In a Sea of Strangers

It sometimes bothers me how long this memoir project is taking. I’ve been working on it now for more than nine years, on again off again, like one of those annoyingly tumultuous relationship storylines on General Hospital or Days of Our Lives. Yet part of me knows that it’s not exactly healthy to completely immerse myself in this particular project. It’s not easy to dive head first back into the worst days of your life, to dig down and dredge up all the pain and the uncertainty and the shit that you worked so hard to overcome and deal with and leave behind.

So, for nine years, i’ve been easing myself into it, working my way through the manuscript and the memories bit by bit, piece by piece, dissecting my life and the moments that have defined me with a surgeon’s precision, and bring it all up under the lights–the good stuff, the ugly stuff, and all the stuff that fell somewhere in between.

It’s interesting what you find when you go back through your life with a magnifying glass and a fine tooth comb. And the longer I work on this project and give shape to the story, the more I think about all the important moments–both good and bad–that ultimately define me.

But the one thing I never do is play the “what if” game, or look upon any of it with regret, because without those moments–all of those moments–I wouldn’t be here now with my hubby and my hound and my babies tucked snugly in their beds.

So, I am thankful for all of it–the shit and the sunshine–because it’s raw and it’s real and it’s mine. And I’m ready to dive back in again and keeping writing, keep writing, keep writing to fill in the rest of the holes and finally share my story.

In the meantime, if you’d like to follow along on the journey as I complete the project, you can find me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/InASeaOfStrangers

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Three Years Ago Today (part 1)

Pardon the interruption folks, but there will be a 4-day hiatus from the regularly scheduled Project Life 365 blog leading up to my daughter Cadence’s 3nd birthday for the annual sharing of her birth story. It’s a crazy one. Trust me, you don’t want to miss it.

My Project Life 365 will resume on Monday. I will continue to shoot each day, and will post a photo for each day I missed. In the meantime, buckle yourselves in for the ride…

Three Years Ago Today…(part 1)

I awoke abruptly in the darkness, my heart pounding as if I’d been plagued by a nightmare. I couldn’t remember dreaming, yet something had startled me out of my restless slumber. But what?

I held my breath and listened.

The silence was broken by a low, muffled moan.

“Stevie, did you hear…” I began, but when I looked, the bed beside me was empty.

I flinched in surprise as the moan suddenly erupted into a scream.

I struggled to sit up, planting my hands on the mattress beneath me, then hefting my very pregnant body upright. My stomach tightened as Cadence flipped and rolled as if she too had been startled awake. I glanced at the clock. 2:54 a.m. Rolling onto my left hip, I worked my swollen legs over the side of the bed, and sat for a moment, catching my breath, before pushing myself up off the bed.

A thin shaft of light spilled into the hallway from the space beneath the bathroom door. I knocked softly.

“Stevie?” I said quietly. “Are you okay?”

No answer. I could hear him panting heavily.

I twisted the doorknob, and cracked open the door slightly.

“Stevie, what’s wrong? I thought I heard…”

“Aaaah! AAAAH! OW! Oh my God, it huuuuurts!” Steven screamed so loudly that I recoiled, bumping into the wall behind me.

My heart began to pound harder, thumping painfully against my ribcage. I stepped forward and knocked again, before pushing the door open wide enough to see Steven crumpled on the floor near the toilet.

“Steven, are you okay?

He looked up. His face was nearly as white as the porcelain, and his eyes were glassy and half-closed.

“Yeah…yeah…okay. I’m okay. I just…need a minute,” he panted, resting his forehead against the toilet. “I’ll be out in a minute.”

I closed the door and retreated to the bedroom. Steven screamed once more, and then everything was quiet again. I heard the toilet flush, and the splashing of water in the sink. Then, he shuffled back into the bedroom and fell heavily on the bed beside me. He pulled the covers up over his head, and moaned.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” I asked, pulling the blankets down so I could see his face.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It just hurts. Oh holy shit, it hurts so bad.”

“What hurts?”

“My stomach, like all the way down here,” Steven said, rubbing his hand over his lower abdomen. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“Maybe it’s just something you ate,” I said. “Just try to get some sleep, and hopefully you’ll feel better when you get up.”

Steven didn’t reply. I reached out and touched his hair. It was damp with sweat. He didn’t move, and I guessed that maybe he’d fallen back asleep.

I eased myself back onto my pillow. Cadence was still kicking and stretching, punching me twice in the bladder in the midst of her intricate gymnastic routine. Beside me, Steven was breathing slow and steady. Every so often, he would grimace in his sleep and moan.

