My family moved around a lot, when I was a kid and the longest period of stability that I was to know until I was an adult was the four years that I spent in military school. We were like gypsies, always moving, never putting down roots. By the time that I was twenty-nine, I had lived in seven states, at least twenty-three different cities and gone to four different high schools. I had even lived in some of those cities multiple times over the years. That’s a lot of moving around.
When I was sixteen, my family moved back to Philadelphia, for the fourth time. I don’t remember why, exactly; maybe it was for me to have that long sought stability, maybe it was for me to go to college, or maybe it was just to indulge me. Who knows? I was just happy to be anywhere but Florida and even more importantly, for the first time since fourth grade, I now had my very own bedroom. It might not seem like much, but if you’ve never really had one, it’s a beautiful thing. The only thing that I needed in order for my happiness to be complete was for the moving van to arrive and for my motorcycle to be offloaded. It was spring and the days had been clear and warm; I couldn’t wait to go for a ride.
When that happy day arrived, I set about washing and waxing my baby, to get her ready for her inaugural ride through Philadelphia. As I was finishing up, one of the neighbors from across the street meandered over to introduce himself. As I saw him walking over, I took his measure and was struck with this uncanny sense of déjà vu. I knew this guy from somewhere, although where I didn’t know, His face was eerily familiar and I also felt something else; a vague sense of something wrong. I was instantly on guard.
The guy introduced himself as Michael and we shook hands. As we were talking, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d seen him before, that I knew him from somewhere. Michael looked so familiar and I don’t know what it was about him, but he made me feel very uncomfortable. We chatted for a bit and I told him that we had just moved up from Florida and that I would be starting college, in the fall. I really don’t remember any of the things that he said until he spoke the following words, “Steve, I haven’t been completely honest with you and there’s something important that I have to tell you.”
“Oh shit,” I thought, “I knew there was something wrong. This guy’s gay and he’s hitting on me. Why does this kind of shit always have to happen to me?”
I had no idea just how wrong I could be.
“I’m your brother, Michael,” he confessed. He then pointed back in the direction that he came from and said, “And over there is your sister, Sandy and your mother, Barbara.”
Holy shit! Yeah, I say that a lot.
Maybe I should have mentioned that I’m adopted. By my grandparents. Strange shit and an even stranger story. I’ll get around to telling it, one day.
“Holy shit!” I thought, my mind finally making the connections. “No wonder he looks so familiar, he looks just like me!” And he did. It was uncanny; we could almost have passed for twins. It also explained my uneasiness.
Michael went on to tell me that he hadn’t seen me since I was a toddler and that when the three of them had realized just who the new neighbors were, they had become very excited.
I did not share in their excitement.
How was it even remotely possible that we had moved across the street from these people? The odds had to be billions to one and yet, here it was. There is a special word that I save for occasions such as this one. It was a complete and total mindfuck.To say that I was less than thrilled, would be putting it mildly.
While I recovered from these thrilling revelations, Michael really opened up, telling me how he and Sandy had thought that they would never see me again and that they could hardly believe that it was really me. He told me that they hoped that we could get to know each other, that maybe we could be friends and perhaps, given enough time, we might even learn to be a family.
I looked into his eyes and I saw hope and I saw something else. I think I also saw fear, reflected back at me.
Just for the record, as mentioned above, I am adopted by my grandparents and the events surrounding my adoption literally tore my family apart. There are some serious skeletons, in the old family closet. The story is long, complicated and filled with tales of abuse, attempted murder, abandonment, neglect, foster care, kidnapping and lots of other fun, family activities. I won’t delve deeper into that, not now and not here. I don’t know why I was spared while Michael and Sandy were condemned to their lives, but I’d heard many stories about them, none of them good. Tales of alcoholism, addiction and worse, ran rampant throughout my family. They were said to be nothing but trouble and were not to be trusted.
My parents were never able to give me an adequate explanation as to why they chose just me. The best that I ever got from them was that Michael and Sandy had been exposed to the insanity for too long; they had seen too much and were themselves already exhibiting signs of mental instability. My parents went on to explain that they thought that I was young enough to still have a chance. Their reasoning has never sat well with me, nor has it ever made any sense whatsoever, but they also thought that my life was in extreme danger, at the time. I guess that in the end, they did the best they could and made the best choice they thought possible, when looking at a catalog of bad choices. And sometimes, if it smells like bullshit, that’s because it probably is.
In the end, I too, had nothing but bad choices. Although these people were related to me in a biological sense, they certainly weren’t my family; quite the opposite, they were complete strangers to me and I didn’t owe them anything. And what about my parents? What would they think? How would they feel? Wouldn’t they see this as treason, as the ultimate act of betrayal that it would be? What about me? What about what I was thinking or feeling or even what it was that I wanted? Did this complete and total stranger have any right to intrude upon my life?
I had already made my decision. I did what I thought was best at the time and now, more than thirty years later, I still think that I made the right choice, but for one short-lived moment of regret.
I’m sorry,” I said, “but I can’t.”
In that moment, in those five words, I saw all hope fade from Michael’s eyes, only to be replaced by a depth of unknown loss and sadness the likes of which I had never seen before and rarely since.
“I can’t do this,” I continued. “Not now and maybe not ever. Regardless of the past, this is my family and for better or for worse, this is the only life that I know. I would never do anything to harm my family, Michael. I’m sorry, I truly am.”
