As I line Jesse's bookshelves with her favorite Winnie-the-Pooh and Maurice Sendak books, it strikes me that we are creating the home where Jesse will form her first memories. I hope we can give her the stability that my parents provided for me. As a teenager, I found their normality oppressive, but while I was growing up, it was comforting to know that I could rely on them to behave like the supportive parents I saw on my favorite TV show, The Brady Bunch. I could always count on my mother to contribute to the school bake sale, conjure up creative Halloween costumes, and volunteer to be the Brownie leader. Dad always caught his commuter train and made it home in time for dinner with the family, which my mom dutifully had on the table promptly at six p.m.
Since I can't cook or sew and don't have much interest in being a den leader, I'm resigned to the fact that I won't live up to Brady Bunch standards of motherhood. The only thing I hope to emulate is the unflagging sense that my parents would always be there for my brother and me when we needed them.
ELYSE: "I feel like I've lost a twin," I had often said to friends, after film school, out in San Francisco, whenever I faced a particularly difficult bout of depression. I had always assumed that my profound loneliness stemmed from the early death of my mother and the loss, in some sense, of my older brother to schizophrenia. My friends thought it was just the potent Humboldt County weed speaking. But my stoned suspicions had been right?literally. Those other later losses echoed a first and most dramatic separation from a twin sister.
I am grappling not only with the realization that I have been separated from my twin, but also with the fact that I was, as the letter clearly stated, adopted at six months rather than shortly after birth, as I had always thought. My parents had lovingly recounted the story of my adoption without ever getting into the exact details. It didn't help that my mom was no longer around to repeat the story, and my dad's memory is rather spotty.
In fact, I had assumed that my brother's late adoption, at six months, had contributed to his schizophrenia. The knowledge that I had also languished in parentless limbo for months makes me pity the orphaned infant I once was. My vision of the past is slowly shifting, this new fact making the others fall like dominoes.
Since I received the letter, my mind has been so consumed with the discovery of my twin that thoughts of finding my birth mother have been relegated to the back burner. Back in 1988, when returning to Long Island for college, not far from where I had been adopted, I wondered if without even knowing it I might someday pass the woman who gave birth to me. I wished for a sign, hoping that some imaginary spectators would call out to alert me, "That's her!"
Like the baby bird in the children's book, I cracked out of my shell in front of every kind woman wondering, "Are you my mother?" "'Yes, I know who you are,' said the baby bird. 'You are a bird and you are my mother.'"
Or would I instinctively know her by her bushy hair and doelike eyes? The concept of kin eluded me. Do people related by blood recognize each other on some basic primal level?