I don’t set out to allow being adopted to touch every experience in my life but it sure seems as though in some form or another it is ever present. Of course reunion with a member of your birth family certainly doesn’t make the subject easily ignored now does it? I just feel like I want to explain that I don’t set out to obsess over it. Sadly though that is exactly what I did yesterday. I obsessed. Not to the point of detracting from meeting my nephew for the first time. That was all divine. However there were deep moments of emotion beyond our reunion experience that left me feeling somehow cheated. That seems selfish considering how blessed I was to be in the company I was in but I think my friends here will be gentle with me and understand after they hear of my experiences.
Our trip to NYC was an overall success. Meeting my nephew was a truly great experience. He is an outstanding young man. Our conversation was light and enjoyable and we were very comfortable in one another’s company. It was just really nice to see how things could be with my birth family. If only…..
I found out his next week will be spent with cousins of his/ours. They are my first cousins, my Uncle’s children and they are my age. I never knew they existed until yesterday, nor that I had relatives so close geographically. What a waste that we cannot meet.
His step uncle joined us and lives in NYC so we had our own personal tour guide. That was so nice. He was very patient and kind in light of the fact that we have four children for nothing is simple when you have four children.
The things we chose to do ended up having a huge effect on me. I feel drained and tired today.
I have to share what we did because it played such a monumental part in the experience of meeting my nephew for the first time.
Our first stop was Ground Zero. I have not been there since 9/11. As a matter of fact the last time I was there was about twenty years ago. I remember standing under those immense towers and feeling very very small. There really are no words to describe the feeling of standing at Ground Zero. All of these images seen on TV of that day swept through my mind. Dust clouds, people falling, the grief, all of it came to mind in single frames as one would view a slide presentation of hell.
St. Paul’s Church sits across the street from Ground Zero. From what I was told it is the oldest church in NYC. The cemetary just outside was covered with dust, computer screens, window blinds and papers so thick it took until 2003 for them to clean it up. Inside the church they have erected a tribute to 9/11. I took a lot of photos but I am sharing here the ones I found most symbolic of my feelings yesterday. They speak for themselves and need no commentary.
The following photo was taken at the fire station across the street from the WTC. They were the first to respond on 9/11. When we arrived they were cleaning out the fire truck and I just found this pile of gear sitting next to engine 10 to be more profound even than the huge tribute wall they had erected for the fallen firefighters.
After leaving Ground Zero we took the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. She’s strong and beautiful isn’t she?
Our final tour of the day was Ellis Island. This is where my already fragile emotions really got the best of me. I don’t know if it was being with my nephew for the first time or if my reaction would have been the same had the company been different. I can tell you being adopted has never felt more profound for me as it did while being there.
My nephew and I decided to go see the wall of names before anything else. We found one name on my birth mother’s side of the family and I took a picture for him. Then I went and searched for my adoptive family. My parents were in their late 40’s when they adopted me and their parents had already passed by the time I came along. I never had the pleasure of knowing any grandparents but my Mom has told me many stories about her mother. So many stories in fact that I feel as though I knew her. So it was very emotional for her name to be the one I found on that wall. She was 14 years old when she came to America. My son turns 14 today.
After taking the photograph of my grandmother’s name it struck me. History. Heritage. Family. I had just taken pictures of the names of two completely different and unrelated people, both of whom I have a connection with, and yet at that moment I felt as though somehow I did not deserve to have a connection with either. Had I not been rejected perhaps I would feel I deserved the connection with my blood relatives but because that’s not the case I felt I was somehow unwelcome to feel anything at all.
Because of the verbal history I have received from my Mom I felt I knew my adoptive grandmother, yet my true heritage lay with the previous photographed name which I knew nothing of. I was a part of it all and felt undeserving of any of it.
It was more than I could take. I made excuses and took my leave, not even entertaining the idea of visiting the two remaining floors. It must have seemed really strange to my nephew but I simply could not handle another moment. I later simply explained that I needed to rest. I didn’t want any part of our meeting to be heavy or uncomfortable. I kept it all to myself and I am really glad I did.
My daughter came with me outside and we sat by the pier watching the melting pot of humanity walk the very same path their ancestors had walked many years ago. There were smiles and tears but what I saw more strongly than anything in those faces was a feeling of connection. I know it’s strong but honestly I sat there feeling I had been raped of that connection and it hurt.
Across the water was a series of buildings I later found out were hospital quarters. It looks more like a prison doesn’t it? Can you imagine arriving in America after months of sickening sea travel and being placed in a room such as you see here? How utterly terrifying. It’s ironic; I felt more of an understanding while looking at this building as I did standing in the halls of the immigration center. It was as if my heritage was locked in one of those rooms and along with it my ability to claim any part of why I am here.
Upon return to NYC they walked us to Penn Station where we had a delicious and completely over priced meal. It was relaxing and filled with laughter. Then we hugged goodbye and promised to stay in touch. I honestly believe we will.
Separating my personal internal drama from the time I spent in the company of my nephew I would say it was an amazing and beautiful day. But I walked away carrying both joy and sadness and today I just feel drained.