Many years ago, in a high school biology class, I was assigned a task that confounded me. Genotype. Phenotype. I could handle the terms. It was a simple question that distressed me: Why did I have brown eyes?
My twin sister and I were adopted when we were thirteen days old. In 1970, in Illinois, closed adoption was the norm, and our records remain sealed.
I waited nearly twenty years for an answer for that worksheet. It arrived on a hot July morning in 2002, and it arrived with blue eyes. My son’s face tells me that somewhere in my past is another pair of blue eyes.
Other mysteries I will never know: not just eyes but entire faces of people responsible for my existence. I will never know their names or where they live or what their passions are. I will never look into the blue, or brown, eyes of the woman that pushed me into this world and never pulled me back.
At times in my life, I have allowed myself to dive into the well that is my past. I have swum around in the darkness, wondering myself into a frenzy, until the questions pile up, threatening to drown me. In the mid-nineties, I sat before an application to the Illinois Adoption Registry—a shot-in-the-dark for a precious $40 from my meager grad assistant salary. The application lay on my desk for weeks, then months, until I threw it out.
I had arrived at a belief in unfilled blanks, in giving myself over to what I will never know.
As a scholar, it’s not easy for me to say that. I am a seeker of answers. When I do research in my field of rhetoric and composition, even when I write, my goal is to figure something out. The journey energizes me in part because I trust in an ending that I will know and understand.
For adopted children, answers are not impossible. They do exist. Somebody out there has them, embodies them. When you give yourself over to the unknown, you tell yourself that while those answers exist, you will never know what they are. Then you give yourself permission not to stop wondering, but to stop searching, and to live the life you do know.
Two years ago, on a book tour with my twin sister, we gave a reading at a bookstore in a Chicago neighborhood near DePaul University. I have few details about the days before my adoptive mother and father took me into their arms and blessed me with a wonderful life. I do know, however, that the woman who gave birth to my sister and me graduated from DePaul. My mind raced with questions. Did she still live in the neighborhood? Was she in the audience now? I scanned the faces, looking for something familiar. Brown eyes? Blue eyes?
I took a deep breath and let go. I didn’t know. I will never know.
And I can live with that.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.