The Last Emotional Tentacle

The Last Emotional Tentacle

When I met Tony, he was working on the sports desk at the Arizona Daily Star. His job was coding agate – the scores and stats now readily available online that you could once find only in the newspaper. The dress code, if you could call it that, was lenient – T-shirts and jeans were OK for non-reporter staff during the week, sweatpants on the weekend. Tony took the art of sloppy dressing to the greatest heights.

So it was odd to hear him say, that one afternoon we spent wandering around the World Trade Center shops the day after he drove out to the NYC area with me, that he might like to have one of those white-collar jobs that required a suit and tie. And as soon as he moved out there, he got one – all buttoned down with cufflinks and wingtips, just like the big boys. Funny thing is, while I could do without the whole torn/wrinkled/grunge aspect, a casual guy in a t-shirt and ballcap was always a lot more attractive to me than a business type in a three-piece suit.

There were so many things about Tony that made him the least likely guy for me, his 180 in apparel choices the least among them. First was his taste in music – Guns ‘N Roses, AC/DC, and Jimi Hendrix were never at the top of my playlist. The baseball was good, but not so much with the basketball. He was a Celtics fan; I thought they were an overrated team full of cheaters and crybabies. He’d done one semester at the UA before dropping out; when we met, I was getting ready to graduate with my BA. Not only wasn’t he Catholic – he was basically irreligious. He had to ask his mom whether he’d ever been baptized. She was pretty sure he had been.

And yet we flirted, and I found him mesmerizing – probably because he was a “bad boy.” But falling in love with a bad boy isn’t everything Footloose and Dirty Dancing make it out to be. Typically, they’re ill-behaved for a reason: they prefer not to be encumbered by a relationship, or encumbered just enough for regular sex, and no more. Every girl who falls for one thinks she can change him – to her peril. Most of us wind up eventually giving that old dead horse a break, even if it’s many eons down the road.

Tony and I did the constant push-pull dance cycle for years and years. Whenever he wanted distance from the relationship, he’d do his well-practiced disappearing act. Sometimes, I would hunt him down and confront him, perhaps even weasel my way back into the immediate picture. It’s kind of strange to think of myself being so needy – but that’s how our whole relationship worked. If I hadn’t been needy, he might have changed to meet me in another space, or he might not have stuck around at all. We’ll never know – unless I can somehow figure out how to jump to that alternate universe and then come back and tell myself in this here-and-now.

While I was in Tucson over the weekend for the book festival, I was telling my friend Justin – my social media guy who’s just a few years older than my son – that I avoided Tucson for pretty much the first 10 years after I moved back to Arizona. Another behavior that seems so “not me,” but it was me, at that time. The problem was that everything in Tucson reminded me of Tony – how we’d met, where we’d lived, where we’d worked, where we’d played. Although I don’t think of myself as a particularly sentimental person, I still found myself triggered by the sights, sounds, and reminders that seemed to have been cast so casually and thoughtlessly about the town where I met and began dating my son’s birthfather,

I was telling Justin about all of this – feeling rather cocky that I no longer experience the emotional roller-coaster when visiting my once-hometown. Then we found ourselves on our way to the store, and out of nowhere, a feeling of anxiety began stealing into the pit of my stomach. Minutes later, we drove past Clicks Billiards, one of those very same places where I’d gone to track Tony down all those years ago. The memory was hazy, but complete – a memory I hadn’t even know was there.

I once read that memories are the thoughts that come to us from the past – regret doesn’t arise from them. Regret comes from the thoughts on which we dwell, day to day, week to week, month to month, year after year – those thoughts that never have the chance to come to us because we’re so busy going back to them, time and time again. It would make sense that this blog is dredging up some long-hidden, perhaps still-unresolved emotions. I thought I was done – the last of the emotional tentacles unwound years ago. Looks like there might be a stray hanger-on or two. Good news is that I’m finally OK enough to just swat it down and snip it off, without worrying it will grow sibling tentacles that could come and threaten to strangle me again.

I’ve never regretted my relationship with Tony, primarily because my beautiful son came out of it. But I have, on occasion, beaten myself up for not doing things differently. So it’s good to have a loving, supportive husband, wise counsel from friends, and the self-awareness to realize that the entirety of my past paved the way to my present.

