Stardust Gibraltar

 

I had met Stardust Gibraltar first, at my babysitter’s house under a table draped in ivory lace cloth. He was handsome, and brawny- just like the Brawny paper towel guy only he never wore that lumberjack shirt. Actually, he never wore a shirt at all- only stonewashed jeans. Stardust was a lifeguard and saved lives every day. The afternoon we met I had laid down underneath that table, bright sunlight shone onto my face through the lace dotting my cheeks with warmth. I’m here for you kid he said as he laid down next to me and curled my seven year old body into his strong arms where I fell in love and fell asleep with a new deep and luscious comfort. I spent the next four years drawing out extensive maps of the lands Stardust took me to and pictures of the people and animals we met.  I showed them to the girls at school who looked at me like I was fucking nuts.

On the eve of 6th grade I sat against the wall on the bottom bunk and shared hot chocolate with Denise, Gazelle and Stardust Gibraltar under a fort of draped pastel blankets tucked snugly into the top bunk . We had gathered together specifically for a big let down. It was the finally time to say goodbye. I had been prepared for the goodbye throughout August, dreading it and then it was there on that September evening. We were backed into a corner,  caught by some badge and pin wearing bully Smessica at Girl Scout Camp that summer. Smessica told everyone at camp about us –  as she put it, “The dork’s invisible friends.” For the full two weeks of camp none of the other girls would talk to me, other than Brandi who had to because we were like family, but even she kept it short. She stuck to lending me bug spray or begrudgingly helping me with writing out addresses on the letters to our parents. 

Under the bunk that night we sipped the chocolate, frothy marshmallow slime stuck to the tops of our lips and created bright white mustaches, which under normal circumstances would have made us giggle. Letters of reflection were to be read from myself to each of them,  remembrances of our years together frolicking through magical woods and worlds and problems and sometimes solutions together.

Stardust had introduced me to Gazelle and Denise. Gazelle was a long and lean dancer with a soft face who was half ostrich on her lower half  and half human up top. She only wore bright red  so we could pick her out of a crowd,  but we all knew that wasn’t necessary. She had a very very likable personality, a bit of a people pleaser, but ultimately very reliable. Denice was not quite as reliable. She had an undeniably beauty and was a no-nonsense kind of girl, one on the brink of womanhood. She lived in the shadows of High Time City where she sold her body to men that looked at her initially like a dog might look at his kibble. It never took long for the men to become entrenched in her intoxicating allure.  A few moments with her transformed them into little boys, begging for just one more hour of her company. She was also bisexual and “fine with it”. Denise never felt the need to explain herself like I constantly felt the need to. I confided in her about my fears that Dad was going to have a heart attack from the stress of Russell’s lying or from my “Space Cadet” antics or from Mom’s nerves or from his chain smoking. Denise was a great listener and certainly had been through far worse than I had.

Stardust knew the most, he knew it all. He had been there with me since that day we met. Denise and Gazelle left in tears after our goodbyes, the letters clenched in their hands. Stardust stayed behind with me as the moon rose into the center of the sky. He held his lips to my forehead, my skin became soaked with his warm tears that streamed down like rivers of salty water. The two of us came to a secret agreement that I would keep him through middle school, maybe beyond, but he really would have to remain a secret

Copyright 2021 by LC Wood

 

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How To Be A Good Adoptee 101

Crash course..

If I missed anything, please leave in the comments!