The expression that crossed his face has haunted me for years.
Michael started to say something else, but only a sigh escaped his lips as he turned to go. What it was that he wanted to say I will never know; perhaps I’m better off not knowing. It was pitiful, watching him walk away like that, head down, with his hands in his pockets, looking for all the world like a beaten dog. If he would have had a tail, it would have been between his legs as he scurried off. I can’t even begin to tell you how terrible that made he feel and yet, at the same time, I felt so relieved.
After a few minutes, I went back into my own house and told my parents what had happened. They totally freaked out, but calmed down after a bit and they asked me how this had made me feel. For a moment, I was shocked, because my parents had never before asked me how I had felt about anything. You see, in my family, emotion was seen as a sign of weakness; we didn’t have “feelings”. After recovering from my second shock of the day, I told them that I was more than a little freaked out, myself.
Things got a little weird, after that. You know, as if they weren’t weird enough already.
Michael, Sandy and Barbara would sit on their front steps (they lived in adjoining row homes) and just stare at our house. Talk about uncomfortable; I felt like I was being stalked and it was really, really creepy. We started to avoid the front of the house. We kept the shades and curtains drawn on the front windows. We started parking in the alley around back and using the back door, instead of the front one. No one in this house, it seemed, was willing to confront the ghosts of the past.
After a few months of this, my parents asked me if I wanted to move. I couldn’t say yes, fast enough. Hell, I would have gone back to Florida, if they had asked me to. My parents took a lease on this huge, luxury apartment, that was just incredible. They put the house on the market, taking a huge loss, when it sold, but they seemed as eager to get out of there as I was. They never said another word about it. With my parents, when something was over, it was over and you forgot all about it, unless it was something that you did to piss them off; they’d never shut up about stuff like that. I was in my late 30’s and my mother was still bitching about things that I did when I was twelve. Even worse, the woman has been dead for years and I still hear her bitching at me.
Family. What a strange and wonderful thing that can be and what a terrible and tormented thing it can be, as well. Originally, this post was going to be about family; about redemption, forgiveness and second chances, but as I started to write about those very things, the words just stopped flowing and I found myself thinking back to this story instead, but it still ties in. Family has to be more than just blood, or the flesh of my flesh and that of my once beloved. There has to be a bond, something that with the best of people, you feel right away; some sort of connection. You feel connected to your family and accept them as family. I felt no connection to those people; I felt nothing for them, other than pity. Well, they also made me feel pretty creeped out, too.
I thought that I had seen the last of Michael, Sandy and Barbara when we moved away, but little did I know that I would run into all three of them again, a decade later and a thousand miles away, but that’s yet another story.
I know that some of you will think that I was unnecessarily cruel, that day. Some of you will think that I made the wrong decision. All I can say is that time has proven my decision to be the correct one. I know that many people who are adopted long to find their birth parents, for whatever reason and that’s fine. For the life of me, I’ll never understand why someone would want to find the people that didn’t want them, but that’s just how I feel. I don’t judge, I just don’t understand. I’ve never met my biological father. Well, I have, but I haven’t seen him since I was seventeen months old, so I just don’t remember him, which is a good thing. I’ve unwillingly met the rest of my birth family; perhaps things might have worked out differently, if I’d been given a choice. Giving birth to a child doesn’t automatically make you a parent. It’s the people who raise you and love you that matter. That’s what being a parent is.
These many years later, I look back and I feel a little guilty, as I second guess myself. Was I too hasty? Should I have given Michael and Sandy a chance? After all, they had never done anything to me. They were innocent children at the time of my adoption and if anything, Sandy had tried to protect me from my birth parents. From the stories that my own parents told me, she was a hero. All that they were asking for was a chance to get to know their brother. Was I right? Was I wrong? I don’t know and I never will.
You’ll notice that I didn’t mention Barbara.
The last I’d heard, Sandy was living on the opposite side of the state from me and Michael fell off the face of the Earth years ago. We had some mutual friends and no one has ever heard from him; he just disappeared. If I wanted to and if he’s still alive, I’m sure that I could track him down, but I’ve never had the desire to look for him. I’ve also heard that Barbara is long in her grave and perhaps that is where this whole matter is best left, in its grave, with all of the other dead things.
Life is really strange, sometimes.
I had a few people proofread this story for me. I was looking for errors in spelling and grammar, as well as any issues with the story itself. Hopefully, everything has been corrected, but any mistakes are mine and mine alone, although I sometimes will intentionally use improper grammar. In the course of this proofreading, I was asked if this story was true and if we really did move across the street from my birth family. Here is what I have to say about this:
All of my stories are true. If I make something up, I will tell you in the story, but every word of these stories are true, unless otherwise noted. The events in this story really happened. We really moved directly across the street from my birth family. The odds against this happening have to be beyond calculation and yet it happened. As I said earlier, it was a complete and total mindfuck.
Questions, questions, I’m so full of freaking questions…
What do you think? Did I make the right choice? Would you have done something differently?
Are you adopted? Have you searched for your birth parents? Did you find them? How did that work out for you? Was it worth it?
Begging and pleading for attention…
As always, comments, questions, criticisms and insults are always welcome and encouraged.
Thanks, for reading and for coming back.