I heard the story a number of years ago about a therapist who worked in the mental ward of a prison. He made a practice of meditating/praying over each patient’s file, using a mantra that went something like, “I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I thank you.” Within a year’s time, every one of those patients who’d previously been diagnosed as criminally insane had been returned to the general population, and the mental ward at that prison was closed. It could be a wives’ tale for all I know – although you can google the man’s name (Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len, Ph.D) and find lots of alleged proof.

The point is the lesson under the message: We actually need to forgive others a lot less, sometimes, than we need to forgive ourselves. I’m not using this mantra with any regularity – though perhaps it would be a positive thing to do. But when I get stuck, when any sense of regret or not-enoughness starts to occasionally invade my thoughts, it’s a good tool to have at my disposal. Including those invading thoughts of the “Why did you put up with him so long?” variety.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

My Six Soul Mates … So Far

My Six Soul Mates … So Far

In his book Journey of Souls, Michael Newton posits that rather than one soul mate, each of us likely has a soul group – an assembly of about 150 “people” we travel with from one lifetime to the next (yes, this post presupposes you can, at minimum, entertain the idea of multiple lifetimes). He arrived at this conclusion after recording the stories of thousands of people he hypnotized in his analysis practice and hearing the same pattern repeated time after time, regardless of the person’s religious beliefs at the time of the hypnosis.

When his patients were taken back to a prior lifetime, their reporting of what went on between lifetimes followed a pattern that included recognizing the same others from lifetime to lifetime. The most vivid depictions tended to be of individuals who showed up as close family members: mother, father, siblings, spouses – although their roles tended to change from lifetime to lifetime.

Given those very loose parameters, I’ve identified a handful of soul mates – people from my soul group with whom I am traveling this lifetime. It’s hard to define exactly what makes them a soul mate, other than that they “get me” or that I have an inexplicable comfort level with that person. Maybe for you, they are people you seem to relate to from the first moment of meeting them. Except, of course, my mother – with whom I was not at all close, and yet whom I am certain is in my soul group. Because of a history of vascular dementia, she demonstrated mental health issues from the time I was very young, and was thus incapable of a “normal” mother/daughter relationship. Yet her very presence in my life, the fact that we were never able to have any sort of a “real” conversation, and the unfinished nature of things between us leads me to believe that there’s still more to come in another incarnation.

Others who fall into the prior category have included: my sister, Corina; my best friend, Jane; the only man I ever loved besides my husband, “Tom”; my husband, John; and my son’s birthfather, Tony. My sister and I had our ups and downs, as most same-gender siblings probably do. But toward the end of her life (thank god neither of us knew it was nearing her end!), we grew very close. And even at our most distant, she was always the one person I knew I could count on – no matter what. Jane and I just clicked from the moment we met at a summer program for gifted high schoolers held at Arizona State University.

Tom and I never dated, but we had an emotional affair more intense than any romance ever written. He was kind and thoughtful and so incredibly smart. He constantly challenged me, and I appreciated the fact that I always had to be on my toes with him. And he had a girlfriend he couldn’t/wouldn’t leave – so eventually I ended things. I finally spoke with him a couple months after my sister passed away for the first time in a half-dozen years. Things with him had always felt so unfinished – and this conversation was eye-opening because it seemed he hadn’t moved an inch from where he’d been when we last connected. I’d been through so much and grown so much as a person in those intervening years – and he seemed still to be in the exact same place, in spite of having gone through some difficulties of his own. Talk about closure!

My husband seemed to recognize our connection much sooner than I did. Part of the challenge for me was that, even though I was falling in love with John, things with Tom were still unresolved in my memory and psyche. I remember my friend Sunil, my relationship guru, for lack of a better term, suggesting to me that I stop looking for the person of Tom and instead look for his essence in the next person. John – though he couldn’t have physically resembled Tom less, most definitely embodies the amazing parts about Tom’s essence – the parts with which I so inextricably connected. While I never had that “prove the universe wrong” determination about Tom, I was so sad when that relationship dissolved, and yet today I am so glad that I had the sense to leave it when I did, because otherwise I couldn’t – more importantly, probably wouldn’t – have met John.

