A couple of days ago I was walking in Dublin with one of my trip friends, J. When we passed the ATMs in front of a bank, we ran into two of the other girls in the SAI (study abroad Ireland) program. J is good friends with one of them so we stopped to talk a moment.
I don't know either of the other girls very well, so while they talked I did what I usually do when I feel awkward. I fidgeted. I used to twirl my hair or pick my cuticles but in the past year I've taken to playing with my necklace. P and M gave it to me at placement and it's one of my favorite things in the world. I wear it every day. I feel strange without it, really. My mom suggested I leave it at home lest anything happen to it but I couldn't imagine going overseas without it.
The girls talked; I fidgeted. As I fidgeted I drifted, looking at the statues in front of Trinity College, and when my attention finally came back to my immediate surroundings the conversation seemed to have hit a lull. Then the inevitable happened. One of the girls asked me about my necklace.
"That's so pretty!" she said. "We've been trying to figure out what it says."
I wondered how long they'd been staring while I woolgathered.
"Oh," I said, "thanks." I showed them the inscription, then flipped the necklace back over so Roo's initial showed and waited for the conversation to move forward.
"Is that for anyone special?" the girl asked.
Well. This was interesting. What was I supposed to say to that? I quickly considered my options. I could lie, of course, with some detailed story about a boyfriend, maybe an almost-fiancé. But could I lie convincingly with no time to prepare? No one has ever asked about my necklace before so I've never taken the time to prepare an alibi, if you will, for the times when I don't feel like telling complete strangers my life story.
I could say "yes" and move on and hope they left it at that - but what if they asked questions? They were bound to. Young women are a nosy lot, and these two (and J as well) looked curious. I could say "no" and have them thinking I am quite, quite odd, wearing an obviously significant piece of jewelry just because I think it's pretty.
I decided this was no time to be shy, though, and what little I know about one of the girls is what made the decision for me. This girl, C, is also LDS, but I wouldn't have guessed it if J hadn't told me. Not because of any malicious or inappropriate behavior on C's part, of course. I'd heard specifically that she didn't drink or make out with random men at pubs.
But she was going. C is a bit younger than I am and still seems to have that pull to belong to a little group. So she goes out to the pubs every night with her little group of friends, and aside from the beer she goes where they go and does what they do. I don't blame her. I probably would have done the same thing at her age. I know firsthand how hard it is when you're the only one outside a circle of friends, and it's awful. It sucks feeling like you don't belong. But then, C has other options. Neither J nor I go out drinking and we still have plenty of fun. C could hang out with us at any point. But she doesn't. It's important to her to spend time with this group of girls who seem determined to ruin their livers whilst abroad.
J told me that C said it was hard going out and not drinking. That she'd been tempted. Well, of course she was! She's human. It's human nature to go with the flow. I've avoided pubs specifically because I don't want that temptation in front of me (and also because I dislike being surrounded by drunk people). Not to mention that I've heard stories of bartenders giving woolly eyes to people who only order Coke at a bar - here in particular. A Coke is €2 most places. Not exactly a high-ticket item, and not how the pub is making its money.
With J as a common friend, C and I know a bit about each other, so I know that C knows that I'm LDS too. And I thought, she's struggling, and if she's not careful she's going to mess up. I've been there. I messed up.
I felt like C needed to hear the truth.
"Um, yeah," I said finally, after enough time had passed that it felt exceptionally awkward now. I looked up from my necklace, then back down at it. "I had a little girl about a year ago, and I placed her for adoption with this really awesome family. And they gave me this necklace when I placed her, to remember her by."
There was this awkward sort of silence for a second, followed by a murmur of "Oh, wow," and that sort of thing.
"That's neat," one of the girls said finally, and then changed the subject with a speed I'd not have guessed her capable of. (Please disregard the fact that I just ended a sentence with a preposition.)
I don't blame her. What on earth do you say to an announcement like that? When they stepped back from the ATM and commented on my necklace I bet the last thing they expected was to hear that I got into a little trouble a few years ago. It's awkward. It was awkward for me, too. Because once that's out there, I always wonder, what do they really think? What's the judgment? There's always a snap judgment. Whether people have a lot of experience with adoption or not there's always this idea they've got in their minds about what it is to be a birth mom. And I don't think any of these girls necessarily had a great mental picture of birth moms. I could see it in their faces - She looks so normal! She doesn't look like a homeless crackwhore. But she seems nice! We misjudged her - she's a weirdo.
Later that day, over pizza, J asked me about Roo. "I hope you don't mind me asking," she said.
"Of course not," I told her. I explained the school presentations I've done and said I didn't have a problem talking about it at all. She seemed relieved - she must have been curious. She asked why I placed Roo and I explained as best I could ... or that's what I thought as I spoke. But I don't think I did a great job. I was tired and hungry and words came out without a ton of thought. After I explained it I thought to myself, that sounded terrible. I didn't mention love once. I didn't mention what a hard choice it was. I sounded cold and callous and flip as my own words replayed in my head.
But J had already accepted my tale. "Oh, that's neat," she said. "It's great you found a family you like and that they let you see her."
And I thought what I always think when someone says it's nice that P and M let me see Roo, which is, Yeah, and it's nice that I gave them a baby.
But I didn't say that. I just mentioned that yes, it was nice, and that I'd gotten a video recently, and that Roo was darling and sweet and clever and pretty much perfect. I wanted to show J a picture but I don't have one on my Irish cell. It was sort of odd to realize that I didn't have a picture on me. I think I've pretty much always had one on me since placement.
J moved on to another topic, much to my relief. I don't think I've ever felt so awkward discussing adoption before. None of what I said came out how I meant it.
What is wrong with me? I wonder. How on earth could I have told even a truncated version of the Roo story without mentioning how much I love her, how hard it was to let her go, how she's my favorite person in the world? I told the story with as much emotion as I'd use to discuss the vintage designer heels I listed on eBay.
It must be all the secondhand smoke I'm breathing in here. It has to be. How else could I have messed up my explanation so badly? How else could I have done such injustice to my little Roo and the love I have for her? I sounded cold - Roo needed a daddy, I said, and my ex wasn't going to cut it. And I left it at that. The same way that my mum has said my Chevy needs an owner who can keep up with the maintenance, so we should sell it. Just like that.
I am so angry with myself! Angry, and frustrated. I wish I could turn the clock back a few days and do justice to Roo's story. I wish I could go back to the conversation with a picture and say, Look. This is my little girl, my Roo. Isn't she the most beautiful, the most precious little thing you've ever seen? Isn't she perfect? I love her. I love her more than I ever thought I could ever love anyone. I love her so much that placement nearly killed me. I love her so much that I broke my own heart to make her happy. She is happy. Look how happy she is! Look at how wonderful her life is! I placed her because I love her. Oh, how I love her! This trip is the first time I've done anything since before she was born. I placed her 9 months ago and I'm only just starting to figure out who I am without her. I love her, and placing her with her parents is pretty much the bravest and best thing I've ever done. I miss her every day and I think I probably always will.
If only I could. Next time I'll do better. Next time I'll be prepared. Next time I won't let my awkwardness extend to my tongue.
Next time, the first thing I will say is that I wear this necklace because almost a year ago, I fell in love with the most beautiful baby girl ever born, and I'll go from there.