I recently had my birthday, and like usual I found myself falling into the usual depression.
This is an annual pattern, over the years people thought I was grieving the loss of my youth. (Long gone anyway)That was never the real reason. My birthday and the nations are one in the same and it is nearly impossible to hide from the day, sparklers on every cake, fireworks that were repeatedly told were just for me. (Never did believe that one)
No, my depression is not my age, but it is the day I was given away, July 4 1949.
The day my life changed forever. A traumatic day so tells my birthmother whom I sought out many years ago. A day she cried all day and night. A day I was sold and secretly carried out of the side door of an unwed mothers home on the northwest side of Chicago in 1949. It was a different time and society and I understand that and have even come to appreciate that in many ways I had a better more privileged life, upper-middle-class, Jewish, and mafia family.
My adoption has also radically changed my view of abortion, (personally against it!) If abortion had been easily available in 1949 I’m sure I would have been a fetus flushed down the toilet like all my dead goldfish. (I do support a woman's right to choose)
While my adopted parents were classic 50’s dysfunctional, both alcoholic with a few mental disorders. Basically they bought a kid to look like a normal 1950’s TV family. I had a lot in common with the sofa in the living room, and about the same price.
I found my birth mother a number of years ago with the help of a friend and coworker, Ann Landers, who was getting many letters from her readers about looking for their birth parents. She decided to use me as her on going saga in her column, Adopted adults and their need and political rights to know their own birth.
A few years ago I discovered my birth-father was alive. I found him living in Elizabethtown KY in a doublewide trailer, which certainly explained my pick-up truck truck named Elvis, and love of redneck music. I always felt like a southerner culturally. When I took a job as senior designer for a publishing company in Knoxville Tennessee, in a funny way I felt I had come home. I loved exploring the south. One day I was Mr. NYC Downtown Gallery Guy, the next day, river rafting down the Hiawassee River with a strange addiction to Gortex, it all seemed natural to me
My birth-parents and I met for the first time in 47 years. I found myself having dinner with total strangers that just happened to look like me. To everyone else in the restaurant we looked like a perfectly normal family eating, but I was completely freaked out. I was actually having a meal with my “parents”, or were they really my “parents”, it was very confusing and the first meal I ever had with them in 47 years, something right out of Twilight Zone.
The next day while at a motel they decided to remarry and asked me to be best man, I freaked! They suddenly were not playing by MY script, my scenario was that they get together, and it becomes very clear why they had to separate and give me away. But for them to reunite like nothing happened turned me into a volcano ready to explode. Fortunately I was involved with a men's curiousness group, New Warriors and was able to process the situation and not dump all my shit on them. They were old and this was all my stuff to deal with, they were not going to around a long time so i had to process it all pretty fast and did.
Above, Gene and Wilma Cook and their discount frozen wedding cake.
The Cooks tried to act like we were some sorts of family, but in my heart it never was real, we were a family of strangers who just happened to look alike. I had survived a dysfunctional, alcoholic, pharmaceutical addicted, father and mother, and had no desire to repeat the situation with people who used the baby Jesus for some sort of guilt factor they worshiped without question. Their guilt wasn't Jewish, I was completely immune to it and easily said NO when it was applied in heavy doses. It was wonderful little guilt free pleasure hidden in a unusual situation. I remained slightly distant every time the word “son” came up. Sometimes it was just to much to explain to strangers and other members of the Cook family.
Once at a funeral of some Cook relative I never knew, I was pissing and another family member was pissing next to me, he kept staring at my face, then down at my dick, there was no sexual vibe from him, finally he said, I can see your a Cook but for the love of God I cant figure out who?
So there we were bonding with our dicks out he uncut, me circumcised, explaining I was the illegitimate child of Gene and Wilma who gave me away at birth, but I just came back. He informed me he was my first cousin, we washed out hands and that was the last time I ever saw him or his foreskin.
There was too much baggage that went along with that word "son". I only could refer to them as my birth-parents never mom or dad. They just weren’t, no matter how fucked my adopted parents were they owned the right to that word and I had to respect that.
My birth-father Gene asked me if I was sorry and disappointed at finding the Cooks, I thought for a moment and sighed,"Either way, Epstein or Cook, your both fucked up and I would still be in therapy, just different issues."
I was also fixated by my background history, having been raised upper middle class, Jewish, but never really feeing like I had any history I could call my own. I always had a unnerving feeling that I might not be Jewish, a fear I developed after seeing the film "The Bad Seed" around my Bar Mitzvah. I was sure God was going to kill me with a bolt of lightning once I touched the torah like poor psycho killer Rhoda was as she reached into the pond to retrieve the media. My God was vengeful, and he must have it really in for me, I was so bad my real parents didn't even want me . My Bar Mitzvah was also my first successful alcoholic black out, but that's another story.
I looked like everyone in the Cook family, I fit right in. One of the Cook cousins, Judy kept giving me orders, I have to come to church at midnight on Christmas eve which was coming up, help decorate the cousins tree, and sit on cousins Tommy's lap who has remained Santa for years as his waste line expanded into the red suit.
After receiving my Cook marching orders, I was trying to be fun and friendly about it all, I mentioned that this would be the first christmas tree I ever decorated, at which point Judy screamed "WHAT, Why" I told her I wasn't sure if my rabbi would approve, again she shreaked even louder "WHAT IS YOUR LAST NAME? and i said EPSTEIN, and she kvetched "OH MY God YOUR A JEW!..." and quickly added "ISH"
That was me alright, confused, guilty and an "ish".
So much for my relationship with the extended Cook family. It lasted about one month. They were anti everyone, racists, homophobic, anti american indian, Republicans, and probably more if I had gotten to really know them which seemed like a very distant possibility at this point.
When I ask about my background I discovered that I had a Jewish grandfather, but the Cooks were as embarrassed about him as they were about their Cherokee grandmother. I clearly had her face especially if I were in Pocahontas drag as she seemed to be in the few family photos they showed me. I kept asking questions about her, and they clearly did not want to talk about "IT" at all.
Oy Gevalt I'm an indian!!!
Well if i was going to be an "ish" a Cherokee ish seemed to be cool with me. But years of guilt taught by experts has by association made me a JEW-ISH life life force, and all those dimes I gave at Hebrew school to plant trees in Israel must have counted for something.
All art, photography and words © 2008 a j epstein