Monday Notes: Low-Maintenance vs High-Maintenance Relationships

A few months ago, I was talking to my daughter about some relationship challenges I was having. I’d decided I no longer need to be in relationship with certain people.

“I think it’s just COVID, Mama,” she said. “The pandemic taught me that I don’t have to be running around doing all these things for people.” Then, she added, “You know … it’s important to know which relationships are low-maintenance and which are high-maintenance.”

I’m not stopped in my tracks very often during a conversation, but that last part quieted me. I had to think about it for a second, and I told her as much. What does that even mean? Why does it matter?

Here’s what I’ve come up with.

What Does It Mean?

High-maintenance relationships feel tiring. I described one before when writing about my former best friend. She seemed needy and relied heavily on me as her “therapist.” She always had an issue requiring my counsel, but even after a great convo, for some reason, the issue was never resolved.

I’ve had other relationships that are accompanied with thick books for engagement of how to show up. These books included pages of rules not always aligned with my personality: Show up like this. Call on this day. Make me a priority all … the … time.

I’m sure I’ve been high maintenance to others. The tone of the text, the gloss in their eyes, or the exasperation in their voice proves it. Each says: What is it now? What more can I do? I followed the guidelines, but now there’s more. I recognize it because I’ve been that way with others. Like, dang … Haven’t I shown up enough for you?

Low-maintenance relationships, on the other hand, are synchronistic. Rules for engagement are intuited and easy. For me, this looks like reciprocity. Sometimes you pay for the lunch date, and sometimes I pay. Sometimes you suggest an activity for us to do, and sometimes I do. We equally hold space for the other person to vent. But we’re not venting all day. Most of the time, we’re having fun, laughing, talking, and sharing in life. Many of my friendships are like this. My relationship with one of my sisters is like this. It’s easygoing; there is little tension.

Why Does It Matter?

Step into this analogy with me.

A few years ago, I wanted a red, Mercedes-Benz GLK. I contemplated doing all I could to get one, until I spoke with my car-aficionado husband. Not only was general upkeep expensive, like always buying premium gas, but he also told me the car wasn’t reliable. If something broke down, then I’d be paying an astronomical amount for repairs. It was a high-maintenance vehicle I couldn’t afford.

Relationships can be similar.

High-maintenance relationships are expensive. You pay with your time. You pay with your energy. Occasionally, you actually pay with money. But I’m here to affirm this for you. If you don’t have the bandwidth, it’s okay not to have them. Your reason, whatever it is, is valid. Just like that Benz wasn’t the best for my situation at the time; sometimes, some relationships aren’t either. And that’s okay.


Post-script: There is no such thing as a no-maintenance relationship. All cars, no matter their cost or age, require gas and an oil change (or electricity and new tires) 😉


Mental Health Matters: Triggered (Part III)

As a writer, I’d love to end the story with, and I never returned. As a person showing up in authentic spaces, I’ve created for myself, I want to tell the rest of the truth.

Of course, I returned. I had to get my purse.

But I didn’t want to.

That evening, I’d stayed up well past midnight journaling: writing and processing, processing and writing. It had worked when my father died, so perhaps it would work with this situation. I wrote until my eyes were heavy. Part I of this series is the result.

“I don’t belong here,” I told Dwight the next morning.

“Here in Covert or here in your family?”

“Both,” I sighed.

But we had a wedding to attend. I’d decided the only way I could live through the remainder of my time in Michigan was to drink, to remain self-medicated so as to numb any future pain.

Forget pranayama.

Forget exercising.

Forget cognitive behavioral therapy.

I didn’t want to feel the heat rise should my grandmother tell me to speak up or beg me to engage in meaningless conversation.

So, I drank until I ran out of the liquor I’d bought for myself. Then, I started on what was available, which included bottles reserved for college dormitories.

By the time my cousin went from Miss to Mrs., and by the time the last car backed out of the driveway, I…was…drunk.


