother gave me this bag. Your baby bracelet from the hospital is in the front pocket.”
Bewildered, I took the bag and looked inside. Betrayal burned all the way down my body. “What are you doing with these?” I thought the photo albums and baby book were in storage. “I’ve never seen a baby bracelet.” The bag held a treasure trove of my history.
Sandy shrugged and said, “Your mother just told me to give it to you after she died.“
I was steaming about the lies and being the butt of family gossip all my life. “When were you going to give me these if I hadn’t called you?”
Sandy stared at me and didn’t respond.
I started crying before I reached my car. I thought of all the conversations I’d never had. Would my father have told me the truth and helped me to set boundaries with my mother? My mind flashed through the years I’d felt isolated and inferior.
In the car, I examined the bracelet of tiny pink and white beads that spelled our last name, “R-O-V-E.” It barely fit around two fingers.
I wondered how I could be adopted but a Rove at birth. It would be years before I would untangle the lies and adoption records and have the emotional strength to search for my birth family. Eventually, I’d uncover numerous other family secrets.
Tears blinded me as I tucked the bracelet back into the bag. I started the car and sat for a moment trying to get back into my body.
I drove home with the heater on as a chilly wind blew, but I felt I’d never get warm again. Leaves drifted off the trees. They were naked to face the coming winter storms.”
Born in the U.S.
Adopted in the U.S.
The above is part of a larger work Frances is working on, her memoirs.
She is an advocate for mental health and animal causes.