I am singing, and weeping, as I listen to the song that touched my heart so deeply when I truly felt like a motherless child that it helped healing begin in my heart. The song is spiritual from back to slave days and there are many powerful renditions of this song but my favorite will always be the first one I ever heard, by the incredible group Sweet Honey in the Rock, an African American group of women who do the most amazing a cappella music that it touches my soul and I have to sing with them. I have a deep, rich, resonant singing voice, I was a theater and voice major and I have never stopped singing. Singing has healed me in a way that nothing else has ever been able to. You might like to listen to this music as a backdrop to the story I am about to tell you. The song is Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child.
I think that writing the last piece in the 365 Day journey which, if not consecutive, is still a very serious journey that I am deeply committed to, opened that vein in me when I remembered the experience that tore through me like a sword slashing through my flesh. Regarding this blog series the truth is that I am bi polar and some days are just too hard, especially when there is a lot else going on in my life, but I am committed to doing the 365 days no matter how long it takes me to do it. I have started and stopped doing many things in my life when my bi polar nature threw me so far off balance that I could barely get up in the morning. I don’t do that anymore. I simply won’t. Life is too precious and when I make a commitment I will commit my heart and soul to finishing what I started even if it takes me longer than planned to get there. I am vigilant about self care and I will take a day to rebalance and continue on. I go very deep with my journey now because at 60 I am on the path that will take me through the rest of my life until the end of my days. This is why I have chosen to live a life of solitude where I can go very deep with my work with very few interruptions. My work is my chapel, the place I enter to pray, to meditate, and to touch down on the sacred. It is in that vein that I offer you this story.
In must needs be a shortened version or it would be a whole book, in fact I wrote a book about it in the early 1990’s and it was held for months by the publisher of the incredible book Circle of Stones by Judith Duerk. Our books were at the publisher at the same time the publisher told me and I am so glad that they decided not to publish my book because that particular book was something I needed to write for me, not for the world. It was called Voyage Of The Stranger ~ The Peregrinations Of An Adopted Child.
I have not written about this very often and not for a very long time and I am bringing several threads together in this one piece. I hope that you can pick up a thread, run your fingers along it, and find your way to the heart of the tale. I’m not sure I can just now, but I am trying.
I have written much about the fact that though my mother and I loved one another we had a very challenging and often painful relationship from the time I was a little girl until she died in 2009. We came to a peaceful place in the time before she died and I talked to her every day until the end. I am very grateful for that. However the years of my young married life were some of the most difficult of all and when I was 26, with a newborn and a three year old I decided to search for and find my biological mother. It would turn into the worst nightmare of my life.
Adopted children often feel, especially if they have had a difficult relationship with their adoptive parents, the need to find what I called in my book Voyage of the Stranger, “the original seed carrier.” Actually I wasn’t really looking for a mother as much as I, now a mother myself, worried what could be in my background that might affect my children from a medical standpoint. I was very discreet in my search, I did not want to hurt this woman or disrupt her life in any way. It was a harrowing journey and when I finally got the information and we contacted her — my husband made the call because I was an absolute wreck — the first thing he did was assure her that we did not want anything from her but information for our children. She hung up on us. That was the first time. As the weeks went on, through a devastating number of heartbreaking occurrences and pieces of information I was in no way prepared to receive, she finally agreed to answer one list of questions through an attorney. She was in Pennsylvania and I was in Illinois. We would never meet but she did answer a lengthy list of questions.
This, however, was not the end. I had quietly thanked her and was resigned to not hearing more, never meeting her, and having no more contact. Unfortunately this was not the case. She called, drunk and in a rage, and told me that she had finally put this behind her but my showing up had caused her to start drinking again, that she would probably commit suicide and it would all be my fault and she was glad I would have to carry that through my life. She then went on to tell me that I was the product of a rape. She was in the women’s air force engaged to an air force man and she said he was “a violent, angry man” and that when she broke off the engagement he raped her. Her family sent her to a Catholic maternity home half way across the country in Illinois where she had me, went back to Pennsylvania, met someone else and was married and had my first brother of six one year after she gave me up. She had 6 boys. Somewhere I have 6 half brothers but I will never meet them. She went on to tell me that if she could have she would have had an abortion instead of having me, that I had ruined her life, and nothing could ever make it right again. And then it got worse.