Dwight, my aunt, her beau, and I stood in the kitchen. I don’t remember what set me off into a Shakespeare-like soliloquy, but I projected all of my thoughts from the time I was sixteen to present day onto my aunt. For over two hours, I expressed my likes, dislikes, wants, and needs from all the adults who raised and didn’t raise me. I cried and purged. I spewed almost every part of my life, from stories I’ve written for this blog, to words encompassed in an unpublished memoir. I left it all there in that kitchen in Covert, Michigan.

I’ve gone back and forth with myself about sharing this, but I’ve decided it’s okay for a few reasons:

Healing isn’t linear. I’m not sure where I first read this, but it resonated. In this culture, we act as if there’s a magic healing wand. I blame popular media, as well as the instant nature of society. Once you do x, y, and z, then you’re “cured” of your trauma and you live happily ever after. That’s simply not the truth. I’ve spent years working on myself. Most days, I’m super good and never think about my past. Other days, I visit my grandmother and feel like an oppressed teenager who’s learned to silence my own voice before someone does it for me. That doesn’t mean I’m not healed. It means I’m a human being, who can be triggered.

People are not perfect. We want the “I Have a Dream” speech MLK, but we don’t want to hear about his alleged adulterous behavior. We want our heroes unblemished, like fictional Marvel caricatures. But Spiderman loses frequently, and Tony Stark seems to be a bit of a jerk. I’ve written The Greatest Thing About My Grannie and meant every word; however, I also see her as a multidimensional human being who isn’t always very nice or emotionally supportive. Likewise, as I noted at the beginning, I’d rather present my own self as a whole person, rather than a perfect being who walks around quoting pithy reflections.

One moment is one moment. Everyone asked how the wedding was, and I wanted to say, it was good, except for the part when…but there was no need to repeatedly mention this situation. Doing so would be a form of unnecessarily beating myself up and carrying energy that needed to dissipate in my grandmother’s kitchen. The best thing to do was to contemplate what happened, apologize to my aunt for the timing and manner in which I expressed myself, and move on. It was one moment.

You can be gifted, helpful, and flawed. When we returned home, I received several pieces of good news that have come and gone. Someone from the United Negro College Fund (UNCF)/Mellon Mays Conference contacted me about a paid presentation. One of my essays was published in another anthology. Dr. Dinardo’s institution, St. Clair, and their SRC revised our video on situational anxiety and showed it on IGTV. I know that a lot of people believe you have to have it all together before you can be impactful in the world. I’m here to tell you…you don’t. Your favorite celebrity is proof enough of that.

I began this series with my husband’s question, “Can you imagine living here?”

My answer is clear. Not only can I not imagine living in Covert, Michigan, I also have no intention on returning.  

Watch Dr. Dinardo’s keynote, “Emotional CPR: Catch Triggers Before They Escalate” to learn how to recognize and rein in triggers before they get out of hand.

Mental Health Matters: Triggered (Part II)

August 2020, my cousin shared that she would be getting married…at my grandmother’s house. It had been six years since I was there. Six years since the shoveling snow, can’t catch my breath incident. Sending a gift would have been sufficient, especially in a time of COVID, but I felt compelled to attend.

“Are you gonna be alright?” Dwight asked as we traveled toward her home.

“I’m fine. Everything’s fine. I’m a grown-ass woman,” I replied as more of a mantra than a confident truth.

Just for the record, I really thought I was fine. Day one was simple. I ignored how my grandmother wore her mask around her chin, ignored how she talked about how stupid my cousin and her fiancé were for not setting things up sooner or asking for her help, and I ignored how she demanded we speak up louder, instead of wearing her thousand dollar hearing aids.

Turns out ignoring is what used to work for me. Ever since I’ve been more aware and in tune with my emotions, it’s harder to let things go.

I realized this on day two.


“I’m going to get chicken, but not for everyone, just me and Belle,” my grandmother hollered loud enough for all of us to hear.

That was unnecessarily rude, I thought.

Then, Dwight walked over and whispered, “Your grandmother wants to know if you want some chicken?”

The only person I can control is myself, I thought.

“Grannie, I don’t feel comfortable getting chicken for just me and no one else.”