And then there was Tony. He’s actually the hardest to put my finger on, in terms of what the connection was. Other than that he was just instantly comfortable to be around. There was no pressure to be or perform or say anything. He was fine just being with me. We could wander around New York City or make dinner or sit around watching TV or play video games in perfect harmony. For the first 24 to 48 hours. Then, inevitably, we’d begin to get on each others’ nerves and the antagonistic, overwrought, dramatic push/pull pattern would emerge. So we’d step away for a few days to a couple weeks, and then come back together. And the cycle would repeat. Things would be idyllic for a day or two – and then we’d bug each other again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. If he truly is a member of my soul group, it’s no surprise, then, that it was so challenging to break off and remove myself from that intense relationship. Makes me so grateful that things with Tom never blossomed into a physical romance when I think of it in those terms. And it wasn’t that I didn’t love Tony, as much as I don’t think I even understood what love was at the time we were together.

So that’s six soul mates I’ve identified. Meaning there are some 140 others I haven’t yet recognized quite so specifically. That’s not to say they’re not in my life now, or are unimportant in my life. Just that the connection hasn’t presented itself quite so viscerally and clearly. I’d like to think that Eric is among them. After 23 years, we’re still getting to know each other, so I’m guessing he might well be an important member of my soul group. All I know is that I’m staying open to all possibilities.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Graduation Letter to My Son – 5 June 2013

Graduation Letter to My Son – 5 June 2013
A letter I wrote but never sent…

Dear Eric –

Congratulations, again, on a fine finish to your high school days – and best wishes for a great start to the next phase of your life. Your mom keeps telling me how anxious you are to get out on your own and be independent. It’s definitely something to look forward to – fortunately for you, you’ve got a great family to support you, even while you’re busy forming your own independent thoughts and choices and life.

I am so grateful for the invitation to be a part of your graduation weekend. I know you didn’t have to invite me – and I also know your mom left that decision up to you. I enjoyed getting to meet the extended relatives and family friends and to spend a little time with you. I’m constantly amazed by your mom’s generosity in making me feel both at home and included in every aspect. I lost count of the number of times in just those few days she’d say to people, “Do you know who this is?” about me – as if there were any way they could have known. But it was cute – she was so excited to share our relationship. Giselle, the amazing waitress at that diner, definitely took the cake, though! You’ll have to let me know if you go back and see her again before you head up to Boston.

So funny how things work out, isn’t it? I’ve been wanting to move to Boston since I originally moved to New Jersey in 1992. I intended for New Jersey to be a temporary stop – but you’ve probably heard that quote from John Lennon about life happening while you’re busy making other plans. I would one day still like to get there, but it will be awhile, at least as long as Mary – John’s grandma – is still with us. And by then, who knows what we will have decided…

Your mom tells me you’re very interested in visiting Italy. Samantha, my sister’s daughter, was there for a study-abroad semester – so if you have questions, she might be a great resource. One of my cousins on my dad’s side was working on a family tree some time ago. I think Corina has a copy somewhere – I’ll try to get it for you, just so you can have an idea of where we’re from on my dad’s side. I’ve always felt that was something I should know – and yet I still don’t really. I know a tiny bit more about the Irish side (my dad’s mom), but just barely. I imagine part of the reason I’m so detached is because we grew up away from the rest of the family. I’m so glad you’ve got the experience of a large extended family. We have one, too – but they’re in Michigan and various parts of Canada, so we rarely see either side, and have never all been together at once. The closest we came to that was at my dad’s funeral, when relatives from both my mom’s and dad’s families were in attendance.

And speaking of families – you have another one out there, as you know. I feel now as if I should have asked if you even wanted the information I was able to find about where Tony lives. You never really expressed an interest to me, one way or another. I guess if I were in your shoes, I’d want to know – who he is, where he is, probably to see him at least once. Of course, if I were in your shoes, I’d probably have driven by his house already, but that’s just me. 🙂

Now that you know where Tony is – I’m sure you can also find a phone number if you dig just a little further than I did – you get to decide what your next move is. I can’t imagine the kinds of thoughts and feelings you must be experiencing right now, but I would understand if you wanted to try to meet him and also understand if you have no interest. The thing is, now you have the option.

I’m guessing your mom might have told you I also found him on Facebook. He looks exactly the same as he did the last time I saw him, except that he seems to be growing a weird ZZ Top beard. Your dad is concerned that Tony may not want to be found – and it’s certainly a possibility. He’d made more progress than I’d expected the last time I saw him. He’d just broken things off with a woman he’d been seeing when I went out there in February 2002, and he told me he’d told her about you. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that. But I don’t know that he ever told his parents, his sister, his aunt – or now, his wife. He’s different from me in lots of BIG ways – all of them reasons we’re not still together. I’ve always been an open book about who I am, how I feel, who I love, and everything in between. I don’t know if I ever told you that for the rest of the time I was at Lehman Brothers after you were born, I kept a picture of you on my desk.

