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8:51 pm - Weds 2/04/04
Carrying The Scars

Carrying The Scars

For weeks now, a bookmark promoting the movie Cold Mountain has been on my desk. I've been saving it because of this excerpt from the book:

What you have lost will not be returned to you. It will always be lost. You're left with only your scars to mark the void. All you can choose to do is go on or not. But if you go on, it's knowing you carry your scars with you.

Doesn't strike me as a revelation, but instead, a pithy distillation of knowledge it took me years to gain.

I was a foster child.

And in some dark part of my psyche--that doesn't know I'm, in reality, a 42 year old man--I'm still a foster child.

I was given up for adoption when I was just shy of a year old by my alcoholic loser of a mother, Elizabeth Nadine Roberts (I'm not really as angry as that sounds. Just "callin' 'em like I sees 'em").

But for whatever reason, I was never actually adopted. I spent my childhood in the foster care system, "aging out"--at the time, I didn't know there was a specific term for "spending a childhood in foster care without ever being adopted"--when I became a legal adult.

I'm not going to get into every little emotional nook-and-cranny of my life in foster care, then my life as a "former foster child"--that's beyond the scope of any one journal entry, no matter how long-winded--but I do want to "hit some of the high points".

I perceive myself as having spent a great deal of time and energy playing down the whole "foster child" thing. I remember saying things like "Everybody has things they have to deal with", and "It could have been worse--At least I had Mrs DeHaven during those 'formative years'"

(Mrs D. was my foster mother from about the time I was a year old till I was seven or eight. I was taken from her--or given up by her. I've gotten conflicting reports on the matter--under the false pretenses of "going on vacation". Which is, hands-down, still the worst crime anyone's ever commited against me).

I never got to mourn the loss of my biological mother, and probably didn't know I needed to until fairly recently. She was too distant, too amorphous a concept for me, more an idea than a person (And not even a very well thought-out idea).

I perceive the loss of Mrs DeHaven as being far more devestating. At least that's the one I actually remember.

What makes me sad when I think about Mrs DeHaven now is 1) That I call her "Mrs DeHaven" (She was the only "Mom" I've ever had), and 2) She's become "more an idea than a person" to me as well. I don't know when the feelings I had for Mrs DeHaven died--Love, anger, sadness, etc--but I don't feel anything when I think about her. Anything I say about Mrs DeHaven now is basically dry, intellectual dust (She died at some point when I was in my twenties). I may say that I owe her a huge debt of gratitude, that she was "the only mother I ever had", but I don't really remember her, or how I felt about her, at all. She might as well be someone I once sat next to on the bus.

And I think that's very, very sad.

I don't think I was "angry" at my mother, or at the foster care "system" when I was younger, because the idea of "my mother" or "the foster care system" were, once again, concepts too amorphous to really get mad at. Not to say that I wasn't mad--I'm sure I was--but rather, that there wasn't any good target for that anger. No "human face" to rail against.

Except my own.

I think that's why I turned that anger inward. It wasn't that something bad had happened to me, but that I was bad (And I don't think I really got as far as to think "They sent me away because I was bad". I just went through my childhood thinking I was "wrong", I was "ugly", that I was just..."bad" somehow).

I perceive a couple things as "milestones" concerning how I related to my experience of being, or having been "a foster kid".

For a long time I thought I was somehow going to "get over" it, whatever "getting over it" would entail. And I think part of the huge, overwhelming anger I felt at myself was over not "getting over it".

I'm not sure exactly when it happened, or what the precipitating event was, but at some point I realized that no matter how old I got, I was never going to "get past" not having a mother (Or a father. Or grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc and so on).

For a time, I started talking about how "My parents are never going to get old. They're never going to die". It was an odd thing to consider; it's not as if I longed for those painful life experiences, but on the other hand, they are "passages" through adulthood, and I wondered how I was going to "grow up" without them (I also thought about that in terms of being an actor--How was I going to be a great actor without many of the life experiences almost everyone goes through? Truth to tell, that's an ongoing concern of mine).

(I think it's interesting that I never gave much thought to things like "My parents are never going to see me get married", or "My parents will never see me become a famous actor", or anything like that. Just that, as an adult, I was never going to experience them getting old, sick, and eventually dying.)

I realized that I was always, in effect, going to be an "orphan" (An "Orphan Of The Living", to quote a title on my bookshelf). As time went by, that would mean different things to me, but it was something that was never going to go away.

Another "milestone" was contacting my biological mother (I don't remember exactly how old I was at the time, but it's been years now).

There was basically a very brief phone call, and one exchange of letters; In her letter, she closed by saying she had nothing to offer me, and didn't want to have any future contact (She had remarried, and never told her husband about me).

A couple things came from this brief contact (And the information from an old social worker that had preceded it)...

I learned that "Hoffmaster" was just my legal name. My mother had conceived me when she was married to a Gregg Hoffmaster, but Mr H. was not my biological father--He was doing time in the slammer when Mom was "doing time" with another man.

I'd always assumed my last name meant something, so to discover it has no meaning at all was deeply disappointing. I felt more "adrift" than ever (I briefly considered changing my last name to "DeHaven", but decided "James DeHaven" sounded too much like a soap-opera character. Besides, "Hoffmaster" might not have meant anything in terms of my lineage, but it was still my name).

I also found out my biological father had died, as my mother put it, "many years ago".

Growing up, for whatever reason, I had never given much thought to a "father"--Even without a mother, I was, in my heart, apparently a "Mama's Boy"--but to discover a father had come and gone, without my knowing him and probably without ever having known me...well, the pain of that actually caught me by surprise. A window had quickly opened, allowing me a brief glimpse of a life that might have been, of a connection I didn't know I'd been missing, then had instantly slammed shut again.

And my mother rejected me.


I had told myself that this person was not my "mother", that my "real mother" had been Mrs DeHaven. I'd told myself that meeting her wouldn't change anything, that, in effect, "What I had lost would not be returned to me".

But it was very painful when she didn't even want to see me. Whatever I meant to myself, all I was to her, even all these years later, was a terrible mistake. I was a bad thing from her past that she wanted to keep in the past.

(To this day, I wonder, "How can you not want to see me? You're not even curious about how I turned out?")

When I learned my mother's history--A life soaked in alcohol and bad choices--it obliterated any fantasy I might have harbored, in my secret heart of hearts, about how things "might have been different" had she not given me up for adoption.

My mother drank (And apparently wasn't able to stop herself until sometime into middle age).

My mother fucked around (Two of her three children were out-of-wedlock. And for the youngsters reading this, that used to be a much bigger deal than it is now).

My mother married a guy who ended up in prison.

My mother neglected, and likely abused me (I was a "failure to thrive" baby, and I guess, as a result, I didn't learn to walk or talk until I was two or three years old).

Mom doesn't seem like she was capable of caring for a pet hamster, let alone three children (I was the youngest of three boys), so it's hard to imagine life with her would have been peaches and cream.

So in terms of a childhood, it just seems like I was, as the old blues song goes, "Born under a bad sign".

You know, this has gone on for awhile, and I've stopped and started (It's actually 4:00 a.m. Thursday morning as I write this), and I think I'm going to continue this train of thought--Or maybe more accurately, this train wreck of thought--in the morning.


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