sitting in this miniature windowless room with my new mental
health case manager. Her name is Maria. I thought there might
be a problem when I first spoke to Maria over the phone because
I could not understand her. She sounded as if she'd downed a
fifth of vodka and put marbles in her mouth. She is foreign -
Spain, Italy, Portugal, or maybe that French part of Canada.
Sometimes they say if you go just
go toward the pain it helps. So I went there. I turned myself
inside out like a sock and I went there from the top of my head
to my toes. I went there. I dove into the pain from a high dive.
I licked its icing and stuffed its cake in my mouth. I lay the
pain on a platter and served it to guests. I inhaled its perfume
as if smelling a red rose warmed by the sun. The fragrance was
I am the product of a backseat date, a one-night stand
in a used car. My birth mother traveled to New York City by train
to attend Carmen at the MET. She got sick on the trip.
That's when she discovered she was pregnant. She was six months
She worked as a salesgirl
and went into labor on the fifth floor of Frederick and Nelson,
an upscale department store in Seattle. She gave me up for adoption
after glancing at me - once.
It's Friday. Tony smiles when he sees me. I notice dimples set
deep in his cheeks and wonder to myself why I had never made note
of them before. We enter his office and sit opposite one another.
We both start to laugh.
“What's so funny?” I ask.
“I read that piece. The one about your family,” he
“Which family?” I ask as I put
my feet up on the edge of one of the other chairs in the small,
dimly lit room.
“The adoptive tribe,” he said.
Nurture - Fourth of July
It is six days since my fractured ankle and broken tibia and I
am zombied out on pain killers. They brought me home from the hospital
early so that I would not miss the family Fourth of July celebration
and my Uncle Don's wake. Everybody hated Uncle Don, and I wondered
why we were giving him a wake. But none of us wanted to go to hell.
So, Uncle Don's wake was celebrated on the Fourth of July since
we were all together anyway.
My kids propped me up in a lawn
chair with some of my mom's couch pillows. My Uncle George, who
has a volume ten voice, was in the yard next to the neighbor's
fence complaining that they only make lawn hairs for people the “size
“Goddamn clothes too. Everything is made for Japs. Cars, furniture,
silverware. It's all made for them,” Uncle George said.
He walked toward the driveway where his new Dodge Ram truck was
parked and returned a minute later with a red, white and blue canvas
“This is what you call a chair,” he
said, as he unfolded his all-American settee.
“I got this down in Yuma at a real
store. A real American store. A True Value hardware store. Owned
by an American. Left the label on too. Made in the U S of A.
Made for the working man. Not for no Oriental.”
I want to tell Uncle George that if he is talking to me I cannot
make sense of what he is saying because I am on good American painkillers.
I stop myself when I realize, even as high as I am, that he is
talking, just talking. He doesn't need an audience to rant. But,
apparently, my mom is listening.
“I don't think all Orientals are that bad. Just the ones who are
buying up all our stores. There are some nice ones at church and
they bring good food to the Altar Society meetings. There are four
of them in our guild,” she tells my Uncle George. “I don't know
what it is that they cook, but it all tastes good.”
“Probably cat,” Uncle George said.
“That's not very nice, Uncle George,” I
manage. He, like the rest of them, ignores me.
“Well, they better not touch my cat,” my
mom replies and leaves to look for beloved Rowdy-Do, her spoiled
orange kitty. I watch my mom waddle away in her navy blue stretch
pants complimented by a silk-screened t-shirt decorated with
a red, white and blue birdhouse. Uncle George looks at me.
Unfortunately, my mom's next-door neighbors, the Chungs, are also
hosting a picnic in their backyard. The Chungs are from South Korea.
They know about my uncle. Last year, I told them to blast one of
their Korean CDs loud and turn the speakers in the direction of
our backyard when they saw Uncle George pulling in.
In the garage, my brother Tim and
my cousin Jeff (staying at my mom's house after being busted
last night for spraying perfume in his wife's face) have set
up a little mini bar in the icebox. My mom thought it would be
a good idea when we were kids to purchase a second refrigerator
to put in the garage and then fill it with pop so that we were
not running in and out of the house all day long. From that point
on, we pretty much supplied all the neighborhood kids with Shasta
cola and Hires root beer. In high school, our special “kid fridge” was
filled with Rainier beer. We kept plastic Wonder bread bags full
of hallucinogenic mushrooms in the tiny freezer on top.
Today, Tim and cousin Jeff are mixing Crown Royal with Coke in
the red plastic cups my mom has earmarked for raspberry party punch.
Jeff walks over to me to ask if I have any extra painkillers. He
has a bad, bad headache
A car pulls up. We hear a door slam. Cousin in-law Donna, the
red headed wannabe country singer is here. She heads for our nice
little picnic city under the pie cherry tree. Of course, she selects
the empty blue and white lawn chair next to me. Everyone gets quiet.
My mom announces in her singsong voice that it is time to eat.
Around the picnic table, Donna says that I sure don't look like
the rest of the family. I tell her that I am adopted.