I closed my eyes and fidgeted, trying to get comfortable enough to lull myself back to sleep, but it was useless. My brain wouldn’t shut itself off.

From the beginning, my pregnancy had been so easy. The first trimester I was exhausted most of the time, and I’d been completely nauseous for three months straight. Otherwise, I had absolutely no complaints about being pregnant. I never had any crazy mood swings or bizarre food cravings (except the day that I absolutely had to make pancakes at 2:30 in the afternoon). Besides some back pain and swollen ankles in my 9th month, I’d sailed through the entire pregnancy completely unscathed. Every time I visited my doctor, he would remark that I was absolutely the most laidback and healthy pregnant woman he’d ever seen, and I was excited that everything was going so smoothly.

As I neared my due date of January 25, I visited my doctors every week, and every week they kept telling me that I had not progressed. The baby wasn’t dropping. I wasn’t effacing or dilating. I blew past my due date, and still nothing. Finally, just when I was beginning to think that I was going to be pregnant forever, my doctor scheduled an induction. At 10:00 p.m. on Sunday, January 31, I was to report to Chandler Regional Medical Center. My doctor promised that I wouldn’t be leaving the hospital again without my baby girl in my arms.

What surprised me most about the pregnancy is how calm both Steven and I had been. I’ve always been pretty laidback and easygoing, and had simply taken the idea of becoming a parent in stride. Steven, however, tends to be a bit on the overly anxious and downright anal side, so I was genuinely shocked at how calm and collected he’d been. Now, lying there in the darkness, as he writhed and sweated in the bed beside me, I wondered if this just might be the moment when he would begin to fall apart.

Maybe he’s just having a panic attack, I wondered, staring up at the ceiling. Maybe he’ll be okay once we get up and start getting ready to go to the hospital. Maybe it’s not really as bad as he’s making it out to be.

Somewhere, in the midst of my musings, I managed to fall asleep.

I was jarred awake again when Steven tumbled out of the bed and ran for the bathroom, crying out in pain as he went. I grabbed for my glasses and looked at the clock, 6:15 a.m. There was no going back to sleep for me at that point, so I rolled out of bed. Electra followed closely behind, her toenails clicking on the wood floor as she ran toward her food bowl to wait for her breakfast. Behind me, I could hear Steven moaning loudly.

The rest of the day was a blur.

Somehow Steven and I had managed to put off a dozen things that we wanted to get done before Cadence arrived. When the pregnancy began to seem like it was going to stretch on forever, I guess we just got lazy. We had dozens of photos we wanted to frame and hang in the nursery, baby clothes that needed to be folded and put away, shelves to hang, and books to put away on shelves. I’d wanted to pre-make a couple meals and casseroles to freeze for later, when we were both sleep-deprived parents of a newborn and didn’t really feel like going to the trouble of cooking. You’d think being given the induction date would have kicked our butts into gear to get everything done, but we spent our last few days vegged out on the couch, watching movies, and just enjoying some lazy time together. We’d promised ourselves that we would get everything on our To-Do List done that Sunday. It was perfect. We didn’t have to leave for the hospital until 10 p.m., so we would have plenty of time. What could possibly go wrong with our plan?

While Steven spent the day migrating back and forth between the bed and the bathroom, I did a final check of our hospital bags, to make sure we hadn’t forgotten to pack anything. I brought him a bowl of chicken broth, and a glass of water, but he didn’t want either. I managed to talk him into taking a few sips of water and a dose of Pepto Bismol between waves of pain. Around noon, he fell asleep again, and I prayed that somehow he would feel better when he woke.

He didn’t.

Foerth arrived around 2 p.m. with Indy (the devil dog) and his suitcase. He’d agreed to housesit and watch Electra for us while we were gone. Foerth and I chatted while he flipped through the channels looking for something to watch and I worked on getting the photos for Cadence’s room framed.

Steven wandered out of the bedroom around 4 p.m., still looking pale and disheveled. He sat down on the couch, said hi to Foerth. A few moments later he clutched his stomach and grimaced. He got up off the couch and headed quickly for the bedroom. He barely made it through the door before crumpling to the ground and screaming.

“Honey, I think it’s time to go to the hospital,” I said. I leaned over as far as my protruding belly would let me and put a hand on Steven’s shoulder. His shirt was soaked with sweat. I touched his cheek and was surprised at how cold and clammy he was.

“Oh God. Ow! Oh shiiiiiit it huuuuurts! And I’m gonna miss it. I’m gonna miss my daughter’s birth!” Steven cried, grabbing my hand and pressing it against his sweaty face. “What am I gonna do? Aaah! OW! OW! Shit, it HUUURRRTTTSSS!”

