I am currently in the process of writing a book about my life as an adoptee. The memoir portrays my struggles and challenges with being adopted as well as my learning and self-development.
My aim is to break the silence and openly share how adoption impacted me. As many adoptees, I often didn't allow myself to talk about my feelings in an attempt at pleasing and not hurting others.
Moreover, the purpose of the book is also to help other adoptees and give them a voice. By sharing my struggles, I hope to normalize for others what they may be feeling as well.
Last but not least, I would like to inform adoptive parents about how their adopted children might be feeling in silence too. With awareness, changes can happen for both adoptees and their families.
The book will be published in late Summer 2017!
Chapter 3: High School
I was sitting on the first row of the classroom sharing my desk with a curly blond-haired girl from my grade 6 class. With her ripped jeans and black leather jacket, I tried but failed to find something that we had in common. I was certainly not as cool and rock’n’roll as her, and, to be honest, I was somewhat intimidated by her. So much that she was one of the last people I wanted to sit next to in this class. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a choice. Our teacher had prepared a meticulous plan of who was going to sit where and next to whom for the rest of the school year. For some reason that escaped my understanding, I ended up in the first row next to someone I felt absolutely no connection with.
On my left side was a big glass window with a big sliding door which allowed us to walk outside on the green pasture at break time in the Summer. From my vantage point, I could see the grey concrete building of my High School, the outside basketball court as well as the occasional yellow streetcar gliding past the school some hundred meters away every ten minutes.
Mrs. Charruyer was a blond-haired woman in her fifties, with big round glasses and a big grin on her face. She was our French teacher and we had her for several hours a week. My class was usually quiet and respectful, and did not cause major disruptions as I had heard of other classes. Throughout primary school until grade 6, I had usually sat quietly at my desk, listening to the teacher and taking notes. I had always loved school and I was very eager to learn.
On this particular morning, Mrs. Charruyer started showing some concern about her students’ participation in class:
“So, I have noticed that some of you participate really actively in class. You raise your hands, answer my questions, and that’s good. Now, there are a few students in this class, who I have almost never heard speak. You, Sonia, for example, why don’t you participate more often?”
“I don’t know,” she answered.
“And, look at her. She is blushing when she speaks. Why are you blushing?”
“I don’t know.”
“Aw poor you. Well, try to participate a little more, OK?”
She nodded and looked down.
Mrs. Charruyer dwelled on the girl for some time, then looked up and scanned the rest of the class with a laser-like look. I could feel my body get flooded by cold tingles, which started off in my belly and spread through my legs and arms. Like a prey animal which is about to be killed, I was waiting for the blow to hit me. There was no way I could escape it.
“And you, Nicole, you don’t speak much either, do you?”
The whole class turned towards me and even though I wasn’t looking at anybody, I could feel the heavy weight of their stares at me. I was starting to feel a burning fire in my chest and Mrs. Charruyer's question was still hanging in the air as the Sword of Damocles above my head. I shrugged.
“Why are you always so quiet?”
“I don't know,” I answered, pretending to not be interested.
She continued looking at me as if she couldn’t let go of something that she needed to understand.
“By the way, where are you from?” she asked.
Within a microsecond, I felt a rush of rage flush up my face, cheeks, and eyes. The sensation was so strong that not only did it almost knock me over, but I was also convinced that everyone would notice it. Tears filled my eyes, my heart started beating extremely fast and my hands became sweaty. My whole body was on fire, and I could barely put my thoughts together to answer her.
“From Peru”, I managed to grumble.
“What’s that?” she insisted.
Another flood of anger, only ten times worse.
“From Peru,” I repeated louder, hating her in a way I had never experienced before in my life.
“Oh OK,” she responded, as if everything now made sense to her. There seemed to be a good reason why I was quiet and reserved. She looked away, grabbed the teaching book on her desk, and went on with her lecture.
The Sword of Damocles was no longer looming over my head. The storm had passed and I could breathe again. I tried to compose myself as best as I could without letting transpire the fact that I was feeling extremely agitated, angry and hurt. I am not sure what gave me away, but something certainly did:
“Are you OK?” my neighbour whispered.
I looked at her and saw a look of concern.
“Yeah, why?” I responded in as cool a manner as I possibly could.
“Oh, I don’t know, you look different is all,” and she looked away.
“I’m alright,” I mumbled and looked down at my book.
In a tremendous effort from my part, I managed to hold in my tears and to continue the rest of the afternoon at school behaving as if nothing had happened.
As I was sitting on the soft grey carpet of my room with my legs stretched out before me, leaning my back against my bed, I started reflecting on the event that had taken place a few hours earlier. I could not believe that my teacher had asked me this question in front of everybody.
“What a stupid bitch,” I thought while trying to repress my tears.
I rubbed my eyes ferociously as I wouldn’t let her win by crying. Crying meant being weak. Anger seemed like a much more appropriate response.
“Why did she ask me this question? Was she trying to discriminate me? And how is my origin connected to me being quiet in class?” I silently wondered feeling the growing heat in my chest again.
“Now everyone in class knows that I am adopted from Peru. What are they going to think? It’s all her fault. I hate her,” I mumbled to myself.
I stayed on the floor for a few minutes, silently pondering over what had happened. I knew I couldn't allow myself to completely feel my pain as my eyes would get red and swollen, and there was no way I could hide this from my family. So, I made sure to spend some time taking my mind off what happened in order to leave no trace of my emotions on my face. I couldn’t have my body betray me. Nobody had access to my inner world, and it wasn’t going to change today.
I continued hating Mrs. Charruyer until the end of Grade 9, and could never forgive her for what she did. Even when she noticed my cold behaviour with her in class and asked me why I didn’t like her, I couldn’t tell her the truth. I had tried to bury and forget the pain associated with revealing my adoption and origins, so I certainly didn’t want to become vulnerable again by addressing the issue with her. My hatred towards her remained intact and alive during all those years.
After this event, I walked into a chaotic and dark period of my life where I was confronted with my own demons. I was battling with trying to hold down the lid on a pressure cooking pot, which was about to explode. Despite all my efforts to repress my overwhelming emotions about myself, my adoption, my adoptive family and the outside world, the pot was starting to leak.
At the time, there was no such thing as a school counsellor who could have supported me in this new and scary world of emotions and unanswered questions. Moreover, my family and I didn’t address the question of my adoption or search for identity. There was no talk about what was going on inside of me and how I was feeling. This was simply not part of my upbringing. Even though it is all I had ever known and I grew accustomed to it, I started to feel more and more lonely and isolated. With nobody to turn to, I felt completely left alone with my pain, questions, doubts and feelings. Within a few months, I changed from being a happy, compliant, obedient and polite little girl to a rebellious, oppositional, defiant adolescent. This was the beginning of my identity search and my coming to terms with being adopted.