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.