Chapter 1: The BastardJanuary 23, 2013
What’s your story, bastard? ~Tyrion Lannister to Jon Snow, A Game of Thrones
I am a bastard. An honest, authentic, full-blown bastard.
It’s not a word we like to use anymore, haven gone the way of formerly PC terminology as “Indian” and “retarded” and “crippled.” Personally I think the word “bastard” is full of charm and old-timey moxie. It’s the sort of thing I’d like to see brought back for the general public along with 12-hour workdays, legalized dueling, and public hangings. If we’re to believe the Census Bureau, half the population at least are born bastards now. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here.
It all started when neither of my parents wanted me. As it happens I’ve been trying to prove them wrong all my life.
I never got to know either of them. I wasn’t even told their names. Some adoptees might tell you names are irrelevant; I’d beg to differ and refer you to little Sophia McClaren and her sister Isabella, both adopted from Guangdong Province. Names define us. They surround us and help make us who we are. Lucky for me I was saddled with an ’80s cheerleader’s first name and a last name that sounded like a word you still can’t say on TV save for cable shows. In short I was screwed from the beginning.
No adoptee can choose his or her parents. It’s all very random. In fact I daresay it is impossible to look at a squirming bundle of humanity in a bassinet and say, “I think he looks like a future surgeon” or “She’s sure to be a senator, don’t you think?” It’s the same thing as picking out a new puppy or kitten from the Humane Society. As Forrest Gump might say, “you never know what you’re gonna get,” unless your child is born to a crack-addicted mother, but again, I’m straying off topic. I have a terribly bad habit of doing so which I shall attempt to rationalize some other time when I am sufficiently drunk.
It took me a while to realize it but, as far as parents go, I hit the adoption lottery. Both wanted a child, they’d been trying for some time for one of their own without success. They were what some Americans like to think of as normal. I’d have plenty of family members, my own bedroom, and a bunch of pink onesies to call my very own. Not that I really had much say in the matter; most of my speech, if my mom tells it right, consisted of high-pitched squeals and soft coos. Home I went with my new family at the age of three months. I’ve been with them ever since, having never been inclined to run off to join the local Gypsy band or travel with a rock group.
If you speak to anyone who’s adopted and she tells you she never thinks about her “biological” family, it’s a lie.
Off and on I’ve wondered about my Other Family, sometimes to the point of wanting to hire a private detective. The biggest question is why. Why did you give me up? Why was I not good enough for you? Why did you decide to have me and not abort? I never got answers to these questions. All I got were more questions. Occasionally I’d daydream about being back with my “real” family, the ones who looked like me, spoke like me, laughed at the same jokes as me. Because I didn’t physically resemble my adoptive family, I was reminded every day. I dreamed about being Hercules or some other demi-god called home at last to my divine family, or perhaps the Gen X answer to the lost grand duchess Anastasia.
Years have come and gone. Feelers have been put out. Facebook, Twitter, and Kinsolving have been put into use. My Other Family are all dead by now, or they have no way of contacting me, or they don’t want to. It’s a little like the idea of unicorns: I’d be happy to know they existed but feel just fine knowing they may not. I’m finally at peace with my adoption.
Once in a while I’ll see some person on the street with my rangy build, half-smile, or dark, unruly hair and wonder, though: are you my mother? My uncle? My cousin? I never ask. It would be pointless and rude besides. Fantasy sustains me: somewhere, I think, my family must be famous artists, writers, scientists. They are happy and successful people. I’m just sorry they happen to look a bit like me.
There are some advantages to being a bastard. Having one’s medical history, I regret to say, is not one of these. There was no way I could have known that I’d have the knees of a postmenopausal woman by age 30, or that I’d endure fainting spells brought about by anemia in my teens and 20s. Thanks a lot, family DNA, and I’m only sorry I didn’t get good looks or a terrific vertical leap from you.
I wish I’d had a dollar for every time some stranger asked if I were adopted. Of course, most people figured out that the gawky, dark-haired kid that was me could not possibly be the spawn of my dainty, red-haired sylph of a mother. Nor my dad, whose hair was dark but fine and whose eyes were as blue as a springtime sky. It became a strange mark of pride for me, like some changeling stolen by fairies. It also made me a rabid perfectionist by the time I was two.
People underestimate the power of fitting in. Like it or not (and I don’t,) groups are everywhere and we are forced to join or die. My earliest conscious memories were of Not Fitting In. At family gatherings on either side I was the Other, the strange alien who didn’t look like anyone else (I know now how little Sophia McClaren, nee Wong, must feel.) At schools I was the Smart Girl and the Tall Girl and the Girl Who’d Rather Play G.I. Joe Instead of Barbie. Because of my obvious differences I knew I had to stand out in some other way.
I had to be the best. If I wasn’t good enough for my real mother, said my child’s reasoning, who was I good enough for?
