I JUST KNEW I WAS ADOPTED

One of my first cousins on my dad’s side was adopted. Our families visited each other every few weeks; my aunt and uncle lived in a different city, but either they or we would make the drive on a Saturday or Sunday. We didn’t go anywhere when we visited – not out to dinner or to a store to shop or to a museum – we just went to visit. The parents would perk coffee and sit around the table and talk about all the important stuff and I would hang out with my cousin and her dogs and my sibs. Well, the dogs really belonged to my uncle; a mother and daughter French poodle duo. They yapped and jumped on you and were wonderful.  Sometimes my dad and uncle and another uncle, would watch football on Sunday afternoons together, while the aunts and my mom would talk in the kitchen with the coffee pot on the table. While my uncles were yelling at the teams on the television set, we kids would play with the two French poodles and hang out together.

My beautiful cousin had the most fabulous pair of white, lace-up, boot roller skates with quiet wheels – you know, the kind you wear at rinks. I had a great pair of skates, don’t get me wrong. They were the kind you attached to your shoes and tightened with a key. I won them in a radio contest for writing a good letter to Santa Claus. I didn’t even know there was a contest, but some official person must have liked my letter and I won! When my parents drove home with the prize, my brother and I took turns roller skating on the kitchen floor. What a thrill. My family had a bunch of skates in the basement and they all worked, but these were shiny and new without a speck of rust. I used them all the time, but my cousin’s skates were special. You wore them at a rink. I didn’t even know where there was a rink – certainly not in my town. Who went to a rink, anyway? Well, rich kids must have gone to a rink, rich kids and adopted kids. Anyway, these skates were really something, and my cousin and I wore the same shoe size so I could put them on and try them out in her house.

And it wasn’t just the skates. This same cousin went to this summer camp once that was like heaven. You didn’t sleep in some musty-smelling, hot and gunky canvas tent. Oh, no, you slept in one of the wonderful cabins with walls and nice bunk beds and you could pick the top bunk and climb up it and touch the ceiling. This camp had a trampoline. Who had a trampoline? Not the Girl Scout camp I went to once. Well, there was this one hotdog stand in town that had a trampoline and go-carts to drive, and you had to pay to use them. But that was it. Nuns ran this camp; my dad used to do some plumbing for them once in a while and I learned not too long ago that this one rocking chair I love and actually have in my home today was a gift to him by the nuns for helping them out. It wasn’t a new chair, but they just said to Dad that he could have it if he wanted. These nuns were nice and smiling and happy to see the kids and they let them jump on the trampoline.

Now my first cousin on my mom’s side was also adopted. Like my other cousin, he had his own room. And he had a dog, too. Being a boy, he probably didn’t want a pair of white boot roller skates, but he did own a full set of Dr. Seuss books. Can you imagine having your own set of Dr. Seuss books? I remember bringing home The Cat in the Hat from the library and my mom loved it and laughed when I read it. I never asked her to get me my own set of Dr. Seuss books; it never occurred to me. But when you’re an adopted, only child, things like that happen. The mailman did bring Highlights and Humpty Dumpty magazines when we were kids and that was great. I loved that we read the same magazines the dentist displayed on the table in his waiting room. And one time when I was in Kindergarten my mom bought me this book of holiday stories with fabulous illustrations, and I loved it. I found the exact same book when my kids were little and I bought it for them, too.

Now don’t get me wrong. I loved my sibs. My sister and I made doll clothes, and my younger brother and I played army in the back yard. My older brother and his friends would come over and sit around the kitchen table and once they helped me with my science experiment to make a volcano, but I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to add to the vinegar to create the “molten lava” erupt.  We tried sugar and flour and all kinds of stuff, and then finally we realized it was baking soda. My cousins from town would pop in all the time with my aunt, and we would play records and make music and sing and talk about good stuff, and one cousin always styled and “teased” my hair. Never, ever once did my older brother and sister and cousins shoo me and my younger brother away because we were the younger kids. Never.

So in my daily search for my Adoption Papers (I KNEW there must be something called “Adoption Papers”), I have to say that I never once wanted to negate my own sister and brothers.  Frankly, that just never occurred to me. Why would I want to do that? My thought process was simple; if I were adopted, I, too could have cool things like fancy roller skates and Dr. Seuss books and go to a camp with a trampoline and always wear really new clothes. So nearly every day I would enter my parents’ room and go in their closet, heading for the left side where there was the most marvelous and deep cubby space cut into the wall.  It was a perfect storage area for luggage. Scattered among the luggage was this one old red small suitcase, the kind with a little mirror inside and women can pack their toiletries in it. Come to think of it, I don’t remember anyone ever using this case, but I knew it was important. I was convinced my Adoption Papers were in there. In actuality, there was nothing in there but the mirror and a smooth,  silky-fabric lining with a gathered pocket, and space. I always checked in there, though, and in the other suitcases in the cubby hole because I knew that this would be the perfect place for Important Papers. My mom also had stashed a few little keepsakes like my big brother’s projects from Boy Scouts in the cubby, and I loved looking at those. I never found my Adoption Papers, but I always enjoyed the hunt. I t never occurred to me to look in other places, like under the bed or in the desk drawer, or even ask my mother where the papers were located. I had to find them for myself.

One day my mom found me in her closet, searching the cubby and the red little suitcase, and asked me what I was doing. “I’m looking for my Adoption Papers,” I told her. She went into my brothers’ room and gathered my younger brother and in one movement, set me and my brother next to each other in front of the full-sized mirror on the back of the door. “Don’t you see the resemblance? You LOOK LIKE YOUR BROTHER!” Then she left.

I wasn’t adopted? Was this true? My brother and I walked out of our parents’ room, not even stopping to tip up all the handles on their dressers so that they would make a great clicky sound when my parents touched them and flipped them back down again.

What a disappointment. After that day, I didn’t search so furiously anymore for my Adoption Papers. I didn’t tell anyone how sad I was, but I sure felt bad.

But wait a minute! I had heard the grownups say that lots of times parents don’t want to tell their kids they are adopted. The grownups said this makes the kid feel bad. I never knew why kids would feel bad when they found out they were adopted; that seemed silly to me. There was an orphanage in Hartford that we used to drive by on our way into the city for a special day out, and the orphanage looked nice. Those kids would know they were adopted; how could they not? One minute they would be living in a pretty orphanage in Hartford, and the next thing they would be adopted and living in a home somewhere with a family. The grown-ups couldn’t hide the adoption from these kids. And my two cousins knew they were adopted and they didn’t feel bad.

But perhaps my mom just worried that the truth would make me feel bad, just like they always said. It didn’t matter that I looked like my brother; she was just trying to make me feel good about my situation. That was it! So when I did search for my Adoption Papers, I made sure my mom was really busy downstairs, like when she made dinner, and my dad was at work. I planned it so when I found my papers, my parents wouldn’t know, and then the grown-ups wouldn’t have to talk about it when they drank coffee at our house or my uncle’s house on the weekends. When I found my Adoption Papers in the pretty little red suitcase in the cubby in my parents’ closet, then I would get my very own set of Dr. Seuss books, and  I could go roller skating at the rink with brand new white boot skates, and my sister and brothers and cousins could all skate, too. That would be a blast.

Kathy Galgano

October 22, 2013

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