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Friday, April 15, 2011

66. Thelma's Story

I would have been 6 at the time. I must say, I don’t remember a lot. I do remember thinking it very strange that my dad was driving Uncle Garrie’s and Aunty Linda’s car. And I remember being all dressed up and being told we were going somewhere very special. Looking back, I think Uncle Garrie was just too excited to drive, and that was why my father drove the car. All I can remember of the drive was seeing the trams, and the tram lines and the overhead electric wires … And we came to this place, it was a big two storeyed building, like a hospital, and inside there were lots and lots of babies in all the rooms… lots of babies. And Uncle Garrie and Anty Linda had come to choose a baby to take home. As I said, I was only six. Maybe I thought that that was how families got babies – they went to a hospital and picked them up. Birth and sex and all of those things were not out in the open as they are today. I don’t remember exactly when I was told about your being adopted. I just remember that Mum called us all inside one day – Val, my sister, and Ray, my brother, and me – and we were told that you were adopted, and we were sworn to secrecy, and told that we must never, ever tell anybody, or talk about it. So we didn’t. That’s how it was in those days. If you’re parents told you not to mention something, you didn’t. So it was never mentioned. You were our cousin, and that was that. We didn’t think of you any differently from the way we thought about our other cousins – Lynette and Faye. That’s how Thelma tells the story. I wonder, though. It’s true, though. It was never mentioned – at least not in my presence. Not once, during the first 66 years and 50 days of my life. Not until I was almost an old man. And yet I did feel an outsider. Not quite accepted, not quite included. My mother felt it too, I think. I’m not sure if it was that she felt excluded because she had only one child, or because that child wasn’t quite accepted by the extended family. But then, there is an orphan in all us. We all feel excluded at times, orphaned, not quite wanted. We stand around on the edges of the circle, desperately hoping someone will invite us to join in. We feel slights – the parties we aren’t invited to attend, the way people turn their heads away when we are halfway through a story – distracted easily, not attending to us, because we don’t quite measure up. We look at other families whose lives seem so much more interesting than our own. So we sulk, and feel sorry for ourselves; or we stamp our feet, and demand attention; or we show off so that others will notice us; or we pretend we are ill; or we save injured birds or stray cats because we ourselves are injured, or strays; or we become angry with the world, and act out our misery, and make them pay for the pain that life has inflicted on us. As for me, I’ve done all of those in my time. Mostly, though, I’ve chosen a few well worn strategies. I’ve spent a lot of time, up on the high board, attempting dives at the very limits of difficulty. I’ve also spent lots of time looking to re-create Eden, a Utopian community wherein I have my place. And like all of we sad and sorry humans, I’ve longed for – and at times found – a sustaining intimacy with another.


  1. I wonder when Thelma told you that story? How it felt to hear it? To be told that everybody knew you were adopted and then kept that secret from you. Everyone I knew and loved (my family members) also knew that Vic was not my real father and like you, they also did a fine job of keeping that fact to themselves. It hurt me deeply to learn that I had been lied to by everyone that I trusted, but overtime I learnt not to take it to heart.....I have been thinking lately about the experiences that shape us and make us who we become.... What if things had been different? What if you had always known that you were adopted - would you still be who you are today? Or what if your birth mother had kept you? I am guessing your life would have been very different. It is easy to assume that if things had have gone another way then we would be healed somehow, like the chinks in our armour would just vanish and we would be these whole, complete versions of ourselves... We spend less time pondering the fact that maybe we were lucky..... Maybe the alternative could have been much worse. I used to lament about the fact that my birth father was absent for the first 15 years of my life. I would spend hours imagining all the times he would have taken me to the park because I had a very strong fantasy about how things would have been. It wasn't until a relative told me that my father was a violent alcoholic who often got so angry when he was drinking that he would smash up the house and whoever was in his path, that I was able to reconcile the fantasy with a more realistic version of what i had missed. My point is, maybe the trick is to just accept the circumstances that have defined and shaped our lives....Easier said that done, I know but we really don't have much alternative. We can argue with reality and wage war against the past, but then somehow, we only end up punishing ourselves, perhaps because the dead cannot hear us. I know that your own story has not been ideal and no doubt you have many unanswered questions that will probably never be answered... But here's the thing, I happen to know for a fact that you are a good man Barry Carozzi, and if my psych degree has taught me anything, then I am betting that your parents did an okay job in raising you.... They chose you to be their son and despite the way the cards have fallen across the landscape of your life, despite the secrets and the unanswered questions and the feelings of being different, I am also guessing that you were very much loved. Maybe in the scheme of things, when all is said and done, that is the thing that matters most.

  2. P.S. I just reread Thelma's story and I wanted to comment on the part where she says 'and inside there were lots and lots of babies in all the rooms...lots of babies'. I just wanted to add that I find it absolutely fascinating the way in which you ended up becoming a Carozzi. I mean, what if another family had chosen you? What if nobody had chosen you? So many children are born into this world and raised in families where they are not wanted but your parents chose you from a room full of babies. I don't really believe in fate but I recall hearing this story recently about a young girl on a flight in between states in the U.S and she found herself seated next to this man who kept trying to make conversation. The girl was about 14 and she was trying to keep to herself but the man was persistent. Eventually she opened up and told him that she was a foster child and she was in between care and was on her way back into state care. The man who was in his early 60's said goodbye to the girl at the airport but when he got home, he told his wife about the girl and how he could not stop thinking about her and how sad her story had been. For the next month, the man and his wife (their children had left the nest) tried hard to track the girl down with just her first name. Eventually they found her (how I am not sure) and they fostered her. That was 3 years ago and the couple have since adopted the girl and she could not be happier. The thing is, if the girl had sat in another seat on the plane, her life would be very different today. If your parents had not chosen you then your life would be very different also... We can all lament the things that we imagine might have been better, but seldom do we ponder the possibility that things could have been worse. My mother kept the secret of my father from me because I was born in 1974 (in an Italian family) when the nuclear family was the primary model. I was the product of an affair and so my mother married the first man to come along and he adopted me and they then had my brother and sister. I was only 2 when they got married and so I had no memory of my biological father and no real reason to suspect that dad was not actually 'dad' ( except for an inkling that I was different). My mother has since told me that she was scared that if I had a relationship with my biological father (outside of the nuclear family that she had created ) then it would be hard on me socially etc.... And so to protect me she kept it a secret. Of course when I heard this I was outraged! I thought that she was being selfish especially because my biological father died only 3 years after we had met. All of those wasted years I thought, and why? How dare she?! I was angry with my mother for a long time, but when I became a parent myself, I realised that my mother was only doing what she thought was best, to protect me. I have also learnt to put things in context. For example, now days families come in so many different shapes and sizes and dysfunctional families are almost the norm, but back then things were very different. Ultimately, my mother just wanted me to feel normal.... Ironic eh?

