When I was six months old, my biomom, Janine, sort-of tried to kill my brother and me and herself before dropping us off at her mother's house and checking herself into the nearest mental hospital. As she told the story, her father had recently died and she was still suffering post partum with me when dad told her that he was interested in some other woman. Knowing her default mental state to begin with, I'm sure she was more than a bit off kilter at the time and pushed over the edge with all these simultaneous difficulties and traumas. So, one day, she was driving down the street with us kids in the car when she decided it would be a good idea to close her eyes, keep driving, and see what happens.
I'm not sure how long she kept up this closed-eye driving (couldn't have been long, I imagine) but the rest is history. She came to her senses and left, and we moved from Austin, Texas, to Florida when dad got out of the military. Janine says dad, at some point, attempted reconciliation. But Janine was having none of it. She was off doing god knows what and just wanted to breeze in to see Brian (and me, I guess) whenever it suited her. Brian says that he remembers always getting very upset when Janine breezed out again, and, after a while of this, dad put his foot down and said no more. If it wasn't going to be regular, it wasn't fair. Good on him.
So, Janine disappeared from our lives both physically and in every other way imaginable. I don't know how kids know these things, but they seem to know what they can talk about with their parents and family members and what they can't. Maybe this "knowing" comes from before they have conscious memories. Maybe when I was 4, or something, I tried to talk about mom or ask about mom and was resoundly rebuked. Maybe my conscious self doesn't remember this but some part of me does and that's why I knew not to bring her up. It was never outright stated, but we all just knew that dad hated mom. Mom was this shadowy, messed up figure who was not to be spoken of. I knew absolutely nothing about her, not even what she looked like, until I found a wedding photograph at my grandma's house. I just sat and stared at the smiling blonde stranger in that photo for ages, wondering who she was, why she had left, where she had gone, what she was doing. But I didn't dwell on it for long. That's just the way things were.
When I was 16, she called out of the blue on Thanksgiving Day. Dad, stepmom, and I had just gotten back from wherever we were (Brooksville with grandma?) and the phone rang. I answered it and was stunned to hear, "Julie. It's me, Janine."
My eyes must have gone wide as saucers and all I could think of to do was ask her to hold on, lay down the receiver, and run to find my parents. They were just standing there near their bedroom looking all posed and awkward, so I'm guessing she had cleared this whole enounter with dad beforehand. Would have been nice, I think, to not have sprung it on me like this. But when was anything ever done appropriately or sensitively in our house?
So I went back to the phone after dad seemed at a loss over how to behave or what to say, and Janine and I awkwardly chatted for a few minutes and set up a time to meet.
I'm not sure how many times we met up initially. Quite a few, I think. I don't really remember what we talked about, but I remember having wildly mixed emotions and being really confused about the situation. I know now that I had a lot of anger towards her and that a lot of internal sadness was involved in being around her. She was pleasant and open and willing to talk about anything, but that was certainly nothing I was used to. I wish I had made better use of her willingness to share and her incredible candor and honesty than I did, but I didn't really know how to have conversations then, and I wasn't really aware of my feelings or how to relate to people in general.
The contact was sporadic after awhile, but it was obvious that I was very much like her from the start. She liked to write. I like to write. She loved to read. I love to read. She was an open book. I am an open book. She wore her heart on her sleeve. I wear my heart on my sleeve. She was very emotional. I am very emotional. She valued honesty and truth and justice and creativity and kindness and beauty and wisdom. I value honesty and truth and justice and creativity and kindness and beauty and wisdom. She loved theatre and art and nature and science and animals and poetry and music. I love theatre and art and nature and science and animals and poetry and music. She was sensitive. I am sensitive. She had a twisted sense of humour. I have a twisted sense of humour. She liked to thumb her nose at authority. I like to thumb my nose at authority. She was drawn to interesting and varied people. I am drawn to interesting and varied people. She was accepting and open and tolerant. I am accepting and open and tolerant. We were the same height, had the same hair colouring, were the same size, and, on the index fingers of all our four hands, the fingernails curve slightly inward at the end.
Suddenly, I didn't feel like such a weirdo in this life anymore, like I had been adopted or mistakenly dropped out of nowhere, an aberration. There, standing in front of me, in the flesh. This was where I had come from.
(to be continued)