Friday, July 01, 2005

The Nuts And Bolts Of It

A short while back, Mr. Hof was inspired by Mr. Sideways to raise the blogger challenge flag and the following gauntlet was thrown:

You did not have perfect parents (none of us do/did). They set your sights 'off' on a few things. Blog out one of the sights you now, as an adult, realize your parents set wrong.

After much deliberation, some hesitation and a threat from A* , I have accepted the challenge.

The first thing I can remember is the excitement of seeing a school of little fish swimming along the shore. It’s hazy, but I remember throwing my little pink sand bucket in the water, and the fish scattered and disappeared. Linda went into the surf and got my bucket back. I threw it into the surf again. I also remember lots of talk about “the motel.” Somehow, in my three year old mind, I surmised that a motel must be an animal. I can still remember my confusion over what a motel must look like. We entered a room and I immediately began searching for a motel. I looked everywhere – even under the bed. They asked me what I was looking for, and I told them that I was looking for the motel. I remember a huge burst of laughter. I was three and we were on vacation in Panama City. It was the vacation that was always referred to as “the trip we took to Florida right after we got you.”

Four years ago, a series of coincidences and a little determination led me to Madeira Beach on the West Coast of Florida to meet my biological mother for the first time since I was two years old. All those years of wondering came crashing upon me in a literal split second when she opened the door. The first few minutes of our new relationship were a frenzied Polaroid snapshot series of muddled emotion. I was thoroughly stunned by the surrealism of the moment. For whatever reason, I hadn’t expected it to be so, um, heavy.

I saw baby and toddler pictures of myself for the first time. I saw pictures of my father and my grandparents for the first time. I learned that my ancestors were Jewish, German and Irish. I was told that my abandonment, at two years old, was really just a bit of a mix-up – a mistake. My parents met in Pittsburgh, fell in love, got married and had me. Apparently, when I was two, they decided that they had made a mistake and got divorced. My mother and my maternal grandparents always spent summers in Pittsburgh and winters in Miami Beach (yeah, kind of weird that I ended up back in Miami Beach, huh?). My mother chose to leave me with my father and move back home to Florida. One day, my father made the decision not to pick me up from the babysitter – ever. The babysitter, Peggy, never called the authorities and just sort of gave me to her daughter, Mary Jane, in what she thought would be a temporary foster situation. At this point, I’m told, I stopped speaking and spent much of my day hiding in closets and under furniture. Mary Jane became concerned when, after a few months, her two-year-old daughter, Kathy, began to mimic my behaviors. She asked her cousins, Ruth and Edward, if they would be able to provide a foster home. In the driveway, they made the decision to take me in. A few weeks later, we were vacationing in the Redneck Riviera, and Linda, who is 13 years older than me, became my sister and saved my little pink sand bucket from floating out to sea.

I grew up calling Ruth and Edward mom and dad. I have no recollection of life before them, and they never hid what they knew of my story. When I was entering middle school, it was discovered that I had no social security number or birth certificate, and, as a remedy, just before my twelfth birthday I was legally adopted. My new parents were well into their fifties, and not particularly nurturing personalities. Edward was a miserable alcoholic, who beat the fuck out of me regularly. I would often “forget” my gym uniform for school so I could keep the welts on my legs hidden. Ruth was the kind of person who was never happy unless she was complaining about something. My sister Linda has a heart of gold and I love her as much as any little brother can love a big sister, but she got married and moved out when I was just six and I was left to fend for myself. As a kid, I spent most of my time alone in the woods behind the house. I mapped out the entire forest, watched a litter of foxes grow, and listened for fleeting scarlet tanagers and raucous blue jays. I developed an intense relationship with Nature that still comforts me to my core.

By fourteen I was escaping to my friend Erik’s house as much as possible. His parents were divorced and his dad let us do pretty much whatever we wanted. We were complete delinquents, and as Erik’s sidekick, I felt a part of something for the first time ever. We shoplifted cassette tapes, U2 posters and Jams® shorts (it was 1984, what do you want?) and sold them at school for money for cigarettes and pot. By graduation, I was living in my car – a Ford Pinto no less, and having the time of my life.

