This was written last week on a particularly emotional and difficult evening. Every year as my birthday gets closer and closer, a heaviness comes over me—a heaviness that only adoptees seem to understand.
Aai, I went through my wedding photos today. I looked for you in every single one. I searched my face for features that might have resembled yours. Some moments I feel my heart can’t handle the agony of knowing you will never see me in my bridal saree. Other moments I am comforted because I felt your presence all around me every moment that day. I felt like a true indian bride and I longed to see what you looked like on your wedding day. Maybe we looked the same. I ache for you.
So many milestones you’ve missed, and I have missed many of yours. There will always be one we share. 26 years ago I was still a part of you. You were my first home. We only had a week left to be together. I so wish I knew your thoughts during those last few weeks and days. I can only hope you were not alone.
We are turning 26, and each year that passes adds more and more distance between us but I will never give up on trying to find you. You are forever in my heart, my aai. Please don’t forget me.
January 9, 1994.
My paperwork throws this date around on almost every page. They tell me this is the day they think I was born. It’s also the day they think was our last together.
Is this the day? The last day my hands touched you? The last day I heard your voice? The last day I knew your smell?
I wonder if it affects you as it affects me. The trauma that occurred on this day 24 years ago changed the course of my life and walks with me every single moment. On this day I became a tree without any roots. I can’t help but wonder if it affects you. Do you yearn for me the way I yearn for you? I have this word tattooed on my forearm: “hiraeth.” It is a welsh word with no direct English translation, but a loose translation describes hiraeth as, “The nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost people and places of your past.” This perfectly describes how I feel about you, mainly on my birthday. GRIEF. I grieve for your loss and for mine. We are forever intertwined, you and I, although we may never know one another face to face.
This evening, I channeled my inner Desi and danced to my favorite Bhangra playlist as I did the dishes. I kept feeling the bindi between my eyes, making sure it was still there. I tried my very hardest not to cry while I was missing you so very fiercely. I wondered how we would be celebrating my birthday if I’d stayed in my homeland all this time. As kids we used to celebrate our birthdays the evening prior because India was a day ahead. So now, every year on my birthday eve, I wonder where you are and what you are doing and if you’re thinking of me. I wear this bindi because it connects me to you. It connects me to my roots. It connects me to my people, my culture. Our culture. As silly as it looks in my sweatpants and T-shirt, this bindi and my Bhangra take me back to you on this anniversary of our last day together.
It might have been a Sunday.
January 9, 1994.
A very odd day. I wonder what it was like for you and who was with you. I was too small to be full-term—I wonder if you were alone and scared and abandoned me because of this. I’ll never know. I think a piece of me wishes that you regret leaving me alone on my first day of life, but I can’t even imagine the weight of that burden. So I truly hope that you’ve found peace and I hope you know happiness today. I hope you have the support and love of community you might not have had back then.
Maybe someday I will find you. For now, you remain in my heavy heart on this 24th anniversary of my last day with roots.
A fellow adoptee friend of mine shared this earlier today and it struck me. I immediately had to go write about it!
Goodbyes have always been difficult for me. As a child, they were nothing short of traumatic—especially when it came to my parents. When I was 7 my mother travelled for the fourth time to India, this time to accompany a friend in bringing home her own adopted baby. I knew how far away India was, and I was sure my mother was going to die while there. I tried my hardest to be brave and not to cry, but my heart ached for my Mama to come home. I needed everyone home in order to feel we were all safe.
I remember believing with all my heart that if I didn’t give a proper goodbye they would either leave and never come back, or they would die without a goodbye.
When my dad would leave for work every morning, if I didn’t get to give him a kiss and tell him goodbye face to face I would have a breakdown. Breakdown as in crying uncontrollably until I could find him and embrace him. Separation was so traumatic. There was one particular day I remember I was so inconsolable that my mom called my dad back to the house because he left before I could say goodbye. I remember another day where I was sick with the stomach flu and Dad had snuck off to work without saying goodbye. I was devastated and as I was hurling into the trash can, I tried yelling out goodbye loud enough for him to hear. He didn’t respond, so I knew he hadn’t heard. My little heart was absolutely broken.
In my young innocent heart, I thought goodbyes were permanent. I’d been told so often that my birth family loved me so much that they had to say goodbye to me. So in my mind, love meant goodbye, and goodbyes meant forever.
Anne’s words hit me because after so long of this anxiety and stress that accompanied goodbyes, the adoptee’s body and mind shut down. It’s easier to walk away than to undergo the stress it triggers. The moment our blood relatives abandoned us, our little bodies experienced a separation so traumatic, it triggered a heightened level of a stress hormone that never quite went away. Fight, flight, or freeze. Now as adults, that’s how many of us function—at the first sight of conflict, we see a goodbye. And goodbyes have only ever meant forever. If you know an adoptee who struggles with this, please hang in there. Please don’t give up on us. We are trying…it doesn’t mean we don’t care.