Empty Cereal Box

Views From Inside an Adoptee

April 03, 2006

My Story, Part 4-Finding my Family

This is a photo of work by artist H.R. Giger. I mention him toward the end of this post.

I thought I'd be a smartass and customize my Blogger template today, but I see I'm not as sharp with css as I thought, so I had to re-do my blog and lost all the comments. Rats! But I should be used to losing the past by now, heh, heh.

Anyway, back before I had Windows, when I used Unix as my browser, I found Jeff Hartung's adoptee list from UC San Diego. From that list I found a search angel who helped me find a few names for me in Bakersfield, where I was born. She said she thought my mother was still alive. Unfortunatly I didn't have enough money to send to her for her to continue. So a long time went by, then I got the idea to go search the Kern County Hall of Records myself. From there I found my mother's name and grandparent names on her marriage certificate.

In the hotel where R and I stayed that night, I stood in front of the wardrobe mirror and I heard a voice in my head say, "Your mother is dead. She died of breast cancer." But I kept searching the next day anyway. I found an obiturary of her husband's, but her name wasn't mentioned? Had she died first? Or had they gotten a divorce? I looked up his last name in the phone book and luckily there was only one such name in it. I phoned the number and found out I'd reached his nephew. Long story short, his uncle had died after he and my mother had divorced. That explained why she wasn't mentioned. The nephew had only been about thirteen at the time of the divorce, but remembered my mother a little. He remembered her with her small daughter, which would have been my half sister, born five years before me. He said he'd heard my mother had died years ago of breast cancer (!) there in Bakersfield, but that she'd remarried and had a couple of children with another man. I already "knew" she had died of breast cancer, so I was prepared for his bad news. But at least now I knew I had other siblings roaming around somewhere. The problem was, records don't cross-reference women's names when they remarry, so I was back at a dead end. I didn't even know what cemetery she would have been buried in.

I felt so bad that when we were driving home and R got out to go into a store to buy something to drink, I sat there in the car and cried my eyes out. I thought my entire being was going to fall out onto the floor of the car like a jellyfish, that my insides were turning outside and that I was going to just disappear. I called out to my mother and asked her why she gave me up. I cried out to her begging her to tell me where she was now. I know people saw me having my breakdown there in the parking lot, but I didn't care. I couldn't hold it in any more. I felt as if the whole universe was folding inward. I managed to collect myself before R got back, though, and hid my absolute sense of loss, grief, and betrayal.

I didn't know what to do anymore. There was no one else to ask. California seals all records, even medical. Everyone who might help was either dead or lost to me. Finally in an act of desperation, I wrote to Sacramento (capital of California) seeking what was legally mine: my non-identifying information. A few weeks later I got a letter back telling me that no records of my birth existed in California. That I'd been adopted in Wyoming. I had no idea. But it turns out that that's the best thing that could have happened. After a lot of trials and errors, I got ahold of the right county in Wyoming and disovered that, unlike California, Wyoming courts will assign confidential intermediaries to adoptees who request them to search and connect those who wish to be found.
Now I felt like I was finally getting somewhere.

After I got all the paperwork done, my CI got to work and a month later she phone me and asked me if I was sitting down. I said I was, and she said, "Good, because I found your birth aunt. And she has indicated she would like contact with you." I couldn't believe my ears. I felt like something horrible and dark had melted away right beneath the most bruised part of my heart. I thanked her with all I had, hung up, then sat and stared at the phone. My hands got sweaty, my heart raced. I wondered what I'd done. Too late now. With shaking hands I phoned the number my CI gave me and a woman answered on the other end. My aunt. A real, honest to goodness blood relative that I'd yearned to hear/see/touch all my life. We both introduced each other and I began to cry. I couldn't wait to meet her. R and I drove back to Bakersfield where she was, and when I knocked on her door and saw her face for the first time, I felt like I'd come home. She could have been an older version of myself. Eyes, face, height, body type, even our laughter was the same. I held her in my arms like I never wanted to let go. We hugged and sat close on the couch as she showed me family photos and related things she knew about our family. Nothing was known of my father, not even his name.

I had two half sisters and a half brother. She told me so much that I can't relate it all here. But she also told me that she herself had breast, lung, and brain cancer. That after one of her surgeries, the hospital had neglected her so badly that her left leg had gotten gangrene, and had to amputate it, so she had a prosthetic leg that hurt her because it didn't fit right. It hurt me so much to learn all of this, but I wouldn't trade anything she told me for the thankfulness I felt for finding her. I had another aunt, an uncle, cousins, nieces and nephews. I had a family. She gave me all their phone numbers, email and physical addresses so I could contact them.

Unfortunately, I was so naive, I didn't know that my existence wouldn't matter a whit to them. I was like a fleeting curioisity when they learned about me..."Oh, yeah, B had another kid we never knew about. No surprsie there." That was the general, unspoken response. Only my aunt knew of my existence and seemed genuinely happy to find me. My grandfather had died in the early 1950s and my grandmother died after my mother did in the late 1970s. The one valuable thing I got from my uncle was a copy of my mother's side of the family geneology. That, for me, was my only prize. A document that proved I had a heritage, even if my name was nowhere in it.

My aunt died eight months after I found her. I feel grateful that I found her and got to see, hear, touch her for those precious eight months. I really don't plan on the rest of my birth relatives accepting me. Too much time has gone by. No relationship, no history, nothing to talk about. I would have loved to have sisters and a brother, but that's not supposed to happen. Even my uncle, who is a staunch Republican, has dropped me because I'm not.

