An excerpt from my coming memoir: "Somebody's Baby"
“How tragically ironic that all my worldly possessions, memoirs and keepsakes from my adopted life would burn to ash on the property of my birth parent.”
Smoke snakes, and mounds of ash hiss and crackle as they smolder my memories toward the sky. Grey wafting ghosts reek nauseous fumes, transformations of my most precious keepsakes. The mingled odor of melted insulation, the stench of deconstructed plastic appliances, molten metal, charred wooden furniture, consumed clothing, incinerated pictures and paper… lots and lots of pictures and paper. This is the smell of my life gone up in flames. My chest aches, nostrils burn, but the heart still beats, the blood still runs, the brain still throbs. I am still here – deconstructed. I feel dead, but the me I know is still alive, and she cries out with the insolence of an infant birthed into a new and foreign world.
At this moment memories bring no consolation as they will in a few months’ time. Today they barrage this soul with a ship’s list of losses. Right now I just want to wake up. The gray sky hangs like a wet blanket dripping a mocking mist. Mother Nature wins again, first fire and then rain as I step up and into what was just yesterday my new little home.
I had come to this place to write my book – the story of my life as an adopted child. To tell the tales of the life of the adoptee, how adoption makes us who we are, how it guides the life we live, the roles we play, the choices we make, the people we become. But it wouldn’t end there, it would also tell the tale of the transformation reunion experience brings – the wild scary and thrilling ride laden with true and life-altering consequences… when the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, when the sphinx rises from the ashes.
“I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end. I’ve seen hopeless times when I could not find a friend. But I always thought I’d see you again,” James Taylor’s lyrics lick at my brain and the irony of the words knife this adoptee’s psyche. These were the lyrics I had timed to the video I placed on YouTube. The one with 100k plus views of me driving down a country lane to meet the man DNA and my birth mother confirmed was my biological father. That had been three years ago, that lane lingers less than 100 yards from where I stand today. At the time the song held a different kind of significance.
I swallow hard and push the last three years back into place. To not think just now of how I got to this moment standing here on my birth father’s property, watching the writer’s retreat he had set aside for me go down in flames within two months’ time of my moving in.
Right now my mind races back to all of my life that came before. It races down the dark corridors of my brain trying all the doors, hoping to gather and scavenge every memory locked away behind them. You see the mementos – those precious keys that turned the doorknobs to my memories, were gone. Now it was all on me to not forget the long journey lived leading up to my reunion. How tragically ironic that all my worldly possessions, memoirs and keepsakes from my adopted life would burn to ash on the property of my birth parent.
I balance on the beams that once held the floorboards of the cabin. A large pile alight in the corner, where the living room used to be, still consumes. Gluttonous flame licks up the morsels of my life like a fat hungry bastard that doesn’t know when enough is enough. He is devouring a buffet of albums and journals that held the stories of births and birthday parties and holiday feasts, summer vacations, lost loves, poetry, and family — all the stories. Digestion includes the bubbling and melting of pictures dating back ten decades. He belches 30 years of writing to the sky — chewed between his black gums, devoured faster than I had put them on paper.
But I can’t think about all that now – about how much is taken – as hot, fast and unpredictable as lightening. I know why I am here, what I have to save right now while there is still hope and time. Before it rains any harder and washes her away or buries her for good. Mommy – well Mommy’s urn, my adoptive mother’s urn, I am going to find her, I have not a shred of doubt.
I am not sure what to do next, but I know what I won’t do. I won’t let my mother burn twice and then be bull dozed into a junk pile and hauled to a dump with the rest of my life’s remains. That I know I won’t do. Therefore, the search of the steaming structure begins with the cold emotionless eyes of a crime scene detective. Just the facts mam. Now where was your mother last seen?
The beam creaks as I balance along it. Over there is where the curio cabinet stood, so she could be there. A large sheet of metal from the roof lays strewn and twisted to my right. It spreads across several charred beams, and I hope it will hold my weight. Testing it carefully with my foot, it teeters and moans but I think it will do.
