When you give your child to another family to raise so that you can escape the trap of failure and hopelessness, it becomes imperative that you do in fact escape that trap.
I thought perfectionists were people with shiny hair and clothes and homes and jobs and lives. It seemed logical to assume that perfection followed perfectionism and I therefore didn’t recognize it in myself. Because whatever the opposite of perfect was, that’s what I had. But perfectionism is in the standard, and in your reaction when you fail to meet that standard. Some perfectionists execute their high standards well. Others never live up to them and wallow in misery and self-loathing. I was the latter.
After my son went home with his family, I went to college. I had significantly less reckless sex. I stopped doing drugs. I dressed in a more acceptable manner. I went to church regularly. I tried to be more respectful of my parents. I got a job. I did commission work as a painter. I maintained a long-term relationship.
These were clear improvements. But they were not enough. It was only progress, painfully slow, minuscule progress. Far from perfection.
I reverted back to anorexia. To cutting. I flirted relentlessly with any nearby male. I drank excessively on the weekends we spent with the Student’s friends. Over the next two years, I would take multiple pregnancy tests. I didn’t send two updates to J. I dropped out of college.
I just couldn’t stop destroying. And I loathed myself for it. And the Student despised me for it. Wasn’t I supposed to be wise and mature and self-controlled now? Having gone through that?
He was obsessive. He obsessively washed. He compulsively pulled his hair. He obsessed over knowing everything. And he wanted to know how many people I’d slept with. I lied first, I gave him a small number. And then every month or so, the guilt would build and I’d struggle and stammer and let on that maybe it was a little more than what I had said. And again the next month. Eventually I got the real number out, and he called me while I was surrounded by those blue walls, and he screamed and screamed and we both cried and he spit malicious slurs and hung up and I disappeared.
Incidents like that were frequent. Something about me being uncovered, past or present. Or maybe his obsessiveness just pressing me further for more details so he could breathe more hate and disgust onto me.
My high school health class teacher had shared with conviction the idea that we teenagers needed to protect ourselves sexually, that beyond diseases and babies, we would contract regret. Youth leaders said the same. Think of your future husband, they said. Think of chewed up bubble gum. I scoffed at it. I physically scoffed in that high school class. I was fifteen and immersed in getting high and sleeping around. Neither for my enjoyment; the getting high was to make the inevitable sleeping around bearable.
I didn’t enjoy it. But I didn’t regret it.
And I didn’t regret it when I got pregnant. Everything for a reason, I believed. Everything made me who I was. And behind all the miscreant behavior was pain and hurt, and I was adamant that people understand that. I guess they call that victimization.
But I wrote in that brown leather journal that I was beginning to regret.
“I’ve never regretted the outcome of my instabilities, immaturity, and insecurity so much before. I want to make him the happiest person and I want to take all of his problems away and keep him from getting hurt. But what if the worst thing he has to deal with right now is me?
I wish I was perfect for him.
He’s everything I’ve ever wanted and I’m mostly everything he’s never wanted.
…I wish I could start over and love myself and ask for help and be alright and meet [the Student] and tell him that not only was he who I had always wanted to wait for, but that I had in fact, waited.”
He had waited. And I’d never felt so ashamed, nor so defensive.
I bought a scrapbook to assemble photos for J. I enlisted the father’s help; he handed over old photos from his childhood and I began assembling the scrapbook to be sent at Christmas. And then it waited, unfinished. It moved from one tabletop to another, from one apartment to another, from one closet to another. And it’s still in my closet, in a well-kept pale blue box, pictures clean and straight; untouched. And I lifted my eyes and tilted my head away from the shame building in my bones. I lied to myself and to others and I made up excuses and I avoided and I busied myself with life.
I felt so much for him. And I spoke about him and about what had happened. It was always on my mind and I participated in birthmother events. But I was afraid of the disconnect; could I be selfless and loving and brave and also fail to keep in touch once a year? What kind of a mother was I anyway?
I met a girl at the Dinner one year, a short, outgoing blonde girl, a new Birthmom Friend. She came with her mom, both lively and warm and emotional; their first year. Her induction into birthmotherhood. We planned to meet for lunch sometime, and it became a regular event. Her emotions and experiences were raw, mine had been tempered by time and by life, but her story struck me and a new emotion was sworn into birthmotherhood: jealousy.
She had known she’d choose adoption early in her pregnancy and subsequently developed a close relationship with the adoptive parents. After the adoption, they kept up through texting and emails and visits. Immediately I knew I would have chosen such openness if I had realized I could. Why hadn’t I? Had I been given the option? Why did I choose an out-of-state couple? Were those the only profiles provided? What was I missing out on? I fantasized about J’s parents sending an update and asking me to come visit. I would continue to fantasize about J showing up at my door, or his whole family coming to visit. Introducing them to friends. The father and I sitting down with him together.
I was captivated by the new Birthmom Friend’s stories, and discontent.
Eventually, I blithely wrote in an update that I thought we could create a photobucket account for them, me, and my parents. To make sharing easier. To draw us closer.