She screamed and yelled, became completely irrational and I will not repeat the things that she said but it ended with her saying that she was going to find me and kill me and she was very graphic about how she would do it and it wasn’t pretty. By then I was in shock, I couldn’t move, I was crying so hard I couldn’t breathe. My husband took the phone out of my hand and hung it up. He looked at me and said, “God honey, that woman could have raised you!” Every little girl wants a mother to love her and if the one who is raising you doesn’t make you feel loved and wanted the fantasy is that if you could only find the mother who gave you up she would love you, she would be so happy to finally be reunited with you, you would finally have the mother’s love that you craved and everyone would live happily ever after.
I had already been hospitalized once for a month with a nervous breakdown when we were only married a year. I was pregnant with our first child not long after getting out of the hospital and my doctors were very worried about me but becoming pregnant was such a happy thing for me, and the times in my life when I have taken the best care of myself were when I was pregnant. I loved my babies dearly and it was my love for them that kept me tethered to the earth when my biological mother not only rejected me but told me of my horrible origins and then threatened to kill me. I was not in good shape, I went back to therapy, but I would not collapse into that void one dissolves into when their nervous system just shuts down. I was hanging on by a thread but I was hanging on fiercely.
I was 26 when I found my mother, and after a fashion life went on. I had my 3rd child when I was 29 and in my early 30’s started into the most intense therapy of my lifetime for the sexual abuse that had lasted from 4 to 18. In the middle of all of this I went to study with a man whose books I loved and used in the journal classes that I had been teaching for over a decade, Dr. Ira Progoff whose Intensive Journal Method was founded on the principles of Depth Psychology. Dr. Prograff had known and worked with Carl Jung and his work with this journal method was astounding. There were 90 people at a week-long intensive workshop where I was the only lay person. Everyone else was a psychiatrist, psychologist, or therapist of some sort or clergy. I was accepted into the workshop based on a mountain of material I submitted from my teaching and writing and I was elated. Dr. Progoff was much older then in fact didn’t teach much longer and so if I were going to study with him it had to be then and it had to be there.
It was in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania a very short distance from where my biological mother lived.
As was the practice we wrote from 10 in the morning until 10 at night with only meal breaks. It was a writing intensive technique called “immersion” designed to break down all of your barriers so the writing just flowed free and unfettered. We were asked to read and what I read was essentially what I’ve written above about finding my mother, and that I had never gotten to meet her, or even see a picture, and now, that week, I was right in the location she lived. Well, the next mealtime there was a furor. People were gathering around me very emotional and before it was all over it was decided that I would not leave without a picture of my mother.
I will never forget that and now have to laugh thinking back to it. I was crowded into a car with 4 psychiatrists who were going to get pictures or bust! It was a long day with a lot of twists and turns but we came home with pictures. High school yearbook pictures from the high school she went to, a newspaper picture, and more. These people had concocted stories you wouldn’t believe to get these pictures, they wouldn’t let me out of the car because I was a blubbering idiot, it was like a covert CIA mission, and when we got back to the retreat center they went bursting in ahead of me shouting, ‘WE GOT THE PICTURES.” I barely knew what happened next but someone brought me wine and the rest of them told the story all night long.
I look like my mother, as does my daughter Rachel. And those pictures, and the whole folder of material I had gathered during the search including letters my mother had written back to the maternity home after she had given me up, “How is my baby, tell me how my baby Kathy is…” were lost in my recent house fire.
The nuns at the maternity home had cut her name off but they gave me her letters, and the thing was I used to tell kids in school that my real name was Kathy. I made a lot of things up, I was a lonely odd child, but it turned out I was really Kathy after all. I will never get over that, it still sends chills down my spine.