So I must content myself with my own little family (at least I have that) and my book of names and dates and places that records my family history (without me). One interesting thing I learned is that my ancestors go back at least to the 1600s in Switzerland until the 1800s when my mother's great grandparents moved to the Black Forest in Germany. (The link provies a lovely bird's eye video of central Switzerland and Lake Lucerne, where my family came from.) They changed their last name, Giger, to the German spelling Geiger. As an adoptee, I fantasize about being related to Swiss-born H.R. Giger, who is one of the strangest artists the world has ever known. Maybe that would explain my extraordinary sense of being alien and my own sometimes unmanageable strangeness.


Blogger Kippa Herring said...

I thought I was ready to be saddened on your behalf, but I wasn't prepared enough.
But I'm glad you found, even if what you found wasn't what you'd hoped for. And especially that you were at least able to know your aunt before she died.

Blogger Marie Jarrell said...

Thank you for your comment. Yes, at least I got to know my aunt just a little. Still, it feels like a dream that got cut short before it felt complete. And there are adoptees who search for years and years and never find...that is an open wound into infinity....

Blogger kim.kim said...

I thought your blog had gone, I linked one of your posts. You write so beautifully. I'm so sorry about your Aunt being gone and that you didn't get to meet your mother.

Blogger Rhonda said...

I'm sad for you and can relate to finding a grave at the end of a search. I know you are grateful for the time with your aunt and I am thankful hearing you received some tangible information.

I also understand the disappointment of realizing that, to extended family, we are sometimes not much more than a curiosity. "No history, nothing to talk about," you said. That was so true for me too.

Blogger Kippa Herring said...

Hey, that H.R. Giger photograph is wonderful.
It's ferns, isn't it?
But it looks almost industrial.

Blogger Kippa Herring said...

On second thoughts, maybe it isn't ferns.
What is it?

Blogger Mia said...

This is a touching post. It hits home for me.

My siblings (other than my sister) do not want anything to do with me either. It's difficult, I understand!!!

I find it confusing that one would not want to know their sibling. I can't imagine feeling that way.

Tech question: I wanted to change the look of my blog too. If I choose another template will I loose everything?

Blogger Rhonda said...

I have a sister who knows I exist and wants nothing to do with me. We've never spoken or met. I haven't talked to my three brothers in years. It's confusing to me, too.

Mia: If you choose another template, you'll lose your sidebar links and any other add-ons you have, but not your posts.

Blogger Marie Jarrell said...

kippa-do you have a blog? i couldn't find you. anyway, i don't know where the thumbnail of giger came from and don't know what it is, but if you visit the link in my post to his site you can see some of his other work. he does a lot of strange, alien, necro-industrial stuff. he's very dark and otherworldly. i think a lot of people relate to him. it's odd and fun to pretend i might be related...hey, my giger name goes back to the 1600s in Switzerland...may-be..?

rhonda-what is it with these sibs who don't want us? it's being rejected all over again. how do you deal with it?

kim-thanks for your compliment. and thanks for your visit. i'm headed to your blog now, and those of the other wonderful folks here.

Blogger cloudscome said...

I am heartbroken by your story. But so glad you found your aunt. That Wyoming program sounds good! Maybe your sibs will have a change of heart someday, before it's too late?

Blogger Kippa Herring said...

I don't have a blog. Mainly because if I did, I wouldn't know what to say (hard to believe, I know, given my propensity for gabbing. But it's true)
But the low-down (pun intended) on me is that I'm a bio mother and an adoptive mother, both.

Giger. Thanks for that. I followed the link. It's amazing stuff. I actually remember the Deb. Harry cover!
I showed the site to our youngest who's very much into that kind of thing, and he knew about Giger's work - in fact he said he'd written a short essay about him last year.
But (apart from the cover) it's all new and wonderful to me.

Blogger Marie Jarrell said...

Kippa-wish you did have a blog. You have some great insights. Yeah, Giger is really popular with teens and twenty-somethings. I think it's about rebellion and strangeness. I can relate to that. I'm a freakin' militant bastardette myself.

Mia, Rhonda, Cloudscome--I tried but I can't. I can't put myself in a sib's place who shows no interest in a newfound lost sib. Guess I'm too close to being a reject to be objective.

Blogger Gwendolyn C. Natusch said...

Cereal Box...

I seem unable to use the empty bit in your posting name...I think that language is a powerful thing. I think language that we use internally is even more powerful. Reunions...and losses...misfires...misconnections...bad connections...disapointing connections...lost connections...lost years...lost lives...these we can count endlessly...I found...found all of them...only to feel that time, place, distance, truth, infinite personal need on the part of most involved...kept that inner fairy tale of mine from ever coming even slightly close to realization...that ghost kingdom rising to the surface again which Betty Jean Lifton writes so eloquently about. What, to me, is so beautiful about your writing in this post is that you speak of your grief. To me the reunion experience has more than one purpose...the most important being that we are reunited with the truth in ourselves and that we meet the lost weeping soul part that was so deeply wounded. It rises to the surface and spills forth...this is a healing indeed. Clarissa Pinkola Estes would say that we are made more beautiful by the scars from our lives...they are the marks upon us which show our character. Nothing takes the pain of this adoption journey away...not one thing...but there is a way through it as we reclaim ourselves and re-unify ourselves. We are not empty...never empty...we may need to empty the box that is full of sorrow...to make room for some other exotic part of ourselves dusted with hope, passion, and a new vision of ourselves to fill it up. What is your cereal box full of? Somewhere in there there is this marvelous woman who is passionate, wise, and full of words that speak truthfully, authentically, and touch so many here.


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