  1. If you must talk about difficult or complicated feelings around adoption always preface it with the disclaimer about how loyal you are to your adoptive family. You don’t want to seem ungrateful.
  2. If ever asked to do a family tree in school, simply make one of your adoptive family. Try to tell yourself that DNA, genetic history and ancestry and intergenerational trauma are just made up things that don’t actually affect anyone. Ignore all up to date research on this.
  3. Avoid wondering if your relationships would feel closer in some way if you were connected biologically to your family. Roots are hogwash.
  4. If you are a different race than your adoptive family, try not to reveal that you notice this or care. Do not bring up the racism you experience. This is good adoptee etiquette 101!
  5. Romantically, try to only date people who have demonstrated a reasonable chance that they might abandon or reject you in some way. This way you can practice being good enough to be wanted over and over again.
  6. You may consider working tirelessly to provide the experience of “perfect child” for your family, and if you do you make sure to never let emotional turmoil inside of you leak out into your life. If it does leak out turn to #7.
  7. Suppress any feelings of loss or shame or grief that may come up for you as an adult Adoptee with lots and lots of alcohol and drugs. Over exercising, restricted eating, overspending, workaholism and sex can work too. Just keep it “under control”, and if you can’t, then you should banish yourself from the adoptive family.
  8. Ignore any rage that may occur from time to time if you have been denied your medical history either from your biological family- and or- the agency you were adopted through. Just try to forget having measures in place to avoid preventable death or diseases.
  9. Do not ever stare at the moon at night and wonder if your birth mother is staring at the same moon. Also, if a friend ever has a baby, simply ignore the feelings that may arise when you see the close bond they have already formed within that first day. Just buy yourself an ice cream and move on.
  10. Always remember, above all else, never ever appear ungrateful for being adopted. It’s not a good look on you or any of us. Fun tip= Try to keep a ruminative thought friend in the back of your head that sings a little song like this.. “remember to smile, remember to smile, people may leave you after while, ..if you make them uncomfortable.”

Happy travels my friends

Copyright 2020 by LC Wood

The Day I Learned I Had Magical Powers

One late afternoon I returned to our campsite from exploring nature paths on my bicycle. Dirt was caked onto my legs as usual, my knees cut up a little from the thick bush I was building a fort out of. I was accompanied by one of my pet toads who sat in my fanny pack. I had named this one Virginia Slim*, Slim for short, and had marked her name onto her stomach with black sharpie. I had also marked the others. I kept all 28 of my friends in containers in the woods behind our trailer. That way I did not confuse them. Once I thought Slim was another toad, Daffodil, for a full day. It was not only confusing, but deeply hurtful to her and embarrassing for me. I didn’t want to put either of us through that again.

Instantly upon putting down my bicycle I noticed there seemed to be a dimness hanging over our trailer. No one was hanging out at our picnic table, or in the screen porch. Dad stood with our neighbors on the edge of the road near our site and looked up into the trees, a cigarette hung out of his mouth.

I approached them, “What are you looking at?”

Dad’s eyes were concentrated on the tree tops, the lines on his his forehead more stressed than usual.

“Twerp got out, your mother is in the trailer in the back bedroom, she is pissed, been crying.”

That felt apocalyptic. Dad was the cryer in that emotional Italian that was culturally acceptable. He’d tear up easily during the nighttime soaps. Ma did not cry. She scolded, or called the manager, or had panic attacks, or guilted.

Twerp was a cockatiel that sat on Ma’s shoulder every night and squawked incessantly especially if you tried to talk to her. They were very close and she insisted he come camping the past few summers. I had my eye on it for quite some time and was concerned about their enmeshment. Dad called the animal control officer in Conway and was waiting for help with finding the little bastard. Some of the other seasonal campers came to my Dad’s side, their hands blocking out the sun on their faces as they tried to see where Twerp was through the trees. “There he is!” some guy pointed upwards.  There he was,  standing on a thick branch of a white birch, the jerk with  his little head held high was enjoying the breeze without a care in the world.

He has no idea what he is doing to this family. 

 Animal Control came shortly after he was spotted. My dad later referred to the officer as “Fucking Annie Oakley” after he saw the guns strapped to her sides. She arrived in a truck that had a “cherry picker” bucket attached to it. The decision was made that Dad would go in the bucket to be lifted into the trees. He figured that Twerp might fly over to him. Dad climbed into the bucket and then it slowly lifted him up next to the branch.

He yelled sharply, “Hold it!” Then, put his soft voice on, enticing Twerp. “hi buddy, come say hi. hi Twerp, how’s Twerp doing” 

That’s your dad?”,  a kid next to me asked. 

