41: Urban Cowgirl

41: Urban Cowgirl

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: For Mom, with Love

Urban Cowgirl

We cannot destroy kindred: our chains stretch a little sometimes, but they never break.

~Marquise de Sévigné

I don’t remember being told I was adopted. I feel like the knowledge has always been there. The sky is blue, the grass is green and I’m adopted. When I was a kid I didn’t understand why I would tell people that and get a response of “That must be so hard for you.” I wondered why. My parents hugged me and kissed me and read me stories and took care of me when I was sick. They loved me. What’s so hard about that? I couldn’t see a difference between the way my parents treated me and the way my non-adopted friends’ parents treated them. Family is family.

My mother used to tell me stories about how they heard I was coming and piled everyone onto a plane to get there, how they flew to Texas to get me, and how she started crying when she first held me. My parents had been trying hard to have a child, without success, and were in their early forties when they decided to adopt. When I was four years old they decided to adopt again, and I got a brother. I don’t think I could love him any more if we were related by blood.

My parents divorced when I was five. It was awful. I still remember my dad coming into my room to say goodbye. I was lying in my bed and he sat down and wrapped his hand around my ankle. He said he was leaving but he loved me and would see me soon. The memory that stays with me the most is the image of a long line of boxes filled with his belongings in the hallway. I was a kid who wanted my parents together and my world had shattered. But, at no point did I ever wish that they had not adopted me, at no point did I yearn for my biological mother. My parents were my parents and that was that.

Just as I’ve always known I was adopted, I’ve always known my birth mother’s name. I’ve always known that I have two older siblings, and I knew that I was originally from Texas. When I was four and rode a pony for the first time, I told my mom that I wanted to be a cowgirl because cowgirls were from Texas. We lived in Chelsea on the west side of Manhattan, definitely not cowgirl territory.

I was about ten when I spoke to my birth mother on the phone for the first time. My mother made the call from her office. I was so excited! I sat in my mom’s lap, even though I was a little big to sit there comfortably, and I chatted with my birth mother. I told her all about the summer camp and the horses I rode. I don’t remember her responses or how the call ended, but I remember liking her voice. She sounded kind and she laughed.

My mom got very sick not long after that. Cancer. Somehow in the hell of treatments and hospitals and surgeries and more treatments, talking to my birth mother didn’t seem that important, and between one thing and the next my connection to her faded. I still knew her of course, her name and general location. I had always thought that maybe when I was eighteen I’d see her. I’d fly down to Texas with my dad and meet her. I had always heard people saying that they looked like their parents and I wanted to know if I looked like her, if I looked like my older siblings. But then I started thinking: What if I didn’t meet her expectations? What if I wasn’t girly enough or pretty enough? What if I was too quirky? I let eighteen come and go without comment, without trying to get in contact. Between starting college, my new stepmother and baby sister, it all seemed too much — too many things in the air.

I spent a weekend the summer before I turned twenty-one obsessively researching online. I had my birth mother’s name, the name of the hospital where I was born and the names of my siblings, and using that I was able to find her. I had her address and phone number. I could call her, but what would I say? “Hey, this is the kid you gave up for adoption? Remember when we talked when I was ten? Sorry I didn’t get in touch with you when I was eighteen?”

I let my insecurities call the shots and did nothing but stick the torn paper up on a bulletin board in my room, half hidden behind a picture my mom had painted. I did spend some time after that looking at various ancestry websites and was tickled to finally learn my roots. My parents’ families had both emigrated from Russia in the late 1890s, but even though they were my parents and grandparents, I didn’t feel attached to the family history. I wanted my own. And I found it, though the realization that they fought for the Confederacy gave me pause.

But I let it go, other than holding on to that paper and a family tree I had mocked up. I didn’t want to be a disappointment and I didn’t want it to be awkward.

Then, two years ago, my birth mother found me on social media. She said it was up to me if I wanted to respond; there was absolutely no pressure.

I had a panic attack. What if she didn’t like me? I was now twenty-six, and had lost my mother to cancer only two years before. I sat on the floor trying to breathe. What if I was too fat or not pretty enough or didn’t meet her expectations? What if I wasn’t enough? But then I thought about how brave she had been to reach out to me. It took me twenty minutes to pull myself together and reach back out to her.

I have not regretted it.

I developed a relationship with one of my older siblings. It turns out that he shares a lot of my interests and a lot of my quirks. It’s an odd case for nature versus nurture. I’ve connected with my birthmother and we exchange birthday gifts. She didn’t replace my mom in the least, but having her as a support helped me cope with my grief. She posted a picture of herself recently and I wanted to laugh. We look a lot alike.

My parents are both gone now, my mother in 2009 and my father in the autumn of 2013. I don’t think it could hurt any more than this. I don’t think that I would be grieving any more if I had been their birth child. I don’t think I could have loved them more if they had been my birth parents. I am my parents’ daughter. I loved them and they loved me, and I will take that and the lessons they taught me and carry them with me for the rest of my life.

~Isabel Harris

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