With one foot placed onto the metal sheet, I slowly inch to the spot I hope to find her. Yes it holds me, and it is right here in this general area where she should be. I expect to find some chards of porcelain that resemble the urn but hope for something more. I realize I did not even bring gloves or a shovel or anything. Here I am in flip flops and now my only pair of jeans, well actually the only clothes I own, and I didn’t even think about what I was going to dig with? ‘Who knew you’d have to dig?’ I mutter. “Who cares if a nail injects your foot with tetanus, who the fuck cares? … Its ok, you can do this. Yes that metal spoon will do. I can dig with this spoon.”
I crouch down, squatting like an Indian, and begin to use the twisted instrument as an archaeologist would, very gently prying into the grey and black ash that has turned to a mud-like consistency; I suppose resulting from both the water used by the firemen the day before and the steady mist that has fallen all morning. Scrape, nothing. Scrape, nothing. Then, a sudden and specific “tink.” My heart leaps and I scrape faster and then eagerly use my fingers to wipe away what is truly the smooth surface of something.
Could it really be her? Then I see them – the seagulls. We had put her in an aqua urn adorned with three seagulls upon it, one for her and the other two for me and my daughter. Who knew the urn was actually made of brass. “What fucking luck!” it is brass and intact, and I can see the faint outline of the birds on the charred face of it.
“I’ve got you! See, I knew I’d find you. Thank you, thank you.” Then I see it, a small gold handle peeps out of the mud just off to the side a few inches away. “No, no way in hell?” It is her favorite double-ended brass drinking jigger. Only my mother would try to lighten such a difficult moment as this. Like she is saying ‘I may go down with the house but not without my favorite jigger I won’t.’ But Mommy and her affinity for cocktail hour is a whole other story.
Feeling relief and a bit more relaxed, I continue to focus on the mission at hand – get her out of this predicament. But as I try to get at it in a way to pull it out, it is stuck, sunk into the muck and just as I pry a bit harder, she disappears with a heavy thud as the muddy pile transforms into a dark hole. What the hell just happened?
I know but am afraid to look. I do and can see it’s what I thought. The burned floorboard gave way and she dropped, at least a good two feet down to the ground beneath the frame of the house. With a deep breath, I gather the courage to look into the hole praying to God I won’t see the urn upside down or find it empty, or witness her white ash soaking like baby powder into the earth.
Peering into the abyss through which it fell, I am speechless. The urn sits upright but the top is lost, and I am eye to eye with my mother’s pure white cremains. I see no grey or black ash and can think it is nothing short of a miracle that the top has come off, but she’s landed upright and no other ashes have soiled her.
To reach her I must lay on my stomach, head-to-toe immersion into this hell at my knees. And it is in this moment a sense of surrender leads me to spread my limbs to evenly distribute my weight across the metal panels of what was once the roof, and I let go and give in and reach face first into this ghastly bed.
I lay flat and tense, and search blindly with my right hand as far as possible to the point I am holding my breath to keep from inhaling ash. My shoulder can go no farther and then, like Poo bear fumbling for his honey pot, my fingers hook along the rim. The mouth of the urn seems to gulp at the cup of my fingers. “I’ve got you… I’ve got you…” I gasp. “We are doing this..” And then she is up, and I am up and standing holding her open urn to my chest.
The pure white color and small bone fragments take my breath and belay my fears that she too would go down with this mess. I am reminded that all earthly things are temporary. I will go on and she will be with me. Pulling her urn to my core, balancing as I step carefully out of my own little ground zero, I hit the steady earth with both knees and simultaneously feel the mist turn to heavy drops.
And then, I cry. Heavy thunderous sobs pour out as I place her in a black trash bag and seal it from the world. For a moment I want to crawl inside that bag with her. The act of saving her ashes from the ashes was just too much to ask of any one. Then I hear her – ‘you my darling still have so much life left.’ A sense of accomplishment mixes with a tremendous sadness and a touch of relief – in at least this small symbolic feat I have claimed a victory against that which has taken so much. And my mother is ready to prod me along wherever I dare to take her.
~ “Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland I am this: Reunited Adoptee/Daughter, Inspired Writer/Author, Wanna Be Yogi/Techie, Advocating Adoption Reform/Komen 3-Day 60 Mile Walker, Hungry Organic/Optimist, Lover of Coffee/Wine/Cheese, that’s me.