“She’s not my real daughter,” the woman said. “She’s adopted.”
“Oh,” I said. “Well, sure.” I didn’t know what to say. Her adopted daughter had gone into the clinic and the woman had come over to chat. That’s what I thought. I thought that since she’d driven this adopted child of hers to the clinic and that since she has so far been polite (“Nice to meet you.” “How are you?”), that she understood why B. and I were there in our well-worn escort jerseys.
“Adopted,” the woman said again. “Not my flesh and blood. I thought you should know that.”
What was it like, I wondered, to have the woman who adopted you, insist on telling strangers, making it clear that you are not really hers. “They do adoptions here too,” I said, wanting to find something to connect with.
“This.” She waved at the clinic doors. “This is what she wants to do.”
B. and I exchanged looks, but she was talking to me, not to him. “Well,” I said, “at least she has a safe place to go.”
“I’m Christian,” she began. She went on from there about why she was right and I was bad. I nodded and nodded and nodded, and all I could think about was the girl who was adopted who was not choosing adoption. The girl must have known her so-called mother was out there telling me and B. (the 86-year-old retired librarian) her numerous sins and reminding everyone she wasn’t really hers and that the baby wouldn’t’ve been her real grandchild anyway. I dug my fingernail into the edge of my styrofoam coffee cup. I wanted to say, “Go inside and give your daughter a hug. You chose her. Go help her. Things could be different.” Of course, I also wanted to say, “Please, shut up.”
But I didn’t. I nodded.
The woman ranted. Hectored. Lectured. Finally, she sat down on the low wall along the walkway and was quiet. She never went in. And when her adopted daughter came out, they said nothing to each other. They went to the car. B. looked at me. “I wouldn’t want to be in that car,” he said.
Sending a story into the world isn’t on par with sending a person. You will not hear me compare writing a story to having a child. Writing has never ended with blood, vomit, stitches, and the inability to stand up without pain for months. Writing I want to do again and again.
But I write something, I send it into the world, and the story is mine. I’m responsible for it. I can’t blame my high school English teacher or my parents or even my lack of sleep. (I’ll blame typos on the sleep.) You can’t accept the credit for successful stories if you can’t accept the blame for failed ones.
But each story is mine and I love all my stories. Call me crazy, but I can’t give up on any one of them. I won’t go so far as to say they’re like my children. Or like adopted children. But they’re mine and I’m glad I wrote them no matter how awful they are.
How do you feel about your stories? Do you love them? Hate them? Feel bored by them? Do you give up on any of them or stick with them even when they disappoint?
6 thoughts on “She’s no child of mine.”
I have a little different experience, because I’m writing history rather than fiction, but I end up with this huge affection for stories that I’ve figured out from all these disparate sources. It’s hard for me to chop them out when the larger project demands it. I imagine fiction writing must be so much harder when it comes to knowing what should stay and what should go.
When I wrote my Master’s thesis, I had a hard time cutting the interesting stories about the authors I researched. Practice has made the chopping process easier…most of the time.
You will not hear me compare writing a story to having a child.
Right: the bleeding and vomiting and screaming doesn’t start the your work goes out into the world. 🙂
I don’t have any kids at all. When I hear a mother or father of several children say, “I have no favorites. I don’t love one any more than another,” it almost never sounds honest — sounds more like something you say in order to avoid hurting the ones who, y’know, aren’t quite at the top of the pyramid. I understand the kindness but don’t believe the assertion.
But then I think about my stories and I sort of get it. Not a single one feels like it was a waste of energy; each one was exactly what I needed — and at the time I wrote it, I was exactly what it needed.* Not parasite + host. Symbiosis. And when I’m with other writers I can’t help pulling the wallet photos out, bragging about them, sharing what are to me (and arguably to the listeners) amusing or heartening or scary meta-stories about their lives.
Can’t say, though, that I keep trying to make them succeed equally in the outside world. For instance, there are one or two which I may forever hold back from posting at my blog because they seem to be the most publishable, and — so the thinking goes — to blog them may be to blow off the possibility of their seeing print.
I think the only “real” writing of mine I’ve actually given up on is the very earliest stuff — stuff I’ve lost probably because it was handwritten, or squirreled away by some teacher. But I can still remember the outlines and general shapes of (most of?) the missing pieces, and some of the conditions under which I wrote them.
To flog the metaphor a moment longer: while I love them all, I think, I hope I’ve become a better parent with practice. Later stories — knock on wood — seem to be stronger, and more likely to be happy and just to survive Out There than earlier ones.
* A much, much harder question: Was each story what its (potential) readers needed? Yeah: *crickets*.
I don’t think I can ever answer the question about what readers need. Perhaps if a story is out there, the reader who needs it will find it. If we’re lucky.
And since I have only one child, he gets to be my favorite. Whew.
Unfortunately, Christianity doesn’t prevent people from being flawed humans any more than atheism does. I feel bad for that woman, and sorry for her daughter. My own mother was pretty much the same, and I wasn’t even adopted, although it is my fondest wish that I find out I was.
I think I feel even a bit more proprietary of Darc’s stories than Darc does. He likes to say he wrote Ghost Hunters for me because I kept begging him for more chapters, so now it feels like it’s “mine,” almost as much as it is his. I see the editing process as a grooming of sorts, the way a mother would comb her daughter’s hair and put barrettes in it, or something like that. Make sure the clothes are clean and fit well.
Stories aren’t children, no, but they do feel like … pets maybe. 🙂
I don’t know any religion or lack thereof that prevent a person from being a jerk–though it sure would be nice if it worked that way. No. But it is frustrating when people use a label on themselves to try and make their obnoxious point-of-view more acceptable, whatever that label may be.
Stories do have their child-like qualities, and I’m possessive of them, but I can’t quite call them my children. Pets is good.