It’s difficult to pinpoint a sight that my parents set wrong. Fuck, it’s difficult for me to define parents. My sights weren’t set wrong. They weren’t even presented to me. As a result of my childhood, I have a deep, vertigo-inducing well of anger and shame. The sides are so steep that I can’t really look into it for fear of falling in. Fortunately, I am also equipped with a bottomless supply of empathy and compassion.

The unusual circumstances of my personal history have always placed me firmly in the enchanted position of outsider looking in, and that’s not always a bad thing. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to accept full responsibility for every accomplishment in life. If I don’t do another fucking thing, but sit on the couch and watch Brady Bunch re-runs for the rest of my life, I’ve beaten the odds. And that’s kinda cool.

I’m still trying to make sense of it all, but I’m getting there. I’ll be in Pittsburgh in two weeks visiting Ruth and Linda and my beautiful eight-year-old niece, Nicole.


hofzinser said...

muther effer.

You are such a writer.

I read other bloggers and think, "she's a good writer, he's an OK writer, he's an amazing writer..."

You don't get an adjective. You are a writer in every sense of the word.

When we finally meet I may punch you square in the nose. Don't be offended, it's just me being insecure and humbled by a wordsmith.

A* said...

You made me cry. I had to stop reading. And what the fuck?? I know this story!!

I can't wait to see you tomorrow!

bornfool said...

Great post.It makes me even more greatful for the parents I have.

Anonymous said...

I've known Joe for 27 years; I am the delinquent Erik that he writes about. I never knew that all of these things happened to Joe as we grew up - I never understood why he thought that hanging out at my house was fun. Joe has always been a loving person, always willing to give of himself and one that I envy for his ability to rise above what was dealt to him and become so successful and loved by so many.

I love you!!

Cyrus said...

Hof: You're makin' me blush. Thanks for the kind words, but let's be serious. You and A* are the real writers around here (you have blogger groupies for god's sake). So looking foward to meeting you tomorrow (if you punch me, I won't be offended...I'll beat your ass - and then we can lunch.

A*: Don't cry. It all had a happy ending, of which you are a large part. Can't fucking wait to see you tomorrow!!!

Lejnd: Thanks for visiting /commenting. Mind if I link to your blog?

Betty: You'll be my sister until the day I die. Our friendship is the kind John Hughes movies are made of. If you think I turned out ok, then get up off your 7 layered down featherbed mattress top, take a bow and accept most of the credit, since you were the first person to show me real friendship.

VegasGustan said...

Great story. My wife is in social work so I hear stories about kids that are just heart wrenching. I am glad that you made it through and are a functioning adult. Is Edward dead? You said was an alcoholic and did not mention that you would be seeing him. Did he ever say he was sorry? I think abuse is the worst thing a person can do to a child and I hate to hear about it. If you don't want to go in to details, I understand.

Cyrus said...

Vegas: Thanks for visiting, and no I don't mind going in to most details. Generally, it is the listener that becomes uncomfortable - not me. I just sometimes become uncomfortable watching others become uncomfortable, but I know that most people just don't know what to say. Edward never said he was sorry and died several years ago and I hadn't spoken a word to him for more than a decade. I did not shed one tear at his funeral. But, I should mention that after many years of not speaking, Ruth and I have developed a decent relationship now, and I have forgiven her for letting it all happen.

VegasGustan said...

I am sorry he never apologized and that it all had to end that way. I guess sometimes people are who they are no matter what. I am glad that you could forgive Ruth for letting such a horrible thing occur. That shows just how good a heart you have. Well, I hope all continues to get better and grow. Take care.

Jackie said...

Wow--what a story you have there. I like how your big sister saved the little pink bucket.

Thanks for stopping by my blog, too...I appreciated your kind comment and look forward to reading more awesome posts from you.


Jamie said...

Came here via Hof, thanks for being so honest. Great post!

VegasGustan said...

Cyrus I added a link to your site on my blog. Just thought you would like to know. Cheers.

Valerie - Riding Solo said...

My life was never perfect but I enjoyed most of my childhood.

But I am still dealing with my adulthood.

It comes up later in my blog, 4herstory. Way later.

Thank you for one view from the other side.

Looking For My Biological Family said...

This made me cry. I can relate to this in many ways. Thank you for sharing. Sandra