I am young when I first hear the word 'adoption'. I am so very young, perhaps three, maybe four. I accept it easily when my mother sits me down and explains that I did not grow beneath her heart, but rather in it. I nod my head, smile big, and ask when I'm getting a little sister. My mother kisses me on the forehead and puts her hand on my head as she stands up. "If you wish on a star, Sarah, maybe she will be here very soon." I practice my wishing until night's companions wink merrily in the sky.
I turned seventeen just recently. I thought of you when I woke up, and I wondered if you were thinking of me. I like to think that you were, that we think of each other at the same time. That you know I think of you, too. There is no limit to what I wonder, Anna, not when it comes to me and you and everyone else that shares this common blood. I wonder if you have my eyes, the green with murky brown mostly, but bright and vivid when I am angry. Do you have the nose, lips, smile? Do you argue anything and everything? Do you love how words can soothe like a balm or set fire to your veins?
Oh, Anna, how I wonder.
A month after I turn five, my wishes on those stars pay off. I am getting ready for a birthday party, twirling around in a pink-checked dress when my parents draw me reluctantly away from the mirror. They tell me that they have a surprise. That I'm to be a big sister. That there will be a baby, a little girl they are bringing home today. The birthday party, so anticipated, is forgotten in the swirl of pinks and purples and baby doll dresses and a little sister! A little sister of my very own, the girl that will grow to follow in my footsteps. The genetic ties that do not link us don't matter in the least.
This is who I am:
I am Sarah, seventeen years old, only five foot four, with curly brown hair (it used to be straight, but now defies me daily and springs out in multitudes of unseemly directions). I am small hands, small feet, small bones: infinitely breakable. I am Sarah, a girl who loves to write, a girl slowly making the shift from child to adult. I am Sarah, your very own but also not yours at all.
I am Sarah, but I am so much more than words on a page.
I want you to know me, Anna, really know me. I want to know you. I want us to be more than the things of the dreams that occur in that infinitesimal space between sleeping and waking.
My uncle is talking to me as we pile food onto our already straining paper plates. It is Christmas Eve, smells of sugar and sweet potatoes mingling on people's breaths. His speech is slurred slightly, betraying the jumble of his thoughts. My uncle, kind and good and reeling from another episode of the bipolar disorder simmering beneath his skin, has something to tell me. "I've had three names, Sarah." He says, counting each off on his fingers. "I understand, Sarah. You talk to me if you need to." He understands, he tells me. He understands. My uncle's three names haunt him, the most persistent of ghosts. His first was really a lack of identity, a nameless child alone in the world until my grandparents found love in him, in themselves. The second: a long, complicated tongue-twister of a Polish surname. The third: my grandfather's adaption from that name to the simplistic moniker 'Martin', after this own father. My uncle's own adoption is a ghost in his past, his three names trailing behind him like chains.
I am terrified of rejection. I deal horribly with it, be it from middle school plays or the top auditioned band. I suffer for it, as dramatic as that may sound. So, Anna, it must be said that I want your acceptance so badly that it is an almost constant ache that began somewhere in the marrow of my bones and now laces stealthily around nerve endings and synapses. I am both enthralled and shivering in anxiety at the possibility of meeting you. What if you do not like me? What if there is nothing to tie us together but twisting strands of our genetics? Maybe I am not terrified of rejection. Maybe I am terrified of never being enough.
My mother is cautious about letting me reach out to contact you. She tells me I must be cautious, that I must wait until I become a legal adult. She says she will support me in anything I choose to do, but that you might not want any contact with me. She says I must prepare myself for this.
This is a hard thing to prepare for.
How could you not want to meet me, when I ache to know you? Why would you not want to know if I am like you, or your mother, or brother? I want to know if you have children, if you're married, if you've made a life for yourself. I hope you have found joy. I hope you have hope and love and meaning. I hope.
But I have to understand, somehow, that you may not be ready yet. That you may never be ready. I know you have your own heartaches and hurts. I would never, Anna, never want to be another heartbreak sprung from the past to haunt you. If you want nothing more than to move on and leave the past to the past, I could never, would never, deny you that right. I say this because I love you. Even though we are strangers, you and I, I love you. For your sacrifice, for your courage, for your own love.
I have never condemned you for your choices. I never will.
There is a letter written to me. It is addressed with my name, dated November 22, 1994. The shape of the letters is familiar, reminiscent of my own hand. The words themselves are eloquent, and I can almost taste the emotion behind them. There is pain here, but there is also a strange, sad hope, beautiful and bittersweet.
Dear Sarah Elizabeth,
I'm not sure how to begin this letter; there are so many things I want to say to you. I'll guess I'll start by saying how very much I love you, and though we are not together, you will always be a part of me. I will always love you. I chose to give you to your parents because I loved you, because I knew that they could give you all the things that I was not prepared to give. I am only eighteen and have a lot of learning and growing up to do myself. How could I possibly teach someone else (you) the things I have yet to learn?
And though giving you up is probably the most difficult thing I have ever had to do, I know that I have made the right decision. I have never loved anyone as completely as I love you!
Leslie and I sit in the warmth of the restaurant, glad for the steam off the bowls of soup in front of us. She fiddles with her spoon, a small, private smile playing at the edges of her lips. Her eyes are dancing. "We get along so well. It's weird how
similar we are. We sent each other the same gift for Christmas, did I tell you? Totally by accident!" She looks up, tentative joy backlit in brown eyes. Leslie talks of her own birthmother, now a presence in her life. I am so very happy for her, but behind that happiness there is something darker, a creeping jealousy that cuts like a dull knife. She must see some of it, because Leslie puts a hand over mine. "You're going to find her someday. I just know it. Even if you don't, you'll always know how very much she loved you." And there is this. There is this to hold like heaven in my mind. There is always Anna's sacrifice. There is always her love.
I may never know you. I may never have anything but my eyes (so similar to yours, my mother says) and a letter signed with your love. And, Anna, I may hurt. I may cry enough to fill an ocean with saltwater tears. I may bleed.
But I will be okay. I will be alright knowing just that I was enough for you, that you loved me enough to let me be loved by my parents. There is this, Anna. There is this incredible love between the two of us. You have already given me so much.
You have already given me the world.