Winners and Losers

“Life isn’t divided into genres. It’s a horrifying, romantic, tragic, comical, science-fiction cowboy detective novel.” –Alan Moore

I realize—slowly, having had the realization brewing since Thanksgiving—that what I really want is to be able to carve my experiences into slices with discreet flavors; this slice is adoptiony and bittersweet, this slice is Joeyriffic and packed to bursting with my joy and gratitude, this slice is about that creepy guy on the bus who tried to pick me up right when I was eight months pregnant and has an uneasy sort of flavor. In fact, of course, it’s nothing so distinct, and my desire to separate my experiences by feeling or theme sometimes sells reality short.

When I was in the hospital, it was a nonstop Joey event—until I was discharged. The woman who pushed my wheelchair asked me whether this was my first child, and since the fact that this wasn’t my first was in my medical charts and known to all the nurses, I decided to go ahead and err on the side of honesty. This led to a conversation that was tense for me and, I’m sure, completely unfraught and normal for the woman talking to me.

Friendly wheelchair lady: How old is your first?

He’s just about two years old.

FWL: What did you name him?

Aha! A lucky break! I gave her his birthname.

FWL: That’s nice. Where is your older son now?

He’s with friends. Technically correct, right?

FWL: Is he excited about having a little brother?

Of course, at this point I didn’t know whether Cricket even knew that I was pregnant. I’m not sure that he really gets it.

I think I managed to avoid actually lying without having to out myself to a well-meaning stranger, but playing these little games—especially on this day of all days, taking my son home for the first time—is something that I just hate. I prefer it, I suppose, to full-disclosure honesty; that’s why I didn’t explain. But I was distressed to have adoption come up when I had just had my baby, my forever baby, my never-a-replacement-but-doubly-a-miracle baby. Here’s a secret: I hate thinking about Cricket when I think about Joey. I want them to be on separate planets: both loved by me, but totally unconnected in my mind. This is of course not only impossible (Mr. Book and I have both called Joey by Cricket’s name, Mr. Book as recently as yesterday) but not objectively desirable; the boys are brothers, and how can they have a relationship if seeing them together makes me fall apart? I figured out last night that even when I think about the possibly maybe visit on January 8, I think about that as being filed under “Cricket” and not Joey; when I think or talk about the visit, I haven’t ever used both boys’ names in the same sentences, preferring “Cricket to meet his brother” or “the boys to meet each other.”

I have an aunt who is a very sweet person with some boundary issues; a recent example of this occurred at the memorial service for my grandmother, when she photoshopped a picture of Joey into a picture of Gramma (without, of course, asking whether I was cool with the idea ahead of time) and put it into a slideshow of her life. Our first interaction with her was somewhat similar. She created a fake family reunion picture by taking pictures of everyone (she hadn’t met us, I would like to be clear) from Facebook and then ‘shoppping them all together into a family portrait. My immediate family was mildly horrified: “We don’t even know this woman, and yet here I am with my arm around her! . . . That is her, right? She’s the short one?” That’s sort of how I feel about Joey’s family and Cricket’s family right now. I do at least mostly want to be able to see pictures of the boys together, but imagining any of the three of them—Ruth, Nora, or even Cricket—touching Joey freaks me out. I’d like to think that there’s some important difference between my attitude and my mother’s (she keeps announcing to anyone who gets within range that Joey is her first grandchild), but I may be kidding myself.

In the meantime, Ruth sent me an email a couple of weeks ago that makes it sound as though she is doing exactly the opposite for Cricket—they are looking at pictures of Joey and talking about how in this video Joey is nursing—you nursed like that for your first day, Cricket, and then your mama nursed you with a bottle. Joey grew in Mama Susie’s tummy, and so did you. And so on. Of course, both Ruth and I see an important difference that comes right about in the middle of Cricket’s second day of life—but it has affected us so differently that it’s like we’re writing accounts of a war from different sides.