She didn’t care what I did, as long as everyone knew she wasn’t asking or buying chicken for anyone else.

And that, my friends, is where the heat rose, and spiral began.

We got the chicken and sides and headed back home, which is when my grandmother decided to stop at her friend’s house to “see what she wanted when she called.”

“Now?” I asked.

“Yeah. Why not?”

How selfish, I thought.

Was it a coincidence that I listened to a podcast focused on triggers when I returned to Florida? I don’t know, and I don’t want to intellectualize or woo-woo this. But according to mental health experts, a trigger can be a tap on the shoulder, the way someone speaks, or a familiar scent. Any of these and more can send someone back into time.

What I do know is by the time we returned to her house, I felt helpless and silenced. I was seventeen again, just like in 2014, just like in 1990. But I had two drumsticks, unseasoned green beans, and a mound of mashed potatoes to suffer through.

I felt alone. My aunt had driven to her hotel. My two cousins and their friend have a closeness that didn’t need my intrusion; they sat on the couch and giggled about something or another. Dwight was in the basement talking to my soon-to-be new cousin. The only place left to eat was at my grandmother’s table. She sat to my left; my ninety-eight-year-old great aunt sat to my right; and across from me, was my mother’s cousin. Though we are all grown, I felt like a child surrounded by adults, just like when I was growing up.

All I wanted was to finish my food. All my grandmother wanted was for me to outline my mundane online teaching job to her because, “I don’t know what you all are doing in this century.”

Even as I’m typing this, it seems a trivial thing. But it’s not. We were at an impasse. While I cannot tell her to put her hearing aids in or to please stop calling people stupid, in that moment, I could refuse to detail how I teach via computer, for no other reason than I didn’t want to.

The wrinkle between her brows furrowed, signaling her annoyance.

All I wanted was to finish my mashed potatoes and gravy. I wondered why we weren’t discussing the other actual exciting event: Her granddaughter was marrying the man of her dreams at her house. A conversation about how I grade assignments was insignificant. Finally, she let it go.

I cleaned the drumstick and excused myself.

“l’ll be back,” I said to everyone and to no one.

And I never returned.

Watch Dr. Dinardo’s keynote, “Emotional CPR: Catch Triggers Before They Escalate” to learn how to recognize and rein in triggers before they get out of hand.

Mental Health Matters: Triggered (Part I)

“Can you imagine living here?” my husband asked, “or near here?”

He was asking me if I could ever think of how life would be if I’d lived near or around Covert, Michigan, the place I was sent when my father threw me out of the house. It was September 2020.

Three months prior, a birth chart reader told me I had been seeking higher consciousness, and apparently, there are certain places on earth, where I can be closer to achieving that goal. Florida is one of them. Chicago and Michigan, those places where I was born and raised, are not.

I knew this before the reader mentioned it. I could feel it.


In 2014, I visited my grandmother in Covert on a stop to Western Michigan, the university where I’d received my bachelor’s degree. My then job had paid for me to go anywhere in the country for professional development, so I chose my pre-professional roots. Maybe my methodology professor, the person who taught me how to teach, would impart some sage words on a journey that seemed foggy at best.

I couldn’t tell if I was holding my breath or if my breath shortened on its own, but something physically happened to me as I entered her driveway. I ignored it and slept soundly that evening.

The following morning, I awoke to soft mounds of white snow in the driveway. My grandmother and I shared breakfast and then we sat across from one another in the living room; she sat in the armchair and I on the couch.

“Where is the shovel?” I asked.

“It’s in the garage. I’ll go get it,” she said.

But she didn’t. We sat there for thirty minutes as a daytime show blared on the television, audible to anyone outside of the house, her hard-of-hearing status at its beginning stages.

“Grannie, are you going to get the shovel? I have to meet my professor,” I said.

“I’ll get it,” she said.

My grandmother is good at controlling a situation so that by the time it’s over, you don’t know if you gave away your power or if she took it.

