11:18 pm - 05.10.2009
(Happy Mothers Day, to all the mothers reading this.)
As a former foster child, Mothers Day has often been fraught with sadness and self-pity, a holiday that, in my case, "didn't apply".
I've frequently referred to myself as an "orphan", or joked about not being "born", but instead, "assembled from spare parts" - "Hoffmaster's Monster", if you will.
But all kidding aside, I actually did have a mother, a mother who - last I knew - is still very much alive.
Far as I know - and I'll believe this until and unless my case file says otherwise (And more on my "case file" in a bit) - I was "born of a woman", conceived in the usual manner - when sperm met egg - and not created in a laboratory by some mad scientist.
And even though my biological mother gave up mothering me when I was just shy of a year old, I wasn't dropped off in the woods and raised by wolves; on the contrary, through the years I've actually had a number of "mothers".
But to start at the beginning...
I don't know much about my biological mother, Elizabeth Nadine Roberts (For example, I'm not sure if "Roberts" was her maiden name, or her first married name. But moving on...).
I've never really been angry at her for giving me up - because for me to be "angry" at someone, I have to know them first(Though I do recall telling people, more than once, "She has until I become famous to contact me, if she wants - After that, I'm cutting her off!").
From what I know of her, my biological mother doesn't strike me as a bad person, just someone who caught some bad breaks early on (Like having an alcoholic father who abandoned the family - passing the "alcoholic" gene to his daugher - and a mother who couldn't deal with single motherhood, leaving her daughter in the care of her grandparents).
Sadly, "Mom" then went on to create her own "bad breaks", just for good measure.
For example, having children out-of-wedlock seems to have been a hobby of hers.
Then she basically "married her father"; another alcoholic loser who - you guessed it - abandoned his family, just as she had been abandoned by her father years before. Leaving her a single mother who ultimately couldn't deal...just like her mother before her. ("The Circle Of Life" gone tragically awry).
I've uncharitably referred to her as a "fuck-up" from time to time, but I think it's the rare person, given the circumstances she was given, at the time she was given them (West Virginia in the 50s), who would have done any better. She was basically "hobbled out of the gate", stumbling through the rest of her life...and I know a little something about what that's like.
I do appreciate that she tried for almost a year to keep me - It makes me believe she wanted to "do the right thing", wanted to do better by me than had been done by her...but she just couldn't manage it.
But she tried.
And she had me in the first place; I imagine that even in West Virginia in 1960, there were "other options" in dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. And while I'm not always sure about this, I think I prefer "existence" to "non-existence".
So thanks for having me, Elizabeth Nadine Roberts. Thanks for trying to give me a better life than you had.
Happy Mothers Day.
I've said it before - Lydia DeHaven is the #1 reason I'm the relatively sane, relatively good person I am, instead of being institutionalized, in jail, or dead.
Lydia DeHaven was my first foster mother, from the time I was about a year old, till I was around eight.
I've said it in here before, but it bears repeating: To give you some idea of the kind of person we're talking about here, Lydia DeHaven - who was in at least her mid- 50's when I first entered her life, regularly took in black foster children.
In West Virginia.
In the early 1960s.
It saddens me that I don't really remember her very well - I think that's the biggest loss of my life so far - but what I do remember is that, when I think of that time, I remember feeling cared for, and loved.
And that knowledge(That I was lovable and worth caring about... because she loved me and cared about me), has literally saved my life - Over and over again. And it made me want to be a better person.
Thank you for loving me, Mom.
Happy Mother's Day.
After Lydia DeHaven, I was in a couple different placements over the next few years (About all I remember of them are the names - "The Slacks", "The Millers", and "The Meyers"), before ending up with the Pupo family, my next - and final - "long-term placement".
I've invested a lot of mental/emotional energy over the years, dealing with the effect Omar Pupo, the patriarch of this dysfunctional clan, had on my psyche.
But we'll save him for Fathers Day...
Unlike Omar Pupo, I don't have many strong memories of Barbara Pupo, positive or negative.
I do remember being wounded by the way she'd always introduce me to strangers as her "foster son" ("Why doesn't she just call me her son?", I'd wonder), but I never said anything about it.
(Just like I was always "wounded" by the fact that they never adopted me - Never asked me. Never offered - but I never said anything about it.)
We clearly didn't "bond" as mother and son, but I don't have an answer to the chicken-or-the-egg question of "What came first?" - Did I not respond to her as a mother, or did she not respond to me as a child? - but the fact that we weren't "close" isn't to say I didn't "get" anything from her.
I remember she used to do something I found bizarre at the time - Behind closed doors, or sometimes just in another part of the house, I'd hear her tunelessly "playing" the guitar, and - just as tunelessly - "singing" what kind of sounded like country music (Her seemingly made-up/stream-of-consciousness lyrics were somehow tuneless as well, if that's possible).
I never really thought about it till just now, but as odd as it seemed (And even a little scary somehow), that was the first time I'd ever heard anyone I knew "express themselves" creatively - She couldn't play or sing, but clearly, there was something inside her that had to get out - and I can't help but wonder if that somehow "turned a switch" for me, in terms of expressing myself creatively.