One of the other birthmothers I knew told me that I made people uncomfortable because I was so open about the adoption. But that’s not how I saw it. If other people were uncomfortable, that was their problem. I never was. And I was never ashamed, never guilty, and very seldom regretful. Most birthmoms are all of those, all the time – or at least until they get counseling and come to terms with the grief. In our case, I saw my social worker at Spence 21 times while I was pregnant with you and 12 times after you were born. She told me the average birthmom sees the social work six or seven times, total.

And I promised you – and myself – while I was pregnant that I would never deny your existence. So I can probably still count on both hands the number of times in the last 18 years when people have asked me if I have children and I’ve said no. Those were usually toss-off questions, questions from busybodies, or questions from people I felt I just didn’t owe an explanation to. Otherwise, if people know me for longer than about five minutes, they know about you.

But that’s not how Tony is. I’m not sure why, exactly, either. Maybe he’s changed, but when I knew him, he buried and stuffed all of his emotions. They came out every once in a while when he’d been drinking. I’d known him for more than eight years when I found out that his only aunt on his mom’s side is a birthmother in a closed adoption. He didn’t know – probably because she didn’t know – whether the child was a boy or a girl. She’s in her sixties now – and back in those days, once the woman gave birth, they just whisked the baby away. She never got to hold him, rock him, talk with him, or even see him. Very different from my experience when I got to hand-select your parents. You’d think that would make him more willing to talk with his parents, but for reasons I still don’t understand, the opposite seemed to be true. Again, a lot of time has passed since then, and he may have told them by now. I hope so. But I can’t promise that. And I have no idea how receptive he’d be to hearing from you – or how much he might stonewall you. I was talking with John about all of this over the last couple days, and he said something that is such a picture into who he is and why I married him: If Tony doesn’t want to see you, he’s the one who loses out.

Corina’s the only other person who ever really got to know Tony at all – and even that wasn’t very much. Hell, I knew him for 6 years longer than I’ve known John at this very moment, and still never got to know him very well, because Tony didn’t want anybody to get to know him. But when I spoke with Corina about this whole crazy episode last night, she said three things: (1) she’s sure Tony would recognize himself in you if he saw you; (2) getting married may have settled him down somewhat and made him more receptive (especially since he has a stepkid – who golfs!); and (3) that seeing you face-to-face, Tony would have a really impossible time just walking away. My sister’s the most intuitive person I know – so I rather trust her instincts on this. But again, it’s up to you. It’s not up to your mom and dad anymore. You get to decide this one.

My instinct is that even if Tony THINKS he doesn’t want to be found, he’d be more receptive to direct contact from you than from me. But if for any reason you want me to reach out to him for you, I’m more than willing to do that. I’m still guessing you’re just going to want to sit with things for a while.

Eric – just know that no matter what you decide about this, no matter what happens in school, where you go, what you do with your life – I will always love you, and I will support you in any way I can. I used to get really aggravated when people would tell me I was lucky to have found such great parents for you. It wasn’t luck, though. I worked really hard to get to the right people.

That was another place I broke the averages for Spence Chapin. Most prospective birthmoms used to choose a family after seeing three or four profiles. Your parents’ was the 12th profile I saw. And I had to demand to see it, too. After the seventh or eighth, the adoption department started to doubt I was serious about going through with it. For whatever reason, they could not hear me when I said I just hadn’t found the right family yet. It wasn’t until I threatened to leave Spence to go somewhere else that they relented and let me see more families. And your parents had just come into the process, so their profile wasn’t even fully complete yet. Before they’d let the prospective birthmom see the profile, they’d redact any identifying info. They hadn’t got there yet with your parents’ profile, so Mary, my social worker, read it to me instead of letting me see it for myself. And then she got up and left the room and left the folder with your folks’ info in it on her desk. I have no idea whether that was a deliberate move on her part, but as I look back on it now, I suspect it may have been. And I was so tempted to look at it – had I done so, I’d have immediately had all the info I eventually learned on my own. But I had made a commitment not to do that, so ever the good girl, I behaved myself. I love that the universe conspired to allow that info to come to me a little later, when I was ready for it.

As you are no doubt aware, we’ve had soooooo many coincidences, it’s beyond uncanny.

