A Memory for Some Peace
My sister said that I stole her memory. I didn’t mean to, I just thought it was my memory. I still do. I vividly recall walking from the parking lot to the movie theater next to my grandmother. I remember looking up at her and holding her hand. I remember the movie, The Black Stallion. I remember a cruise ship, a fire, a small boy and an island and my subsequent – but alas, only temporary – fear of cruise ships and my more enduring fear of fire. I even remember the lights going on and laughing with my grandmother, because we looked around to take in the rest of the audience only to discover that we were the only members of that showing – and I was sitting on her lap, so we took up exactly one seat. I also remember going home and telling my parents the funny story.
But my sister remembered pretty much the same thing. Only she started crying at our reminiscing dinner table, claiming that I was stealing her memory. My grandmother, who was also at the dinner table, can’t remember where she put her napkin three seconds ago, so she was no help. My mother, who wasn’t at the movies with us, and who frankly didn’t remember either, decided to side, as usual, with my sister, the victim of the memory theft. My father, not so discreetly, attempted to change the subject to something less taboo than the clearly very scandalous Black Stallion. So I said mercy to the one with the tears. After all, it wasn’t making me cry. She could have it.
A family of sea-horses conversing with a rabbit, a talking head, an ankh, a hand giving me the finger…
“You’re transfixed,” Andy, my husband said to me as he noticed the top of my head pushed into the headrest, gazing out of the sunroof, staring at the cloudy night sky. Irritated by the clichéd-ness of it all – playing that old game of making shapes out of the clouds – I turned to look out the side window and thought instead about the humble row houses on the side of I-95. How would you address a party invitation to the people living in those houses, “24-B I-95?”
It was another weekend of events, this time commemorating one of Andy’s cousin’s Bat Mitzvahs. At the Friday night dinner kick-off to the Saturday Bat Mitzvah, luncheon, evening affair and Sunday brunch, we got to visit with the entire extended family and then some. We enjoyed cocktail chatter for the most part, even received some well wishes on our impending adoption of a baby from China. I got to join the teenaged cousins in making fun of my husband.
I’m cool; he’s “so” not.
Then a discussion with Andy’s 88-year-old grandfather (yes, age is a mitigating factor, I do admit), PopPop, which began with, “There are some really pretty ‘ones’ that are anchors on the news.” And was capped off with “Why can’t you adopt an American baby?”
My responses, “Oh, you mean Connie Chung?” and “There really are no American infants to adopt,” were admittedly lame and untruthful, respectively. In defense of our child-to-be, I should have educated him on the fact that there are many individuals of Asian descent in our country, making a variety of worthy contributions. I should have explained to him that we had decided to go the international adoption route for many reasons, not one of which was the “unavailability” of American babies. But I was lazy, or wimpy, or diplomatic. Yeah, that’s it, I was diplomatic. And he’s old and sad and why bother, right?
I guess the expression “can’t teach an old dog new tricks” became fixed in my mind and overshadowed any desire to correct Andy’s grandfather. But it applied twofold to the Friday night dinner conversation. Most obviously to Andy’s grandfather – why even bother to educate him, even if it is the right thing to do? But also to me – why am I still thinking about and even disturbed by his dumb remarks? I had to explain to a semi-confused and semi-sympathetic Andy that we can’t teach me new tricks in that regard. With hope, when our daughter comes, the “new tricks” will come more instinctively, at least to me, if not to PopPop.
Andy puts the Nick Drake CD on the car stereo and says expectantly, sweetly, “Doesn’t this remind you of a crisp morning in Banff?” I agree that it does and he squeezes my hand. It really does. I picture our sweatshirts and our climbs and of course the mountains and our goose bumps soon covered by sweat. And the Brazil 66 CD really does make me think of our hotel room in the Amazon, just like the Wallflowers makes me think of Myrtle Beach. But honestly, 5th Dimension does not remind me of Provence – even though I would say that it does.
