Sunday, April 3, 2011

Missing

“We took pictures, we cooked. It was like she was never missing.”

Except for those 23 years.

The story of Nejdra Nance, or Carlina White as she is on her birth certificate, kidnapped as an infant from a hospital and recently reunited with family.

How could it be like she was never missing? Last time her mom saw her, she pooped her pants, drank from a bottle, and didn’t know how to say “911”.

The sentence bothers me. I’m trying to make it fit with my own imagined feelings of what it would be like to have a child returned after 23 years, all the experiences we would have missed together.

No first date. In fact, Nance had her own child before being reunited, so no sitting in the waiting room for the 1st grandchild to be born, either. No first bike ride, no first fight with a friend, no first anything, really. Well, first “reuniting with birth family” but I don’t think that makes up for it.

Maybe the sentence means that she fit in. There was laughter and good feelings and joy, and maybe some “Oh, yah, I do that, too!” moments. And everyone felt connected.

My mother was adopted, and when she found her birth mother, they had some stuff in common. My mom had this “oh, this is why I am this way” thing happen to her. Of course, having BiPolar in common doesn’t seem like the happiest way to connect, but whatever. Other than that, I don’t think they were really so similar. There’s a lot to be said for nature. But here’s the other thing I know. There’s a lot to be said for nurture, too. My mom became who she was in large part because of the parenting of the people who raised her. Why did she like raspberry jam? Because my grandfather made the best frozen raspberry jam in the world, which we put on everything from peanut butter sandwiches to ice cream. Why did she sing “I see the moon and the moon sees me?” Because my grandmother sang it to her. Why was she the worst practical joker, once convincing me that an ex-boyfriend had called me after 2 years of no-contact? Because her mother took great delight in fooling people, too. Her adopted mother, that is. The mother who wiped the boogers off her nose, who taught her about menstruation and acne and how to shave.

What activities would Nance have enjoyed if she’d been raised by her real parents? Maybe she wouldn’t have had a child at 17. Maybe she would have learned to speak Japanese. Maybe she would have discovered that she really loved mixing the stuffing for Thanksgiving dinner, and so that would have become her job, and every year, from the time she was 4, her family would tell the story about the first time she pulled a chair up to the counter and took over the stuffing.

The inside jokes, the glances that mean “I know what you’re thinking, don’t you dare say it”, the nudges that mean “can you believe that happened again?” Those are the things the family will never have, that make it exactly like she’s been missing for 23 years.

But maybe the sentence is a way of dealing with it. Because if my child went missing for 23 years, I think the heartbreak would cause me to find a fantasy world where my arms weren’t empty. So maybe the sentence is a way of saying, “We’ll fit her back in and we’ll be okay in spite of the 23 lost years.”


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