I love your family – and I love seeing you with them. They are very different from me, to be sure. Your life with me would have been very different. But I hope that even if you might wonder about that untaken road – a perfectly normal thing to wonder – you never experience regret. I have always believed that life takes all of us precisely where we need to be – and you, my smart, beautiful son, are precisely where you need to be. I’m pretty sure I would choose differently if I had it to do again, but only knowing what I know now about taking one moment at a time. At the time I was choosing adoption, I was trying to make the very best decision for so many people: for you, for Tony, for myself, and for each of our families. I didn’t realize that everything always works out, and I’d have been OK, no matter what. But instead, this is where our journeys have brought us. This is what we were meant to do and who we were meant to be to each other. And it is fine. I have always been at peace with it. Your situation, of course, is different, but I hope that you have – or one day soon – will find peace, too.

I love you, kiddo, so very, very much. Thank you for inviting me, including me, and sharing your special time with me. If there are every any questions I can answer – or you just want to talk – you know how to reach me.

All my love –

Laura

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NOTE: I wrote this letter the day after I returned from Eric’s high school graduation, uncertain whether I would ever send it to him. As it turns out, I didn’t. But I have, in the interim, told him most of these things. At the time, in June 2013, we were still unaware of the string of serious losses we would all face: Eric’s aunt, John’s dad, my sister, and most recently, John’s grandmother. I also recently discovered through some Facebook research that Tony’s dad passed away almost two years ago.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Relationship with a Functional Alcoholic

Relationship with a Functional Alcoholic

A significant sign of sleep deprivation – or depression – is calculating the hours until you’ll next be able to sleep, upon waking. From observing the behavior of several people I have known, it seems alcoholics function much the same way – counting the hours until they’ll be able to drink again.

My relationship with my son’s birthfather was always challenging. While I could always see his role in the problem, it took hindsight for me to see my part: chasing and begging and pleading, instead of just walking away or behaving indifferently. The thing is, I was competing with a ghost I could never best. Sure – there was the occasional other woman (Gina, the Las Vegas blackjack dealer, and his sister’s married best friend, Gwen, come to mind). But the real “other woman” in Tony’s life was booze, more specifically, beer.

We didn’t own a car for most of the time I lived in Jersey City – but once every six weeks or so, we’d rent one. And although we did occasionally go out and see a sight or take a drive to another part of the state, the one thing we did without fail when we had a car was go to the liquor warehouse on Route 1/9. And stock up. How was it that this seemed normal to me? He even bought a small, college-dorm-size fridge he kept fully stocked under his desk so he wouldn’t have to walk the extra 12 feet to the main fridge in the kitchen.

It wasn’t until I moved back to Phoenix and saw a copy of Liguorian Catholic magazine lying on my folks’ coffee table that I began to stitch together the reasons behind Tony’s near-constant absence in our relationship. The cover article was a portrait of a functional alcoholic. When people think of a problem drinker, they tend to picture someone who is constantly drunk and whose life is falling apart because of their drinking. However, that’s only one segment of alcoholics.

Others, like my son’s father, can work at high-level careers, earn good money, have a regular family life, even cultivate social bonds. Some successfully hide their drinking for years. Tony didn’t hide his drinking – it just wasn’t until I had the clarity of distance that I could see how much more alcohol meant to him than I did. No wonder nothing I did could ever grab his attention for longer than a fleeting moment – I couldn’t have won that competition no matter how hard I tried.

So they say we date and follow relationship patterns. When I look at my relationships with Tony and John, the two men couldn’t be more diametrically opposite. Except for one thing: my husband has struggled, on and off, with addiction issues for most of his adult life. The distinct difference is that I know how much I matter to my husband – even on the rare occasions when he still struggles, I know he loves me more and that he wants our relationship to succeed. I never once felt anything close to that kind of love or commitment in my relationship with Tony.

John more than likely inherited his addictive tendencies from his mother. Even after spending 10 years together, I’m not sure where Tony’s originated. But knowing, as I do, how big a role heredity can play in traits like addiction, I’m hoping that Eric takes after me on this one.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Valentine’s Day with “The One”

Valentine’s Day with “The One”

Today is my 9th Valentine’s Day with my husband, and I have lost track of the number of cards and gifts he has given me in the years since we met. Such a stark difference from my relationship with Eric’s birthfather. I told John the other day that I can probably count on two hands the number of gifts Tony gave me over the 10 years we were “together.”

“Really?” John asked. “Even including birthdays and stuff?”

Yep. Including birthdays and stuff.

