Katie

I discovered two things about myself the day Katie was born: I would die for another person, and I would kill for another person. That a love so fierce could spring up inside of me was a surprise I think no new parent can anticipate. I’d been waiting for her my whole life. Why have I not written about her until now? I suppose I felt that we’re far too close for me to be objective. Then it occurred to me. I don’t have to be objective. She is the center of my universe. Anyone who has known me for even a short time knows this.

Sometimes I don’t know why I love her so much. She’s fractious, strong-willed, and completely uninterested in pleasing me. Within hours of being born, she was kicked out of the maternity ward for disturbing the other babies. I was amazed when I heard other babies crying. They sounded puny compared to the robust shrieks that Katie produced. The only times she wasn’t lustily demanding attention were when she nursed or slept. Katie was a world-champion sleeper and eater. She weighed 26 lbs at six months. She took naps until she was seven.

Katie is an artist. She would not take direction or classes. A wise art teacher told me to buy her supplies and books and leave her be, so that’s what I did. Sometimes I think she is part mermaid, part fish. She took to water like, well, a duck. That was her first word, at seven months. She hasn’t shut up (at least to me) since. She drew this picture when she was five:

This is how she saw herself, even then. She loved animals from the time she was conscious. Once, we went to a pioneer farm outside of Houston with my parents. While we weren’t looking, two-and-a-half-year old Katie was found hugging a sow who weighed at least 400 lbs. The farmer was apoplectic. Katie was thrilled.

She is one of those lucky people who knew she wanted to work with animals or make art from a very early age. She has never deviated from this, and today she is working to become a graphic arts designer for a zoo. I don’t know where these traits came from. I am not artistic, neither was her father (There are reports that this came from an uncle on her father’s side, but no one is sure, because that side of her family is shrouded in secrets and mysteries.)  No one is obsessed with animals. My side, of course, is a blank. We don’t know what my aunts, uncles, or cousins love because I’m adopted.

I think this was why her birth had such an impact on me. She is the only person in my world who looks, laughs, and talks like me. She gets me in a way that is primal and instinctive, the same way I get her. I can’t judge how I was as a mom. I made many mistakes, I know this. I also know that I did some things right. She knows I love her and accept her for who she is, no matter what. There were times when it might have been easier to crush her spirit to get her to do what I wanted, or to make my life a little less difficult. My intuition told me this was not the way, it would never be the way.

There were, as expected, many rough patches. The usual preadolescent angst made her snotty and dismissive. A major upheaval in eighth grade damaged and delayed her teen years. She understands #MeToo, just as I do. She left home for seven years, a necessary time to grow. She returned when she was twenty-five. I recognized she had grown, but my ex didn’t. They have long been oil and water, and as she’s gotten older, they have started to figure out how to have a relationship.

We live together now, in a house big enough to give us our own space. We prefer living with each other. There are never arguments about much of anything. Someone does whatever needs to be done. Oh, sure, we bicker sometimes, and sometimes get frustrated with each other. We’ve reached that stage where she is right about 90% of the time, damn it! It does work, though, mainly because we both need a lot of space.

When I got divorced, and later, after I was sick with Lyme, Katie has risen to a true equal. She has taken care of me as I took care of her. We will always be mother and daughter, but we are also two single women who are friends. Quirky, loyal, artistic, quicksilver, and most of all, herself, I will always love her more than any other person on earth, unless she decides to have kids. I’m not holding my breath, and it won’t matter one way or the other, because like I learned from my parents and she is learning from me, I love her anyway, and all I want is for her to be happy.

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curses

I curse. A lot. Recent studies indicate cursers are smarter and more honest. Yes! Let’s go with that. I can’t remember the first time I heard someone curse, or the first time I cursed. I do remember cursing with my friends on the bus, the words spitting out of my mouth. Curse words are often sharp, their sounds like punches. Shit, fuck, damn, they all have a nice staccato sound. The longer words are melodic, rolling off the tongue: motherfucker, sonofabitch. Is that what I liked about cursing? Or was it the lure of the forbidden? It’s been too long for me to tell. What is certain is that I took to cursing like Donald Trump lies. Like Trump, now I can’t seem to help myself, even if I wanted. The curses burst out, a sort of verbal tic. I can rein it in for a short period of time, but then something usually happens.

