When I am asked why I was relinquished and placed for adoption a second time, my belly and solar plexus clench and I am flooded with the sensation that I could shatter into a million pieces if I let go. That shattering and the tremendous effort to hold the pieces together is what has lived in my body ever since, as if I am still a nine year old child desperately holding on to a sense that the world might still be bearable enough after all to dare to live. But my world wasn’t bearable and I couldn’t continue to live in the face of the most devastating of betrayals and losses. I write to give that child life again.

My younger sister and I were living with our adoptive mother in a small basement apartment on Long Island, New York, at the time. I remember our mother making lots of phone calls, presumably to social workers. She would banish us to our rooms and speak softly so that we couldn’t hear. But the phone cord only stretched so far and I could make out enough words and fragments of conversation to begin to put the pieces together. I remember lying on my bed frozen and overwhelmed, drowning in a writhing sea of rage and hatred and terror and longing and disbelief that I tried so helplessly to contain. I went numb. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t want my mother anyway. But I did. I desperately wanted her to come through the door and tell me everything would be okay, that she loved me dearly, that I was her cherished child and she would never leave me. Not like my first mother did. I wanted her to hold me and soothe me and make all the bad feelings go away because she would bear them with me until I felt safe again. I wanted her to wake me out of this inconceivable nightmare.

Then one day she sat us down on the sofa. She explained as best as she could to a five and a nine year old that she would no longer be our mother, that we were going away to another family who would be our family from now on. I remember tears. I remember her embracing us. I remember the softness of her satin nightgown on my cheek, the warmth of her body. I am glued to this moment as by some kind of emotional gravity. I can’t leave. I cling. I am desperate for her comfort at the same time that she is betraying me, betraying us, destroying us. I can’t let go. I don’t let go. This cannot happen. I am still holding on.

I know only bits and pieces of the surrounding circumstances. She was dating a lot of men, leaving us often with babysitters. She was allegedly doing lots of drugs. She was also attending fundamentalist Christian churches and once smashed all my KISS records because she believed they were satanic. Years later a family member would tell me that she wanted to marry a man who didn’t want kids. In any case, knowing such details carries little weight in the face of the conviction that was ground so deeply into the marrow of my bones: I am expendable. I am not wanted. I am in the way.

And our mother was not the only one to betray us. We were also betrayed by the legal system surrounding adoption: Once we were placed with our new adopters, no one we had previously known as family—not father nor aunt nor uncle nor cousins nor grandparents—could legally have contact with us until we each turned 18. This would be the second time we had our histories and our prior relationships completely erased, as if we never existed before we were adopted. We were thus received by our new adopters as if we were blank slates, uncomplicated by prior lives and identities of our own.

How do I live through such a crushing, humiliating loss of all I’d ever known, by the choice of my own mother? I don’t. Without anyone to mirror the truth of what lives inside of me, and to bear my bottomless grief and rage and incomprehension with me, I lose the thread of my own existence. I cease to exist. What happens next is raw survival, playing a role to adapt to other people, choicelessly sacrificing myself to the role.


3 thoughts on “Shattering

  1. You are so clear and expressive about this sad childhood. Through these words and sentiments, we can share your history and a pathway to greater healing.
    I am delighted that you have chosen to use my art for your blog. It means a lot to me that this painting speaks to you and can help to carry your story.
    Hugs and big affection.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. julian

      Thank you, Jennifer! Your Spirit Boat painting is such a fitting symbol of the journey of transformation I am embarking on here through writing. I am honored to include it.


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