|Jane and Lorraine in Sag Harbor, in the Nineties|
What I've never talked about before here is that my found daughter Jane was sexually abused by her grandmother's live-in companion. This was not her adoptive grandfather, someone Jane remembered fondly, but the individual who lived with her grandmother at the time that I knew her. I never met the man, or her grandmother. At the time we taped these conversations (that have been posted sporadically in the past few weeks), her grandmother had died.
* * *
Ed. Her abuser. She says her parents put her in therapy right around the time the abuse started. “The reason I didn’t want to talk to Conni [the therapist] was because I didn’t feel I could tellher what was happening. That I was abused. She would ask, What makes you feel bad, what hurts? And [Jane whispers] I can’t tell her that…He told me that if I talked about it he would go to jail and I would never see my grandmother again.
“And he was right about one thing—if I told, my grandmother would not love me. My dad would say, Oh, she does love you, she just doesn’t want to change anything and she is an old lady.” She takes a drag of her cigarette, looks away as she exhales, lost in her memory of that time.
“One time Grandma asked my mother, when we were leaving her house, I must have been five or so, and she didn’t think I heard, before my Mom had Matt and Tim [her two younger brothers]. Don’t you wish you had one of your own? My mother got all upset, angry, and my dad had to talk to her—she was his mother.”
Let’s have a beer, OK?
Sure. We get two cold ones out of the fridge. We go outside once more into the brisk night air and find another starry night without clouds. It’s incredibly beautiful at this place, in the country on a lake. Jane has her smoke, we come back in, I turn the tape recorder back on again.
And then she was back to Ed.
“I was in that group with other teenagers, the advocate said, Well, it wasn't so bad because you’re adopted, he wasn’t your father. And when my parents didn’t believe me, there was the feeling that I had to overreact the next time something happened. If I overreacted, maybe they would believe me. So I overreacted about everything. About Shaun, for instance. I felt like I had to exaggerate so they would believe [that his death really affected] me.”
Shaun was a cousin who, at sixteen, committed suicide not long after the revelation about Ed. “Shaun’s dying took away one of the few people in my family that I could relate to. Then there was the whole thing, Well, if he killed himself because his life was cruddy, then I have a better reason to do it than he did—I’ve got a lot better reasons than he did. Why should I have to stay here and suck up all this pain? I was eighteen when this happened, he was sixteen. That’s when I went through the whole suicide thing. Shaun gave me the idea. I didn’t have a lot of friends, I was a loner, not the happiest of kids, I couldn’t perceive in my head that I would get better. I was scared shitless to go out in the workforce because I had spent my entire life in special ed with this epilepsy baggage, and you want me to go get a job? That scared the crap out of me.”
“I didn’t realize how much Shaun’s dying affected you.”
“I didn’t talk about it much to you—what would be the point, you didn’t know him, he wasn't part of your family.”
Jane’s life was far more bifurcated than I could ever understand. There was Sag Harbor, and the relatives in Michigan, who mostly remained a stranger to her; there was Madison, and her other family whom she grew up with.
At some point after Shaun’s dying, Jane took a half bottle of aspirins and wound up in the hospital having her stomach pumped. It happened at a time we were not in contact, and so to me it always seemed distant—almost unreal. Understand as I wasn’t Mom, and she wasn’t living with us when any of them occurred, they were never completely fixed in my mind.
The talk of dying turned her mind turned to her grandmother’s funeral. She had so not wanted to attend because doing so made it seem as if she either forgave Ed and her grandmother, which she had not, or worse, that her parents had never believed Ed had molested her, that this terrible thing could not have gone on under their noses. Her parents applied considerable pressure for her to attend, and she called me numerous times in the days leading up to the funeral, full of anger and angst over the impending event. I didn’t know what to tell her except to do what her heart said. In the end, she caved in and silently went, then was angry that she had gone, and she still had not gotten over the bitter taste of feeling forced to do so to keep up appearances. She had wanted to make her statement about Ed by not being there. Yet she found some comfort in what happened after the funeral: “Mom told me after the funeral that she believed me [about Ed],” she said.
The conversation drifts to more mundane topics, and she brings up the rhetorical question of who we might have been in past lives—people who did some pretty awful things, we agree, jokingly, because this life was not working out the way either of us would have planned. “A serial killer?” she jokes. “My life is a conglomerate of high intensity experiences—I’ve never had the opportunity to be normal.”
There is no arguing with that. And she goes off to Club 33. Again.
* * *
I had never been a huge fan of the Beach Boys because I always thought their music was a little too slick, not earthy and bluesy like the Stones or the Motown sound of my youth. But it was the Beach Boys who were giving a concert nearby during that visit. Jane called me from work one afternoon and convinced me we ought to go, with Kim, to a Sunday afternoon show. I said I thought it was too expensive. We’ll have a great time, she insisted, and we’ll all remember it. That sealed the deal. We three would have a good time to add to our scanty store of good-time memories.
It was pouring buckets as we drove the thirty miles there, but the venue was not enormous, and we had great seats in the orchestra. The group doing the show had only two or three original members, but the show was better than I could have asked for and I liked them much more than I expected to. Eventually Jane and I ended up in front of the stage dancing. Kim stayed in her seat, old enough to be mortified at the behavior of these old people—her mother and grandmother--making a fool of themselves. How embarrassing.
The sun was out when we left the building, the air full of good vibrations. What a great day that was.
Thank you, honey, for the memory.
Another night, near the end of the trip. In a day or two I’ll be going home. Maybe she was just fed up with talking seriously, maybe she was testing me—would I believe her or not, could she get away with this?—but one night she talked endlessly about being “hypnotized” for life by a former friend, a friend she feels deserted her or done her wrong, I’m not sure which. The talk is crazy talk, an hour goes by but I can’t dissuade her from saying she had been “hypnotized” for life by her friend, a student in a psychology class who had been instructed by a certain professor to hypnotize someone “for life.” I turn off the tape recorder, and say I’m going to bed.
Just before we say goodnight, standing by the kitchen counter, she says: “If I told the truth in real life, both of you [Ann and me] would be hurt.”
 Over the years, I’ve heard other stories like that, stories that enforce the adopted person’s sense of otherness, of not belonging. Of family jewelry that is not to be inherited by the adoptee; of arguments over land that is not mentioned in the will, of silences when family trees are compiled. When I was in Albany once lobbying for open records for adopted people, an assistant got chatty as a small group of us waited and told us how her family had gone to court to prevent an adopted cousin from inheriting property. Why she thought we were the right audience for that bit of information I will never know. At the same time, I also know adopted people who compile family genealogies, full of ancestors from whom they are not descended.
For more of this conversation, see:
My (relinquished) daughter talks about adoption; Frank talk about adoption with my relinquished daughter, Part 2;
and Frank talk about adoption with my relinquished daughter, Part 3
and Frank talk about adoption with my relinquished daughter, Part 3