The lie of adoption as I’ve lived it—that I can be compelled to call strangers mother and father and family, strangers who can dispose of me, “rehome” me when I cease to please them or serve their needs; that I exist as part of other people’s stories while robbed of a story and agency of my own—grips my heart, presses upon my chest like a fist. I struggle to breathe against its weight. I feel helpless, frozen, as the lie chokes the light from my body, severing my life into unrelated fragments.

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I sit at my desk in my 4th grade classroom. The loudspeaker next to the clock above the door crackles to life and a woman’s voice chimes in: “Mrs. Heck, can you please send Tony Monterosso to the main office?” I freeze in my chair, horrified, blood rushing to my cheeks, heart pounding against my ribcage. A moment of confused silence passes, followed by the soft murmuring, craning necks, and searching eyes of the other children.  “Um…I don’t have a student by that name.” More silence, murmuring. “Are you sure?” Without a word, I stand up, feeling the heat of everyone’s attention suddenly riveted on me, as if the whole room went dark except for a familiar spotlight blazing down above my head. I walk to the front of the room and out the door, not daring to make eye contact with anyone, consumed with shame. I continue down the hallway of my elementary school alone, a ghost, not real, just wishing I could disappear.

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Double-Adoptee Vertigo: Receiving my Original Birth Certificate

I was born William Charles Barbuto. I only learn this the other day when, for the first time in my life, I see a copy of my original birth certificate. At first this is an exciting discovery. I share it with my paternal sister and maternal brothers. I reach out to my first mother. I don’t ask her why, after over two years in reunion, she hadn’t told me she had given me a name, but I do ask her why she chose William Charles. I wondered if I was named after a literary character, but no. As it turns out, my mother named me after the father of the family who took her in when she was pregnant, because they showed her kindness. I am touched. I know that not many people showed my mother kindness during her pregnancy with me. In fact, hardly anyone knew she was pregnant, only thought that she was away for the summer for a nannying gig. And those who did know largely left her to fend for herself, under the wing of Catholic Charities.

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Black Hole

“And what were the first two hours like after you were dropped off at the home of your new adopters?” my therapist asks.

Wait! Can I first tell you how painful it is not to remember? As if my life was erased by the callous indifference of those I depended on to remember, to hold me in mind and heart. But there is no one who holds me. I am falling, falling, and there is no bottom. There is no story. There is no me. There is only the falling.

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Ground Zero

After reading my previous post to my therapist, I feel mute, distant, disconnected. “I feel like we are now in the hour after she told you,” she says. “What that was like for you?”

Part of the challenge of writing my life into a coherent story is that there are so many gaps in my memory and so few people who were and remain consistent presences in my life whose memories I can lean on where mine fails. For instance, I have strong impressions of our adoptive mother, Mary Ann, telling my sister Robyn and me that she was giving us up and we were going to another family, but I do not recall what immediately followed.

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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.

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