This is a mash of two days worth of prompts. I spent the whole day avoiding the What does getting back to your roots like you to you? prompt. I figured I could smash it up with the How important do I you believe it is for a person to know their roots.
Here are the things I know. I know what I look like. I can look in a mirror and see how square the bottom of my face is from the eyes down. A quick glance at any reflective surface is a jolt and a reminder of what I don’t know about who I am and where I come from. I know a few sketchy single line stories about where I came from and who got me to that point. The rest is foggy.
In 2004, my adoptive mom died 4 months after the diagnosis of an endstage Glioblastoma. (I will always refer to my mom as my adoptive mom, just to distinguish her as a separate person from the mother that birthed me. Really, she was the only mom I knew.) Talking was difficult for her, both physically and emotionally. I learned more about her in those 4 months than I had learned in almost 40 years. We learned to say I Love You in those months. I was happy to travel to hospital daily to make sure she was showered. I rubbed her feet with mandarin scented creams. She would say of the shower, “Feels good.” And the foot rubs, “Smells good.” I got in the habit of greeting her with a hello and a Billy Crystal head shake, winking one eye and slowly issuing, “You look a maaah belous.” She would roll her eyes and tell me how puffy the steroids were making her face and how terrible she looked with so little hair. Long conversations were not on the menu. We spent a lot of time in quiet reflection and that was really aimed at preserving what little dignity she had remaining. I won’t regret giving her the quiet. It didn’t seem necessary to drag out all the dusty issues right then. I really didn’t think it mattered right then. Caring for someone who is suffering has to be about them, not you. She told me these things from about August to mid October.
Why is life so tragic? Well, hell if I know, mom. Just when I thought I had seen it all. When bad things happen you really have to prioritize just what bad means. Every family tree has it’s tragic stories buried underneath it somewhere. No family escapes tragedy. You just do what you have to do and keep going. It’s nothing personal. Some people are singled out with those chance opportunities because they have remarkable timing. I quit asking why. It just is, mom. Want some tapioca?
Why me? This question came when we were sitting outside the National Rehab Hospital one day in June. They have a gorgeous meditation garden. There was a beautiful raised pond in the center with 2 carp statues that sent a stream of water shooting across the pond. I had never seen my mom cry before. This was a sob coupled with a wail, the likes of which I have never heard. She was just baffled at the unfortunate chain of events. A week before, she was cleaning her 36′ foot boat out and getting ready for a Memorial Day trip down the coast. She took excellent care of herself. She was energetic, careful of what she ate and stayed on task with preventative care. How could this happen? What you know about your family and the illnesses that wreaked havok is a helpful tool in taking care of yourself and your children, and their children, and so on. My intake interview with physicians is always, “I was adopted.” It may or may not matter, but it does change the air in the room. It’s important to know that family history is a legitimate factor in persuing certain diseases. When you have cancers and disabilities in your children, you are left with coping with complications as they happen. There is no narrowing down the likelyhood of anything.
I will never forgive my father for refusing to take care of me. I had never met her family in Japan. There were brothers and sisters, some perished during the war. The men had gone off to fight in China. There was some estrangment I was not privy to rooted in mom marring a gijin (white foreigner). Her mother passed when she was 5. She said she remembered going off to school in the morning and coming home to saddle up into her mother’s lap and be nursed. And then she died, presumably of an illness that couldn’t be treated. Her father’s refusal to care for her is maybe not that surprising, as Japanese men are not known for being caretakers of children and domestic affairs. She went to live with an older sister and there were more unfortunate events until she reached adulthood, as was the case for many in postwar Japan. Had I known this story when I was a child, I would have understood my mom’s lack of interaction with me. She never explained anything to me. If I was doing something incorrectly, she just took it over and did it herself. Finding this root would have made our relationship different.
Keep this (it is a carving of a bear with a fish in it’s mouth) and remember where you are from. No details, no names, no leads. Just that. Mom was protective of her position in the house concerning dad’s policy about speaking of my adoption. Then and now, he refuses to engage the conversation and denies anything I have discovered on my own as valid. She kept that to her death and only said, I hope you find your mom.
In the few days before she passed, she said one more thing. Stay Close. I still don’t know what she meant. I don’t know if she meant as a family or physically…like….don’t get in the car and go anywhere. Either way, it should be said that she was the glue in the family. Our family was already dreadfully small. I now live 2200 miles away from my dad and sister. It was mom who made the middle ground, a place to come and be together. We didn’t do that anymore after she passed.
I took her hope that I find my (birth) mom seriously. She didn’t often look you in the eye and say something serious. And she had a look. It took a few years of investigative work to find some tangible public record of who is who based on small fragments of information. I wrote to someone I thought I had zeroed in on after endless nights of internet searching and cold calling on the phone. I had the right name, in the right state, but not the right family tree. He was gracious and after I told him of my search, he sent me HIS family tree. How rich, I thought. This was a plastic binder full of pages and pages of people, all connected in the same family. Hundreds of years and babies and marriages. I really was envious. A few months later, I found a person I thought was my birth mother. She was reported as having emigrated and marrying an American. The name was unique, so the discovery was solid. She, through her husband, denies being that person. She denies having had any children. And I hear she is in the last stages of a colorectal cancer. When she passes, and she will, she will take with her my roots and the roots of my father.
Do I think it’s important to know one’s roots? Yes. And what of those who are without the means to search? Those who have been plucked from their lives somewhere along the line and reconstructed into a new someone? Can a person shrug off the want of ancestry? No. The desire to know is life calling back to itself.