There are instances where, to me, curses are not only appropriate, but called for. When I was in the sixth grade, I was with my mom at the stable. I led my horse, Duchess, out of the stall to groom her. She was a crafty old mare, and she liked to push me into the fence or the walls when I made her do something she didn’t like. This time there was a nail protruding from one of the boards, the curved tip angled perfectly to snag the tender skin above my bicep clean through. “Damn!” I said, a perfectly reasonable response to being caught like a fish on a hook. “Damn, damn, damn!” It hurt, you see. I can so clearly remember my mother’s response. “Melissa! There’s no need to curse!” If I had the presence of mind, and the balls, I would have said what I was thinking: if ever there was a need to curse, this was it. So, being hurt. When else? Driving. I could no more drive without cursing than I could go without food and water. Other drivers drive me to cursing. Sorry about the pun, but really, if I wasn’t cursing, I’d be apoplectic with rage. Cursing relieves the pain of a stubbed toe or bacon grease burn. Saying ‘fuck’ over and over is my pain om. Cursing is a handy skill during sex, too, the dialectical cousin of talking dirty. I curse to express my joy, as in “I’m so fucking happy right now.” I could say “I’m so happy”, but would you know how happy I really am? I think not…

What about the children, some might ask. I say children need to learn when it is appropriate to curse. My mom, a natural born lady, cursed twice in my lifetime that I can remember. My dad wanted to curse around us kids. He chose not to, so he made up words. ‘Poodletoot’ and ‘razzlefratz’ were the two I remember best. I use both words to this day. I asked Katie if my cursing affected her, and did I curse more than her. She laughed and said she loves to curse. She also said she curses way more than me. Take that anyway you’d like. Maybe it’s in our gene pool. She also said she curses when she’s sad, mad, hurt or happy. I didn’t ask her if she curses during sex. TMI.

I know, I know, some curses take the Lord’s name in vain. I understand that. I’m also sensitive to others and respect their wishes when I’m around them. However, those words hold no power over me, because I’m not religious. It’s like learning curse words in a foreign language, the childish delight partly because the words don’t mean anything to me. There are some curse words I don’t like. C*@t that rhymes with punt is reserved for the lowest of the low for me. I have some perennial faves, but I love it when I hear a variation on a classic. ‘Asswipe’ became my go-to word three or four years ago. I’m not sure why, seemed right for the times, I suppose.

This may be the first blog in a very long while that hasn’t had something about Lyme disease. To me, this is YUGE! Maybe I am getting used to my new normal. I can’t remember if my cursing habits changed at all while I was really sick. I wasn’t driving and I was alone, talking to myself, a good deal of the time. It wouldn’t surprise me if I cursed myself out. Wait, I think I did curse, especially when I lost my mind. I remember calling myself a stupid bitch any time I did something irrational, which was quite often.

Good cursing is an art. I get a thrill when I hear a well-placed curse word. I like the way curses enhance the impact of a statement. I will continue to curse, enthusiastically and vociferously. I’m also going to continue to buy in on the studies that say I’m smarter and more honest, even if they’re total bullshit. Because that’s the way I fucking roll.

 

 

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genes

With all the talk about elections, race identity has become a thing. White people are clamoring to stay on top, everyone else is frantic, and with good reason. Recently, a dear friend had her DNA tested, the kind of test that gives you percentages of your heritage. Hers was a veritable smorgasbord of ethnicities. She looks what people like to call ‘exotic’, beautiful and not quite white. Most Americans classify themselves by family history, even if that history has been altered by name changes and inconvenient ancestors eliminated by omission. Some of us are unknowns, unless we choose to look.

