Note: I originally posted my story to Medium, but wanted to share it with my Hipforums family.
Parents who choose to adopt children promise to “act as if” they are the biological parents.
They sign a decree with that very promise written in legalese.
Go ahead, read one yourself. I will wait.
Now, I understand that adoptive parents tend to cut back on their “parenting” when kids turn 18, slowly handing the reigns of life over to their young as they progress through college and onto families of their own.
Some adopters “parent” forever.
In my case, I feel as if though adoption filled a void for two people in their mid-30s that the inability to birth children took away — until that natural birth took place in 1991.
Once they had their daughter, no longer were my services as a son necessary. At least that is how I was treated then, and am still treated to this day.
In retrospect, I almost feel like I was rented. A temporary pleasure.
Never have I felt so unneeded. Unloved. Disregarded as a human being.
It would take until my 45th year on earth to talk about it.
So I’m putting it all out there.
Here is my story.
Surrounded by Illinois State Police and one brave Department of Children and Family Services worker, my life changed forever the spring of 1980. Years of abuse, malnutrition and imprisonment finally came to an abrupt halt as I was ushered away for a photo shoot and Q&A session at the police station. It was during my visit there an officer uttered a sentence I can still hear whispered to me today.
You should not be alive, David.
He wasn’t wrong.
I was halfway into my sixth year on earth, a little over 41 inches tall and weighed next to nothing. You could make out the exact position of my heart, and watch it beat. A physician that arrived at the station gave me another three months to live in the conditions I was pulled from.
Yes, it was that serious.
DCFS workers had known my condition was abysmal, but chose not to intervene. They saw my sister and me no less than five times throughout my adolescent years, two of those times while I was with my alcoholic mother as she filled a grocery cart full of food and pushed it outside like she had purchased it, which she did not.
Prior to being rescued, my sister and I attempted to run away. We could have been rescued in 1979, but we froze upon entering a Dunkin’ Donuts and seeing what looked like a never-ending supply of food. It was there a friend of my biological father scooped us up and took us home, where my sister was ushered back into her locked bedroom and I was whipped to sleep.
Before running away, we were never allowed outside. My delusional mother thought the United States military stole children who played outside.
In fact, we lived in a home with curtains drawn at all times. Opening them would result in a beating (and often did).
My father was medically discharged with honors from the Air Force due to an accident he had on base. He worked as a supervisor in a factory (which I cannot remember the name of) while my mother plowed through bottles of Wild Turkey until she passed out, leaving me no choice but to jump over her limp, intoxicated body and attempt to open a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup so my sister could eat.
Over the years, my mother stole nearly everything she needed to survive — except for the things her children needed. Upon her death in 1981, my brother (who I did not know of until 1999) and father decided to move my father into the neighbor’s house, requiring both to move furniture and personal effects. When my brother lifted his end of the couch, it seemed quite a bit heavier than my father’s side. They removed all cushions to investigate the encumbrance.
They found over $18,000 in uncashed paychecks, bills and coins.
None of that mattered at this point. We were saved.
After our interview with police and social workers, we were sent to the first of two foster homes. With seven other children in the house, my sister and I were often disregarded.
Food seemed scarce. Basic needs were spotty, at best.
This family began downsizing their child population three months later, with my sister and me the first to get cut.
On to the next family.
When we arrived at the second foster home, the size of the home alone was intimidating. Add the couple’s two biological sons and one biological daughter, and I felt like I didn’t belong.
I had nightmares. I was taunted by the other children. I was forced to eat castor oil when I failed to clean my sleeping quarters to their liking.
Our tenue at this foster home lasted around 16 months. Finally, the day came where my sister and I were sat down at a long kitchen table.
“We cannot afford you and your sister anymore. We have contacted the Department of Children and Family Services to see about sending you elsewhere.”
This news was far from shocking. We were never really accepted by this family to begin with.
A few weeks passed when a DCFS worker notified the parents that a couple in a small town west of Chicago wanted to adopt us. They initially wanted one child, but were coaxed into taking us both.
Our reaction to this news was flat. We cried so much during our childhood that nothing really mattered anymore — not even the prospect of being adopted.
After a pat on the back and several weak hugs from the siblings, off we went.
Upon our arrival at this home, we noticed an almost fabricated excitement emanating from these folks. They showed us to our individual rooms (a first), offered to feed us (which we gladly accepted) and took us shopping to pick out some toys. At True Value Hardware.
Remember Stompers? I picked out two.
