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.

Details Have Not Been Changed to Protect the Innocent – or the Guilty

Details Have Not Been Changed to Protect the Innocent – or the Guilty

I’m pretty sure it was Newsday, a daily newspaper in New York that now primarily serves Nassau and Suffolk counties and the New York City borough of Queens. In the mid-90s, it was also published and distributed throughout Manhattan. She must have gotten my name from the adoption agency, the reporter who called and asked if she could interview me about my adoption. I think Eric might have been two by then.

I don’t have a copy of the story and remember only the faintest details – particularly that this reporter got two things wrong. One might have been a spelling mistake, but the other was an error in a factual detail. Although I’d come out of a journalism minor and nearly eight years at the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, this was early training that reporters twist words, whether out of deliberation, laziness, or carelessness.

The thing that stands out most to me, though, was my desire to protect Tony’s identity. He didn’t want his family to know about the adoption for any reason. And though it was unlikely that anyone he knew would read the 20 lines of my story in a full-page article about adoption in a New York City newspaper, I spoke only on condition of anonymity and revealed only our first initials.

I shared his trepidation about telling my parents for a while, but I got over it before he did. And it wasn’t too long after this that I decided that I didn’t owe him any protection or anonymity from the facts. At the time, Oprah was the biggest thing going, and I had dreams of her interviewing me (about what, I have no idea now). Damned if I was going to stay silent if Oprah asked for details about my son’s father!

I suppose this nonchalance about sharing personal details is still at play in my decision to reveal as much about Tony as I have in the posts on this blog. I know there are libel laws and that memoirists must take care about whom and how they characterize people in their true stories. While my aim is not to tempt fate here, I also know that Tony couldn’t – and probably wouldn’t – take issue with any details I’ve revealed about our past thus far. And what I’ve shared to this point is really as bad as it ever got. No further skeletons (from his side of the family) are likely to be uncovered.

Again, it’s not my goal to instigate or rabble-rouse. Just to share my side of the story. He certainly has his side, and if he wants to, he can start his own blog.

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Laura Orsini is an author who works with other authors to help them 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 Folly of Proving “God” Wrong

The Folly of Proving “God” Wrong

There were a lot of signs that dating Tony was a bad idea. Things that, had I followed my intuition – or common sense – would likely have taken me on an entirely different path. Of course, I often come back to the premise of the movie Sliding Doors, with Gwyneth Paltrow doing her best British accent, where two very different paths lead to the same outcome.

The first sign was that I called him to check on the status of our first date. I’m not really one to dwell on what if’s, but I occasionally indulge and wonder how things might have been different if I’d just left the fucking phone alone. We worked together at the newspaper in Tucson. I was nearing graduation from the University of Arizona, and he was loafing in the sports department. Our flirtation began over his ridiculous taste in basketball teams (the Boston Celtics) and music, or so the pretentious 20-year-old me thought at the time. He had a stack of CDs on his desk which he listened to on a Walkman while coding agate for the sports section (e.g., game scores, stats, etc.). One was an AC/DC disk and another was Guns ‘N Roses. Now I’m still not really a fan of either, but having since married a musician whose current taste in music has some overlap with what Tony’s was then, I’ve learned to at least develop an appreciation for those classic rock bands.

So we flirted for a few weeks, and then he asked me out for New Year’s Eve, 1989. I said yes. And waited to hear more. Because of his job, he had a late schedule and typically slept till 11 a.m. or noon. But when I hadn’t heard from him by 4 p.m. on the day of our scheduled date, instead of making other plans, I called him. Plans were finally made, and we went on our first date to the movies – War of the Roses – another red flag, for those who are counting.

Things were fun for a time, but before long we settled into that horrible push/pull, chase/flee, clingy/leave-me-the-hell-alone pattern that so many immature people see as normal. Many years later, I read a book called The Surrendered Single by Laura Doyle, in which she spelled out very clearly that the right guy never makes you feel clingy or needy. He makes you feel loved and treats you like a queen. It was strangely reassuring to hear that no matter what I had done, all those years I spent trying to get Tony to notice me and to love me even half as much as I loved him were never going to create that result. It just took me the better part of a decade – a baby placed for adoption right in the middle, there – to figure that out.

The signs were so in my face that I remember going to sleep every night for six months or more hearing a little voice whispering, “He’s not the right guy for you.” Instead of listening to that angel, God, the Universe, or whoever you think might have been talking to me, I dug in, determined. “I’ll prove you wrong!”

someon lets you know how much you matter

Then one night, on my 28th birthday, the voice went from a whisper to a loud, clouds-parting, Charlton Heston bravado. We were living in New Jersey at the time, again working for the same company. Our son was a year old by then, though we rarely spoke of the adoption. At this point, Tony was still determined he’d never tell his parents. Things were definitely in the valley part of our typical peak-and-valley cycle. So naturally, he blew me off for my birthday. I went out to dinner with some friends (where were they on New Year’s Eve 1989?!) and had a few drinks. I’ve never gotten drunk in my life – personal preference – but this was the closest I ever came. A bit buzzed, I made the stellar decision to stop by Tony’s apartment on my way home and give him a piece of my mind. That went swimmingly.

I was around the corner, less than a block from his front door, tears streaming down my face, when I asked out loud, of no one in particular, “When are we going to fix this?” That’s when I heard it – the voice from ABOVE. Literally, as clear as day, I heard a booming male voice say, “It’s done.”

Of course, my interpretation of “It’s done,” and the Universe’s interpretation were completely different. Because it took me another two-and-a-half years to finally get my shit together enough to decide to leave. There was no other way to do the split than for one of us to geographically relocate. Otherwise, I could see, we’d just keep doing the same dance for another decade, or more. So in December 1999, I packed up my dog, my cat, my computer, and a few clothes and headed back to the desert. I cried most of the way – but they weren’t all sad tears. Every several hundred miles or so, I’d actually manage to be grateful, knowing this move was the best decision I could make.

He has since apologized for being such a shithead, but one of the most galling things Tony ever did was say to me, as I was getting into the car to drive away, “I don’t understand why you’re leaving. Things between us have always been pretty good.” The other was telling me, the day after I signed the adoption papers, that he would have stayed if I’d kept the baby.

It seems a bit unfair to pile on him now, after all these years have passed. But we lost touch and I don’t know that our connection will ever resume. I know he got married, and she seems like a nice enough person from the little Facebook stalking I was able to do. His sister also seems pretty cool now (we never really got along when Tony and I were dating). And if my husband is any proof that an angry, alcohol-fueled twenty-something can morph into a pretty great guy, I like to imagine that Tony might have made a similar transition.