“Ignore the man behind the curtain!” The Great and Powerful Oz bellowed as smoke and flames shot into the air around his enormous translucent head. This command struck sheer terror into my heart. Not Dorothy, though. She marched right over to that curtain and yanked it back, exposing the knobs and levers and fraud of a polished showman. She was far braver than I am.
Sometimes I worry that if I ask too many questions I’ll expose something ugly and raw that I would rather not know. I don’t agree with, “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” as national policy, but on a purely personal level I have used it more times than I would like to admit. I’m not proud of this cowardice, but I do own it.
I was raised in a family that kept secrets. As far as I know, I was the biggest secret of all. Nobody was supposed to know that I was adopted, least of all me. I might be scarred. I might be ruined. Or, worst of all, I might turn out like my birth mother, who was obviously incompetent or worse. She must have been, or she wouldn’t have found herself in a position to give up her baby. Me.
It took so many years and so much preparation to finally gain the courage to peek behind that curtain and ask, in so many words, “was I adopted?” It’s an easy question, really. Basically a yes or no would do. What I got in response was, “Would it matter?”
Yes. It matters. It matters that my entire personal history has been a lie. It matters that somewhere out in the world there are people with whom I share a genetic tie that, in spite of the lies and omissions of truth that began the day I was born, cannot be denied. Until my own child was born I had never laid eyes on anyone who was related to me by birth. I had never before seen myself in anyone else, and it was a strange experience indeed.
So, yes, it matters. I wish you had come out from behind that curtain years ago. I wish you would have trusted me with the truth of my existence. I would have loved you still.
November 29, 2013 at 12:29 pm
The raw honesty here is beautiful.
November 29, 2013 at 12:44 pm
Thank you Nancy.
November 29, 2013 at 3:26 pm
My mother killed herself when I was eight. My older sister said, and I believed, that she did it because I did not do my homework. I know that there is only so much you can tell an eight year old, but still…there came many points in the course of my maturity when some adult answers to some questions would have been nice. I appreciate the power of your voice.
November 29, 2013 at 3:54 pm
What a horrifying experience. I’m so sorry you went through that. I think that as adults we sometimes forget that children are entitled to the truth, albeit in a way they can understand. An adult should have discussed your mother’s death with you and assured you, in no uncertain terms, that it was not your fault.
November 29, 2013 at 4:03 pm
I guess they didn’t know what my other sister (she was also a child) told me, so I try not to blame them. But hearing that it wasn’t my fault, period, would have probably been best. It bothers me that so many adults don’t feel like children are entitled to any explanation at all. “It’s life, accept it.” I didn’t have many adults in my world willing to talk, for whatever their reasons. I had a much different relationship with my own children, better, I hope.
November 29, 2013 at 4:05 pm
Oh I do hope so. xo
November 29, 2013 at 5:30 pm
I love this blog post and I think we all need to have the courage to be like Dorothy and yank back the curtain. If I had, I would’ve known long ago about my mother keeping me from my father. Family secrets are always most painful for the one being “protected”. Be strong and know that you are here for a bright beautiful purpose! 🙂
November 29, 2013 at 5:47 pm
Thank you for your kind words. So many families have secrets meant to protect but I think they usually backfire.
November 29, 2013 at 9:51 pm
This is very powerful. I cannot fathom why anyone would think it appropriate to withhold such significant information from anyone, regardless of their age.
November 29, 2013 at 9:52 pm
It’s just the way things were done, I suppose. Frustrating, though.
November 29, 2013 at 10:38 pm
What a bad and sad choice they made to not tell you. Especially profound is your sentence about seeing yourself in your child.
November 30, 2013 at 7:26 am
There was no malice in it, but to this day the topic is taboo. It is sad.