Not the Real Thing: Adoption and belonging

 

first published www.mamamia.com.au 12 May 2012

When I was a little girl and people would say that I looked like my father, I was filled with an incredible sense of happiness. Alongside this, and just as powerful for me, was the belief that I was actually a princess, and one day my ‘real’ parents would ride up on white horses and take me away to my rightful home, in a castle of course. Torn between wanting deeply to belong, and knowing that I didn’t quite belong, was a feature of my childhood. I’m adopted.  It’s not an uncommon story, especially when I was born, in the 1960s, but it’s commonality does not change how powerful this ‘story’ has shaped all the stories of my life. Just as the child is at the core of all of us, at the core of me is the unwanted child.

Weird and intense

I’ve heard it said that to be creative you needed to have suffered in your childhood and I certainly did my share of that.  Being adopted meant I had a deep sense of insecurity – after all, if the woman who gave birth to you doesn’t want you, then what are the odds that anyone else is actually going to stick around? This made me one tricky customer.  Typically adopted children either conform in order to earn the love they fear will be taken away from them, or they act out, rejecting love before it rejects them. Me, I was the cling-on when I was younger, then as a teenager and later, the acting out type.  All in all, I was not the popular girl that I secretly longed to be. Weird and intense, I covered my myriad heart’s disappointments with sarcasm and a cutting wit.

 Punk was perfect 

With perfect timing I was a teenager when punk hit Christchurch, so dressed in my father’s huge Navy coat, boots and torn pantyhose, with hair sticking up straight and dyed some strange colour I was able to physically declare my outsider status. It was a perfect fit! Meanwhile, inside, I longed for love, but was so afraid of its loss that when I had it, I picked away at it, criticizing, being difficult, consumed with jealousy, until loved ones were driven away. Fulfilling my own prophesy of being unlovable of course.

 Meeting the parents

I did meet my birth parents. My mother and I had a strange relationship lasting three or four years where she talked constantly about how amazing her daughter was (not me of course) and seemed not to be able to find time to see me even when I had flown from Melbourne. For her, it all seemed too hard. For me, I was angry that she seemed to have sailed through life without the pain that adoption had caused me. When I look back on it now, I think she was terrified that at any moment I would rip the scab off a wound so old and unexplored it would overwhelm her. The affair petered out, my expectations unfulfilled. The relationship with my father on the other hand has been a wonderful part of my life. He lives in Auckland and we are close. He is very much like me; filthy sense of humour, an avid reader and music fan, someone who has lived life on his own terms.

 From darkness into light 

I’ve had a ridiculous love-life, until now. Straight from the pages of Mills and Boon.  It took a final disaster – two years of unsuccessful IVF with a selfish pig of a man to make me finally start to love myself, and cut myself some slack. It’s from this place that my latest film has grown.

My film writing has always been dark. I’m fascinated by characters who go through hell, and I love complex women characters who manifest the both the male and female sides of themselves. The women and girls I write don’t belong, and struggle with this. But my new character Evangeline is probably the character closest to my heart.

 I am Evangeline

Evangeline is a clone. Like me, her birth was an unnatural affair, but rather than being born into the world on a medical trolley in a Salvation Army Home for Unwed Mothers, she is born in a cold sterile factory in China. Evangeline is made for a rich man who was in love with a young and feisty woman called Diana. But Diana left him, and in the world of my film, this man uses Diana’s DNA to make himself a perfect copy, who he calls Evangeline.

Like me, Evangeline looks ‘normal’.  But she feels anything but. She knows she is a poor, second-class copy, not the ‘real thing’.  And that’s just what I felt like for so many years. At those family events so many of you take for granted, when someone says oh don’t you look like your mother, or don’t you have your father’s nose. At those, and a thousand other such moments, I knew I was not the real thing either.

 No longer on the search

I’m no longer on a search to make myself ‘real.’ Suffering through infertility did that for me. But infertility is not the story I’m telling with my film I am Evangeline. I felt by writing the film in the genre of science-fiction I could talk more coherently about what it means to belong, and in a way that includes others in our community who might feel that they don’t belong, like immigrants, and disabled people.

So in my science-fiction world, Evangeline is on a mythic search for a cure to the fatal flaw that all clones have – a sleeping disease, a ‘timing’ issue in her brain which means she falls asleep for short sleeps frequently, and she will be dead within four years. At the start of the film Evangeline learns that if she can find her original, Diana, and take some cells from Diana’s brain, she will be cured. She will become ‘real’, like everyone else. Frightened, but determined, she sets out on this difficult journey. Back to the woman who in a sense is her true mother. But that’s not going to go well, as it seems between relinquished children and birth mothers, it almost never does. The past cannot be undone.

But the bizarre, and amazing thing is, that when you finally find ‘yourself’, and I mean that in its true sense, not in the trite way we usually use it – you don’t want to become like ‘everyone else’. You realize the thing you have to be is you, no matter if you are a strange and weird species of one. And that’s Evangeline’s journey. As it was mine.