I could feel the first stinging wave of panic threatening to overtake me. I swallowed. Took a deep breath. And another. I squeezed Steven’s hand.

“You’re not going to miss it,” I said, surprised at how calm I sounded. “We’re going to the hospital now. Get in the shower if you can. It might help you feel a little better. I’ll have Foerth help me load the bags in the car, and then we’ll go.”

“But…but…” Steven panted, lifting himself slowly off the ground. “Is it time already? Aw Jesus, I’m so sorry babe. I just want to feel better. I don’t want to miss it. I can’t miss it…”

“You’re not going to miss anything,” I said. “It’s not time for my appointment yet. We’re going now and you’re going to the Emergency Room. Everything’s going to be fine.”

“But…but…I…”

“No buts,” I said. “Get in the shower, get dressed, and we’ll go.”

I didn’t think it was possible for Steven to look any worse, but when he emerged from the bedroom after his shower, his skin had turned from pale white to ashy gray beneath the three-day growth of patchy brown stubble. Behind his glasses, his eyes were bloodshot and sunken. In his delirium, he’d managed to dress himself in a pair of navy blue South Park pajama pants, a neon tie-dye Concordia College t-shirt, white socks, and flip flops. When I said it was time to go, he pulled on a gray hooded sweatshirt, then put on his blue NY Mets hat and his black leather sport coat.

I stood for a moment, staring at him. If he hadn’t been in so much pain, I think I would have burst out laughing. He looked like a hobo. I wondered if there was any way I might be able to get him to change, or at least to take off the leather jacket. But I didn’t say anything. I just watched him shuffle out the door and climb into the minivan.

We pulled out of the driveway at 6:15 p.m., and I called Momma Dawn.

“Hey Momma, it’s me,” I choked when she answered.

Somehow I’d managed to hold it together all day, but I finally broke and cried when I explained to her how sick Steven was, and that we were on our way to the Emergency Room. “Do you think you can come? Please? In case…in case Stevie doesn’t get to come with me when Cadence is born?”

“Oh baby girl, of course I’ll come,” Momma Dawn said. “I’m getting in the truck now, and I’ll be right behind you.”

“Jesus, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” Steven moaned when I hung up the phone. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I’m so sorry!”

“It’s okay babe,” I said. I wiped my eyes, and took a long, deep breath. “Let’s just get you there and figure out what’s going on before this baby gets here.”

The 45-minute drive to the hospital seemed to take no time at all. I parked the van as close as I could to the ER entrance, and I held Steven’s hand tightly as we entered. We approached the desk, and Steven leaned heavily against it as he described his symptoms to the attendant. She took his information, and told us to take a seat and someone would be with us soon.

We found two empty seats, and waited. I absently rubbed my hands over my belly, feeling Cadence squirm beneath my skin. I tried not to think about the fact that she might be arriving soon, and that her Daddy might not be there with me to see it.

How the hell am I going to do this alone? I wondered. I pushed the thought away.

Beside me, Steven squirmed in his seat, clutching his stomach. Every few minutes, he would lean forward, and I would feel his body clench tightly. I watched as beads of sweat popped out on his forehead and trickled down his face. He wiped them away with the sleeves of his sweatshirt and shivered.

Finally, a nurse called his name. He squeezed my hand once before he left. Luckily, Momma Dawn arrived a few minutes later, so I didn’t have to sit alone and let my racing thoughts turn to panic.

We sat and waited and I filled Momma Dawn in on the events of the day. When Steven returned, I watched Dawn’s eyes widen for a moment in shock at the sight of him, and not just because of his outfit.

“Holy shit, Stevie!” she exclaimed, when he flopped in the chair next to me. “You don’t look so good.”

“Yeah, I don’t feel so good either. They said they want to run some tests, but I gotta wait awhile.”

“What kind of tests?” I asked.

Steven shrugged. “I don’t know. They didn’t say.”

“Did they say how long it might be?” I asked.

Steven shook his head.

I glanced at the clock. 8:32.

“I’ll probably have to go around 10 to get checked in,” I said. “I guess you’ll have to come later if you’re not done yet.”

Steven just nodded, clutching his stomach again. He inhaled deeply, held it for a moment, and then let it out slowly. Inhaled again. And exhaled. And again, until the pain subsided.

At 9:15, Steven was called back for his tests. As Momma Dawn and I sat talking, I kept hoping that he would suddenly return, good as new, just in time for us to go get checked in at Triage and begin the induction.

No such luck.

10:15 came and went with no sign of my husband. Momma Dawn and I gathered our things and headed down the hall, following the signs for the Labor and Delivery Unit.

