‘We’ll call it the week of judgement,‘ my boyfriend joked when I voiced concerns about meeting his extended family during a week long holiday in Iceland for the first time in our three year relationship. After five years of writing scandal, I’m used to being judged. After ten years of living polyamorously I’m used to meeting members of extended family (who judge me). But building chosen family configurations satisfies some long lost childhood desire to be surrounded by family instead of talking to the garden flowers for company. But that family is ever moving, recreated in a vision only I am party to; some sort of parody of the thing I feel I’m missing. Of the thing I missed as an adoptee. It’s an urge to connect, build and include, as if I am re-parenting my lost inner child.
I once tried to be the daughter they wanted me to be. I tried to be the girl who followed in their footsteps. But I was a changeling. Odd and unacceptable. And it became my role, to be the person who disappoints. I repeated the same pattern after reunion with my biological family. Twenty years of absence leaves too much of a mark to ignore. The shape of the daughter who was given away, was different to the one who came back. She’ll always be the black sheep, the one tainted by illegitimacy and scandal. Adoption defines you.
So going to meet his family, I knew I would be the square peg. To tell you the truth after 40 years, it’s not a big deal anymore. I have my partner, my children and I’m doing fine as the odd one out, thank you very much. I’ve even made a career out of it on the basis of–‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it’. I don’t fit in, so instead I celebrate it. It’s much better that way.
But then I met his family. Like every family there are internal fights, and loving bonds. History which has warped and scarred, history which has forged alliance. Tragic stories, break ups, make ups. What I found so peculiar, so unfamiliar is that well, they were all odd, like me. Open about their shit and about having shit, like me. Utterly accepting of unconventional idiosyncrasies, which others might shame. Amid the blackened landscape with dormant volcanos, dancing in the rainbow strewn waterfalls and temperamental geysers I found a dose of depression here, a pinch of anxiety there and a dash of ADHD, all happily part and parcel of life. Unashamedly embraced with all the other quirks that make up our humanity.
From the jovial family uncle, who listens to trance and reads philosophy, to the grandfather who built his own house 10 miles from any other in the middle of a national park and the old-before-her-time niece who will not allow her image to be captured on any photo yet was able–in one short week–to help my small son overcome his phobia of animals, no therapy required.
A feeling I hadn’t known, and scarcely recognised flushed over me. I didn’t feel odd, or unconventional. I fit. I felt like this was my family, my tribe, with all its weird and wonderful troubles and joys. If home is where you are accepted and understood for all that you are, then this, I realised, was it. And on the flight home, I shared my powerful emotions with my boyfriend. Loss of my unique status, coupled with the feeling of finally being comfortable in my own skin. He said ‘Welcome home. What took you so long?’
But this is not my family no matter how much I wish it were. It is dependent on whether my boyfriend and I remain together. This joy can only be transient. After estrangement and divorce I know that pieces of paper like my adoption certificate, or my marriage certificate cannot promise a tomorrow we don’t know. My biological mother once said that blood was the only thing that mattered; but when push came to shove, even that didn’t matter as much as the ignominy and social exclusion that would have reigned down on us both should she have kept me. If my experience has taught me anything, I know that I cannot trust the continued presence of others, but I trust I have the tools to fix myself when they or I choose to leave. That’s not a bad lesson to have.
So I’m scared but dully pragmatic. Scared now that I have a tenuous taste of home for the first time in my life, it will be taken from me. Pragmatic because I know I will survive, and thrive as I have always done without it. The taste of something I have always longed for is bittersweet and I can’t let myself become accustomed to belonging because I don’t want the pain when I lose yet another family. I have no claim to it, to them. And though I thought I lived my life with the philosophy of screw it, let’s do it my pain and how I handle it, will affect my partner and my children. I don’t know if I have the tools to fix that pain. At least that’s the excuse I’m using. Because to commit in the hope that they will be my family and my future, when we know nothing of what might change, is folly. Isn’t it?