I was unable to answer the kid. I was frozen, suddenly overcome with worry Dad would fail in this mission, that he would be embarrassed, that my mother would not have any relief from the sadness that was so painful that it made her cry. I feared that if Dad failed that she might have to go back to the hospital.

The muscles in my arms and legs suddenly made a deal with my brain: If I could tighten up each limb perfectly equally and then release those muscles in intervals of four seconds at a time, for a cycle of 16, then Dad’s mission would have a better chance of going smoothly and Twerp would be returned safely. So, there I stood, my muscles clenched as hard as possible. I held my breath and tried to make my way through the intervals with equal intensity in my clenching. Slim was worried too and was trying hard to wriggle out of the tiny opening in my fanny pack. It was distracting. I shifted my focus back on my process instead of on Slim’s relentless anxiety. Two of the girls who were watching Dad had now turned and were looking at me. I wanted to tell them, I get it, I look weird–ok.. now let me do my job, but I could not tell them that because it would have broken the cycle and I would have had to start all over.

Dad remained up there for only a few minutes before we heard him yell, “got em!!” He was lowered down and ran towards us, with Twerp struggling in his tightly enclosed hands, somehow a lit cigarette still hanging from the side of his mouth. The crowd stayed back, letting him bring Twerp to our campsite. I released my body from all of its clenching. Twerp was returned to Ma and I could sense her freedom from sadness immediately. I unzipped my pack and Slim, who was now cool as a cucumber, hopped out onto my leg. That night Ma pulled out all the stops and had people over for S’mores and hot dogs cooked over the fire pit. Twerp sat perched in his cage inside squawking through the screen door of the trailer. She sat around the fire with with us and ignored him. I hid my secret power and didn’t tell anyone as I realized how crazy I would sound. But -I certainly didn’t forget about it.

*Virginia Slim’s name has been changed for privacy concerns

Copyright by LC Wood 2020

Raped or Something..

This piece was originally posted in Severance Magazine on November 9, 2020

“So Ma, what do you actually, really, know about my birth mother?

By LC Wood

That evening Ma ate clumsily from a bag of cheese curls, and the orange dust caked on her fingers; crumbs hung from stray hairs on her chin. Her left eyebrow tensed with each dramatic revelation the show brought. The episode was about the reunification of a mother and son after decades apart. They fell into each other’s arms, and I became as tense as a pole. My heart sped up, and a hard lump formed in my throat. I remembered the box in the upstairs closet labeled, “The clothes Lisa came in,” as though I’d been purchased in a store—a real human doll with a blank slate background. “I never stopped thinking about you,” said the mother on tv. Tears escaped from my eyes. I wondered aloud over the years but had never asked the actual question.

“So Ma, what do you actually, really, know about my birth mother?

She looked at me, one hazel eye lifted slightly. She breathed in carefully, turned to me, and switched off the tv.

“Well, her name was Margaret. Your name before we got you was Libby. But we thought you were more of a Lisa.”

My cheeks flushed.

“Libby? Like short for something, like Elizabeth? Lisa’s better anyway.”

“Nope, just Libby. Margaret was mentally ill; we know she lived for a while in the State Hospital. Also, we know that she may have been raped—or something.”

Raped—or something? A tremble tightened in the pit of my stomach.

“By who? Who raped her?”

“It may have been another patient. They didn’t tell us much.”

She sounded a bit too removed.

“Seriously? Really? That’s really nuts, huh?”

I reached for an Oreo out of the tin Dad kept on the coffee table and casually ate it while my hand shook from the adrenaline.

“We tried to find out more after we got you but they gave us very little information.”