I remember how intrigued I was by a toy that was propelled by a battery. They had neat tires, too.
From there we went grocery shopping, where I was allowed to pick things out I may like.
That was my first challenge in life. How do I pick out things I was never allowed to touch before? I was never allowed around a refrigerator, much less to pick out something I wanted to snack on.
Once done, the food was paid for. Back to the residence we went.
We were enrolled in school, given a list of tasks to complete every week to get a couple of bucks to buy candy with, and slowly I began feeling like I mattered to someone.
In December of 1983, we were adopted at the Kendall County Court House. I felt on top of the world. Or at least as much as a 10 year old boy could.
Unfortunately for me, that excitement would wear off quickly.
From that point on, any form of happiness I felt was manufactured from my dreams.
Stress over medical and dental care two adopted kids required, coupled with the fact they wanted to remodel their home, ushered in an era of frequent outbursts of anger. My adoptive mother was also spending hours each day at the dining room table studying for her master’s degree.
Mental health professionals were in and out of the house for six years. We saw a shrink once a week for years in another town, too.
I guess the consensus thought our childhood really screwed our heads up. It did, but adoption was proving to be just as emotionally disturbing to me, which I let every psychiatrist know.
As I aged, my services as dad’s handyman were proving rather useful. Rebuilding a home on a shoestring budget means you tap into the cheapest labor pool possible — your adopted kids.
Throughout grade school and high school, I was an unhealthy mixture of dissidence and depression. I could count my friends on half of one hand.
Not for the lack of trying, of course.
At age 16, I had finally had enough. I was no longer interested in helping my adoptive dad erect his dream home. I was given an ultimatum when I told these folks I wanted to go spend time with friends — help me finish this leg of the project, or pack your shit and leave.
Down the streets I went.
I had no idea what I was doing. I started walking down the train track to the next town over.
Eventually, I would be scooped up and sent to a home where troubled youth hang out. That lasted a few weeks until my parents decided that running away means you are mentally unfit.
So from that point until my 18th birthday, I was ushered in and out of mental health institutions.
The Wilson Center in Faribault, MN was where I was experimented on. I was given all sorts of medication for a condition that never existed. They since shut down, which screwed me out of any chance to sue them for doing unspeakable things to me.
Five months shy of my 18th birthday, my adoptive mom told me she had given birth to a baby girl. It was a matter of fact, not caring what my reaction would be.
In October of 1991, I was released from the perpetual nightmare I never signed up for. It was determined nothing was actually wrong with me; I was just a rebellious teen who was rejected most of his life.
My parents put me on an Amtrak from Minnesota to Illinois. Mom picked me up.
She asked what I wanted for my future. I said I wanted to stay at home and work, save money and eventually go to community college.
It is then she indicated I was no longer welcome to live there. Citing my running away and my inability to conform to their wily desires, she also indicated there would be no help with college.
I cried for hours. From there, I rode off into the darkness. Armed with one good friend and zero life skills, I eventually got my GED and began partying, philandering and fighting.
I was emotionally bankrupt. A shell of a human without an ounce of emotion.
From that point on, I spent 27 years covering up how I really felt about that decision.
Throughout the years, phone calls home would result in hang-ups. Requests for financial help fell on deaf ears. Holiday gatherings never happened. No first car, no first day of college.
At least for us rental kids.
My decimated love life
Love and I never had much of an understanding. For years I thought love was a warm body next to me, an occasional fling or someone going to the club and getting hammered with me. Sometimes, all three.
Relationships never fulfilled me. I was too scared of getting attached.
I never opened up to anyone out of fear of rejection.
Anytime I heard “I love you”, I would question that woman’s sanity.
How can you love me when my own parents beat me, starved me and left me for dead? What about me is there to love when my adopted parents treated me like I killed their firstborn child?
I spent years pushing good people away.
There were days I felt more useful to people if I was dead — just like the police officer stated I should have been.
Adoption was supposed to be a positive experience that lasted for a lifetime. I was supposed to have real parents that shared in my joys, pains, helped me grow and lifted me up when things were in a shambolic state.
Instead, my consolation prize was an altered last name, and the inability to get my biological father’s military benefits (including schooling).
I was rejected every time I reached out to these folks for love and support. Still am to this day.
That is not how adoption works.
I pray your experience is, was or will be more fulfilling than mine was.
Because thanks to my adoption experience, I feel cheated out of the ability to feel true love — even though I am now married to someone who shows what I believe is true love.
Separate names with a comma.