“Have you ever looked up your mama?” she
asks. This is something my adoptive mom, who is in charge of
the picnic, is not too wild about. It is the closest any discussion
in this family has ever come to sex. To talk about my beginnings
conjures images of fornication, fucking. I was never a baby like
other babies. I was a product of a sex act. They all know that's
my history. Why talk about it? My sister-in-law, Janet, the one
who has worked at K-mart for 27 years, changes the subject to
baked salmon. Meanwhile, my brother and cousin are getting wasted
on Crown Royal and trying to fire up my dad's old generator so
we can listen to some Irish tavern songs while my mom is complaining
about the cache of illegal fireworks from the local Indian reservation
that she has just found on the bench in the garage. Uncle George
is leaning over the fence separating my
mother's yard from the Chung's.
When he begins to growl at their German shepherd, Johnny, Mr.
Chung begins to scream loudly in his native Korean. In any language
it sounds like, “Bite me, you fat
Mom is doing this thing where she reaches into her pocket and
wiggles her fingers as if she is looking for her rosary. She says
she thinks she is going to jail because she can hear sirens and
that Cousin Jeff and his wife Donna should not be within 100 feet
or is that 100 yards of one another because of the restraining
By this time, Mom needs to sit in a lawn
chair under the pie cherry tree because she is feeling light-headed.
Brother Tim, topped off with Crown Royal, drives Mom to the hospital
in his vintage Cadillac. Over watermelon and cake, the rest of
us talk about my mom and what could possibly be wrong. We think
she's had a heart attack. It turns out she ate a plate of cookies
and about half the American flag frosting off the Fourth of July
cake. She's diabetic.
Nature - Labor Day
On Labor Day I visited my birth family in Seattle. My 83 year-old
Memphis born birth mother and I discuss the poetry of Alexander
Pope. Wagner's Opera, The Flying Dutchman, makes scratchy pirouettes
on the record player. My aunt Agnes, former Director of the University
of Washington's drama department and founder of the Seattle Children's
Theater, is in the kitchen preparing ham and cheese sandwiches
on rye. She uses margarine and mayonnaise. I don't like my sandwiches
with margarine and mayonnaise, but I never tell her this. We pull
antique Hitchcock chairs up to the dining room table and pour our
Diet Cokes into my grandmother's Waterford crystal goblets. It's
a tea party. A tea party just for me. I am 43 years old. After
we say grace, we eat our sandwiches.
My mother says she remembers looking
at me once. I was blond and small. She says she was pretty drugged
up so she didn't hold me. So, on August 2, 1959 in the labor
and delivery ward at King County Hospital in Seattle, a nurse
wrapped me up and took me down the hall. I wonder now. Did I
know what the hell was going on? I mean I'd been in the woman's
belly for nine months. Forty weeks of riding downtown on the
bus, walking the sales floor at the downtown Frederick and Nelson.
There was even a trip by train to New York City at 24 weeks.
We went to the MET. To the Goddamn MET. We slept in a sleeper
car. A sleeper car like Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis in “Some
Like It Hot”. I loved the opera when I was a child. Because I was
a flutist in the school band, from the fifth grade on I was able
to travel to Seattle three or four times a year to attend the Opera.
Of course, this is before I knew I'd been to the Met. Before I
knew my mother. Before I knew she lived for the opera. It is one
of many connections. Unexplainable connections they call them.
Most days my childhood was like Monet's garden - colorful but
a blur. I survived by keeping one step ahead of the unfocused lens
of my family. At age six, I wanted to have pointy pink tits like
the young priest at church. I also called myself Mrs. Hogan. I
became Mrs. Hogan when I wore my white church hat with the poofy
pink bow. Mrs. Hogan was a reporter. I thought that I worked at
a big city newspaper and that I wore the hat. I made my mom a little
crazy. She still treated me like a kid. Whenever my mom gets the
chance she reminds me of how childish I was.
“You embarrassed us. You insisted
we call you Mrs. Hogan. You wouldn't take the damn hat off. Acted
like you were writing a book, always taking notes on us, following
us around the house - like you were somebody, a regular Jackie
Kennedy or Mrs. Astor. You even used a snotty little voice and
pretended that a box of my pencils was a pack of cigarettes.
That's when I put a kibosh on things. You were a little to smart
for your own britches, Mrs. H-O-G-A-N.”
Barricaded behind a wall of dust-covered
Reader's Digest Condensed Books, I sat at my mother's metal typing
table on New Year‘s Day,
pretending to type on her black Royal Typewriter. My chair was
a musty pile of National Geographic magazines waiting
for September's rummage sale at Sacred Heart of Jesus, our church.
One afternoon, I showed my mom a poem I'd written at school. At
age six, I wrote poems about Mount Rainer almost daily. I don't
know why I showed her. She always got mad.
Rule the Sky
Made by God
They are mountains high
With their icy arms
I did use two words in my poem that I had found written under
a color photo of a snowy mountain peak in one of those National
“Challenging Ramparts? What Goddamn
kid says that? You can't write poems. You just steal words. You're
in the first grade, you're not smart enough to write a poem and
nobody wants to be bothered reading this crap on these stupid
little pieces of paper. Now take that hat off and get out of
here. If I hear another poem, Mrs. Hogan is going to get a stick
over her ass.”
When I found my birth mother in 1992, she told me that my grandmother's
name was Johanna Hogan. Miss Hogan was society's child, a writer
for Catholic Digests and other
periodicals. She resided in the affluent Hyde Park area north
of Chicago. And, she always wore a hat.