Love and Loss and Love Again

Originally published at AnneHeffron.com. I wrote this piece one year ago, my first go at writing about my life as a double-adoptee, and it remains a favorite. Enjoy!

I was relinquished and placed for adoption when I was nine years old. My adopters’ names were listed as my parents on my birth certificate, they gave me a new name, and no one I previously knew as family could legally have contact with me. I was received by my adopters as if I were a blank slate, with no history of my own.

But that’s not where this story begins. Let me try again.

I was relinquished at birth and placed for adoption when I was two months old. My adopters’ names were listed as my parents on my birth certificate, they gave me a new name, and all traces of my biological family and those who fostered me between my birth and adoption were erased, scrubbed clean. I was received by my adopters as if I were a blank slate, with no history of my own.

Forgive me if I keep losing my place in this story.

My mother was an unwed teenage college student at the time she conceived me, just beginning to explore her newfound freedom. Her family found her pregnancy so shameful that they packed her away quietly to a maternity home in another city. I was to be kept a secret, given away and never talked about again. At least that was the idea. She was allowed to hold me for ten minutes, then kissed me goodbye.

What has all of this taught me? That I seem to have been destined for a life in which I was repeatedly expected to pull off the most impossible of disappearing acts: I was expected to pretend I never existed until I existed for (insert signature of current parent or legal guardian here).

More recently, I pulled off a disappearing act so thoroughly that I journeyed to the point before existence, where there is no me or you, where mothers and fathers and children, relinquishments and adoptions, loves and losses, births and deaths are mere shimmering vibrations of possibility.

Well, yes, there were drugs involved. Here’s how it happened.

I inhaled from the pipe that my guide held to my mouth. Within seconds the psychedelic molecules in the vapor made their way to my brain and started flipping switches, and I was launched like a rocket ship through inner space. First I lost contact with my physical senses. Then I lost the ability to locate myself in time and space. Then I lost all sense of self or of any kind of existence whatsoever. Amidst this dissolution of all things, the last thought I remember—while thought was still possible—was of my wife. I wondered about her. I wondered whether she had been just a dream, or a fleeting thought, or whether she and I ever existed in the first place. There was an intimation of a piercing sadness.

After about twenty minutes, as I was returning to bodily awareness yet still partly under the influence of the psychedelic, I felt my heart open in a way that I never experienced before. I felt this openness physically, as my chest seemed full of spiraling dynamic energy. But I also felt it in the tears I was shedding over the sheer poignancy and power of the love I felt for my wife. I just had the unique experience of losing her without actually having lost her, something close to a near-death experience. And the residue of that loss shattered some protective film in me that keeps me from embracing in my heart a most basic truth: the human condition is one of ceaseless, unpredictable change and loss. That’s just how it is.

It’s not just me that’s been pulling off disappearing acts! The whole world and everything in it comes and goes, comes and goes, and I do not have the power to control its comings and goings. But that doesn’t stop me from trying.

One of the ways I try to control the world’s comings and goings, or at least control their impact on me, is by sealing my heart from love. Surely I hunger for love just like everyone else. But long ago, before remembering, I seem to have learned the wrong lesson from loss—I seem to have come to the conclusion that the fear of loss and the pain of loss are greater than my need for love. Not abandonment and rejection per se but the raw fact of loss, that to love is to risk loss, is the greatest fear I know.

To open to love is to open to the inevitability and unpredictability of loss—everything is going away, even me, even you, even everyone we love and everyone who loves us. The paradox is that this makes love all the more precious precisely because we only get to share it in this condition of utter fragility. There is nothing so brave as to be vulnerable enough to love and to be loved. I felt all of this in my tears, in my swirling, open, dynamic heart.

Then I returned more fully to my “ordinary self” and my heart sealed itself up again. But I still have hope.

One day I hope to see my disappearing acts blossom into a superpower. I hope to discover that overcoming my greatest fear and embracing the devastating losses of my past plunges me into intimate contact with a world that is always dying, always being born anew. One day I hope to join my unfettered swirling, dynamic, open heart to all the astonishingly beautiful, heartbreaking love and loss and love again that I was privileged to catch a glimpse of one psychedelic afternoon. And on that day, I will remember that I exist for you, and we exist for one another.

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