That was the seed of my perfectionist side. I still wish I could get the damn voice to shut up. It started me on the path of good grades, good citizenship, good sportsmanship. I think it had something to do with me wanting to improve my penmanship, too, although this can’t be proved.
Leaf through any book of myths and legends and you’ll see this theme of Adoptee as Overachiever recurrent. As I later read stories of Oedipus and Moses and Jane Eyre, I felt for these fellow adoptees. They spent their whole lives, too, trying to compensate for someone else’s bad decisions.
There were, and still are, plenty of people who didn’t seem to care that I was a bastard. Luckily for me, two of these were my grandparents.
Grandma surely didn’t need a bastard in her family. These were old-school Massachusetts Catholics to whom red meat on Friday was a scandal. She also had a true-born grandchild, a son, by the time I came along. If Mom’s stories are true, she was thrilled to have a new baby granddaughter. It didn’t matter to her that I wasn’t her blood, that I had dark eyes, or even that I hadn’t been baptized yet. She took one look at me and was enchanted as if Mom had produced a litter of fluffy kittens. I’m still her favorite, though she will be the first to say she doesn’t have favorites.
And there was my grandfather on Dad’s side, who never met a stranger in his life. He was already well-acquainted with adoption, having already adopted my father and his sister. To him I was just another happy announcement. I think he probably bought one of those boxes of pink cigars for the occasion.
Over the years both of them would serve as useful buffers against their respective spouses for me. Thank goodness I was to have one ally in each camp, since I’d have my share of family enmity later on. Some people just don’t want a bastard in their midst. I’m not sure I entirely blame them.
My earliest actual memory was of something being torn apart. This seems terribly ironic now.
It was just a cat-1 storm; to my ears it sounded like the whole sky crashing in upon our little bungalow in Hawaii. The wind howled. I think I howled too, though I can’t exactly remember. The whole thing is like a half-remembered dream. What I do remember were all the palm trees the storm knocked over along our street, and my father having to barbecue our Thanksgiving turkey instead of roasting it per tradition.
This was the beginning of my weird fatalistic Weltanschauung. Had I caused this destruction just by my presence? After all, I’d been cause enough for my Real Mother to dispose of me like an unwanted puppy. The endless sunny days and rainbows of the Big Island in the storm’s wake were hardly enough to convince me. For the next two decades I’d plod along, a moody Cassandra, convinced of my imminent death by dysentery, stray poison dart, falling anvil. This was the fate of all bastards. They did not live long lives and die peacefully in sleep.
If my new family grew tired of me, would they take me to the pound? The thought stayed with me. Gnawed at me. I was determined to prove them wrong.
It was about this time that Mom and Dad started noticing their their favorite little bastard wasn’t like the other kids.
Since I don’t remember much from this time, I can only guess as to what it was (I’m almost positive it wasn’t levitation.) My hazy recollections do include a great deal of fighting and calling my classmates by nasty four-syllable words I’d picked up in that morning’s newspaper; I’d learned to read by age 3. Then came the tests. There were a lot of tests with a lot of doctors holding a lot of little pens and flash cards. Thankfully there were no tests to see if I had, in fact, been shipped here mistakenly by Vulcan Parcel Service.
The tests came back inconclusive at best. Nobody aside from egghead academics had heard of Asperger syndrome (AS) in those days, when a man could still get away with wearing a leisure suit in public. The report, a dog-eared copy of which I still keep in my desk, spoke of a child who was gifted but had a hard time relating to others.
Thank you, Dr. Oblivious, for mapping out my life for me. I always meant to send you a token of my appreciation.
Why do so many bastards become avid readers? This seems like an undeniable truth. Books help everyone, myself included, get away from reality and escape into fantasy for a while. As far back as I can remember, I read anything I could get my hands on. This included shampoo bottles, tags on pillows, and the fine print in contracts (Mom and Dad would thank me for this much later.) My favorites, though, were masters of whimsical anarchy like Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak. Mom should have known, just by this clue, that her little girl was different.
She read with me, early and often. At this point in my life Dad was away from home much of the time for work. Mom opened a book. I devoured every word, soon reading at a grade school level though I was still a toddler. This was the greatest gift she could have given me. Books proved to be my Fortress of Solitude later on in life. I was lucky to come from a family of readers when so many kids didn’t even have books in the home.
Again, there was such a thing as foreshadowing in my life. I was always destined to be around books. The problem would not be the books, but the people in the buildings that housed those books. There was this place called School where, Mom assured me, I would feel right at home and leave her for six hours a day.
How hard could it be?
To Be Continued in Chapter 2
To my readers: This book is a labor of love and everything you read is a first draft with no editing involved. I welcome any and all critiques or feedback, I only ask that you be constructive. Thanks! ~HM Heather