I'm adopted, but you couldn't tell by looking at me. I'm not entirely sure when I was informed of this little tidbit by my adoptive parents, but to their credit, it's something I was informed of early on.
(An ancient man hobbles his way to a podium. This man is my father. It is my birthday, my sixieth, and I consider it fortunate that's he still around to celebrate it with me. I look at my father lovingly, touched, that despite his old age, his goiter, and his bladder dysfunction, he's still going to say a few words, on this day, my birthday. He places his mouth next to the mike, causing feedback that is painful for all my gathered well-wishes to hear. He attempts again, his feeble limbs straining to support the weight of the mic, his voice, barely audibly even with the electronic amplication, croaks: "Son, I hate to tell you this, especially now, but you're adopted.")
I know precious little about my birth parents, and I should note, that being adopted provides with a sort of instant duality. You have your "birth parents" and your "adoptive parents." Let it be said that I love my adoptive parents dearly, but I've always been fascinated with my birth parents. I've been told that my birth parents were very young when they had me, and they were unmarried. Evidently my biological father was a musician of some sort (I'm hoping, against odds, that it's Joe Strummer.) but other than that, I know nothing.
Consequently, I've been left to embellish the details. If the topic of my adoption is broached the first question that I am usually asked is "How old I was when I was adopted?" The nugget I've been supplied with for an answer by Ma and Pa Benjamin is approximately eighteen months. I usually then tell the inquisitor that before I was adopted, I was simply known as "X-5."
X-5's early moments were defined by feeding tubes, research chambers, robotic nurses (not emotionally distant; but literally robots.) and a complete an utter lack of human contact.
Many serial killers happen to be adopted, and I assume they were probably raised in a similar vein. My ex-girlfriend frequently utilized a similar theory to rationalize my crappy boyfriend behavior. Usually, in a raised voice, she would declare that reason I was deficient in some manner was that I was bereft of nurturing as a lad in those crucial, formative moments, reducing me to a cold, heartless automaton.
"You need to be held. Babies need to be held! That's why you're so emotionally detached and so weird!" She would move in closer for a hug, and with a tear forming at my eye, I would whisper, into the nape of her neck:
"X-5 needs love too."
My adoption gave me a certain emotional currency that I was quick to exploit. In middle school, my parents were insistent that I receive some sort of spiritual guidance in the form of religious education. The end result was that I had to spend Saturday evenings at religious education classes. One Stephen Mallory taught these classes. He was a graduate student at the local university, and had desperately tried to pass himself off as some sort of "cool" teacher. The "cool" teacher is not an enemy or a square, you must understand, but merely and older friend who you can "rap" with. You know, about "stuff." Mal, as we had taken to calling him, had decided, because he was so cool, that we were allowed to swear when opening up to him. It should be noted that Whitney was in my class. Whitney was the object on my junior high affection. She had just recently shorn her hair in the style of Sinead O' Connor, and I thought that was super-hot. It should be also noted that I had not actually spoken to Whitney, and mistakenly believed that the method to impress a young woman was creepy, devoted, obsession. I felt the need to show off for Whitney's benefit.
As we were young teenagers, the subject of our parents eventually came up.
"Shit, Mal I got something to say about my parents."
I rolled up my shirtsleeve, ever the desperate outsider. "Oh yeah, what's that, Clint?"
"I don't even know my parents man, my real dad lost me in a poker game in Atlantic City. Shit."
My best friend, Rob, also in the class, broke into giggles at this absurdity, but Whitney remained nonplussed. Mal seemed exceedingly skeptical, but what could he say? I was adopted, my past was a blank slate, it certainly could have happened. I was adopted, and that meant, anything was possible.
My adoptive parents had decided to adopt when their own child, Robin, died as an infant. The rumor was that the cause of death was Reye's syndrome, although for obvious reasons, I never pressed for details. As a tot, my parents would speak about Robin in hushed, reverent tones.
"Today was Robin's birthday." Or "That was Robin's favorite's toy." I tried to give this subject as much distance as possible, but it creeped me out and made me feel somehow inferior. I was their child, and although I was sympathetic as much as a youngster could be, yet I was their son, and couldn't possibly measure up to this ghost child.
