Sunday, June 04, 2006

Exorcising a ghost

I often forget birthdays. No-one’s is ‘safe’ for me to remember, except maybe for three of the kids who were thoughtful enough to be born within four weeks of each other, and between that and their incessant reminders – so far I haven’t missed any. But everyone else’s, including mine own, can too easily be forgotten as I realise too late that the weeks rush past.

So why then, do I remember hers is today? In fact I know last year it played on my mind so much, it was a prompt to begin blogging in some hope of putting her ghost to rest. Some years I wonder if I would remember her birthday, if she was still alive. I can’t even remember her exact death date, though I know it was the first Tuesday of January when I was pregnant with P. He’s eight this year.

And though I was upset at the time, I’m glad she’s gone.

She wanted more than I could give. When you’re adopted, you’re told to be careful when searching for birth mothers, as a lot of them aren’t necessarily thrilled when you get in touch. It's what I expected, but not what I got.

My quest to know where I had arrived from began when I was twelve. I was in a restaurant with my parents on a boarding school exeat, when I told them I wanted to change my name. With some daft belief that they might take me seriously, I had just informed them I was now to be known as Michelle. My mother burst into tears and ran from the table whilst I was left with my father shouting at me about what a stupid girl I was.

Turned out Michelle was my first name, the one she’d given me.

I could describe the years of teenage moodiness and try blaming them on her, but in truth, I never much cared that I’m adopted. I’m of the belief it takes a darn sight more than giving birth to make you a mother, and my adopted mom feels like my mom, and though my curiosity demanded I find the woman who had given birth to me, I didn’t particularly want an ongoing relationship with this stranger as I felt no real loss or void in my life. Though I also can’t deny I imagined some romantic scenario or two, where I would find some noble reason as to why I had been cast aside with the possibility of a fairytale ending.

For several reasons asking my parents about her was difficult, and even when I dared, their answers proved fruitless for any definite facts. So I considered going to the adoption services and asking if she’d been in touch, wanting to know how I was. But that was tricky too, as firstly if the birth mother didn’t want anything to do with her child – I had no recourse! All the answers I wanted depended solely upon her whim and I wasn’t in the mood for that, and then the next step was even harder. If the birth mother agreed to meet with me and talk, the adoption agency would first want my parents and I to go through counselling to make sure it didn’t have a detrimental affects on us. Ha. Detrimental would have been an under-statement, it would have destroyed my father. And then there’s the age thing, I wasn’t yet eighteen.

So armed with knowing where I was born and knowing I’d been given Michelle as a first name, I hit the Birth, Deaths & Marriages register. It should have been impossible I suppose. But it wasn’t. When I left after just one day of work I knew my full name, and more importantly, her name. Of course it was no great surprise to find I didn’t have a father.

It was a couple of years before I dared to act but my first call, some two years later, was at the address she’d given. Unfortunately no-one was home, but luck was on my side as it was a row of terraces complete with nosy neighbours. She hadn’t lived there for over fifteen years, and all they could say was her father had been a Headmaster who then became a social worker.

Just finding this sliver of information carried me until I turned twenty-one. And anyway, it had taken me some time to figure out what i could do next. I went through every phone book for the UK and copied out every phone number listed with her then surname.

I remember sitting at the dining room table with the pages of numbers in front of me, daunted by the length and wondering how on earth I was going to find the needle in the haystack. Figured I’d start at the bottom, had to be last as life likes to be a bitch and watch you pull your bloody hair out before letting you get to where you want.

On the third call I spoke with a girl who thought I might be trying to find her aunt, but she was young and couldn’t tell me this woman’s number or married surname. But her Gran was due any minute and I she said to call back in half an hour.

That was scary as it was the old woman who answered the phone, and she wasn’t giving out her daughter’s details without knowing who she was speaking with. I’m not a good liar, but even I can surprise myself sometimes and I spun her a line about living in their old road and going to school with her. It worked and the old woman gave me her contact details.

Then I did nothing for two months.