But a year went by, and their update came, and there was no mention of my idea. I brushed it off with understanding, and laid the pictures on the bed, devouring the lengthening shapes and colors and shadows that were my son. I didn’t know him. He was a stranger to the baby I held, the one I dreamed and spoke about. The child in the stories I told. That baby was a memory from a past life.
I continued to meet the bedraggled father at various Walgreens to make copies of the pictures. And the Student would treat me to dinners on those special days. On his birthday.
In between our special dinners, college-town dates, parties on the weekend, perpetual online gaming and instant messaging, Smash Bros tournaments, and inhaling caffeine, the Student also found time to flirt with old and new acquaintances, and to share laughs with others over his disparaging complaints about me. Before or on or after our second anniversary, I found the evidence of this and spent the day reading and re-reading months worth of conversations with a girl from his college. A petite blonde, like him. A smart and witty and attractive girl.
Between my insecurity and desperation for approval and his arrogance and similar need for approval, our relationship lacked any sense of trust.
He gave me a promise ring at some point in our relationship. I remember him coming to visit me at work, frantic. Tearful. Full of praise and adoration for me. He had just come from a friend’s house, having gone over there for sexual purposes. He felt immediate, (well, not immediate) regret, shaken by the prospect of destroying our relationship.
Maybe we weren’t so different.
Like the father had said after coming home, after giving birth, the Student would similarly comment on our second year anniversary about the stretch marks and the post-baby body. In frustration he spoke without reserve about what kind of girls he could be with, girls not like me. I hated him in that moment. I hated him for lifting me up for so long, seemingly for the sole purpose of finding the best angle to throw me, to shatter me into irreparable pieces.
Somehow, we held together by worn threads. A month went by and some progress in mending was made. We determined to stay together.
Near that time I came to church with his cousin while they were holding a meeting. She’d been a faithful friend and we’d often studied the Bible together, mainly on the topic of baptism. It was something I’d wanted to do since the adoption. Since turning my life around. A symbol. A new birth. Yet, we’d seemed to come full-circle. Three years ago, I’d been warning the father that the sex would end after that Discipleship Walk. And here we were again, me avoiding baptism in order to avoid commitment. Commitment that would require abstinence, this time with the Student. In my dimly-lit spiritual understanding, I knew one thing: I couldn’t get baptized and get drunk and sleep with my boyfriend every weekend. And I knew that I was prioritizing those desires over God.
But one night, his cousin and I were getting into her car after the sermon and she made a typical remark, “Are you sure you don’t want to get baptized? We don’t even know if we’ll make it home alive.” And for whatever reason, I agreed. I called the Student and told him, and we went back inside and I changed into bulky baptismal garments and the preacher met me in the baptistry, and the members who had stood around long enough to hear what was going on all sat down and sang. And he immersed me, trembling, into a flood of water and I came up, and I cried.
And everything was different.
Until it wasn’t.
A month later. Just a month. Less than a month. My friend from the Navy, the Specialist, from Golden Corral and X&Y and a long-ago summer, came to town during the week, while the Student was on campus. I went to church on Wednesday night, I went out with the Student’s cousin and all the girls from church to a restaurant and we laughed and talked and the waiter hit on her and we giggled uncontrollably.
And then I left and drove to Wal-Mart and met him in the parking lot and for the next two days I didn’t call or text the Student, but immersed myself in some fantasy with the Specialist. He was tall, he was towering and felt like a rock of refuge, someone I could trust, someone who could hold you in his hand delicately so you could never break. Dark hair, glasses, and words that glided from his lips down into your heart. He spoke about my eyes, my most captivating feature. We had sex. We talked about getting married. The Student’s name felt bitter in my mouth, I didn’t care at all. I didn’t care for him. I didn’t care about what we were doing. I was calloused. I would go on to say that I lost my mind for those few days. I would say that for years. I still don’t have a grand explanation for such an unusual and spontaneous rebellion, other than I deeply believed I loved the Specialist and he was many things the Student wasn’t.
But he didn’t love me, his own heart broken over lost love, me just an alternative, and I couldn’t trust him. And in three days I crashed back into reality. It was December in more ways than one. The memories are jumbled. Crying. Snow. His house, mine. Writing apology letters to his mom. To his stepdad. To his dad. To his cousin. Her crying, “But you just got baptized.” Me crying. What kind of Christian was I? What kind of person? What was I doing with my second chance?
My parent’s downstairs kitchen, darkened again, him slapping me and leaving. Christmas, where we came together partly for show, partly out of desperation, partly out of me begging incessantly. We tried one last time.
I had told J’s parents in the last update that we were going to get married. It was the first time I had told them about him after being with him for two years.
Two months later, I turned 20 and I had a crisis and having roughed the death throes of our strained relationship, the life-blood depleted from both of us, I broke up with him. I went against everything I had told myself, that if we ever did break up, I would always regret it. That I wouldn’t find anyone like him again. That I couldn’t do better.
But this time there was no going back.