I felt the heat rise from my abdomen, but I said nothing. Time travelled backwards. I was no longer forty-one. I was seventeen. I was alone and powerless. I should keep my mouth shut and wait for the shovel. An overwhelming sense of sadness overcame me. Breathing was hard, but yoga had taught me pranayama. I sat and practiced. Inhale. Hold. Exhale. I waited for her to liberate me from her house, whenever she saw fit.

Eventually, we walked to the garage together and she handed me the tool. It never dawned on me that I could’ve found it myself.

FB, February, 2014

The cold air, constant digging, and solitude served as therapy. I held onto the residual anger of being forty-five minutes late to my meeting and turned my fury into a cute social media post about perseverance, perhaps someone would be inspired by my resentment.  

I never processed what happened at her house. In fact, I ignored that it did.


Watch Dr. Dinardo’s keynote, “Emotional CPR: Catch Triggers Before They Escalate” to learn how to recognize and rein in triggers before they get out of hand.

Virtual Book Reading: Video and Update

Last Saturday, we held a successful virtual book reading via Zoom and FB Live. About 40 people floated in and out and we are very appreciative.

Also, y’all know I’m always writing about relationships and how we can do a better job with relating to one another, so I gotta say THANK YOU to my grannie and aunt and sister-friends from all walks of life who showed up. Sending gratitude to the following bloggers who also made a way to pop in from Nigeria, the New England area, Oregon, and Georgia:

Omo Ackin

E

Lady G

Pam

Kim

If you missed it, here’s the 2-hour recording:

 

Mental Health Matters: Developing a Sense of Identity

My cousin and his wife adopted a baby last year. As soon as they brought her home from the hospital, he had a list of all the things she’d be and do. She would like cooking; he’d ensure she would because he props her up in the kitchen as he prepares meals; he’s a retired military chef. She would like fishing; he’d already taken her out on her first boat excursion. I feigned a smile as he described how fractions of her life and her identity were being shaped by his likes and dislikes.

pianoI suppose raising children in this way is natural. My mother was a skilled pianist. On Saturday mornings, she drove my six-year-old self to the north side, where I took Suzuki piano lessons. A brown piano sat in the corner of the dining room, where I remember practicing and learning one song, Cuckoo. It wasn’t until I advanced to reading sheet music that she looked over at me and asked one question.

“You don’t want to do this anymore?”

My answer was, “No,” so I was allowed to stop.

There was little else I remembered doing at that age. I devoured books, and eventually I wrote. By the time I was ten, I’d written and created a book about a boy, who had to assume responsibility of his home due to his father’s death. It was called On the Farm and was nominated for an award sponsored by Gwendolyn Brooks. But were these enjoyable to me, or were these just hobbies my mother had introduced to me? After all, she did have a bachelors in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She also had boxes of unpublished essays stashed away in our basement.

It seemed imperative that I learn who I was independent of others. Psychologists agree; they suggest adoptees learn what they like/dislike apart from their adoptive families.

img_0522While writing is something my mother and I shared, it really is something I like to do. I was reminded of this six years ago. I’d written a piece about going natural, and on a whim, submitted it to For Harriet. My ego was overwhelmed with the thousand or so responses that essay garnered but writing for public consumption as a way to discuss a new thought was also something I felt I’d been missing. Connecting with others is necessary for my being. The following year, I began this blog and have loved every minute of not only writing, but also engaging with others about our daily lives. And if I use the what could you do for hours rule, then writing would definitely be it.

So, yes to writing. But what about other things I’d picked up throughout life?

Dwight and I have been married twenty-four years. When you’ve been with someone that long, it’s also important to discover what you like separate from your spouse. Superhero movies is that thing for me. Once I realized that Marvel was creating a seemingly endless timeline of films, I had to bow out. A few years ago, I expressed to him that I would only be watching one per year…with him…at the movies. I’m not sure how he feels about this, but such a small decision made a huge difference for me. I’d rather write, blog, or read a book than watch the same trope play itself out under water, in a fictional African land, or in a parallel universe.