Mrs Pupo liked country music (She was originally from North Carolina), and as a result, I still know the words to "Flowers On The Wall", "King Of The Road", and "El Paso" by heart.
Probably my nicest memory of Mrs Pupo is that, when I was in high school, and it was clear I had a serious interest in acting, she wrote the Welfare Department in West Virginia, asking if there was any extra money available so I could get special training.
West Virginia didn't spring for a full ride at MSU or anything like that, but as a result of Mrs Pupo's request, I did end up - while still in high school - attending a workshop on tv production at Michigan Tech, and a theater workshop at MSU, both on the state's nickel (And since that theater workshop is why I ended up in Lansing after high school, and it's where I stayed for the better part of 20 years, you could say Mrs Pupo's letter played a pretty pivotal role in my life).
No, we weren't "close", and I winced inside when she'd call me her "foster son".
But unlike Omar Pupo, whose "career advice" when I was a teenager consisted of "Acting won't put beans on the table" - only one of his crimes against me - Barbara Pupo saw what I wanted to do, apparently didn't think it was ridiculous or unreasonable, and took it seriously enough to try and help.
Thank you, Barbara. Thank you for your tuneless guitar playing and singing (Maybe my first real view into an adult's "inner life"). Thank you for The Statler Brothers and Ray Price and Marty Robbins (Especially for "El Paso").
And thank you for trying to help your "foster son" realize his dreams.
Happy Mothers Day.
While still in high school, I had a pretty severe falling-out with Omar Pupo, and "ran away from home".
(Again, he's not the subject today, but basically, I'd just had enough, after a decade of sexual, physical, and verbal abuse; I needed to leave before he hurt me any more...or before I killed him.)
I spent the night at a hotel, and the next day, went to my friend Raymond Zick's house, to use their phone and figure out what I was going to do next (I had nothing resembling a "plan", just some vague idea of going back to West Virginia...God knows why).
Margaret, Raymond's Mom, basically took the situation in hand, and instead of going back to West Virginia, or ending up back at the Pupos, I ended up staying with them my last year of high school.
Did I mention that Margaret had thirteen kids?
And a husband who'd been ailing for years (And who'd been rendered virtually comatose for many of those years from what turned out to be badly prescribed medications)?
To me, that would have entitled her to say "Sorry kid, I gave at the office...", instead of doing what she did, which was to open her home and her heart to me.
I stayed there for a year, and when I moved out on my own, we continued to correspond, and she always sent me a card on my birthday (For years, I spent most holidays with her family, before it felt increasingly awkward that Margaret was the only one there who really knew me. But even after I quit doing the family events, she continued to keep in touch with me).
(I've often wondered what my life would have been like if Fate had sent me to Margaret Zick first, instead of the Pupos...)
Thank you for that year, Margaret, when I got the chance to see what a normal, loving family was like. Thank you for saving me from some pretty unpleasant alternatives. Thank you for keeping in touch with me through the years. And thank you for all the birthdays cards and gift checks.
Happy Mothers Day, Margaret.
(I don't want to get too "into" this, but Margaret's currently having some serious health problems, so if the Christians reading this could pray for her, and the atheistic/agnostics among you send a positive thought or two her way, I would very much appreciate it.)
It's more difficult writing about my friend Jane in this context than anyone else, because she's been many things to me over the course of our long relationship - lover, friend, peer, and "Big Sister" for a start - and that relationship is ongoing.
But to deny that she's also been "Surrogate Mom" would be denying something we both know is true.
Jane is, in a word, family.
If, as Robert Frost says, "Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in", Jane is home.
Only she doesn't "have to" let me in - She would want to.
Jane is the only person in the world I can say this about - I know we're going to continue having a relationship till one or the other of us kicks the bucket.
Jane is the one person I'm sure would stand by me no matter what (I'm not 100% sure about her "standing by me" after a savage killing spree on my part, but I don't plan to test her on that, so it's a moot point).
And that's more than a lot of people get from their real mothers. It's more than I got, that's for sure.
And to be quite honest, I don't really "get it" - Over the years, she's given me so much more than I've ever given her - but I guess that just means I'm lucky she's her and I'm me.
Thank you, Jane. Thank you for so much that one journal entry wouldn't begin to cover it.
Happy Mothers Day.
Well, I hope you found all that kind of interesting.
I did, because it's a pretty radical change of perspective on my part, from "I have no mother" to "I've had five mothers".
On a somewhat related note, which I think is potentially fascinating, I've applied (To the Dept of Social Services, in Charleston WV), for a copy of my case file as a "ward of the state".
(This came about when I called asking for a letter stating I'd been in foster care in West Virginia, for a financial aid application; they asked if I also wanted a copy of my case file, and I said "Sure!")
I'm a little nervous about it - fearing I'll find out things I maybe didn't want to know (Though it's hard to imagine anything catching me completely off guard at this point) - but I'm mostly just excited.
It'll be interesting to get a perspective on myself that I've never had before, even if I don't find out anything strictly new.
And if I do? Well, that's good too - Nerves aside, I think it's better to know the truth, whatever it may be, than to be ignorant.
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