    You will never know why your adopted parents chose not to tell you but I am guessing that it was a decision intended to protect and benefit your best interests. Whether or not things turned out for the best is a different story but have a strong feeling that the intention was good. I don't know if that helps any, but I hope it does. Love you Barryxx

  3. Hi Misha
    Thanks so much for your lengthy responses to my postings.
    Thelma told me about being there when Mum and Dad 'collected' me from The Haven on July 28, 2009 - on the day I found out that I had been adopted. I rang her in the early evening to ask whether she had known about my adoption, and she stunned me that she had BEEN THERE - on the day!

    It was a pretty stunning moment for me - Thelma is my only direct living link with that time.

    On the other issues:
    1. How different my life might have been
    The only measuring sticks for what might have happened had Gwendoline Bertram decided to 'keep' me rather than 'relinquish' me are the lives of my brother and sisters.
    Arthur has had a tough life. He was a logger and a logging contractor - heavy, gruelling work that has taken its toll. His childhood was very disrupted. He lived in Deniliquin, Balnarring, Melbourne, Heyfield - he was with our mum for some of the time, with our grandparents for some of the time. Then, when he was around 12 or 13, our mum gave him up for adoption. The family he lived with - the Burtons - were very loving. But I think there are emotional scars that he finds it hard to talk about. It's interesting, I think, that he remains Arthur Burton (his adopted name) - not Arthur Bertram. He and I get along very well; we talk every week, see each other every couple of months.
    My sister Lynette had a tough time of it I think. She was 16 when our mum died. She married at 19; from what I can tell, the marriage had its problems. Lynette had 4 children. She was killed in a car accident in 2000.

    My youngest sister, Glenda, was 13 when our mother died; she married twice - both difficult marriages, I believe, and committed suicide at the age of 30. I haven't yet located her 2 children.

    All of my siblings left school early. I doubt I would have had the opportunities to stay on at school till Year 12 and to go on to University had I stayed with Gwen.
    (More to come)

  4. 2. About my parents
    As you know, I went through a very tough time in my late 30s, triggered by the break up of my first marriage, but stemming - I am sure - from deep seated insecurities and - neuroses perhaps - relating to my childhood.

    I spent three and a half years working with a psychiatrist attempting to unravel the mess my life was in. I don't question my parents right to want a child and to adopt. And they were loving, solicitous parents (perhaps oversolicitous at times). They were caring and encouraging. Both were poorly educated; Dad could neither read nor write, and Mum had left school at 15. But they encouraged me in my schooling, encouraged me to go as far as I could.

    I went through a lot of pain during that three or so years of therapy. It's probably the best pain I've ever had, because through it I came to some degree of what I thought was 'resolution'. A story that seemed to fit the facts, that seemed to make some sense. It was like I had a jigsaw puzzle to solve, and therapy anabled me to get the pieces into order.

    As it turns out, a major piece of the puzzle had been withheld.

    The things that I most painfully regret are these:
    That I didn't find out until July 2009. Had someone told me the truth, back - say when my parents died, back in the very early 1990s, when I was still in my 40s - I would have met my sister Lynette, and her husband. Virtually all of my aunts and uncles, the ones who grew up with my birth mother, would have still been alive. As it is, my Aunt Nesta (90 now) and Uncle Ken (86) - the two closest in age to Gwen - are both suffering Alzheimer’s; they have almost no memory left.

    I am grateful to my adoptive parents. I loved them both. They were not without their faults. My mum, in particular, had a short fuse, and was doggedly determined about things. Which helps explain (in part) her stubborn refusal to tell me the truth. I am told that one of my cousins and one of my aunts spent hours trying to persuade her to tell me - to no avail.

    I think she feared that she would 'lose' me. Because the other thing about her was that she was - in the end - very insecure. Maybe losing two babies (both stillborn), having several miscarriages, and being childless had scarred her badly. Maybe she feared that I, too, would be lost to her if I ever found out.

    My cousins tell me that they were sworn to secrecy by my mum and by their parents. And being 'of that era' when you 'kept promises no matter what' - they did. Even 18 years after my parents died.

    Whatever motivations drove my adoptive parents - and my birth mother for that matter - to do what they did is of interest, but that's all. I can do nothing about it. I see no point in harbouring resentments. As I approach 70 (can you believe it's almost 8 years since you sang that beautiful song you wrote at my 60th birthday!!) I'm just grateful for the life I have had, and for whatever life I have left. I'm planning to last till around 110. But you can never be sure.
    I love you too, Mish. Maybe this common ground - the incomplete jigsaw - that both of us experienced is why, from the time we met (back in 2001) we have got on well.

    Much love