I’ve also recognized that I like to entertain company in creative ways. For example, I’ve created something called a Christmas tree decorating party. I thought it’d be cool for each person in our family to have their own five-foot tree, and subsequently, invite a few people over to eat, drink, and decorate them. I’ve also thrown a Christmas brunch with all women. Sons weren’t even welcome. My youngest daughter and I made breakfast food and served about fourteen women.

transient_memphisSome of you may have also noticed I like photographing homeless and transient people. Many have asked me why? Others have judged it as rude. I think this hobby is the best example of stepping into one’s identity. I have my reasons. Sometimes I explain myself; other times, I don’t, because what I’ve found on this journey toward understanding self is it doesn’t matter what others think. It doesn’t matter if I can articulate why I enjoy something, and it doesn’t matter if it’s aligned with what my family or society values.

All that matters is that I know what I like and how I feel when I engage in it. This has been my greatest lesson of all about developing a sense of identity and of being myself. As a result, my sense of self no longer relies on the approval of anyone else.

Monday Notes: Worry ‘Bout Yo Self

When I was in my 30s or so, I emailed my father because I’d had a revelation.

“You treat all of the women you’re connected to horribly,” I announced.

I’d cracked the code and I had proof. At the time, his mother was a recent double amputee, who’d just moved in with him and his wife. During a breakfast outing, she confided to Dwight and me that he was charging her rent.

I also recounted a rumor I’d heard about how he’d mistreated my own mother. It was something about helping another woman move to Moline, IL while my mother was hospitalized 165 miles away. The indiscretion occurred before I was born, but I’d heard about it so much, primarily when adults didn’t know I was listening, that I could re-tell it myself.

I left the secrets I’d accrued about his current relationship unsaid, and instead, concluded with his treatment of me, which included explicit and implicit abandonment and unfulfilled promises.

“You always did judge me harshly,” he wrote, “but you know what? You’d do better psychoanalyzing yourself.”

At the time, I was offended.

Wouldn’t knowing my parent offer insights into myself and our relationship? I mean, I guess I could’ve phrased it with a less judgmental tone, or used “I statements,” but I’m no therapist and at the time hadn’t sought therapy. All I suspected was that I may be better if I understood his patterns of behavior because parts of who he was had affected me in some way.

Or, was he right?

Would I do better to simply think deeply about my own negative behavior, which was quickly adding up and determine how to proceed with life in a healthier way? Would it be better to stare myself down in the mirror and focus on the image reflected back to me?

Nah.

Fifteen years ago, it was much easier to point out everyone else’s flaws than to identify and focus on my own. It always is. Plus, I wasn’t ready for that type of introspection.

conquer_oneselfBut, after finally doing the work, I find it’s also important to research your family of origin as a method of recognizing patterns of behavior they may have passed on to you. Sometimes these models have inextricably bound you together in unhealthy ways.

However, I do recognize the rudeness of my communication. If I had the opportunity to re-send this email to my father, I wouldn’t. I’d just accept the observations of his life as observations (and judgments) and be grateful about how helpful they may be for me.

While I believe we will do best to worry about ourselves, ultimately, we were each shaped by our first communities, our families. And understanding who they are/were can be integral to understanding ourselves.

What do you think?

Monday Notes: New Mantra

I was raised by a celebratory family. My mother’s side was known to praise any and everything that I did. No matter what I accomplished – piano recitals, school functions, dance programs – my grandmother, grandfather, and great aunts and uncle would proclaim, “you were the best one!” On top of that, my mother was known for creating parties. Some planned and some instant.

“Punch in a glass is just punch,” she’d say, “but when you pour it in a punch bowl, with sliced oranges, well that’s a party!”

We partied often. And it was something I grew used to.

Similarly, my father’s side of the family is known for arriving from out of town to celebrate accomplishments. It doesn’t matter if they haven’t seen or talked to the person in months or years, if they’re invited to a graduation party, birthday event, or funeral repast, they will find a way to join in and turn up.

My childhood was wonderful in this way. But then my mother died, and so did her parties.

Eight months later, I threw my own seventeenth birthday party. It was the first time since the funeral that family members were all in one space. It was the first time since we’d buried my mother that things felt normal.