We went through some of the infertility saga – I mean, process – and then fairly quickly decided to move onto what we saw as a much better option for us: international adoption. At around the same time that we revealed our intention to adopt, Sister-in-Law No. 1 and Sister-in-Law No. 2 both announced their simultaneous (and apparently effortless) pregnancies. I thought I was supposed to feel jealous. I heard stories from other unintentionally-childless friends who broke down in tears mid-aisle in grocery stores upon learning of sibling pregnancies. So I even tried to feel jealous. But, I just really didn’t.
I did feel annoyed though. Sister-in-Law No. 1 is a very sensitive person. She assumed that I would be upset at her exciting announcement and pre-empted my reaction by crying herself! It was a little bit confusing, her telling me that she was pregnant and then immediately starting to cry. I really did appreciate the sentiment, sort of, but I was unable to make her believe that I actually did feel truly happy and excited for her. I did! I swear!
Despite my close relationships with them, she and her mother spent the next several months telling me nothing about the pregnancy, leaving me out of all planning discussions and just generally being “sensitive” to my “plight,” until finally I had to tell them to stop and give me a little bit of credit.
Sister-in-Law No. 2 already knew about our adoption when she announced her pregnancy. She took a different approach. Assuming that not being able to have a child naturally is devastating to me – because it would be for her – she e-mailed me a series of “alternative” methods of resolving infertility. I found her thoughtfulness to be a little bit thoughtless. She obviously did not realize that continuing to send me tips on ways to get pregnant (eating red meat, taking various herbs), while informative, also implied that our decision to adopt wasn’t as good as getting pregnant. I had to tell her to stop as well. But I still don’t think she understands, and I cringe at the sympathy vibes emanating from her whenever I’m around her.
That was all by way of background. At the aforementioned Bat Mitzvah, we were taking the opportunity to get some full family photos. Next to my now very pregnant sisters-in-law, I basked in the glory of my slim arms, defined waste and stretchmarkless thighs.
But then my brother-in-law posed my sisters-in-law for the corny big belly to big belly shot. They wobbled over, bumped bellies and smiled for the cameras amidst exclamations of “How cute!” and “What a great shot!”
My scrawny body and I looked on from the camera side, and inexplicably, I felt a little bit sad.
“How would you like to live here?” Andy asks me, as is our habit, as we pass the squat skyline of Wilmington. “I would die,” I say rotely, in our scripted retort. I probably wouldn’t die, but I definitely don’t think I would like it.
We travel the next 25 or so miles until we see the bigger, but manageable, skyline of Philadelphia and Andy says, as is also our habit, “Here’s our little city.” I smile.
Andy’s cousin, and the host of the Bat Mitzvah, insisted on introducing us to her close friend who also adopted a child from China. We were hesitant. What kind of awkward conversation could we start? So, Andy’s cousin took us over to her friend herself and introduced us as also adopting from China. Her eyes opened really wide and she got this huge grin on her face and she touched both of our arms. Finally, true understanding of the magnitude of this thing – our thing – that we’re doing.
She told us that starting with the day they hand our daughter to us, we would begin making our own family memories, something that she prizes more than anything else (and something I found to be somewhat reassuring considering that I had apparently been resorting to memory theft of late). She embraced us with her offers to help, provide insight and guidance, and she sent us back to Table 10 with chills (Andy) and tears of happiness and gratitude (me).
Upon arriving at Table 10, I looked at Andy and we giggled a little bit at our reactions to our new friend. It was a really cool sensation to have even a brief conversation with someone who deep down understands what we’re feeling, someone who understands it at its essence and says exactly the right things and only the right things. We also giggled because we were embarking on something so special, an experience so exclusively ours to keep and hold.
Andy’s mom called us over and asked us what we were looking so sheepish about. She said that she wanted “in” on our good gossip. We laughed and I told her that we had spoken to the cousin’s wonderful friend who had adopted from China. Andy’s mom looked at us both in the eye and gave us a genuinely happy smile. I looked back at her and thought, for the first time, maybe we’re not the only ones who truly understand. Maybe this experience and these memories are ones that we will be sharing.