I convinced myself that I was a mistake. If my birth parents really loved me, they would have some way of keeping me, couldn't they? and it seemed that my adoptive parents were unable to look past their grief. As I grew to a teenager, my feelings hardened even further. If I talked about it at all, I theorized that I was lucky not to be an aborted fetus someplace. It seemed like little more than a flip of a coin had determined my fate. For some reason, I always envisioned my abandonment, and that's how I viewed it, as abandonment, was the result of my father. My birth father probably was not someone cool, but rather this smelly, longhaired hippie, who too stoned to be bothered to wear a condom or was too into "free love" and it did not matter. My mother, doubtlessly crushing on Pa at the Dead show, fell prey to his easy charms and a night of casual ecstasy ensued, resulting in little old me. My mother, pressured by her conservative, square parents, put me up for adoption. Occasionally, while working through these scenarios, I would conceive of revenge fantasies of a sort:
(Sounds of breaking glass. A handsome and wily youth enters through a now shattered palatial window.)
Clint: (brandishing cutlass): A-ha! it is you, you scoundrel! You filthy jackanapes!
OHT: (Old Hippie Type): What the-?
Clint: What the, indeed, you cad. Don't you recognize me-the fruit of your diseased loins? Have at you!
(Old Hippie Type is skewered by the rakishly handsome youngster. The youngster stands over the corpse, and expectorates in it's general direction.)
Realizing this crosses into quasi-Oepedial terriotory, I generally leave these concerns largely unspoken. Depsite this, I have given thought about finding my birth parents, because I want to know. I want to know something so basic and so often taken for granted. Did I inherit my ridiculously tiny hands from my mother? My beady eyes from my father? These are important questions and without knowing them, I feel incomplete. I decided to set about this by asking my adoptive parents for permission. I suppose, I was looking for a blessing. It did not go over too well.
"I'd like to find out who my birth parents are."
"What do you mean why? I would just like to know. It's good to know."
"Huh? What do you mean? You know. Medical history, that sorta stuff."
"Does that mean you don't love us?"
Admittedly, that was not the reaction I had wanted, or even expected, and I was stunned that they could feel that way. I had anticipated some sort of difficulty with a reunion with my birth parents, but never hangups from my adoptive parents. At first, I was angry and annoyed by this response. It seemed childish and irrational.
Dammit, I think I have some sort of right to know my origin. Spider-man knows how he got his powers after all. Despite their lack of encouragement, I decided to act anyway. I knew the adoption agency that handled the process for this little bundle of joy. They went by the name of Catholic Charities. I called.
"Yes, Hello. My name is Clint Benjamin, and I was adopted. Some time ago. So, I suppose I am in the business of finding my biological parents. Can you help me?"
"Let me get my supervisor. She handles cases like you."
Cases like me?
"Yes, can I help you?"
"Yes, my name is Clint. I'm trying to find out information about my biological parents."
"Oh my. I see. Well, I wish we could help you, but there's a new law in effect that limits the amount of information that I can give you."
"Hmmn. Okay. What sort of information can you give me?"
"Well, not much. In order to obtain the information you seek, you'll need form 21863-6 Mark-V."
"What? Well, uh, how do I obtain that?"
"You need to contact the state office in Albany, who will send you the proper request form. Once you fill that out, they will send you a form that you need to complete in triplicate, and then that will give you the proper authorization you need. In four to six weeks."
:"Yes indeed. You'll want to forward a check or money order for one-hundred and nine dollars with that."
I hate to admit that I was foiled in my efforts to find the people that conceived me by minor bureaucratic processes and administrative costs, but as I spoke to this Catholic Charities staffer, I came to the conclusion that maybe I didn't want to meet my biological parents anyway. Surely that was an encounter fraught with peril also. What exactly would I say?
Me: Hey there, How's it going? Glad to see you gave up on me.
Mom: Who the hell are you? Do I know you?
Me: Who am I? WHO AM I? I'm your son, mother. I have the forms in triplicate. You're the one.
Mom: Oh good heavens! That was a long time ago. A long time ago, and I was so young.
Me: Yeah, how about that? So, mom, can I have fifty bucks?
It was quite the conundrum. I assume that the decision made to put me up for adoption was not taken lightly, but these types of scenarios constantly ran through my mind.
So, at present, I've decided on a policy of indecision. Maybe not knowing is a solution. It does provide a glorious opportunity to spin outrageous exaggeration, and as I slip further and further into adulthood, the question of "Where do I come from?" seems to become less important than "Who am I right now?"
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