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Sometimes you can’t make it on your own

She’s a good writer but why does she have to write about that?

The words struck me hard. I wanted to cry on the spot. Instead, I told myself what nonfiction writers are supposed to tell themselves.

No one is making you do this, so suck it up princess. 

This first bit of criticism was delivered by one of my dearest and closest friends. She and her mother had been discussing my blog the night before. Confused, her mother questioned why I felt I needed to write a memoir. Why would I draw attention to what happened to me? Why make everyone so uncomfortable?

I know what this looks like. I think about it every day.

Girl exploits family in the name of art.

If there was a way for me to tell this story without having to involve others, I would. It just isn’t possible. I have no memory of the day I was taken or why. I need family members to help me fill in the gaps. 

Anyone who knows me knows I care deeply for others. I routinely put other people’s needs in front of my own. I’m a nurturing person who enjoys loving, appreciating and taking care of the people around me. Embarking on this journey of self-discovery has been hard for me because I know it may make the people I love uncomfortable. That’s not my role in life. My role is to make people happy. 

When I was little, my Nanny taught me to face my troubles. 

Terra-Lee. When you have an issue you should talk it out. That’s the only way to make things better. 

Dear friends: Please forgive me for this moment of self-indulgence. My life makes me uncomfortable and I need to talk it out. I need you to know that I’m sorry my mother lost her youth having a baby so young. I want to tell you I’m sorry my grandparents had to make so many sacrifices to make sure I was taken care of. I want to tell you I’m sorry I was taken from my father and even sorrier for being some weird little secret that crept back into his life 25 years later, making everyone uncomfortable with her fears and insecurities. There has always been something a little uncomfortable about me. I’m an exception people make. An obstacle to overcome. A mistake to come to terms with. A discomfort to adjust to.

I don’t want to be these things anymore. I want to be Terra and I can’t be Terra until everyone knows who Terra is. Writing this book is helping me find the people I love, and it’s helping me find myself. 

 

 

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Don’t Let it Go

In the crossfire there’s a story

And how it ends I don’t know – Beck

 

I’m on a mission. In November I’ll travel to Ontario to meet family members I’ve never met and some I’ve only known a few years. My journey will take me to Kingston, Brampton, Sarnia, Barrie and Orillia to name a few places. I’ll cruise highways, sleep in truck stop parking lots and ask complete strangers personal questions that will hopefully lead to a greater understanding of who I am and where I come from. I’ll see my nose on different people’s faces. I’ll see my teeth in different people’s mouths. Perhaps I’ll glance across a dinner table and find an aunt or cousin nervously picking at her lip the way I do. I’m picking my lip between sentences as I write this entry.

I’m an introvert. My house is immaculate. I thrive on routine and order. At the same time, I have this burning desire to know and understand. It pulls me. It demands I confront what confuses or scares me. I live in a constant state of fear and wonder. This trip horrifies and fascinates me.

Adopted kids understand what I’m saying. We don’t necessarily go seeking because we’re displeased with our lives. We seek because we crave the closeness of our tribe. Encountering someone with the same funny birth mark for the first time is magical. Understanding why you had to grow up without that person is heart breaking but necessary. At least that’s how I see it.

I made a similar journey last November. I traveled to Moncton to interview my mother, grandmother and the honorary family members who helped raise me. I was nervous before that trip too, but in a different way. I worried my questions would offend them.  

Do you consider what you did kidnapping? Do you think you were a good parent?

I was surprised when my questions were answered honestly and without hesitation. I gained greater insight and was able to write the first half of my book. 

The second half of my book will be more complicated. 

How did it feel to lose me? Do you think we can recover what we’ve lost?

I won’t know how my story ends until I live this next phase of my journey. 

 

Lovers in a Dangerous Time

“What kind of post-publication letters or messages would make the year of work worthwhile for you?”

– Stephen Kimber

I’m sprawled out on my office floor with an ice cream sandwich in one hand and a tumbler of single malt scotch in the other. The Barenaked Ladies’ version of Bruce Cockburn’s Lovers in a Dangerous Time is pulsing through my speakers.

I’ve been staring at my computer screen all summer trying to think of something original and profound to say. In five days, I owe Stephen Kimber a 500-word response.

“I’m not sure I want letters,” I think to myself, setting down my scotch to pick a Care Bear sticker off the side of my ancient book case. The yellow bear curls in on itself, revealing a shiny silver back. I roll the sticker between my fingers and remember the day I stuck it to my shelf.

***

I’m five years old. My mom and my nanny are screaming at one another in the hallway of our three-bedroom apartment. I’m lying on my bedroom floor in a pink fuzzy sweater, covering my book case in stickers. Tears streak the lenses of my thick, Coke bottle glasses.

“You were never there!” my mother yells.

“I had to work to support you.” my nanny replies.

I run out into the hallway and throw myself between them.

“Stop fighting!” I scream. “PLEASE. STOP. FIGHTING!”

They continue as though they don’t hear me. I’m overlooked like the silver backs of my stickers.

***

The ice cream sandwich melting in my hand pulls me back to reality. I lick the drippings as the Barenaked Ladies croon:

Lovers in a Dangerous Time

“Why am I writing this book?” I ask myself. “Why am I putting myself and my family through this?” The Barenaked Ladies respond:

Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight

Gotta kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight

I ponder the words for several minutes. I’ve consumed enough scotch to believe the universe is trying to communicate with me.

“For years, I’ve been struggling to be heard,” I think to myself. “Writing is the only thing that makes me feel brave. My writing is the shiny side of my sticker. It’s the luminous interior sandwiched between a book shelf and a picture of a Care Bear.”

I think about my broken family; my mother who can’t forgive my nanny for years of abandonment; my biological father who can’t forgive my mother and nanny for kidnapping me. I’ll never be able to mend the broken bridges but I can explain why they fell. I’m the only one they all speak to. I’m the only one who knows the story from every perspective.

For a moment, I’m happy. The ceiling spins like a baby mobile. I’m drunk off scotch and optimism.

“I’m going to bring peace to everyone,” I think. “I’m going to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight!”

I pull myself into my computer chair and begin to type.

***

A few hours later, I wake up at my desk with a pounding headache. I squint at the computer screen and find a 500-word response.

“Oh boy,” I think, “This should be interesting.”

I read over the content, chastise myself for being an optimist then decide to leave the response untouched.

“This is nonfiction,” I think to myself. “Possession of realistic expectations is not the assignment. I’ve been asked to write what’s true.”

So here it is.

I want to receive letters from my mother, my nanny and my father. I want them to tell me my book provided them with clarity. I want them to forgive themselves and each other.

I want my book to set them free.