I am a plant growing in the ground, rising up alongside all the others, perpetually shaped by the sun and the storm. But if you look closely at the spot where my stem sinks into the dirt, you will see it is twisted and warped. As I passed from my birth mother’s arms into the hands of my foster family, and then once more to my adoptive family, my roots strained and snapped. I left behind a complex web of humans and memories, traditions and relationships, buried deep in the soil. And though I have searched for the place from which I was plucked, and desperately dug in the dirt, I can’t seem to get a grasp on the roots I left behind. I’ve grown new roots since then, of course – it’s impossible to exist without something tethering you to the earth. But mine can never run as deep as those built by my ancestors, my blood.
Without roots, the world can seem daunting. I want to make it love me. They say adoptees go one of two ways. Either unable to trust anyone, or perpetually seeking connection to a fault. Over the years, I have thrown myself into serious relationships and best friendships, seeking stability and comfort. And yet I can never seem to quell my fear that I will ruin it all. On some deep level, I am always convinced that one day, the people I love will decide they have had enough of me and run away. My parents, my fiancé, my best friends – their words of reassurance cannot convince me otherwise. In my anxious mind, it makes perfect sense. I mean, really, what’s stopping them? There are no rules in this world and people can choose to leave. The minute I was uprooted, this thought took hold in the core of my being. If I could enter this world completely innocent and still be rejected, then why would anyone who knows all the worst parts of my personality even bother to stick around? I know that I have hurt the people I love at some point or another. They have told me all is forgiven. I want to believe them, but I can’t. Not completely.
Without roots, the world can seem wide open. As I grow into my existence, I feel less and less loyal to prescribed groups. I do not owe anyone my love or allegiance simply because they are “family.” If someone disrespects me or my loved ones, I am not obligated to defend that person, even if they call themselves family. As much as I feel a deep sense of loneliness for my lost blood relatives, I also feel a great lightness for my freedom to choose family. My adoptive parents may have been part of my uprooting, but they have shown me profound affection and care. Through our actions more than our labels, we have chosen to be family. As for my friends and other loved ones, I know too that I have chosen them for their kindness and authenticity. I believe that we all have the capacity to choose who we love, and we do not owe mean or narrow-minded people our devotion. It’s a resource too precious to waste. But tradition and culture and societal expectations – and roots, too – demand that we love those who share our blood “in spite of everything.” Even when it means protecting abusers and silencing survivors. Even when it means ignoring conflicts and painting over them false images of perfection. Without roots, though, I can see past it all. I’m nervous, sure, and sometimes uncertain whether I deserve to keep growing toward the sun. But it looks like a beautiful world out there.