I still remember what may have been the only Valentine’s Day gift I ever received from Tony a Chieftains CD the year Eric was born, 10 days before his birth, to be exact.

Looking back now, there were so many clues that Tony wasn’t “the one,” and yet I clung to that relationship for dear life. I had a loving father and (through no real fault of her own) an absent mother. I remember realizing how similar my relationship with Tony was to my relationship with mom. Although I lived in the same house with her, it was like she wasn’t really present. And though I was in a relationship with Tony, he was never really around. One of first things I had to get used to with my husband was being able to go to the movies by myself by choice, as opposed to going alone because he didn’t happen to be calling me back that week.

I long ago gave up trying to figure out the low self-esteem that must have driven my willingness to stay and stay and stay through the years. I’m just grateful for the day I finally had enough and decided the only way we were truly going to move on from each other was by putting physical miles between us. When I originally moved to New Jersey, it was with the thought that Jersey would be just a pit stop; ultimately I would make my way to Boston. Though I visited Boston a couple times, I never made the move there. Interesting, it’s where Eric chose to attend university.

By the time I was finally ready to leave Tony, I had neither the money nor the emotional stamina it would take to start over somewhere new, so instead of moving to Boston, I moved back home to Phoenix even though the desert has never, ever really felt like home to me. Those divine plans being what they are, it still took nearly 10 years for me to disentangle all the tentacles from my relationship with Tony so that I could finally be open to meeting John. We met though a blind date via Craigslist in July 2009 and have never looked back.

And just as there were all those signs that Tony was not the right guy, there were many signs that John was. For one thing, he had a cat. A single, 30-something guy had taken it upon himself to head to the Humane Society in search of a four-legged friend. He told me he had originally intended to adopt a dog, but when he saw Libby, she told him she was going home with him, and she did.

He was also the first one in our relationship to give the other a greeting card and a gift. Long was my habit to be the first to make such a bold move, but on our third date, John brought me a card and some flowers. He’s sentimental like his grandmother was. When she passed away in June and we cleaned out her house, we found what appeared to be every greeting card she’d ever received, going all the way back to high school. Whether it’s his birthday or Christmas or our anniversary, John sets the cards out on the coffee table or his desk in his office and displays them for a while.

Most importantly, though, John was where he said he’d be when he said he’d be there. He had a job that required him to be up before dawn, so even on weekends he went to bed early. I remember going to his apartment one Friday night around midnight to leave a surprise on his car. I wrote messages on a couple pads’ worth of heart-shaped sticky notes and stuck them on the back windshield of his car in the shape of a large heart. As I made my way over to his place, the old doubts started creeping in. Would he be home? Would his car be in its regular parking space at his apartment complex? Man, what a sigh of relief I breathed when his Corolla was right where it was supposed to be.

Over the years, he has surprised me with concert tickets, flowers, balloons, stuffed animals, jewelry, and seemingly countless other thoughtful gifts, big and small. Today will be no different, I am sure. The best thing about Valentine’s Day with John is that it’s not that big of a deal because every single day with him is special.

One of the best relationship books I’ve ever read is The Surrendered Single, by Laura Doyle. In it, she explains that the right guy will never make you wait for his call or wonder if he cares about you. He will treat you like a queen, and you will always know how much you mean to him. I spent a lot of years giving the wrong guy the benefit of the doubt. He was the right guy for just long enough, though, or our son would not be here. Nevertheless, I couldn’t be happier that I moved on and gave the actual Mr. Right a chance.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

The Cure, Cathartic Writing, and a Berkeley Parking Ticket

The Cure, Cathartic Writing, and a Berkeley Parking Ticket

I’ve begun a habit of occasionally dancing for exercise. Was at it fairly regularly for the middle part of 2017; then the holidays hit, we moved, and I’ve been having trouble reestablishing any sort of routine. Recently, I was re-inspired by this article about how beneficial dance is for staving off the aging process. Today, I finally picked it up again, and all was well. Then I heard a song by one of my favorite bands, “In Between Days,” by the Cure.

In Between Days lyrics

Immediately upon hearing the chorus, I was transported back to exactly two weeks, to the day, after my son was born. That was the day Tony, my son’s birthfather, moved out. A man of few words, he didn’t disappoint that day. The one comment I still remember as if it were yesterday was, “I know this is the biggest mistake I’ll ever make in my life, but I’m committed to it, so I’m going to see it through.” And with that, he was gone, back the apartment we had shared with his best friend, Mike. I know Mike wanted to throw him out on his ass when he showed back up – but that’s not what best friends do.

