There crosses my desk once in a while a link to a post by a familiar “live life like you have no tomorrow” kind of web page. Today comes the advice to spend all your money, date the wrong person, laugh at stupid jokes, be as weird as you choose and you know, in that way you are somehow living without regret. Poof, just like that. Notice, there are no recommendations to saw off limbs from the family tree where centuries old wood has rotted away. No sage advice to find a way to be content with your own existence, when so many people in your little theater company have worked so hard to ensure that you never know your beginnings. I can live with my own regrets and be happy, fulfilled and remain passionate about what is good for the community I live in. I can not live with other’s regrets. The decisions made before my coming, the choices enacted on at my birth and subsequently the shenanigans that occurred in an attempt to gaslight me into believing there is nothing to know about. That there is nothing that would be interesting to me. How could it not be interesting or informative? Who gets to choose what is important enough to warrant the consideration of circumstances surrounding a person’s life?
This year, I will turn 50. For about half of those years, I thought I was the first child of my parents. My mom, a mild mannered, seemingly subservient Japanese woman who lived with her history of war, starvation, government, immigration and ultimately having her own family in a new country. It seemed to be a clear case of a woman choosing the best of a new place while trying to retain the parts of an old country. She would admit to missing “home” and wishing to recapture the family she left behind to marry an American. That would be dad. A post depression era Brooklynite looking for a better life than his dock working father had experienced. I came to understand life as an oldest child with a younger sister. We looked nothing alike. She had curly hair like dad, already whitening by the time she was 15. Just like our nana, whose jet black hair had become a snowy white cap in her 70’s. Our differences were clearly easy to see. We had different body shapes. She, robust. Me, frail. She, adventurous. Me, contemplative. She just seemed more “normal” than me. I was frequently reminded exactly how weird I was. And why was I always trying to run away? I once packed my bags during my birthday party. And there, with that note on the bedroom door that read, “Goodbye forever. You will never see me again,” was the first regret. Someone else’s regret that I would be asked to have to live with.
Married and doing what seemed normal and natural, I was working and considering my own family. I would do that without regrets, I told myself. I would find a way to be true to what felt right and not make choices based on other’s ideas. That , I figured, would just create more regrets. Other’s regrets.
I had obtained a social security card using a Baptismal certificate, itself having been xeroxed so many times it was crooked and spotted. The IRS has little tolerance for names and numbers that do not jive. I needed to change my name from my maiden name to the name I chose as a married woman. I knew I was born in Japan. The date was easy. The place was tricky, I hadn’t been taken back there since I left. The proof was the most amazing magic trick of all. The back of my naturalization certificate displayed a name change. It also noted an adoption.
One evening in my parent’s kitchen, my mom pivoted completely to the opposite direction and walked to the other end of the house. Dad simply said, “We adopted you.” He handed me my naturalization certificate and he, too, exited stage left. We would never have another conversation about that day, those numbers, the players, any regrets, anything. I was left with the knowledge of something that completely unraveled life as I knew it and gave rise to the idea that there are people out there who don’t know either.
With the installation of long distance telephone on our phone bill (we’re talking 1990 something here) and the purchase of a home pc, I set out looking for myself on the internet. Not an easy feat. There didn’t seem to be anything to look for. If there were details about me that I could do something with, my parents held them close. For whatever reason (pride? shame? guilt? regret? pact? honor?) my mom died in 04 and took any details with her. Death seems to have a way of offering you a chance to sever strings, if only because the one who passes is free from the ties. There is no longer a looming confrontation or question. What is left is the living, with these strings attached to parts of your body, intersecting vital organs. They travel with you to the doctor’s office. They register for classes with you. They get in the way when you need to fill out ethnicity choices. They wind around your ankle, tripping you every time you look at one of your own children and wonder how they came to be so creative? so smart? They choke you to tears, gasping for air when you see friends’ families celebrating holidays and summer vacations. The perfection of a family history is so easily destroyed by keeping secrets.
I vowed not to be consumed by their regrets. I looked anyway. Impossible as it seemed, finding the truth was more important than not. Left unattended, the mind will make things up as it goes. It made sense to have truth to work with. THAT, I could work with. All the shame and guilt had nothing to offer. And so it was after my mom passed that I got a surge of luck and found there were 3 brothers. 2 given up before me, each in his own infancy and one born to her after a marriage to an American, her immigration noted to Omaha, NE. It was a safe assumption that she was not looking back. First contact with her was a return phone call from her husband. I was familiar with his role as on duty guard, I had grown used to my dad’s odd behavior to be my mom’s interpreter(which was to point out what she didn’t know, shouldn’t know, didn’t need to know). She was already familiar to me. Of course she was. She gave birth to me. She gave me a name I will never hear.
“You have the wrong person. That is my wife’s birthdate, but she is 10 years younger than the person you are looking for and my wife had no children. Sorry. ” (Translate: she is passing herself off as 10 years younger than she is and did not mention having other children. 3 children, infact. 2 boys who became fine upstanding citizens and good fathers. and a girl, who likely resembles her family members in Japan and bears the courage to do something, even when it seems like an impossibility). Contact would be made twice more. She would never acknowledge our existence. She would never grant the peace that comes from knowing circumstances that led to a decision, whether regretted or not…..it still happened. I am still here, strings and all.
My search for her ended with the nephew of her husband. He would tell me how sorry he was that their life is odd. He would also express his desire to stay clear of it all, he didn’t want to upset anyone. (adoptees seem to upset people) He would send a facebook message to my husband telling him she passed sometime this week from colon cancer. He thought I would want to know.
So, there it’s done. She went without having to face her regrets or mine.
Life does go on. A friend instructed me: “For those that understand, no commentary is necessary. For those that can’t understand, no amount of explanation will suffice. ”
As I began life, there would be a pattern of people deciding I was not worth the truth. Even in death, it seems I am not worthy still. I only know she died this week. I was not even worthy of the date. No directions to a grave. I will not be listed in her obituary. I suppose I will wish she Rest In Peace. I have a life to live, full of regrets….hers and mine.