It was 14th February and when after a few questions, I said it was Michelle calling. She dropped the phone and began screaming. I could hear her running from the room and shouting at someone that it was her baby on the phone.

It was awful. She was so happy, so pleased I had found her. She was so sorry, and she’d never stopped thinking about me. Fate had been cruel and she couldn’t have more children, she waited for me.

But I didn’t want her and some huge emotional outpouring. But I also couldn’t tell her that.

At first I played along. We met and I stayed with her. I got my answers. No fairy-tale, just boring and sordid from a woman who had once been a silly teenager with some daft notion of taking another woman’s husband.

And the guilt. She felt so guilty. I can’t tell you how many times I tried to tell her it was all okay, I wasn’t angry or resentful at her for her decisions and there was nothing to feel guilty over.

But she never shut up, always the same going over and over why she’d done it. How it wasn’t her fault. In fact it was everyone’s fault but hers. I listened as she said it was her father who taken me, it was his fault, but her mother had let him, so it was her fault, then there was the drunk Granny screaming ‘Get that bastard out of this house!’. But ultimately, it was his fault, the man she’d loved. He’d said he’d left his wife and kids, and she wasn’t the only woman to believe him, oh-no his secretary had also been left holding a baby when he’d returned to Europe to spend Christmas with his family.

And he’d made himself quite clear by taking everything when he went. And I mean everything, she didn’t even have a picture of him. Still, I got his name.

For a couple of years I managed to make her happy while keeping her at arms length, but I could never be sure how carried away she’d get and had to lie about where I was getting married for fear she’d show up and cause a scene. Because there was one small detail I haven’t mentioned, she was a drunk. I didn’t actually realise it at the time, at the time I figured she felt less guilty when she had a drink before calling me, and maybe that’s why she was always getting hysterical and teary. But it was only after she’d died that her husband told me she’d been reliant on alcohol since before I was born. Though chances are, the existence of me made it worse.

During the last six months of her life we didn’t talk as often, this was after we’d had a row the summer before. She kept calling R her grandson, and I kept asking her not to. In the end I lost my temper and reminded her what giving up a baby meant. She asked why we stayed in touch if that was how I felt, and I told her it was because she had managed to make me feel guilty for not caring enough, and because of that guilt I stayed in the hope of alleviating hers.

Things were never the same. We kept in touch and she knew about me being pregnant with P, I remember like my father, she hoped P was going to a girl; but she didn’t really talk anymore. I suppose she’d given up. She drunk herself to death. Her husband told me she knew what was happening to her body but carried on ignoring the doctors advice. She didn’t tell anyone, and swore her husband to secrecy. It was a shock to her family as well.

Her husband was good to me in retrospect, and I’ve always supposed she didn’t tell him about our row as I imagine he would have been angry with me for hurting her so.

Over the years I’ve swung back a forth about how I feel about her. We were different, too different to ever be friends. And I never felt any connection, in fact she irritated me a lot. But my guilt has stayed strong. I meant everything to her, and all I wanted was some answers from her. As a baby I ruined her life once, and finding her again just seemed to cause fresh wounds. I figure I pretty much killed her.

And when I’m not feeling guilty, I’m glad. Not for her death, I never wanted that, but that’s she gone and I don’t have to deal with her anymore. But then her birthday arrives and I feel bad, like she should be here so I could send her a card or something. Ironic really, as I bet she felt like that on many of my birthdays too.

Today and she would have been fifty-eight.

P.S. I've never told this story in full before, and I'm not yet sure I feel better for it. And having just read it though, bet you're thinking you wish you hadn't stopped by! Turns out I'm at least glad this one's finally written :o)


Blogger Southern Sweetheart said...

Sweet lady, I cannot begin to tell you how much reading this means to me. You have shared a portion of your life story with us that took much inner soul searching and I am certain that it wasn't an easy task to do. I wasn't adopted but I can relate to much of what you've written here. Maybe one day I'll be able to share the similarities. As for you and your birth mother - she was just that - simply a "birth mother" and as you said it takes more than giving birth to make a mother. At least you had the chance to know her and haven't had to live your life wondering many of the questions and "what ifs" - even if she wasn't someone you wanted to be friends with for eternity. You are special and unique and I'm quite certain you yourself are a wonderful mother. Thank you for sharing such an insightful post.