It wasn’t the end of our relationship – we managed to string things along in the same push-pull pattern we’d perfected before Eric was born for another five years. But his leaving was devastating, nonetheless.

I was still recuperating from the birth – waiting for the last of my milk to stop trickling. That night, I sat alone in my apartment, watching a movie called The Client, about a little boy who witnesses a mob attorney commit suicide. Susan Sarandon plays a character called Reggie Love, the attorney who defends and shelters the little boy. More than anything, I wanted a Reggie Love in my life at that moment, someone whose shoulder I could cry on, who would help me make sense of all the grief and loss and leaving.

My mom really wasn’t a candidate. My sister who lived in New Jersey would have been no help. My younger sister had her own life to deal with. So I turned to the only other person I knew would be there for me, my friend Jane. I called her up, weeping, and she immediately invited me out to visit with her in San Francisco. I booked a flight the next day, and made my (thus far) only visit to The City by the Bay.

Jane was working during my visit, but she went out of her way to make me feel at home. She lent me her car, so I had a crash course in hilly driving, something I revisited on my recent stay in Yonkers, NY. She was a coffee drinker (to this day, I prefer tea), so she told me where the cool indie coffeehouses were. She warned me about the parking police on the Berkeley campus – and I still managed to get a ticket because I forgot to feed the meter. I remember going to a Wells Fargo bank and asking for a money order so I could pay the ticket before Jane even found out about it. I blanched when they told me it would cost $14 – but I paid the fee and took care of the ticket. I also spent an afternoon wandering around Golden Gate Park. These are the details I remember about that trip.

The respite lasted only seven days, and then I had to return to my life in New Jersey, such as it was. Going back to work helped. Knowing Tony was there, even if he wasn’t really, also helped. And somehow I muddled through.

Maybe a year or so later, when I was speaking to one of my first groups of adoptive parents, one of the women told me I should write a book about my experiences. “Maybe,” I told her. But it had already been done, and I didn’t see how adding my story to the others I’d come across would help anyone. While writing my story would probably be cathartic for me, I wasn’t sure it would be of any use to another birthmother or prospective birthmom. I didn’t realize at the time that the few birthmother stories I’d seen were pretty much the only books by and for birthmothers available anywhere.

As it turns out, I did try to write it. I got out a couple of yellow legal pads and began writing my story – our story. I was moving along fairly smoothly, until I hit the part I described in today’s post: Tony’s leaving. That – even two years after the fact – was just too difficult to write. It was like crashing into an emotional wall going 150 miles per hour. So I slammed on the breaks, put those notepads away, and didn’t look at them again until several weeks ago when I was packing to move our house.

Turns out, 21 years makes a big difference, in terms of the triggering of emotions. I got a bit teary today when researching the name of the movie I was watching that night – but the writing flowed easily. And I’ve already written close to 20,000 words for this blog, which is well past the 80 pages of longhand I drafted back in 1997.

As for the book – it remains a maybe. There’s still a gaping hole in the adoption literature when it comes to birthparents. And yet, I’m still not sure how my story would help anyone. I chose to blog, rather than start with a book, because blogging would allow me to be random – describing episodes or discussing topics on a whim and at my own discretion, as opposed to the somewhat neat trajectory the contained vehicle of a book would require.

February 24 will be Eric’s 23rd birthday – and that will be day 53 in a row of blog posts, assuming I write the next dozen or so after this one. At that point, I believe I’ll take the same tack we did when deciding whether and how to continue contact after he turned 10. I’ll reevaluate things at that time and decide whether and how often to keep writing. Maybe, one day, a book. For now, I can only promise to keep dancing.

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Laura Orsini is an author, speaker, and consultant who coaches other authors to make and market exceptional books that change the world for the better. She is birthmother to Eric, who is finishing college in Boston this summer. Their adoption has been open for the better part of Eric’s life. She continues to toy with the idea that these posts will one day become a book. In the meantime, you can learn about her novel in progress, Stan Finds Himself on the Other Side of the World.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do – So Why Not Drag It Out for Years?

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do – So Why Not Drag It Out for Years?

