Wednesday, June 22, 2011

25 Years of Deception I

Painting by Alice Neel
              What is your stand on the truth? Do you think it is useless if all it can cause is pain? Or are you of the opinion that stark honesty is best - whatever the costs? After twenty-five years of digging around in the family closet, I’ve finally found the proverbial skeleton that I felt was there all along.

               I am adopted.

           When I was  a little girl I would sit in front of the mirror and try to discern whose features I had acquired. My (very) Filipino nose was certainly my mother’s, I thought. My cheekbones were hers as well. My eyes I could never place. They didn’t look like my mother’s eyes. They weren’t my father’s, either. I didn’t resemble him at all, really. But my suspicion that I was adopted didn’t stem from not looking like him. It didn’t  come from not looking like my siblings either because my brothers and I actually share some physical similarities. How is that possible, you wonder? It’s possible because we share 12.5% of our DNA.

            We are first cousins.

            As I was growing up my family would take trips to the Philippines – for vacation or if someone in the family died – and I would have these sporadic chances to spend time with my relatives. There were some people I wouldn’t readily admit a blood relation to, some cousins, some relatives by marriage… and then there were my mother’s two sisters. One of them looks like a chubby version of her. They look so alike, that when rifling through old photo albums, I would constantly get them confused with each other. Can you sense where this is going?

           Looking back on those trips now, I remember that everyone (family, neighbors, and village idiots alike) kind of looked at me oddly. My mother’s family is from a very small town where everyone knows each other’s business and the older you are and the longer you’ve lived there, the more of your neighbor’s business you know. I don’t know exactly what it was in there eyes that I detected, but I knew (even at eight years old) that it was something. Pity?

            ‘The poor dear, she has no idea.’

             I don’t know. But there was something in the way they looked at me that made me think they knew something I didn’t. Knew something about me that I didn’t. Can you imagine that?

            Years went by and the thought took a backseat to more pressing pubescent  concerns – boys, acne, Brad Renfro. But I would always be reminded of it when my mother would scold me for anything I had done wrong. She would say things that sounded so odd and non-sequitur to me that stand out in my mind to this day. If my father and I had a disagreement, she would say,

             “You should be thankful to your father for giving you your last name.”

            And I would think,

           'Well isn’t that generally what fathers do?' 

           Why did she have to point that out as if it were significant? Because it was.

            Aside from weird slips like that, hints were few and far between.

              Then my father died. 

          I was ripped from all that was familiar to me, disconnected from every tenuos connection I had managed to make, and transplanted to the Philippines with my mother. Her reason? She did not want to continue living in our house without my father. My brothers were all grown by this time and living away from us. (The youngest was in college in Hawaii at the time.) And so I went.

           We moved into my maternal grandparents' house, next door to the aunt who looks just like my mother. Right next door to the aunt whose sharp tongue all my relatives say I inherited.

             My doubts escalated. 

            (to be continued. I can’t write all of this in one go.)