My Roots Gave Me Wings
My adoption was a closed one, arranged through one of the many private agencies of the mid-twentieth century. The agency legally withheld my history; my adoptive parents never met my birth mother, and they did not receive any information about her. I grew up completely severed from my roots.
On top of this, I felt ill at ease with my adoptive family: I was artistic and given to daydreams, while they were pragmatic and insisted on discipline. Also, when I was five, my adoptive mother had a nervous breakdown. She was institutionalized for three years, and I was without any maternal connection. When she returned to us, she didn’t treat me with love. She had become bitter and reproachful. With cutting words, she stripped away my already thin self-esteem, and I became timid. I was bullied. My uniqueness became otherness; I felt isolated and insecure.
Thankfully I found love, I married, and had a family. But inside me a deep void remained:
I needed to know my own story. It would be decades before I got the chance, because it was illegal for adoptees like me to see our original birth certificates, even as adults.
In 2011, Illinois finally opened their adoption records, and I received my long-awaited truth. My original birth certificate unlocked my connection to humanity as I found my family’s ancestry online and saw the faces of my forebears.
Best of all, knowing my birth mother’s name gave me the surprise of my life: she was Karen Black, a Hollywood actress I had watched on the big screen. In 1970 she won an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe for her role in Five Easy Pieces opposite Jack Nicholson. In 1974 I saw her in The Great Gatsby. She worked with famous names and legendary directors in her six-decade film career.
I wrote a candid message to her on Facebook, telling her my date of birth and asking, simply, if she was my mother. I waited nervously for a reply, then was filled with joy when she accepted me back into her life without hesitation. We had a loving reunion. She connected me to my birth father also, and he, too, accepted me as his own. Spending time with each of them, learning about their lives, meeting new brothers and sisters, noticing our physical similarities, all were a balm for my soul.
Discovering that both of my parents were accomplished artists made me proud of my lineage and of my artistic nature. Their encouragement and love gave me the confidence and self-worth I lacked, and I branched out into new areas of creativity including writing and oil painting.
However, Karen also shared the tragic news: she was battling cancer. Her time was running out. I had spent over 50 years yearning for her, and we had exactly one calendar year to connect, bond, and heal, before I lost her again. Even so, our time together gave both of us the emotional restoration we needed. I am whole now; I am complete. My adoption reunion was the best thing that has ever happened to me.