In spite of my habit of deserted friendships, I’ve never been one who can just cleave a romantic relationship, as one of my mentors, Chuck Trautman, refers to it. It would definitely be easier, but it’s just not my way to end things in one fell swoop. When it came to breaking up with boyfriends, every one of those splits was a long, drawn-out process. Not because the guys wanted it that way, but because I just held on and held on until I was finally able to let go.

New Age classic, The Celestine Prophecy, explains the reason for the difficulties in disentangling from a long-term relationship. Our aura – or personal energy field – becomes entangled with that other person’s aura, each one forming tentacles that intertwine and fold in on each other. Even though you break up – literally and figuratively disconnect from one another – it takes time, deliberation, and focus to peel back the tentacles in order to fully free yourself, energetically, from the other.

I continued this habit of prolonged good-byes with Tony. Good gawd – I dragged that out for a loooonnnnng time. Understandable, perhaps, as it was my longest-term relationship and we did have a son together. I finally managed to wean myself from trying to contact him after close to a year. Then 9/11 happened, and we started talking again. Before I knew it, I was making plans to go back to New Jersey over Valentine’s Day weekend 2002.

In the two-year interim, Tony had dated a woman named Molly. In a case of what I might charitably call “what comes around goes around,” she strung him along for a while and then finally dumped him to get back together with an old boyfriend. But not before he helped pay her child support for a number of months, took her and her boys on an expensive tropical vacation, and shelled out a lot of other cash for her and her family. I’m not saying she was a gold digger, but he certainly made life quite comfortable for her until the other guy gave her an ultimatum.

So the Valentine’s trip back East was eye-opening. Seeing the apartment I’d shared with Tony looking so different was startling. It was clean and neat and organized. When I lived with him there, we’d had a third roommate – his childhood best friend, Mike. Mike was one of the coolest guys I’ve ever known. We had the most amazing, hours-long conversations – discussions that Tony and I could never have. But to call Mike a slob is like calling a marathon a casual jog. At the time he lived with us, he was a VP at American Express. And it wasn’t unusual for him to need to dig through the empty pizza boxes littering his bedroom floor to find his tie or suit jacket. I’d never seen anything like it … until I met my husband, John. The interesting thing is that I found in John a guy who seems to embody the best parts of both Tony and Mike.

As I write this, John and I are preparing to move. I was packing today and came across a slew of old journals, written on yellow legal pads. The following undated entry was the top page on one of those notebooks – but based on the contents, it must have been written the first week of February 2002.

Was thinking about Mike B. on my way to work today. I asked Tony the other night if he’d talked to Mike lately. “Not for a few weeks,” was his answer. I asked him if Mike knew about Molly’s departure. Negative.

So then I got to thinking about how much things changed over the years. I went East. Tony followed. Then Mike showed up. Followed by one year of hell living with him because I couldn’t find the voice to tell him that we didn’t live in a fucking pigsty and my title was NOT maid! Then I moved out. Got pregnant. A few years later, the whole Gwen thing. A couple more years and I moved back to Phoenix. Oh yeah – and somewhere in there, Cecilia and I fixed Mike up with Annette, and they got married.

So now Mike’s got this life out there. Wife. Kid. House. Real job. I’m not sure it’s what he wanted. Envisioned – yes. Wanted? I kind of doubt it. She makes all the rules and he follows them.

Then you have Tony and me. Tony got started down the treacherous path toward a normal life – and I could tell the house of cards wouldn’t stand for long. Gee – how many different ways have you said, “I told you so?” Another unflattering realization.

And what about me? My life? What does that even mean? I’ve got so much enthusiasm and so many ideas, and yet I feel like I’m moving through mud trying to achieve them. Here I am with a ticket to go back to NJ/NY next week. Why do I have this sinking feeling that I’m moving BACKWARDS??

Things were OK until last night, when Tony wanted to chat with someone named Kelly more than talk to me. But why am I jealous? I don’t even know if I want to consider seeing him again, but I’m still upset at the thought of him talking to someone else.

The only thing I know is that I don’t want to stay single. But I’m not convinced that my partner is lurking anywhere in my immediate vicinity. Back to trusting the Universe, I suppose. Nothing else ever seems to work.

Come to find out that even though the two of us had done a bit of growing up over our two-year break, Tony and I were together for one lovely night before we began pushing each others’ buttons in all the same old ways. I continue to think that if I were to run into him again tomorrow, he and I would find that same initial, comfortable simpatico we’ve had since we met in 1989 – but long-term, it was never meant to be. Fortunately, we both moved on, married other people, and seem to have embraced our respective lives.