Ever since I was a little girl, I have always felt like an outsider, and never fully felt like I fit in anywhere.
None of this was felt more strongly than within my own family.
I am adopted. My biological mother is white, my biological father is black and Native American. My bio-mom was 16 when she had me, with my bio-dad being older. He was a Marine. As I was born in the south, in the ’70s, I have no doubt my arrival was full of drama. Young white teen gets pregnant by older black man in North Carolina in 1976-77… yeah, that’s something you can bet people talked about.
Stories vary- some say I was immediately given up for adoption, others say my biological mother tried to keep me, only to give me up about 9 months after I was born. What’s known for sure is that I ended up in foster care.
My first home was with an older white family. They were professional foster parents, with any number of kids parading in and out of their small home over the years. I lived with this family from the time I was given up for adoption until I was three. For some reason (I have lots of conspiracy theories about why), they took a special interest in me, and decided to try and adopt me. I don’t remember this time very well, but learned they were denied their adoption application. As a result, social services showed up one day without warning, and took me from them. I was allowed to take the clothes I was wearing at that moment, and nothing else. No pictures, no toys, nothing. I was moved to another foster family, one I remember only slightly better, where I lived for six months.
I have disconnected memories from this time. I don’t remember what my foster father looked like, but I do remember his combat boots. I remember burning myself on a piece of homemade fried chicken that I was warned not to touch, but did anyway. I also remember my foster mother insisting I call her “Mom” from the day I moved in with her, and popping me in the mouth if I forgot. Oh- and I remember taking naps in my foster brother’s bedroom while he was at school. It was decorated in Star Wars theme. The most bizarre memory of all is what he looked like when drinking water. I remember his adams apple bobbing up and down when he swallowed.
At three-and-a-half years of age, I met my Real family. They took me to lunch one day, and I took the opportunity to interview them. If I was to live with them, I needed to know a few things first. They were a nice looking couple. White, 30s, and they had one son. I asked them if they ever beat him. God bless them for overlooking my weirdness, and deciding to adopt me anyway.
So, I went to live with my new family. I wasn’t yet four years old, and this was the fourth family I’d had since I’d been born.
This family, my forever family, are amazing people. I hit the jackpot for sure. After I came to live with them, the family expanded even more, welcoming three more kids in addition to the son they already had. Ultimately, I have three brothers and a sister, a mother and a father.
I would never trade my family for anything in this world. They are loving, they are accepting, they are mine. Having the greatest family in the world, however, didn’t stop me from isolating myself. I always knew I was different from the rest of them. I’m the only one who isn’t related by blood to them, and I’m the only one who isn’t white. It’s important to note my family never cared about either of these things. They never treated me any different, and there would have been hell to pay if anyone else did either.
That they didn’t isolate themselves from me didn’t stop me from isolating myself from them. I knew I was different, I felt the difference, and that was enough.
As a result, a years-long pattern was born.
I believe my early life is the key to why I am the way I am today. A lot of it is rooted in being a mixed child living in a white world. Some of it has to do with having had four different families before I turned four years old. Then there are all the questions I have about who I am and where I came from that have no answers. I don’t know which parent I take after, or whose eyes I have. I don’t even know where I was born, other than North Carolina.
Rather than try to come to terms with all of this, I spent years and years burying it. I didn’t feel comfortable in my white world, nor did I feel comfortable living in a black world. I hadn’t been exposed to it. I felt like an outsider in my family, and in the world at large. I didn’t know who I was. So I created a solitary existence, and preferred to spend my time alone. I read books, I wrote in my journal, and I did the best I could to pretend like I didn’t notice I didn’t fit in.
When I got older, I escaped by drinking and smoking weed, since going to my bedroom and closing my door was no longer an option.
For many years, even though it wasn’t conscious, I now understand I walked the walk of a victim. I didn’t do it on purpose, but the isolation I felt- in large part- was more a result of my own actions, and had less to do with anyone else’s rejection. I probably should have gotten some professional help to deal with the changes that came in my early childhood, the lack of roots, and the racial differences between who I am and the world I lived in. I didn’t, though.
I couldn’t understand my surroundings, I couldn’t connect to the people around me, so I just removed myself from the equation.
I had a conversation with my sister recently. What I learned is that she, too, never felt like she fit in with us. While I was isolating from our family, she was too. We both did the exact same thing, though we did it for different reasons.
It’s so ironic that all these years later I realize just how similar she and I are, and the way I came to realize our similarities was through analyzing our differences. Our experiences are nothing similar, but who we are, our feelings, our thoughts and yes, our isolation is exactly the same.
I still feel uncomfortable in this world. I still have no idea what to do around large groups of people, and I still feel like an outsider among both black and white people. I’m racially ambiguous, I supposed.
Born of mixed race, raised by a white family, married to a black man. My circumstances are representative of my DNA.