Years moved swiftly by, and I continued on with my writing and teaching, my mother who had raised me and I had an increasingly difficult relationship through the years, and I was as fragile as a china teacup, more in therapy than out. I wrote in Voyage of the Stranger, “Loneliness has eaten so many holes in me I feel like a piece of swiss cheese.”
In the autumn of 1998 I met a woman who turned my world on it’s ear. I left my marriage the night of my 45th birthday. My husband and I cried together but after all of the abuse, all of everything that had happened to me it wasn’t an awfully hard thing for people who knew me to understand when I came out as a lesbian. That first relationship ended fairly quickly and I was reeling from shock. I had thought I was leaving one long term relationship for the one I would have for the rest of my life. I was so naive. I look back at the woman I was then and I want to take her in my arms. I had a couple of other very brief relationships, so short if you blinked you would have missed them, and then came the one that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I think, or I wonder, if there wasn’t part of me that just wanted a woman to love me because no woman ever had. To my core I felt like a motherless child. I fell head over heels in love with a woman and this time it looked like the real thing. We planned a life together. She had a ranch in California and told me to get rid of everything I owned except things that really mattered to me because she had everything we’d need. In June of 2001 she flew to North Carolina to drive me to California in my van. I had gotten rid of everything except my birds who came with me, the ones I lost in the fire, and a few other things. We had a tiny U-Haul hooked to the back of my van and things were rattling around in it because it was mostly empty.
It took us 9 days to drive cross country. I’ll spare you most of it but the punchline. The day we arrived at the ranch she said she didn’t think she wanted to be in a relationship. I had gotten rid of everything, drove 3500 miles, and she didn’t want to be in a relationship. I spent one miserable week there when things got increasingly awful and then I got a U-Haul, turned around, and drove back. It took me 11 days alone. My car completely broke down and after staying in a motel in Tennessee for 3 days was told that it probably wasn’t fixable. My few belongings that had rattled around in the little U-Haul had to be transferred to a 17′ U-Haul because I had to pull my van home. The poor man at the U-Haul place kept shouting as I pulled out, “Honey, whatever you do, don’t park some place where you have to back up. DON’T BACK UP.”
I have no idea what possessed me. No one in the world thought that I could make that trip alone, people wanted to fly out and help me get back but no one could do it right away and I was in a house with a woman who was drinking and beginning to get violent. I got the birds and I out of there and started driving. And I cried most of the way. And most of the way back I sang, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,” and I sang it over and over again as I drove. I made it back but I was never the same again. It’s when the doors to my world started to close. Within 6 months I had a nervous breakdown and moved into the tiny townhouse I would live for 8 years before moving into my beloved Dragonfly Cottage that burned down in February.
In everything there is a gift. If you had told me ahead of time that the great “Quest To The West” as we called it starting out happy and full of plans would have ended the day we got there and I would have had to drive 3500 miles home alone I would first of all never have believed you and next I would have told you that I simply could not do it. I learned 2 lessons —
1.) You can do anything you have to do.
2.) I was so much stronger than I ever knew.
The latter was true again when the cottage burned down in February. I had a hard time, to be sure, and I still have hard days but I made it through. And I always will, one way or another. I may be Bi Polar, with PTSD, an anxiety disorder and more but I am no longer suicidal. I want to live, and do my work, and watch my beautiful children and grandchildren grow and have their lives. I have so much work to do in my life, and I have learned that I am a survivor.
In 2002 I moved into that little place and closed the doors finally on the world. I lived with a growing menagerie of animals, wrote, did my fiber work, gardened, and created a world where I felt safe. People ask me if I would like to be in a relationship and I have had flutterings, even in the last year, thinking how wonderful it would be to be loved, we all want that, but I simply cannot sustain that kind of loss again. People have hurt me, deeply, animals never have. And we live very happily together. I am at peace, I am content, and I am filled with gratitude for this life that I have. It is enough. It is enough for this lifetime
I am still singing. I sing to pierce the dammed up river of pain in my heart and let it flow free so it can run clear and I can move forward again. I have sung as long as I have written. This song takes me home. I have learned that I have to be a mother to myself, and if I can, to help others. The deepest commitment in my life is to help other women, and I am trying…