The first memory of your shame, though you didn’t realize it as such at the time, is of your mother. She looked old even then, in her forties, sitting in her nightdress next to you half-tucked into bed, massaging a medicinal lotion into your hands. It was a nightly ritual you were used to, something your seven-year-old self assumed all mothers did with their sons, although the sensations of this particular night are the first ones you remember because there was a twitchiness in her eyes. This made you uneasy, enough so that when your father also came in the room, holding your baby sister Annie, and stood leaning against your desk, you realized you’d almost been expecting this.

You know your father spoke first, and that there must have been quite a bit of talk, as they told you that you were adopted in that gentle, overwhelming way of theirs. There were reassurances, of love, of affection, of family. But you remember little of that. Mostly you recall the feel of the night: the moony glow of your blue bedside lamp, the grip of your mother’s hands milking your greasy fingers, the sound of your sister’s delicate fussing in her sleep, occasionally bobbing her soft, ineffectual fists.

You asked only one question: Was Annie too adopted? They said no, in a duet, followed by a short silence. In that quiet you remembered your mother’s pregnant belly, and that was your moment of realization, of decision: That there was them, and you.

That was the summer you learned to read, putting an end to the bedtime stories. You spent the hot days in your bedroom, lolling stickily on your bed, working through The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hardy Boys, all of Tolkien. And so when your mother took you to the second-grade classroom in the fall, when you realized that the adoption talk had been to prepare you for that separation, you were ready. And when that day at recess, playing your first game of Red Rover, Daisy, the pretty girl next to you, said “Ew” and snatched her hand away to wipe it against her red pinafore dress, you felt you should have known this would happen.
[Continued in Issue 123]