It was late, and the lights had been dimmed. The Triage center seemed to be pretty much deserted. I gave my name to the nurse behind the desk, filled out a few papers, and then followed her to my bed. She told me to undress and slip into the gowns, and then she would be back to get things started. She and Momma Dawn stepped outside the curtain and left me alone to change.

Well, this is it, I thought, as I folded my clothes neatly and tied the thin, cotton gown around my neck and waist. I pulled the curtain open to let Momma Dawn and the nurse know I was finished, then I climbed onto the bed and rested my hands on my round belly.

The nurse returned to explain the procedure. She would administer a prostaglandins gel, then I would have to lie as still as I could and rest for an hour. I would go walk the hallways for 30-40 minutes to try and help jumpstart my labor. Afterward, I would come back, the nurse would check for any progress, and we would go another round of gel and walking as needed.

As the nurse administered the first round of gel, and then left me to rest, I wondered how quickly my labor would begin, and how quickly Steven would be joining me.

Damn, he really might miss this! I thought.

“Hey Momma, can you hand me my phone?” I asked. “I want to text Stevie to let him know where we are and see if he’s found anything out yet.”

“Sure baby girl,” Dawn said, digging my cell phone out of her purse and handing it to me.

Hey babe. We got checked in and started the induction, so come find us in Triage when you’re done. How are you feeling? Find anything out yet?

I held my phone and waited. No answer.

I must have drifted to sleep, because the next thing I knew, the nurse was waking me.

“Okay, you ready for your walk?” she asked.

I rubbed my eyes. Momma Dawn closed her book and smiled at me.

“Yeah, I’m ready,” I said.

“Okay,” said the nurse, checking her watch. “It’s just about midnight, so head back here around 12:30, and we’ll see how you’re doing.”

As Momma Dawn and I pushed open the doors and stepped into the hallway, my cell phone beeped with and incoming message.

“Hey, maybe it’s Stevie with some good news,” I said. I pressed the button to unlock my phone, and then tapped the screen to open the message. I read it once. Twice. I stopped walking, squinted my eyes, and read it a third time.

“Well, what did he say?” asked Momma Dawn.

I looked at the message again, and then, laughing, I read it aloud.

Morphine and C-Span

Momma Dawn looked at me, puzzled.

“That’s it?” she asked, beginning to laugh too.

“Yeah, that’s it. ‘Morphine and C-Span.’ What the hell does that mean?”

To be continued…

One of my last pregnancy photos, taken January 2010

Because we didn’t really manage to take many photos during the craziness, Steve had to recreate the outfit he wore when we went to the hospital. Beneath the hoodie is a tie-dye Concordia College t-shirt. Use your imagination.

365 Project – Day 267 – An Introduction to My Story

As a child writing my first story, I always dreamed that one day I would be a writer. I imagined myself the author of dozens of stories and books, each with characters and plots more complex and intriguing than the one before. People would wait impatiently and then rush out to buy my newest masterpiece, and I would smile when my name topped the New York Times Bestseller List.

Yet, not once during all those years of dreaming did I ever imagine that I would be the central character, or that my mundane life would be the inspiration for the plot. Not once did I think that the story I would one day be so passionate about writing would be my own, but when I reunited with my birthfamily in the fall of 2002, I knew that I finally had the story of stories to tell.

I must admit I was almost scared to try and write it. I’ve been starting and stopping this project for the past three years, unable to get myself motivated enough to really let go and dive in. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is a great story, one that certainly deserves to be told, but I sometimes wonder if I have the words to tell it. There is a division between words and emotions, a chasm that is sometimes impossible to overcome. The human soul is so complex, the human heart so intricate that I believe there are some emotions that are truly too complicated to be accurately explained. And mine is a story full of emotions.

A lot of time has passed since I first learned I was adopted at the age of 12 and then reunited with my birthfamily 10 years later, and I am sometimes still taken aback at how utterly unbelievable it all is. These days, I am no longer pinching myself and thinking that I will wake up and discover that it has all been just a crazy dream. I guess I have finally learned to accept it as reality. After all this time, I am no longer searching, and that has taken some getting used to. After so many years of vigilance, so many years spent with eyes wide open, searching for something familiar in the sea of strangers around me, I have had to learn how to sit back and relax and accept the fact that everything I ever wanted, everything I ever dreamed of and prayed for, is right here in my hands. It nearly drove me crazy at first, learning to unwind.

