When I got the news this week that my grandmother died, I was confused. I was sad, yes, but I wasn’t sure if I had the right to be. I also wasn’t sure how I was allowed to express that sadness. After all, I’d only met her five years ago.
I’ve known I was adopted since I was old enough to understand the basic concept. Mommy and Daddy didn’t have me? Got it. My sister is, too – it was never a big thing in our house I was incredibly lucky in the fact that the family that adopted me was incredibly loving and supportive, and I never wanted for anything. We traveled the world, never worried about shelter or food. There was no reason for me to think about the family that gave me up.
But, as I think most adopted kids will attest to, there’s always that curiosity. Yes, I have a family, but where did I come from? What are they like? Do they look like me? Over the years, I learned pieces. My biological mother was 21 when she had me. My father wasn’t involved in her pregnancy or adoption process. My mother and extended family lived in Birmingham, Alabama, an hour away from my home in Tuscaloosa. This was what I knew about it; this was all I knew about it.
In Alabama, closed adoptions are closed until the child is 19. (I swear, my entire life my mom told me it was 18, and the day I turned 18 and asked about it, she told me it was 19. She’ll say I’m lying, but I promise this happened.) When I was 19, I had a Tumblr with a decent amount of followers. One morning in March, I got a message from one of my followers asking me if I could give them my Skype. “Okay, weirdo,” I thought – but I got a lot of these kinds of messages, and they were always harmless.
He added me on Skype and sent me a message: “This is going to sound weird, but I’m your brother.” The gears in my head turned – when I was around three years old, my mother told me my birth mother had had a son (my parents corresponded with my mother through letters every year). I asked, “I have a brother?” She said yes. “I love him,” I responded promptly, and went back to whatever I was doing, which was probably watching Barney. Then when I was 16, I got a Facebook message from a Will, saying “I’m not allowed to know you.” I’d written it off as some weird spambot, but hey! He actualy wasn’t allowed to know me.
This was how I met my first biological relative. And he and I look so similar. All my life, I’d wondered what my family was like, and here one of them was. We talked for a few weeks before we met in person at a Barnes & Noble. I was nervous as hell, but I shouldn’t have been, because we had (and still have) an insane amount of things in common.
It was through Will that I met most of the rest of my family. I have an incredibly hard time describing what it’s like going from not knowing anything about your family and ancestry to meeting the people who share your DNA. This is the best I can come up with: Y’all ever see Anastasia? It’s a lot like that. Except I am not a Russian princess, and I was not raised in an orphanage. But other than that, it’s a one-to-one comparison.
If I thought the nerves before meeting my brother were bad, they were nothing compared to how I felt right before meeting my grandparents. Will reached out to me; he wanted to meet me. My grandparents had no such attachment. What if they didn’t like me, or worse, didn’t want me? They’d been raising Will since he was 13, and I wanted them to like me, too. But as soon as I stepped into their house – a cozy kind of cluttered, filled with pictures of family and friends, and an entire wall covered in antique guns, which they collected – I felt like their family. They both hugged me, and my grandmother told me how much she’d been looking forward to meeting me. I answered whirlwind questions about myself and my life, and it was wonderful.
I don’t particularly like thinking about the one and only time I’ve met my birth mother. Suffice it to say she was an hour and a half late to the dinner we’d scheduled, she spent much of the night talking about herself, and I left disappointed but a bit relieved. Is that what I’ve been missing out on all these years? I’m fine, thank you.
Being adopted is strange if you think about it hard enough as a kid. Being adopted and having relationships with the family that you never knew is even stranger. Will and I have become incredibly close over the years. I always look forward to going to my grandparents’ house to visit him and them.
So when my grandmother passed away this week, yes, I was confused. I still am. I can probably count on two hands the amount of times I’ve had personal conversations with her. The last one was over Christmas, when I went home to Alabama for a month for break. I was going to pick up Will so we could hang out, and I was informed that my grandmother wanted to get a picture of the two of us. I went inside, hugged them, and updated them on my life. I felt that same warmth and kindness as the first time I’d ever met them. They took the picture of Will and me – commenting, as always, on how tall the two of us are. I stayed for about ten or twenty minutes more, and then we headed out to shop. That was the last time I saw her.