House Of Strangers.

When I was little, my parents tried to explain to me that I was adopted. Of course I had no idea what the hell that meant. To me and any other elementary school child who happened to live in my town it only meant one thing—that I was a different color than mommy and daddy. I knew from a very early age that I was going to live a very strange and probably emotionally damaging life. My brother—my real, real brother who was older, also adopted from the same birthparents said this to me, the day I was delivered to my new white, Jewish family: “Hey lady, you forgot your baby.” He’s only twenty months older than me, but the differences that existed between us were apparent from early on. He was always outspoken, brash, and uncouth. He yelled and fussed and it drove my parents crazy. They even tried to put him on Ritalin but that only seemed to make things worse. We never played much together and when we did, it usually resulted in hurt feelings and time-outs. One time I threw a cast iron model plane at his back and landed him the hospital. One time he pushed me down a flight of stairs and I had to get stitches in my chin. I think we’re even. When he started school and got to ride a big shiny yellow bus off into the morning sun every day, I had no idea he was supposed to come back. I had no idea where it even took him. I lived in a house full of strangers. People who generally don’t get along and have little in common with each other—if anything.

As I got to be a little older and my brother started middle school, the executive decision with my parents was to send him to a private school that also happened to be in our town. It used to be an all-girl school and the year he went also happened to be the first year that the school allowed boys to attend. Kinda seems nice if you think about it…a big school full of girls who had never had any interactions with boys before. Sounds like a crazy plot to some cheesy nickelodeon show, or even a really bad porno. But it wasn’t something for me. Not yet. Turns out I had already been afflicted by the peeling paint, the odd assortment of juveniles and overall mediocrity of the public school system too much to give it up. I was hooked. Something about it just felt normal, and that was fine enough for me. It wasn’t like I felt a burning need to be popular or smart. I didn’t even like being there, I just thought of it as some place where I wasn’t forced to be like everybody else. I could just be me. Fortunately it turned out to be the better decision to stay in public school. I got great grades without having to try; was always on honor roll and felt decently proud of myself. But like I said, I wasn’t popular or anything. In fourth grade I even had a ridiculous afro-mullet. I guess it use to be the style for Blackish-Whitish American Cosby-type kids back in the nineties. It was also a catalyst for several fights—among other personal characteristics.

The lesson here people, is to let your kids pick their own interests. Get to know them without owning them. And for god’s sake, dressing them in ridiculous sweaters and Lacoste polos and slacks then sending them on their way to school is no way to get a kid’s self-esteem up. How is a child supposed to learn about the world if he or she can’t try new things? This is part of the reason I never really got a chance to explore my interests as a kid. My parents were terribly overbearing. Like lions fighting with, but ultimately protecting their young from outside influences. I was just sort of pushed this way or that way by authoritative forces.

Often times it felt more like Stalin’s communist regime than a household. I don’t mean that in the sense that my life might have ended at any minute, but insofar as that I followed strict orders without explanation or ability to think for myself. I had no sense of self. No purpose. No clue even what toys I wanted or even if I liked them at all. I could never articulate my own desires or needs. I just knew I had to do what my parents said I because they said so. No reasons—no sit-downs or lessons about right or wrong, just blunt instructions on how to live life and essentially become like them. It drove me and my brother crazy. In fact he often would run out of the house a lot as if to say he was running away and never coming back. This would also make my mother cry; but my father was very stoic and unemotional. He rarely had a real reaction, and if he ever did, it was usually one of apathy and disbelief, as if he was annoyed that stuff was happening that he couldn’t do anything about. I remember being jealous of my brother. I thought that whenever he did runaway—even when he came back—that he had a plan. That one day all his planning would lead to his freedom. One time, he actually ran away for three days, hiding out in a tree house deep in the woods behind my house, surviving mostly on Slim Jims and Ginger-ale he had stashed away for a while. He had begged me not to tell our parents where he went and I obeyed. When it came to standing up for himself, I was proud. I looked up to him for that. My parents kept threatening me with severe punishment if I didn’t break my code of silence. But I didn't. I just told them ‘I have no idea where he went’.

When I got a little older still, around thirteen or fourteen years-old I use to try to run away from home too. I can recall on more than two hands how many times I tried to run away. My mom would chase me down the street and around the neighborhood in her old gray Saab, driving slowly next to me pleading with me to talk to her. Much screaming would ensue and occasionally other people would take notice. But I always knew I wasn’t really running away. And I think she knew that too. But for some reason it just seemed that serious so often, that maybe—just maybe; had she not chased me that one time, I may never have actually gone back...

[to be continued]

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