As promised, here is an excerpt from short story #1:
The Self is Plural
There we were. Here. In a place we never thought we would be. The room we sat in was cold and sparsely decorated with a few heavy, worn couches while the white cinderblock walls that surrounded us on all sides had a few torn stickers placed upon them in a manner that confused one as to whether they were meant as decoration or were simply un-removed, artistically-placed graffiti. I sat straight up in a chair attempting not to touch too much of the dirty fabric underneath me as this was a place that was sure to have had all sorts of bodily fluid spills in various places. I felt overdressed and completely out of place. My husband, Ryan, was struggling to make conversation with the only other set of parents in the room, but the lack of eye contact between the four of us and the short but polite responses were evidence that none of us really wanted to talk about why we were here or admit that we all, as parents, felt as failures must. In our own way, we each sat there hoping that our attempts to ignore the room, that was filled with the heavy odor of mold, and each other might actually trick our brains into thinking that this moment was really a dream and not reality. Not truth. So, we all politely smiled and laughed at Ryan’s off color jokes about how the fight we witnessed while sitting in our car waiting for our appointment, and choking down a quick fast food dinner qualified as a “dinner and a show date-night for us.” The laughing was awkward but honest. The joke was funny, in a dark depressing way, but that is the space we currently lived in. A dark and depressing space.
For the last few years Ryan and I had held together a family that was falling apart at the seams. Our eldest was succumbing to her past demons and the entirety of us were either ammunition or targets depending on the particulars of her day. From the outside we looked like a happy family with an abundant community and that made it even more difficult to find and retain the social support that we so badly needed. Our adoption related issues were often passed off by friends as typical adolescent behavior and conversations were quickly redirected to their own children’s problematic behavior. As if knowing their three-year-old son also screamed and cried made it okay for our nine-year-old to throw her mattress down the stairs in anger or for her to cower in the top of her bunk bed terrified at everyone and everything in site. It was as if as our family’s problems were too real, or not real enough. I could never really tell which it was. What I did know was that it was better to keep the anguish and stress and emotional rollercoaster ride that was my life to myself. Sharing such problems only became more frustrating as people just did not understand.
Internally, the stress was also affecting my marriage. Ryan and I were beginning to have difficulty seeing eye-to-eye on how to manage our family’s issues and my need for social support was countered by his need to “circle the wagons” as he liked to say. He was finding our community dull and unfulfilling while I was in a place where, after being stuck at home for the past seven years, I needed to get out and connect with people whose attention span superseded three seconds. We were struggling. Struggling as parents, struggling as people, and struggling as a couple.
Then, breaking my stream of thought and providing quick relief from the tormenting compulsion to force conversation with the other parents, a woman who wore a name tag on a lanyard entered and eyed the room. Immediately she recognizing the other couple, and motioned for them to follow her, and the teenage girl who stood behind her, down a fluorescent light hallway. The girl, who was wearing an oversized gray t-shirt and ripped, faded jeans, acknowledged her parents as they tried to briefly hold her tight but she solemnly and obediently walked towards the lady who was now half a hallway ahead. She walked with her held held down in a way that forced her long brown hair to obscure her face. She looked sad. We all looked sad.
The silence, once again, became deafening as Ryan and I were alone. I hated the silence. It made my mind spin round and round with everything we could have done differently, done better. Rachel was all I thought about anymore. She had become so emotional and easily wounded over the past few years that our entire family was forced to walk on eggshells around her. It scared me to think of what lay in the future for us because I was already worn down and half broken myself. I was now finding it difficult to take Rachel’s emotional episodes in stride as the effects of them had built up within me and left me about to explode myself. In my mind I kept going back to the one night I broke down and finally came to terms with our new reality. It was about eighteen months ago and I was sitting alone on the couch after the kids had been tumultuously tucked in and Ryan was out of town on a work trip. I passed time by reading adoption blogs silently reaching out for support or understanding, a sort of camaraderie in the long, dark middle that we were currently in. I sat in my tears silently mourning for the children who were so broken that they could not even feel love. For every single one of the stories I came upon, including ours, were sewn from the same thread. A child, adopted in youth, nourished with love, acceptance, opportunity, and hope yet, all the children, frail in one way or another, self sabotage the bonding and connection of their family. I am sure that in that particular night and in my particular mood I searched out stories that fit my current narrative but, in that moment, I could not help but feel the dichotomous pull of both a shared maternal strength and unavoidable hopelessness.