Over and over, the three kids taunted me one Summer afternoon. I was 5 years old. I had just been adopted that Spring. I had been living at my new home in Grant Heights, Japan for a few months. These three kids were my first American friends after leaving my Obaachan.
Three friends who told me my mother was dead. (Much later: age 6.)
In fact, I think they were my first friends ever. They lived across the street. Their parents were like mine: American father and Japanese mother. After they ran around me yelling “your mother is dead” repeatedly, I ran home crying. I knew my mother wasn’t dead.
When I got home crying, my adoptive parents sat down and told me the truth. My mother WAS dead! It was true! I remember being startled to learn my mother was dead. I’m not sure whether learning she was dead or that my friends kept taunting me was the worst part of the day. I don’t know how I would have handled this new fact had it just been left at that. I was only 5 and I didn’t remember or “miss” my mother.
But, my adoptive parents tried to explain, I suppose in the typical fashion, that because they adopted me, I was “chosen” and therefore more loved than someone who had just been born to parents (which, today, I don’t believe at all). Worst part, I was told it HAD TO BE A SECRET. We had to pretend it wasn’t so. I do know that from that moment forward, my life was not the same. From that moment forward, I carried around what I was told was a GREAT BIG SECRET. I don’t think I gave any “meaning” to these new facts. I didn’t know why, but it was a GREAT BIG SECRET and somehow SHAMEFUL.
And so I kept the SECRET my entire childhood. When I thought about being adopted, which I did often, I “knew” it would be SHAMEFUL if someone learned it, so I felt shame. When I thought about my mother being dead, I “knew” it would be SHAMEFUL if someone found out, so I felt shame. I often thought back to those early years with my Obaachan and wondered why I couldn’t just go back and not have this SECRET anymore. Funny thing about SECRETS, I learned, was that they get heavier each day. What felt a little shameful at age 5 became a lot shameful at age 15. And although I didn’t understand the difference between my mother having died and keeping something a SECRET, the shame from one or the other grew.
It’s no wonder I didn’t make lasting friends growing up. I don’t think it remained about my mother being dead, or about being adopted. It was about the SECRET. I now just think for me growing up – that, no matter what I did or became, nobody could be allowed to know the SECRET ME. What if they found out about my SECRET. I couldn’t have that. Only later in years did I realize that the fear of being teased and taunted was enough to keep SECRETS. I had to keep the real me a SECRET. I didn’t want anyone to know anything real about me. Everything became a SECRET. And looking back, I stayed away from people who teased me because they didn’t have my permission to tease me – not that I would tell anyone who had permission to tease me because that was a SECRET too. Everything became a SECRET! I didn’t want someone running around me yelling “your mother is dead” again because I knew after Grant Heights, taunting me with something that sounded awful meant it was true and I didn’t want anything awful to be true anymore. I wonder how many more friends I would have had growing up if I didn’t have to keep SECRETS. [Funny how “logic” doesn’t really play into how SECRETS infect our minds and lives.]
TODAY’S HOW TO
I’ve decided SECRETS are no good. They make you be alone. They make you feel alone inside. They make you afraid of others. They keep you alone. You become a loner. After I was 18 years old, I slowly began to tell select people my SECRET that I was adopted and that my mother died when I was one. But it wasn’t until in my 40’s that I began to speak freely about this. Once I began to speak freely about it, it became easier and the burden of that SECRET went away. The remnants of not wanting to be taunted and the fear of what taunting means still remain, but their hold on me has pretty much faded. Today, I avoid having SECRETS because the cost is too high. One of these days, I’ll be gone and the SECRETS won’t matter anyway. I don’t want to LIFE that way anymore.