I steadied myself onto my feet and moments later found myself in the bathroom. I leaned onto the sides of the sink and peered closely into the mirror to study my nineteen-year-old face, a typical daily practice. That night it came with more information. My intense blue eyes stared back at me and I tried to see what was in there, what kind of entity I even was. Probably human I figured. As a kid, I thought the mysterious indentation on top of my skull could have been where I was released from a port when the ship dropped me off. My reflection continued to stare back at me like a stranger. Ma was not the type to fuss about her looks or to diet like many of my friend’s dieting mothers, which the feminist part of me appreciated. Still, with no biological guide to help me know what I may have been growing into, I had to look to magazines and media and tried to sort out what kind of woman I may be destined to look like. My frame was a thin hourglass shape. Magazines told me this was acceptable, but also told me that thinner would be better. I had full lips. I was not necessarily pretty; I was not cute. I was sexy. I was a hot girl, but I wanted to be beautiful. Sexy and hot got you noticed, got you chosen from a crowd, got you sought after for a moment. Beautiful, however, got you kept. At that point, I was living out the role of a sexy and disturbed girl that sometimes got herself into trouble.

Daring to peer even closer, I tried to see both the rapist in me and then the mentally ill woman in me and wondered which parts come from whom. Questions arose: What kind of mental illness did Margaret have? Could she be scary, like my brother Simon? Or,  was she more like me, either lost in daydreams or stuck in annoying obsessive thought cycles? Maybe Margaret would understand my quirks. Then, the first of what would be daily visions played out in my head. A woman’s mouth struggling to open smothered by a gnarly hand, her head pushed into the plastic covering on a hospital mattress. What did it mean to exist only because a woman was raped?

This inquiry was big, too big to fathom. Doubt reserved a dingy backseat in my brain and whispered to me. Perhaps it wasn’t. Maybe she lied, maybe they were in love. Maybe she was religious and lied because of her faith. Or, maybe it wasn’t a patient. Maybe it was a doctor or a counselor, someone who could take advantage of a mentally ill woman living in a hospital. The man was a looming dark shadow, standing tall and hovering and faceless. I only existed because of a bad seed.

I left the bathroom that night and paused to look at the wooden doghouse that hung off the wall in our kitchen. It had been there for as long as I could remember. Five small dog pieces, each about two inches tall, and each had one of our names written on the front: Ma, Dad, Russell, Lisa, and Simon.* Dad’s dog was a bit taller than the rest; Ma’s was plump and smiling. My older brother Russ’s dog was scuffed up and guilty, his big black eyes pointed up to the right. Simon’s dog looked out of place, like a different breed—a terrier perhaps. Mine shined with innocence, wide-eyed and floppy eared. For many years, when one of us kids got into trouble, Ma would announce our dog’s move into the doghouse. It didn’t happen too often for me. Simon was occasionally in there for ignoring her. It was Russ whose dog was always hanging in there and it still was in there that night. As though I was in a kind of visceral trance, I walked up to the doghouse, moved Russ out, and moved my dog in.

*Names have been changed in the interest of privacy.

Copyrighted 2020 by LC Wood

LC Wood is an adoptee advocate and creator of the Voices Unheard Speaker Series, which is put on through Boston Post Adoption Resources. She lives in the Boston area and is working on a memoir about healing from sexual trauma and tracking down both of her biological parents. Look for her blog, visit her author page on Facebook, and find her on Instagram @morethanjustaluckyadoptee.

Monster Flower

I was born in ‘81, known to those who remember as the year of the clown craze. That year police reports of children being abducted by groups of men dressed in clown suits sprung up all around the Boston area. This kind of clown-abduction situation has always lived at the top of my worst-case scenario list. The fear back then leaked over the border to southern NH,  but it certainly didn’t stop Ma from dressing me up as an evil clown for Halloween several years in a row. Her hands held my quivering chin steady and painted black circles around my eyes and lips on top of bright white cream. l I smeared it almost immediately, drooping the expression she had painted. Years ago I asked,  I kinda get the general clown idea, but, why an evil one Ma?