When I graduated high school, I asked Grannie if she was going to have a party afterwards. Some call it an open house.

“You want a party?” she asked.

“Yes,” I beamed.

“Well, you’re gonna have to pay for it yourself.”

biggest_fan_2So, I did. I bought royal blue streamers, royal blue tablecloths and napkins, and ordered myself a white sheet cake, with royal blue icing that read, Congratulations Kathy! After graduation, family and friends celebrated the occasion with me in Grannie’s basement.

Throughout the years, this pattern continued. If I wanted to celebrate me, then I created an event to do so. Sometimes these were joint, out-of-town birthday parties with friends. Other times, like my doctoral graduation or 40th birthday party, I planned a celebration independently to physically say congrats.

Over the past few years, I’ve grown weary of planning festivities for myself, yet I’ve continued to achieve. To maintain a commemorative spirit, I’ve begun taking myself out. If I do something that I believe is extraordinary, then I splurge on a meal.

I also share great news on social media, because even though sites like Facebook can be annoying, the reality is that Internet communities love to uplift you when you’ve done something positive. To be honest, it’s like dipping a glass ladle into that fancy bowl and scooping out the bright red punch my mother used to make. It tastes sweet. It feels special.

But as I approach 46, I realize those things are all outside of myself. And because I seek growth in everything I do, I’ve developed a new mantra. What I’m doing is important, even if no one else acknowledges it.

Don’t get me wrong. I still celebrate myself in explicit ways, but this phrase reminds me to also turn inward. It reminds me that my self-worth is not tied to my success or anyone’s validation of it. And it liberates me from expecting external gratification in the form of celebratory acts. This is a new practice. We’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, tell me if you’ve ever had to re-frame how you function in the world because of your upbringing? Are you a celebratory person?

Monday Notes: Finding My Biological Family (Part II)

I’ve been trying to figure out how to begin this post.

Humorous? Those ancestry.com commercials are cute, right? White people finding out their brown, African roots; black people finding out their white, European roots. It’s all fun and games, until you click on that other link and find out who your biological father is.

Somber and Poetic? Aunt Catherine said she asked my pregnant mother one question, who’s the father? Joyce looked at her, lifted a finger, and pointed at the janitor, a lanky, white man. DCFS had reported a janitor found me as a baby. Not thinking there could be more than one, the storyteller in me put two and two together and made myself biracial. Turns out, I’m not. My father is an African American male. I know because of an ancestry DNA kit.

Straightforward, yet Cheeky? Like 4 million other people, I thought I’d spit into a tube, mail it off through UPS and find out from what part of Africa I hailed. Cameroon/Congo, Benin/Togo, and England/Wales are the top three. But ethnicity isn’t all you can learn there. When I clicked on the little green icon called, View DNA Matches, the full name of my biological father appeared. This is how I found him.

My feelings about finding my biological father, who we’ll call CB, are just as varied as these introductions. I’ve been trying to pin them down, but they range anywhere from a #KanyeShrug to elation. Those of you who’ve followed my blog for the past four years might understand clearly.

img_9137Much of my time has been spent healing and talking about my adopted father, who passed in 2015. His death brought pure peace to my being. An integral connection ended for good. Although a different person, CB is still my father, and finding him had the potential to open another relation called, father. Was I ready for this? Did I need this? These questions swarmed in my brain.

It is my belief that no matter what your head says, your heart and soul always know better. I’d released the idea of knowing my biological father, not because I didn’t want to know, but rather because I thought it an impossible feat. I’d forgotten my own 2018 mantra: Anything is possible, especially finding your father via 21st century methods.

