When I was young, I liked to read books like Oliver Twist and watch plays like Annie. I always thought that if I lived in misery, in an orphanage, in a workhouse, my life would be like one big adventure. I used to wish that and even pretend that I was living in an orphanage (which was hard to do since I was an only child). My mother, of course as a parent, scolded me and told me how lucky I was to have a good home. The only time she played along with it was one day when she pretended to be my mean master (in this I was her slave) who made me clean and yelled at me if I did something wrong. In the end, I was upset because after I was finished playing slave girl, I realized I had not only cleaned my room (which I had pretended was my master's daughter's room) but my parent's bedroom, the mess in the kitchen, and I had swept the patio, taking a whole load of work off of my mother's shoulders.
I always knew I was adopted the day after I was born, but I never quite connected that to Annie mainly because I had lived such a normal life. It wasn't until I was in sixth grade, still wishing for the life of all those orphans in books, that I began to wish my mother and father had adopted me when I was eleven. However, I couldn't change the past, so I changed it to:
Marin Gates was the daughter of the king and queen of…Lailand, a far off island that no one had heard of. The queen had happened to be in America when she had her daughter, and jealous of the royal princess who had just been born, an evil nurse had put the baby named Cynthia (a name I had always admired as a child) by her mother up for adoption. Mr. and Mrs. Gates had adopted Cynthia and named her Marin. Marin grew up like a normal American child. Little did anyone know that the king and queen of Lailand were still, after eleven long years, desperately searching for their lost child.
It was only recently that I had found my birth mother, Juliet Cooper. She was on the jury of my most recent case where a woman named Charlotte O'Keefe sued her best friend and OB for wrongful birth. Surprisingly, she had won even though she had admitted during the trial that the whole time she was lying and she did love her daughter Willow, who tragically died six moths later falling through ice.
Juliet Cooper said that I shouldn't have been born. Looking back at her juror records, I found her address and sought an explanation. It turned out she hadn't wanted me because I looked exactly like my father who had raped her when she was sixteen. His face was in me and whenever she looked at me, she went back to that day. I understood why she didn't want to see me for holidays, have lunch with me sometime, trade phone numbers and emails now that we had found each other. I would have felt the same way.
I had not had a case since Charlotte O'Keefe's case. I had been offered a few more wrongful birth cases by mothers who had heard of Charlotte's success, but had turned them down. I didn't think I could take another one of those.
It was near Christmas. You could say that I had been on a vacation for the last few months. I wasn't working since I didn't have a case, but to keep from my activities being called "not bothering to show up at work" I was confined to my office. Basically, I just sat at the computer. Every once and a while I would get a small job from someone who didn't have a case for me, but needed a lawyer for whatever they were doing. For the rest of the day, I would spin in my desk chair, surf the internet, shoot rubber bands towards the coffee machine in the next room, annoy my newly adopted son Anton by calling him after school to ask how his day was ("Good," he would always say).
That day, I happened to be setting a new record. I had never gotten so dizzy I thought I was possibly drunk from just spinning in my office chair. That moment, the firm's newest secretary Allison stuck her head in my office. I quickly pulled my chair up to my desk.
"There's a woman here who says she wants to see you."
"I don't have an appointment with anyone today." It was only a second after that I began to wonder if it was…no it couldn't be, could it? She had told me just my face brought her back to the day in her life she wanted to forget the most.
"I'll ask her to leave and schedu-"
"No, bring her in," I said.
I'll never forget the look on my birthmother's face as she walked into my office. It was part well-I-see-she's-doing-pretty-well-for-herself as she looked at my diplomas, which were hanging above the sofa, part God-tell-me-why-am-I-doing-this-again, but the thing I remember most is how she first thanked Allison, inspected my office carefully, eyed the giant rubber band ball in my hand, looked over my outfit, and at all costs, avoided my face.
I almost said, "Hello" but then I came to the question, Hello who? Hello, Juliet? Hello, Mrs./Miss/Ms. (I wasn't sure which one) Cooper? Hello…not Mother. Fortunately for me, she spoke first.
"Marin," I said. "Call me Marin."
There was a silence between us.
"You have a nice office," she said, obviously trying to fill empty spaces in our "conversation".
We were quiet again. What do you tell someone who is biologically your mother after she has abandoned you and stated clearly that she doesn't want to see you ever again because your face gives her the jitters?
She looked at the pictures on my desk, especially at the one of an African-American boy in his preteens.
"That's my son," I said. "Anton."
"Oh, I didn't know you were marrie-" she stopped herself and glanced back at my desk, probably looking for wedding photos.
"I'm not married," I said. She opened her mouth, and closed it.
"That's my adopted son," I explained.
"Oh, last time we...talked, you didn't mention that you were a mothe-" She paused. "Well, I guess we didn't really get a chance to…catch up."
"I only adopted him almost half a year ago. After the trial."
There was a long pause. Why had Juliet Cooper come to my office? And why after this long? It had been more than a year since she had told me my face was too much for her to handle and begged me to just leave her alone. When she first came into my office, in the back of my mind I wondered if I could sneak questions like, "What would you have named me?" and "Did you ever think of me after I was adopted?" into our conversation, but there wasn't a conversation.
"Sit down," I said, half because it was the polite thing to do, half because it might start a conversation. We both sat down on my fake-leather couch provided by the firm at the same time.