I am adopted, this is the earliest fact of my life. Born in San Antonio, I was given to my parents when I was six days old, in a dress my mom brought for my birth mother to dress me in. Aside from the heartbreaking aspect of my birth mother dressing me to give me away, I wondered. Who am I, really? When I got curious, about fifteen years ago, I discovered that my birth mother was/is Hispanic. Big deal. I was always the darkest white person in every class photo, anyway. How many of us know what ethnicity we truly are? Women have obfuscated and dodged paternity questions since forever, due to the murky politics of sex, rape and love. But now, as American citizens are busily sorting and screaming about exclusion and inclusion and whose lives matter and lets get rid of illegals, this self-identification thing grows complicated.

This does go back to Lyme disease, because everything in my life now returns me to Lyme, and why I got so sick. Well, it turns out one’s reaction to Lyme is influenced by genetics and age (of COURSE age, as in, the older you are the sicker you can get). Cytokines, which are the body’s most important immune signaling molecules, decrease with age. Strike one for me. I guess I should be glad I’m not older. There is also a certain genetic variation that makes some people sicker than others. Did I get that, too?  Like everything about Lyme, it depends. It depends on what bugs were in your tick bite. It depends on when you started treatment. It depends on whether it is the right treatment. It depends on what tests you took and how accurate they were. Maybe my genetic makeup made me get sicker than others. I’ve always viewed my adoption as a sort of talisman against sickness. As I wrote “unknown, adopted” across the top of the family health section in every medical intake record I’ve filled out, I felt a smug sense of destiny—if I don’t know it won’t happen. Hey, I know it’s magical thinking but it’s mine, so there.

I was never one of those adoptees who had a burning desire to know my birth parents. Until I had Katie. At some point, I wanted to know why she loved animals, or where her artistic streak came from (it certainly wasn’t from me or her father!). I ordered the adoption papers the Methodist Mission Home in San Antonio would release, the pertinent facts blacked out like a classified war document. I searched for three years. I registered with adoption search agencies and tried to figure out what I could from the meager information I had. An “adoption angel” saw my information and sent me the link that opened the doors to my heritage.

My birth father was white. In fact, he was her Journalism teacher. In high school. That’s right, my birth mom got pregnant in February of her senior year with her 32-year-old teacher. It’s hard to put myself in her shoes, much less in the times (1958, McAllen, Texas). I thought about this even more when I read the reviews of “Loving”, a new movie about the Supreme Court decision to strike down interracial marriage laws. Would my birth mom been ostracized for having a half-white baby? Would my birth father not have married her because she wasn’t white? This puts a whole new spin on why she put me up for adoption (other than the obvious). She was number five of eleven children. Her family had lived in the valley since the 1860s. I don’t know why I like this fact, other than it makes me really, really Texan. I gathered what details I could about her life after me. I found some pictures of both her and my birth father. It’s obvious, I look like both of them, there’s no doubt at all in my mind that he is my birth father. It was a validation, too. He taught journalism, her family owned a restaurant. He played musical instruments, she went on to study journalism in college. Somewhere out of those ten birth aunts and uncles, I bet there are artists and animal lovers.

I was surprised how comforting it was to see pictures of my birth parents. I still don’t know their medical histories, but the days of magical thinking are over. I have genetic flaws, like every human on earth. A genetic anomaly might be what made me get so sick with Lyme. I will still tell people I am half-Hispanic when the subject comes up, and it comes up often. Think about it. Even the most liberal-thinking make classifications and inquiries while getting to know someone. Where are you from? What kind of name is XYZ? I wonder now, will some people look at me differently if they know my background. There’s a powerful video making the rounds, a room full of people opening their DNA tests together. The surprises are evident, the video’s obvious purpose to shatter the notion that anyone is pure anything. Maybe we should all take a DNA test.  Level the playing field a bit. Meanwhile, I have to get back to fighting Lyme, genetic destiny be damned.

 

 

 

 

 

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