Around twenty years old I worked a season at a haunted house and, such as in life, I didn’t always get to choose the part I was assigned.  On the third night, I found myself in jumbo oversized shoes, squeezed tight into a box that looked like a present on the outside. I opened it an inch or two to watch for people. Circus music echoed in swirled tones throughout the small room and a strobe light pulsed relentlessly. For six long hours, I jumped out and yelled at people to stop clowning around! Each time before climbing back in I’d catch a glimpse of myself through the lights on the mirrored wall. Large yellow pom-poms lined the center of my blood-stained shirt and flowing plaid pants were held up by suspenders. Fastened on my head was a bald cap wig that shot out fuzzy red hair. The same face stared back at me that Ma painted on all those years before.  

The year prior to the haunted house I learned parts of my adoption story that I had not known. Ma told me one winter’s night on the couch after our favorite show ended. The information I learned left me shaken,  numb, and then shaken again. When you find out you were created through such violence, you can try to push the feelings away but if you are me you will be unable to focus on much else. Odd things started to make sense to me about my obsessive relationship with fear and the way it lurked in the shadows of every room I entered.

The soul of the universe is so creative. Can we just acknowledge that? Can we go ahead and give a slow clap for its attempts to communicate with us through sophisticated metaphor?

The dreams began after I learned that my birthmother had passed away. They were always the same.  In them, I sat on the floor of a small bathroom in the darkness. The bathtub was full and the water in it, as dark as blood with a shine from the moonlight. Fear drenched my skin and I felt cold. I knew needed to leave to survive but I could not get my body to move. I saw the water start to part. Something underneath was revealing itself. A massive head of synthetic red hair started to lift itself out. The fear grabbed my throat and forced me to keep looking. At that moment,  fear abruptly merged itself with a spell of inseparable connection. Not a warmth necessarily, but a rootedness. It was about him, it was also about me, his little flower. The darkness knew the truth of what I wanted, which was to love myself. So it held me hostage and told me I had to find a way to love him too. 

Copyright 2020 LC Wood

Election Night

On the night of the election she works the parlor room. She stands as still as a statue in the navy blue uniform, the collar wrapped around her neck like that of a good old fashioned dominatrix, hair twisted into a tight bun. Thick eyeliner swoops up at the ends. A slit in the side reveals a flash of her black nyloned thigh when she kneels to gather bottles from under the bar. They laugh and jostle each other and shove into their mouths wedges of manchego cheese soaked in honey off a silver  tray the younger one has presented to them. We do not call their wives by their names in case they are not their wives, this was part of the agreement.  Members buzz themselves in from the street. They talk politics and business over Manhattans through the respect of old bloodlines and membership. A life savings for most, just pennies to them. Once a week she spends hours up in the old slaves quarters and polishes the silver of men whose names she has read about in history books. She needs the money, but that was no excuse to stay as long as she had.  

Rarely do they drink with the television on, but tonight they do to watch the election. Only four men come. She waits on them and as she turns away she hears the groans about their changing country. The stench of cigars marinates their suit jackets. They sit down and order olives and wine. She pours a deep burgundy from a large decanter and they swirl it around in their glasses. One who does not look at her directly holds up his finger sharply which she knows means to wait to see if he approves. He lifts the glass to and makes a show of swishing the wine around in his mouth. Finally, he nods towards the decanter, which she knows means to place it on the table. Unwillingly she grinds her teeth hard. The tooth next to her molar, the one she knows needs replacing, crumbles into granules and rolls down the back of her throat. For a year now she has tried to save for a new tooth. She swallows the granules and nods to their order for Creme Brulee. The truth is her teeth are junked. Root canals, bloody gums and endless cavities Soft teeth the dentist had called them as he pulled the floss through the other side. Survivor teeth, she said back. Trust me.

The men leave early, disgruntled after they have finished their dessert. A little win for her as she types up their orders into their personal accounts. She washes the dishes, pulls the rubber mats off the floor, mops, and pours vodka into a thermos. She steps outside to a city that is celebrating. Cheers throughout the park, cheers from inside the packed cafes and bars. Tears stream down on warmed cheeks. The family walks on stage, the crowd halted to silence. The first black president speaks;

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”- Barack Obama 2008. 

We look at each other in the crowd and smile, knowingly. A woman could not be too far behind. Right?

Copyrighted –  LC Wood 2020