In May 2016, I ate at a restaurant for the first time with my mother.
She was seventy-nine years old.
I was forty-eight.
Why did we wait so long to squeeze in a dinner?
Too busy? Were all the tables booked?
Or was she forced to give me up for adoption because she was an unmarried mother in ultra-conservative 1960′s Saint Louis, Missouri?
That’s a rhetorical question.
The answer, of course, is that all the tables were booked.
I’m not sure how you met your mother – perhaps at birth – but me, I hired a detective to track mine down.
“Tracking down” is perhaps an overstatement.
She wasn’t really on the lam, running through the woods on a rainy night, me behind her clutching a torch with the detective and hunting dogs in tow.
Rather, she was just quietly sitting alone in her HUD-subsidized apartment, watching Spike TV, not far outside Saint Louis.
And being slowly suffocated by memories of the life she could have had.
Perhaps I’m inferring that last part.
She never married.
And she never had any other children.
From looking at her life, you could almost get the impression she had been traumatized in some way.
As if having her child taken away from her was an upsetting event she could never quite get over.
My mother’s last name is Ludwig.
She had planned on naming me Mark.
That would have made me Mark Ludwig.
Now, when I look in the mirror, I see two names looking back at me.
Being adopted truly is a Zen exercise.
A daily reminder that the name of a thing is not actually the thing.
With the help of DNA and the detective, I’m currently, albeit somewhat halfheartedly, trying to locate my father.
And I’m also still trying to nail down that free-floating lack of identity I have that is so common among adoptees, trying to nail it down to something solid.
At last having a family tree, or at least half of one, has certainly helped.
As does having learned my family history.
And having seen family photos.
Every morning I look at the photo of my mother next to my desk and am comforted by my resemblance to her.
The eyes, the nose, the chin, the smile.
Those are the physical characteristics.
The roots, the history, the belonging, the sheer grounding in time and space.
Those are the unseen factors.
I grew up never having seen anyone I looked like.
Never having touched anyone I’m related to.
And despite all this loss being burdened with the expectation of gratitude
The choruses, both sung and silent, of “you’re so lucky you’re adopted!”
If all this sounds like a profoundly disorienting way to grow up
Perhaps a hindrance to one’s psychic development