So, I am ready for this. Relating to my deceased father and processing hurtful emotions has prepared me to connect with whoever CB is. I’ve learned not to judge as harshly as I used to. This has been useful. When CB described the circumstances surrounding my conception, a one-night stand, I felt liberated, not judgmental. Who am I to judge a one-night stand, or a baby born out of wedlock to two unprepared people?

img_8993I also needed this. It might seem shallow, but I finally have a complete picture of who I am. This is something I’ve noticed biological families take for granted. Growing up, I always felt physically out of place. No one’s skin color was like mine. No one shared my body type. No one walked like me. No one held their head like mine. In fact, the size of my butt was often the topic of conversation; I now know that comes from my mother’s shapely frame. I was also often told to stop walking slew-footed and to stop walking like a turtle. It might not be healthy, but now I see why these things were challenging for me to “correct.” CB and one of my sisters have similar characteristics.

I’m prepared for this. Learning to love myself has had one major impact. I no longer seek relationships to fill a void. This means I now enter situations as a whole person, with clear boundaries. Therefore, I am good no matter what may come from this new connection. And if I’m not, I’ll add it to the memoir 😉

Part I

Monday Notes: Finding My Biological Family (Part I)

After delivering my first baby, I knew it was time. I had to find my biological mother. It was unfathomable to me that a woman could nurture a baby in her womb for months, deliver a child, and hold it in those first few proverbial moments, and then give her up for adoption. Something heavy had to hang in the balance to make such a decision.

So, in 1999, I contacted the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

The woman who answered the phone told me that their department was not in the business of reconnecting families; they existed to find loving homes for children.

Her apathy left me little choice but to wait.

Months later, I placed another call. A different woman revealed the name of a group that was in the business of re-connecting families: The Midwest Adoption Agency. The social worker rattled off a list of information they needed to conduct a search: birthdate, (adopted) parents’ names, year of adoption, official birth certificate, and birth name.

It had never dawned on me that I had a different name. My father, unlike Grannie, was ecstatic to know that I was conducting this search.

“She had named you Petula,” he said. “Your mom and I always thought that was strange. Maybe she liked the singer, Petula Clark, we thought.”

I had never heard of Petula Clark, but I had heard of the song, Downtown, for which she is known.

img_8191The following year, the counselor had found my birth records and sent a detailed report. My mother, Joyce Belcher had considered abortion several times before giving up the idea entirely. This was noted by her social worker.

Joyce had been diagnosed with acute schizophrenia: undifferentiated type. Up until my birth on May 23, 1973, she was seen walking up and down the sidewalk talking to herself. After giving birth, she would lay on the sofa doing nothing most of the day, laughing hysterically.

By the time I was five-months-old, Joyce had left me in our apartment building. According to the report, a janitor found me and contacted the police. I’d been there several days. Joyce named this same janitor as the father; he denied it. Shortly after, she surrendered her parental rights.

Two more letters followed the report. Joyce Belcher had died when she was twenty-eight years old, about five years after I’d been adopted. Her cause of death: drowning.

She was survived by her father, her four sisters, and my older sister.

***

In 2001, I birthed another child. This time, I understood the circumstances surrounding my adoption. But another question lingered. How could four sisters allow the State to take their sister’s child?

Midwest Adoption Agency allowed me to ask for a Request for Non-Identifying Information. You can only ask for this information one time, from one person. I chose my birth grandfather. As the family’s patriarch, it seemed he would have the most information.

He didn’t.

Not only had each of his seven children been a part of the Illinois foster care system (he had two sons), but also only one of his five adult daughters kept in contact with him. Her name was Catherine. I would later find out that she was the only one that he didn’t molest, thus their continued connection.

Aunt Catherine and I spoke for the first time on February 6, 2005. It was Super Bowl Sunday. She was excited to hear my voice and wanted to hear all about who raised me and who I’d become.

“I always thought you were raised by some rich black people,” she confided.

I assured her I was not.

“I tried to get you, but the State wouldn’t let me. They told me to leave you alone and not ask about it anymore,” her voice trailed off.

Later, her daughter would tell me that each weekend, Aunt Catherine would get drunk and cry about finding Petula.

Aunt Catherine and I met once and marveled at our similar wide smiles and pointy noses. We talked weekly, until she suffered a heart attack and died in June 2006.

That’s when I decided not to seek out my biological father. There was little reason to endure more emotional pain.

Part II