Having Been Adopted...

... and how I feel about it now, over 50 years later. Regardless of how I might have felt at the time, what I might have wanted or even what might have been better for me in the long run, my future appears to have been neatly arranged for me by complete strangers well before I was even born. Or was it?

Sunday, April 30, 2006

My mom and me - May 1953

This is one of my very favorite pictures...

I was nine months old.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

"Seeing for Yourself"...

(Note Bene! The following illustration is NOT a photograph!!!)

The body is opened with a Y incision.

The word autopsy means "seeing with one’s own eyes".

I’ve read the autopsy report so many times that I know some of it by heart. It’s the only one I’ve ever seen. I was 23 years old when I read it for the first time. It’s still completely overwhelming, though I can read it dispassionately now – well, at least most of the time.

"The body is opened with a Y incision".

"There is extensive hemorrhage…"
"… multiple extensive fractures…"
"… multiple ragged lacerations…"
"… small focal hemorrhages… "
"… adventitial blood…"
"… extensively lacerated and surrounded by… extensive retroperitoneal hemorrhage…"
"… torn in association with… fractured… bones…"

I learned new words – such as "retroperitoneal". Retroperitoneal is the area situated behind the peritoneum – and the peritoneum is the space between the two layers of membrane that covers the abdominal cavity and supports most of the vital organs – in effect, serving as an insulating and protective layer.

I learned that "adventitial" refers to the membrane that covers an organ or blood vessel.

The body that had been opened with the Y incision was that of my natural mother, Nancee. The [medical] cause of her death was recent and extensive internal trauma resulting in the rupture of her liver, ruptured right kidney, ruptured bladder, shattered pelvis and broken right ribs, 2 through 8… and a massive amount of blood loss.

What caused the trauma was that the driver of the motorcycle that Nancee was with that night in Santa Cruz failed to negotiate the sharp curve to the right on West Cliff Drive at the point where it becomes Pacific Ave. The motorcycle’s estimated speed was between 60-70 mph… the posted speed limit was (and it still is) 25 mph.

They skidded 21 feet before crashing through the guard-rail, tearing out 6 feet of it. The motorcycle skidded another 18 feet, then jumped the sidewalk to hurtle 21 feet over the bluff to the private road below. It hit the road once, bounced, then flew another 28 feet before it finally crashed to a stop. Nancee was thrown an additional 20 feet from that point of impact and landed in tall grassy weeds near a Texaco station, face down.

It was a little past 2 in the morning. She died within a few minutes… cold, broken and alone. The driver lay critically injured near the motorcycle – which was brand new and wasn’t even his – he’d borrowed it earlier in the evening. He died a month later, never having been able to make a coherent statement.

This is what I found in the fall of 1975 after having searched for my natural mother for 5 years. That she had died nearly 18 years earlier, in 1958, at the age of 25. It had never occurred to me, not even once, that she might be dead and I was completely unprepared for that possibility. Being rejected would have been joyous in comparison since where there is life there is hope. But Death doesn’t give you second or third chances. Death is absolute. Death is final.

It seemed obvious then to everyone I knew who wasn’t adopted, and even a few who were, that The Search for my natural mother was over. But it wasn’t. Far from it - in fact, not even close. It was just the beginning.

All rights reserved. ©Deborah Rykoff Bennett 2006

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Once upon a time… a long time ago…

Once upon a time… a long time ago… in a place way far away… there lived…

All of the bedtime stories my father told began this way. I would wait holding my breath to find out what the story would be about. My favorites were the ones he told about family – about himself as a little boy growing up in post-WWI Los Angeles. Next best were the ones about his parents and how they came to America and those about his grandparents and great-grandparents a very long time ago in the Old Country - in Russia.

One of the best of these was the one of how, a very long time ago, an ancestor performed some small service or task for the Tsar - and as a reward was bestowed a surname – a valuable gift indeed for a Jew in Tsarist Russia. (Unfortunately, my dad didn’t know what his ancestor did to be given such a rare reward but the story was pretty good anyway.)

As a child, I often wondered what my own stories were and where they began. As young as I was, I knew that the wonderful stories my father told weren’t mine, too. Not really truly. I knew they ended with him and that they would go no further.

I knew my story didn’t start with me and I wanted to know where, what and who I came from - what I was made of. Luckily, thankfully, my parents understood this. When I asked, "Who were MY ancestors?" they were very interested and curious, too, but they couldn't answer me. They didn't know.

I looked into the mirror often and asked the question that every adoptee asks at one time or another: "Who do I look like?" I would also ask the girl in the mirror, "Who ARE you? WHAT are you? Where do you come from?" I would study every feature from every angle and wonder what I got from whom. I wanted and needed to know. I HAD to know.

"In all of us there is a hunger, marrow deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are, and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning, no matter what our attainments in life, there is the most disquieting loneliness."
~~Alex Haley~~