Monday, December 14, 2009

A hole in the roof

My father was born in Savannah, Georgia…the youngest of 13 children. They lived on a farm, and were dirt poor. After his graduation from high school, my dad joined the military and was promptly stationed in Germany.

On St. Patrick’s Day, he and his friends decided to go to club hopping in Amsterdam. My mother was there, dressed entirely in green – a coincidence, since St. Patrick’s day isn’t celebrated in Holland. My dad says he fell in love with her the instant he laid his eyes upon her. After dancing the night away, he offered to take her home, and she accepted. Nevertheless, she had him take the extra-long way home, hoping to confuse him worried that this black soldier might show up on her doorstep and cause a commotion.

However, he had paid attention; and soon thereafter, he took the extra-long way back to her home, and did precisely what she’d feared. I imagine the stern faces of her family – my mother herself the second to the youngest of 10 very white, very Dutch children.

A commotion, indeed; but he was polite, and kind and respectful, and began to win over his future in-laws as he wooed my mother.

My dad boxed for sport, and one day his opponent broke his jaw. As he lay in a Stuttgart hospital with his jaw wired shut, he worried that the little Dutch girl he’d fallen in love with would think he’d stopped calling and forget all about him. But she didn’t; he awoke from a drug-induced sleep to see her face hovering over his…and the rest is history.

Mom and Dad, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g…first comes love, then comes marriage, then here they come with a baby carriage.

But the carriage never came. Stationed first in California, then at Peterson Field in Colorado Springs, my mother never became pregnant; after five years of marriage and still no baby, they decided to adopt. Baby Jane Doe no longer, I had a new mom, a new dad, a new name, and a new life.

I was the miracle of their lives for the next five years - which is when my mother finally became pregnant. I remember my mother calling me, rousing me from my sleep...and going to her, finding her in a pool of blood. This was before push-button wireless phones, and I trembled, following the instructions she panted out on how to call for emergency. After giving traumatic birth to my sister, the doctors told my mother she could never again have children.

How do you tell a young child that you’re not really her parents? I’ve no doubt they told me as gently as possible, and that they loved my sister and I just the same. But can you love your adopted child as much as your only biological child? And if so, can you convince the adopted child that it’s true?

The lies that we tell others aren’t nearly as bad as the lies that we tell ourselves.

I grew up, quiet and intelligent. At some point, I know we’d decided to keep the truth from my sister until she was older. And it wasn’t as though they treated us differently; they didn’t.

It was the little things that killed me inside…overhearing the laughter about my sister having my dad’s big ears, and my mother’s pointy chin. When I was about 13, we were all astonished upon discovering, through a strange fluke, that both my mother and my sister had a small hole in the roof of their mouths. My dad didn’t. I didn’t.

And at that moment...and for many, many years afterward...the only thing I ever really wanted was a hole in the roof of my mouth.

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