Coming Home, Part 1
This week, I am sharing an essay I wrote in the days just before leaving for Ethiopia six months ago. It’s a beginning, really, but as I was reflecting on our six months home, I was reminded of these early thoughts I had begun putting together and decided to dust them off and share them here. I have divided the piece into 4 parts. Here’s Part 1.
I found him while reading the newspaper. He was that week’s Waiting Child, a twelve-year-old just like me. I read his story. Mom dead. Dad dead. Everyone gone. Just him, that fetching smile topped by sad eyes, and his basketball now settled in a foster home, waiting for his forever family.
“That’s us,” I thought, and I cut that image out of our newspaper, contact information for the adoption network attached.
“He belongs here,” I thought as I put the clipping at eye level on our refrigerator.
“Please, God,” I prayed that night. “Bring him home.”
I walked into the kitchen the next morning with the hope of prayers having been answered. The newspaper clipping was gone.
Twenty-three years later, a ringing phone call on a sunny Friday afternoon in August changes everything. When I answer, I hear the response to that prayer whispered so long ago.
I am back in the kitchen of my childhood home just weeks after that phone call, eating lunch with my parents. Over tuna fish salad sandwiches, the contents diced uniformly almost into nothingness, and homemade vegetable soup, I visit with these two people who have given me more than a child can imagine, more than one can truly wish for in a lifetime.
My dad is rawer today than he was just five years ago. Three rounds of cancer treatment, a cancer born of Agent Orange exposure, will do that to you. My mother is softer, the anxiety she had over our coming of age– in a country she did not know– and making something of ourselves giving way to sweet relief. We, the three of us and my brother and sister not here right now, are all survivors of the same thing: the difficulty, the disparity of growing up brown- not white, not black- in the 1970s and 80s South. For years, as Puerto Ricans, we were either invisible or too visible. And even in the hard times, when the discrimination was wrought, when the longing for home was fraught, when my brother and sister were done with school so much earlier than I was and my parents were only waiting for me, these two people stayed here—in this country that I loved but that I knew was hard for us, this country that could give us plenty while sometimes telling us that it thought we were taking far too much— for me and the education and life that I could earn here. I know what it’s like to come home, the relief of it sometimes, how I long for my mother’s tuna fish sandwiches when I am sick and how she is just a couple hours away and, thus, can deliver them to me if I would just ask. My parents didn’t give themselves the option of that relief, that gift, because they gave me a different one. There are no words sufficient enough to describe that type of love.
My mamacita interrupts my thoughts.
“So I have a question,” she says, and she is careful now with her words. “Will you tell the baby that he is adopted?”
I want to laugh, but the sweetness of this question stops me. It is almost winter, and I have lost all hints of a summer tan. My skin is sallow, the palest shade of olive on a color wheel. My mother, to my left, is porcelain, a Madame Alexander doll. My father, to my right, is afternoon coffee with cream and sugar. My baby, the one that will join our family in just months, is a cinnamon-skinned African. My mother has loved him into us already. In loving him so much, she has made him our own.
“I don’t see color,” I sometimes hear someone proudly insist in diversity workshops or team building exercises. And he or she thinks that they are doing those of us “of color” a favor. But the truth is that no one “of color” is asking you not to see her color. A person of color wants you to see her color because it has informed who she is and how she has come to be and not count it against her, not use it to interpret her in some lens of your own understanding. But that is not what is going on with my mamacita. She really isn’t seeing color. She is seeing a baby that is ours. And she wants to know what I will tell him so that she won’t make a mistake later by telling him something different.
“Yes, mamacita, we will tell him that he’s adopted,” I whisper. The unspoken words keep playing in my mind, “I will tell him that he is loved by two mothers. That two women dream and pray and hope over his life every single night.”