"So," she said. "I guess you have questions."
I nodded. It felt awkward to just start questioning her like it was an interview, but after thirty-six years, I was going to get answers.
"What would it have been," I asked, "if it wasn't Marin? What would you have named me?"
My mother, biological mother, sighed.
"To tell you the truth, I hadn't thought that far."
Both of us tried to pretend that she had told me she had originally planned to name me Sally or Samantha. Maybe Cara, Janine, Cynthia?
"After you aban- I mean after you gave me to my adoptive parents, did you ever think of me after?" I asked, not anxious to know what her answer was.
"Well, yes and no. I…" She sighed. "I never thought of you as my daughter. I thought of that day when I was…whenever I thought of that, I thought of you."
Since she told me the real reason she hadn't wanted me, I had thought about this, but now it was confirmed. In Juliet Cooper's life, I represented bad memories meant to be erased from her life.
"Does anyone else know?" I asked. "Did you tell anyone?"
"My parents knew, obviously, but that's really all. I almost told my husband, but…I couldn't." She took a breath. "Only my parents knew. You're grandparents."
Her parents, my grandparents. I smiled. I didn't know why or how she decided to do this, but I comprehended this as her way of saying, "We're family." When she told me she had daughters that day we met in the courthouse, her reaction to my, "I've got sisters." startled me and even now, still played in my head like a nightmare.
"They are not your sisters," she had snapped.
We talked about our families and lives mostly. I gave her a brief autobiography mostly telling her the names of the schools I had attended, my parents' names, and I showed her a picture from my desk of me when I was four years old. In it, I had my mother's Sunday dress (way too big for me) draped over my clothes and lipstick smeared all over my face. I don't remember much about anything before I was in fifth grade, but that is one thing I can recall clearly. I don't remember what made me do it, but I had put on my mother's dress and tried on her make-up. When she found me in her bathroom, which was by the way a complete mess thanks to me, she didn't get angry like most mothers would. Instead, she ran and got the camera. It is odd telling my birthmother a story from my childhood, one I wouldn't have experienced if I had lived with her. When I told her it, it also felt odd telling the woman who was biologically my mother what my mother had done.
I also told her about Anton, the boy I had only recently adopted.
"Right now," I said, "he's at a neighbor's house. They're moving and hired him to do things like pack their things, get the place ready for the people moving in, entertain their toddler while they work, things like that. It's not usually something Anton would like to do, but right now he'll do anything for money. He's saving up for an iPod touch."
When Anton had called me over to the computer and showed me all the features of the iPod touch, I had almost thought of buying one myself until I remembered I didn't listen to music.
"My daughter Elise has one," my mother told me. "She's got the first generation. Her father promised he would buy her one if she made progress walking in therapy. She's got cerebral palsy."
"Her father? You mean your husband?"
"Well, my first husband. I was married to him for only seven years. I have another daughter, Ashley, from my current husband."
I wondered what my life would have been like if she had kept me. I wonder if both her husbands would have married her if she had me.
"Why did you come here?" I asked her. "I mean, I was just wondering since you said you didn't-"
"I know what I said." And she admitted she was wrong? And she wanted to apologize or forget about it? "And I…I don't know why I'm here. I just wanted to…It's not your fault you look like…like him." She shifted uncomfortable, avoiding my eyes. "I don't regret my decision. But I would like to make up for it."
When I was young, when I got mad at my parents I, unlike my friends who were not adopted, would think, "If I was with my real parents this wouldn't be happening to me."
But the thing is, and it was only then that I realized this, that my parents, my adoptive parents, were my real parents. When I got a bad grade on a test, it was them who signed it. They were the ones who were called when my evil sixth grade math teacher discovered my secret stash of French fries rotting in the back of my desk. The woman who sat next to me had been my mother for only a few minutes.
"How were they? You're par…I mean, the Gates." She was unsure what to call the people who had adopted me for either my sake or hers, I wasn't sure. That question, though, I couldn't answer. My parents were my parents. I couldn't say that they were good parents, or that they were bad. They were just my parents.
"I don't know," I answered truthfully. "They were my parents. I mean, I know you're my mother biologically, but that's just new to me, I guess."
The new secretary, of course, picked that moment to stick her head into my office and tell me that my mother called to say she and Dad were coming for Christmas dinner whether I was ready or not. Oh, great. They were paying me back for last year. I hadn't talked to them in weeks, and completely forgot about them when I said yes to a date on Christmas day.
I heard the sound of a virtual rainforest and Juliet Cooper answered her phone.
"Oh!" she gasped, gathering together her things. "I'm so sorry, honey. I forgot. I'll be there in about a half an hour. Bye."
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"I completely forget to pick Ashley up from school. Sorry, I need to go."
I nodded saw her out the door, trying to hide my disappointment.
"Wait." She pulled out a post it and wrote something down with a pen. She handed it to me. It was a number. I glanced at it knowing that it would be ages before I could get the nerve to even pick up the phone.
"Call me," she said, right before she ran towards the elevator.
"Wait," I ran after her. "Do you want to come for Christmas dinner?"
The elevator door opened.
"My place. You can bring your family. Well, if you want to come."
My mother nodded and used her hand to keep the elevator from closing.
"Call me," she said again. She stepped into the elevator and the doors closed in front of her.