I have spent the past eight years watching with dumbstruck fascination as my adopted and biological families blended seamlessly into one. But that is only half of the story. The other half is a story of a girl conflicted, struggling to piece together her broken identity and overcome a pattern of unhealthy relationships, eating disorders, substance abuse, suicide attempts and self-loathing. My story is a story of rock bottom and second chances, of chance encounters and extraordinary odds. And, above all, it is a story of hope.

Over 60% of Americans have had a personal experience with adoption, and that number is growing. As adoption continues to break free from its bonds of secrecy and become a much more mainstream issue, books and memoirs about foster care and adoption should finally gain some much-needed notariety. Like me, many adoptees struggle with emotional and identity issues during their adolescence and young adulthood, faced with the daunting challenge of trying to establish their identities, without truly understanding who they are or where they came from. More than anything, I hope that my memoir, In a Sea of Strangers, can provide an honest and introspective account of my own adoption as a 2-day-old infant and the long, hard road to the reunion with my birthfamily 22 years later and maybe, just maybe, help someone else navigate the journey.

I’ve been trying to get myself motivated to get the old manuscript, dust it off, and get started working on it again, so I figured maybe my blog was just the place to give myself a jumpstart. For tonight’s 365 Project entry, I’d like to share what I currently see as the Prologue to the story. Crazy as it may sound, it all started with a dream…

 

PROLOGUE

“It is in our idleness, in our dreams, that the
submerged truth sometimes comes to the top.”
– Virginia Woolf

 “A dream is an answer to a question we haven’t yet
learned how to ask.” –
Fox Mulder, X-Files

I stood at the back door gazing into the darkness. A million blades of dewy grass sparkled silver, like a blanket made of stars. The full moon had begun its descent in the early morning hour, but still gave off so much light that I could see almost as well as if it had been daytime. Inside, the house was cool and silent.

I stood at the back door, my nightgown (one of my dad’s old t-shirts) hanging
down to my ankles. My bare feet sunk into the knotted cotton rug just inside
the door. It was soft beneath my toes. Across the yard, our red Chevy Blazer was parked under the carport that stood to the left of the garage. In front of it sat two wooden deck chairs. At one time, the chairs were painted a dark reddish-brown, but the sun and the rain had wore them down and chipped away the varnish to a dull dirt color.

There, in the moonlight, I first saw her.

She was dressed all in white—the fabric of her skirt loose and flowing, the bottom of it brushing against her bare feet. Her sand-colored hair shone under the bright August moon, falling just below her shoulders. From that distance, in the darkness, I could not clearly see her face.

As she walked, she seemed to be studying the ground at her feet, gliding slowly through the half-light like a restless apparition. When she reached the first chair, she ran her fingers along its arm. Then, I watched as she bent down and looked beneath it, her cheek just inches from the pavement.

What is she doing? I wondered.

I pressed my nose to the cool glass window while the woman continued on her way, her eyes still roaming over the ground as she walked. Every now and then, she would pause and turn to look behind her, as if expecting someone else to be there. When she reached the second chair and stopped to look beneath it, the thought erupted in my brain. I heard it, as if I had actually spoken it aloud.

My mother is looking for me.

I reached for the lock on the door and turned the deadbolt with a snap.

I tried desperately to call out to her, Mom! Mom, I’m here!” but my jaws seemed welded shut.

I was overwhelmed by a sudden wave of urgent desperation. My stomach churned. I fumbled with the handle of the screen door, my clumsy four-year-old fingers unable to release the stubborn latch. Clutching it with both hands, I squeezed with all my might, grinding my teeth together in panic. Suddenly, there was a loud click, and the door popped open.

I watched the woman turn and begin to walk away from me.

My heart thumped wildly in my chest and my breath came in short, choked gasps. I still could not speak, though in my mind I was screaming.

I stepped into the still August morning. There was not a sound, not even a whisper as the world slumbered. The pavement was rough and cool beneath my feet.

Suddenly, a hand grabbed me firmly by the shoulder and spun me around.

“Lori, honey? What are you doing?”

I stared at my mom’s face, blinking in confusion. Her old green bathrobe was tied hastily over her cotton nightgown. Her short brown hair stood crazily on her head where she slept. Behind her round glasses, her eyes looked worried and tired.

“Come on,” she said, ushering me back inside and locking the door behind us. “Let’s get you back in bed.”

I turned and looked out the window, but the woman was gone.

Mom tucked me back into bed and kissed my forehead. On the bunk above me, Lindy rolled over with a sigh.

“Good night, sweetheart,” Mom said. She turned out the light and retreated to her
bedroom where I could hear my dad snoring loudly.

Lying in the darkness, hot tears burned my eyes as the thought played itself over and over in my mind.

She’s gone. My mother is gone.

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