This is the family I don’t have – my birthmother, Linda, in the middle, with my brothers and sisters (l to r) Robert, Julie, Betsy, and Andy around her. The man in the back is Linda’s husband. This picture was taken this summer at the get-together they have every year with all of their families at their cottage on the lake up north.
I don’t know my siblings, and they don’t even know I exist. My birthmother knows who I am and where I am, but wants nothing to do with me.
I think they’re probably an average upper middle-class family, with their ups and downs like everyone else. They’ve done well financially thanks to the start given them by my grandparents and the business they built and handed on to my bmom, who handed it on to my sisters when she and her husband retired several years ago.
They go to church in their small town and are very involved in it. Bmom and hubby are involved in the community volunteering, clubs, etc., as are my two sisters, who still live in that town. My brothers are in two different states far away. All my siblings have children – lots of them – and I’m sure all of their families are nice, but with their joys and sorrows, too. Betsy, for example, is divorced, and I’m sure that’s been hard.
I don’t imagine I have a single thing in common with any of them. I might have, if I’d been raised with them. I would have been the oldest; one of 5 children, rather than an only child. My whole life would have been very different, and I think about that a lot.
I think about the moment that changed my bmom’s and bdad’s lives, and sent my life hurtling in a completely different direction than the one I might have experienced. There was a moment in the summer of 1961 when Linda told Richard (Dick) she was pregnant, and he walked away and left her on her own to “solve the problem.” In the space of an instant following her telling, and before his response, my life balanced precariously between What Will Be and What Could Have Been.
The moment in which he turned his back on her was the moment I became a different person than I was just seconds before. Instead of Linda and Richard’s daughter, I became Byron and Colleen’s daughter. In that instant I became the only child of an uncomfortable mother and a wonderful but weak father, destined for a lonely, difficult life marred by depression. My bmom went on with her life, my bdad on with his – my life simply a footnote in theirs. A blip on the screen that maybe sent a little pang of sadness through them in later years, perhaps.
Linda married someone else, had four more children and has lived a comfortable (from the outside it looks really good) life. Dick was a Vietnam veteran and (when he came back) an alcoholic and died young. Whatever. They had choices. They made them and went on.
I had no choice. I had a troubled childhood, but that may have been my lot anyway. If Linda had married Dick and I had grown up with them, I may have had a difficult childhood living with an alcoholic and/or experienced a “broken” family if they had divorced. If Linda had made the choice to keep me in spite of Dick’s abandonment, I might have been in that family photo above as the oldest sister, or she may have faltered as a single mother and we would have both suffered in poverty. Or she might have married someone else completely and who knows then what our lives would have been like?
It’s all What If.
There are a lot of What If moments in everybody’s lives. I have a bunch and I have regrets, but this is the one that haunts me. I think what bothers me about it is that it isn’t my What If. I think about it all the time. It might have been different. I might have been different, but it wasn’t my choice. I look at that photo (and the ones from other years) and I think how lucky my brothers and sisters are to have each other and to have their own families, and to have grown up with young fun parents who had enough money to have a vacation cottage and to give their kids a good start in life with college paid for and a ready-made successful business to hand them.
None of that happened for me, but as I said, it might not have anyway. Life is a web – break one string and the others vibrate and change shape. I grew up with a wonderful father and a grandmother who was everything to me, and for that I’m very grateful. I’m too old now to blame my failures (or my successes) on my childhood anyway. It happened the way it did and that’s just the way it is. It’s water under the bridge, and it’s only hard for me to remember that now because I’m so unhappy in my current circumstances and the thought of a different life seems appealing. I could have made choices in my life that had led me down a different path, too, so I take responsibility for where I find myself now.
That’s not what this is about. There are times when I can’t help but think about that moment, and the life I’m not living and the family I don’t have. And sometimes it makes me feel better for a short time to think that it’s not fair and it’s not my fault.
But…of course it is.
It’s just what happened and all any of us has to work with is this moment and what’s happening now. The rest is gone.
Frankly, even If I could make it so, I’m not sure I would change any of it. I do not believe that things happen for a reason, and I don’t believe in destiny or divine providence or anything remotely like that. But I do believe in karma and I don’t believe you can avoid the lessons you were meant to have in this life. I think I’m probably living exactly the way I was meant to live and most of it is my fault. My choices, my consequences.
Happy belated birthday, Linda. I wish you and your family well.