It's a part of me as innate and identifiable as my name. In a nutshell, I grew up with virtually no information about my heritage until I unearthed it all after undergoing a search when I was 20. A reunion ensued as one by one, relatives began coming out of the woodwork. The first to be revealed was my biological mother Kathy who I discovered living in a run down halfway house in downtown San Jose. It was a Victorian mansion that must have been very stately in its day. By the time it was taken over as a board and care for the indigent, time and decay had weathered it just as it affected the residents who came to occupy it. Kathy had lived in a series of such places since being released from the fortress that was Agnew Insane Asylum when Ronald Reagan was elected governor in 1967. His LPS legislation was implemented as a cost cutting measure under the guise of a human rights campaign that would allow mentally ill patients to exercise the right to refuse treatment. Kathy was sent there after being diagnosed schizophrenic and her family moved away without giving her the new address. They were frightened of the person she became and allowed the state to take over her care. Without the strictures of medication that fogged her mind, she was free to wander the streets and forge her own relationships. In the early 1970s, while staying in one of the government subsidized halfway houses that was opened after the asylums closed, she met Tom who had checked into the place after coming off a drug binge. He didn't realize he had checked into a snake pit of off balance women and fostered a few quickie romances with more than one tenant until Kathy caught his attention. They became an item that resulted in her becoming pregnant with a girl. He remembers the time as idyllic as he was still under the delusion that they would run away together, get married and have a family. Then things started to go terribly wrong as the reality of her mental illness reared its head. Finally, he had to accept that it just couldn't be, despite the heaviness in his heart. He said he knew he had to leave after he came home to a room full of broken dishes that was the aftermath of her destructive delusions and temperament. He was a member of a construction union that took him away for long jags after which he would return to visit her at the halfway house and romance was rekindled at least for a night or two. That's how I came to be conceived but this time they made no pretense about playing a family. He didn't bother coming to the hospital when I was born like he did with my sister. He didn't bother because he knew they would turn him away again.
That's why the contents of this letter are so puzzling. Somehow in Kathy's mind, she fell under the impression that he had contact with me and an arsenal of pictures. She wrote that letter when she was 38 which is the same age I am now.At the time it was written, as I was about to turn 9 years old, I was between third and fourth grade living in Los Gatos with my mom and soon to be stepfather. They were working for Atari and I was about to be enrolled at the South Valley Carden private school for 4th grade. We had just put in a swimming pool and I would celebrate my 9th birthday with a Superfriends themed swimming party. The identity of my biological mother was as foreign to me as anything related to the story of my origins. Of course, I knew I was adopted and loved to pull out the giant box of photographs from underneath the guest bedroom where I would pore over the history for clues. My baby book was written for adopted kids and instead of a birth announcement,, my parents had sent out a card that said, "We've adopted someone special." My parents were very open with the fact that I was adopted and I accepted it as a proud part of me as relative as my haircolor. Being adopted was celebrated and I was constantly reminded of how lucky I was to have been so. There were vague references to my biological mother having possibly been "sick", but no one offered information beyond that. "Didn't you ask questions,?" I would implore to my mother. How could she not have asked questions? She explained that it didn't matter to her where I came from because she was concentrating on getting me. The person I was ceased to matter as much as the person I was going to be after they took me home from foster care. That was the end of it. Nothing was asked. Nothing more was offered. To appease me, I was given a book called Why was I Adopted?, which was lovingly inscribed with a message of love by my mom.
To think that Kathy, my bio mother was less than 5 miles away in another part of the same city is unthinkable today. I imagine her alone with a tub of half eaten ice cream which she is bingeing on in an effort to distract her mind from thinking about the son she gave away. The level of delusions in her schizophrenic mind is evident by her insistence that he send pictures of me as if to imply he was holding out on her. "I don't ask much of you or my brother,:" she said. Her brother was my Uncle Fred, an attorney who once presided as judge in San Jose. His trajectory through Bellarmine, a private Catholic boy's school and then on to the Univeristy of Santa Clara where he studied law and became an attorney was typical of boys from well to do families. He shouldered the brunt of her care after the death of their mother and took on the burden. He would bring her supplies in the halfway house now and then and tried not to worry when she disappeared from the radar for months. Released from the asylum, she was on her own free will to be as unpredictable as that may have been. I think, clearly, she must have been lucid enough to carry on a romantic relationship and bear children. I think the illness grew consecutively worse throughout the years. But in the 1970s, based on pictures I saw, she was still relatively young and attractive. No one would know from looking at her that anything was wrong.
Underneath the letter, there was a black and white photo of the two of them standing behind a facade made to look like they were a muscleman and mermaid.
It's a cute indicator of their courtship and evidence of what might have been.. Kathy didn't show signs of trouble until after the summer she returned from studying art in Europe. She was 15 and her family explained her behavior as a combination of teenage melodrama and the effects of European influence. "It was just weird," recalled her brother. I don't know exactly when she was institutionalized but it was the only viable solution after she attacked her brother's fiance and put her in the hospital. Her behavior was increasingly erratic and they were beside themselves with worry. While she disappeared behind the iron gates of the Moorish castle like fortress that was Agnew, her family moved to a new part of town and kept it a secret.
When I discovered this letter and read that my biological mother was asking her ex boyfriend, my father about me as if he had any information, I was puzzled. Hadn't I been given up to the system? He purportedly wasn't even around at the time having confessed that he refused to believe I was his child until he saw a picture. But during my delivery and subsequent shuffling until I was adopted, granted a real life and turned from a wooden puppet into a real little boy, he was away on a construction gig denying my existence. It broke my heart to read the last sentences, that she was eating to curb the loneliness. When she confesses her weight at 150 lbs, I could feel her pain and the self-hate she must have felt. By that time, from what I eventually discovered she had given up all of her three children and was living a vagabond life