Sunday, June 04, 2006 6:20:00 pm  
Blogger rdl said...

Jona, I'm glad you wrote it; i think it needed to be. Thanks for sharing.

Monday, June 05, 2006 1:05:00 am  
Blogger Who is this Dave? said...

Thank you so much for sharing that. He have nothing to feel guilty for, but if you feel the need for absolution, you have it.

Monday, June 05, 2006 6:22:00 am  
Blogger Sam said...

That is such a sweet story, really!! My best friend (a Jenny, like me) went looking for her real mother and found the village prostitute. She'd actually kept four of her kids and given three away, including Jenny. Jenny always told me she was glad she'd found her mother so she could stop living in a fairytale world, come back to earth and appreciate the parents who'd adopted her.
But one thing you probably already know - alcoholism is hereditary and often skips a generation. My father in law was an alcoholic so I tell my kids not to drink - period, and tried to educate them about alcohol (my sister is a councellor for alcoholics and drug addicts, so she's been very helpful there)
My sister's husband was adopted and wants to find out everything he can only for medical reasons - he's worried about hereditary illnesses he can pass onto his kids - but so far he's been unable to dig up anything.

I don't think you should feel the least bit guilty, on the contrary - you probably made your real mother extremely happy that you took the time to find her. You can't reason with alcoholics - and believe me - their memories and reactions are unreliable. They are terribly mainipulative and can find a person's weakness and exploit it. My father in law was master at making his family believe it was their fault he drank.
Anyhow, you followed your heart and that's what anyone should do.

Monday, June 05, 2006 8:09:00 am  
Blogger Karen said...

We all have had someone in our life like that and I'm sure she feels bad now knowing how much she troubled you when she was alive and would want a second chance. Writing is good for the soul and I am not sorry I stopped by. Thanks for sharing that, I know it couldn't have been easy.

Monday, June 05, 2006 1:15:00 pm  
Blogger Dorothy said...

Oh my goodness, you poor sweet thing. Oh, how I can relate. Many ways. I finally found my father, after more than fifty years. Actually, his wife is preventing us from making contact. Someone had found me over the internet...a cousin who was doing a genealogy thingee and he was surprised to find me as he knew that my father had a daughter when he was younger, but where she went, he didn't know. I met my aunt and she's the sweetest thing. I met an uncle, too, salt of the earth. I just wish I could get off this computer and go see them more often. But, I know what you went through. I wasn't adopted, but I never knew my father and although he's in his seventies and in ill health, it is my wish and dream to see him in person. But, after I got over the initial wonderment of it all, would I eventually tell him off for leaving me? Who knows. Ghosts of the past. You're sure right about that. But, you know, Lentula, you really made some headway. I found that the older I get, the more I search for who I was and who I am today. I think it's a getting older thing. It's like i want to tie up things or to find out things that I never thought about before. God love you, Lentula, opening up is good for the soul. Now, at least you know. ;o)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006 12:52:00 am  
Blogger Amanda Matilda said...

That was beautifully written, beautifully told. What a story. How spooky that you knew on some level your name was Michelle.
Please don't think that you killed her, or even contributed to her death. She was an adult; she made her own decisions. If she couldn't/wouldn't save herself, you certainly wouldn't have been able to. You gave her the opportunity she so wanted--the rest was up to her.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006 5:37:00 am  
Blogger MarkD60 said...

When I was in the Navy, my sister had a baby and put it up for adoption.
Nobody ever told me about it until years after the fact, I was half a world away. Now my sister talks about trying to find the child.
So far, it's my parents only grandchild.
I'm glad you let us read this.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006 1:11:00 pm  
Blogger g said...

Yes you wrote that story over many years, from boarding school to the present. It was well presented here. Thank you for putting it out. It felt like a thank you of sorts to your birth Mom. Or maybe a soft goodby. She's gone.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006 2:01:00 am  

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