By: Meika Rouda
I’ve been struggling to get through Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids. Everyone I know loves it and recommended it to me and I did enjoy the beginning –the irrepressible charm of gritty New York City, the allure of the Chelsea Hotel and Max’s Kansas City, a view of this incredibly artistic time through the romantic eyes of Patti and Robert. But I have yet to really embrace it and stay up all night to finish it. I know it won the National Book Award and is considered genius but it just hasn’t pulled me in. I am almost half-way through the book and Robert Mapplethorpe hasn’t even picked up a camera yet. I keep waiting for something to happen, probably much like how Patti felt waiting to become famous.
I wonder if something in the beginning of the book turned me off and stopped me from really engaging with it. It turns out at age 19 Patti got pregnant and gave the baby up for adoption. She speaks about this experience, her decision and how traumatic it was for her even though she knew she was doing the right thing, and how she felt about her body afterwards, the invisible scars that remain.
The adoption changed Patti and helped her decide to go to New York and pursue art. But there was no resolve about the adoption. Maybe it will come up again later, maybe it won’t, maybe it doesn’t matter. I kept wondering if this child was going to reappear. If Patti was ever reunited with the child or ever found out what happened to her. But the book wasn’t about the adoption; it was about Patti and Robert discovering themselves and their art in a city that nurtured youth, talent, and ambition. I know Patti went on to not only become famous but to marry and have children later in her life, when she was ready.
I have a new neighbor. She moved in a few weeks ago with her family from Boston. She is several years older than I am, a writer and art lover who also loves to cook. We have a lot in common and on our first meeting, we stood on the street in front of our houses and talked for an hour. When she met my daughter and made a joke about how light her coloring is compared to mine, I told her she was adopted. We ended up talking about the adoption, the fact that I too am adopted, that I have never been reunited with my birthmother and don’t plan to ever meet her.
“You should contact her!” she says to me, as if it is as simple as meeting your new neighbor. “I don’t know what to say; I really don’t need any more family in my life and I certainly don’t need another mother,” I say, concretely. “Well tell her that,” she says. “Maybe,” I answer, unconvinced.
I still feel that there will be complications if I reach out to my birthmom. I know I have half siblings. I’m frankly not interested in more siblings. I can’t quite figure out the point of reaching out to meet her except to thank her and assure she did the right thing. Maybe that is why I should contact her? And so it just hangs out there, a possibility that lingers. And maybe my new neighbor feels about me the way I feel about Patti Smith’s adoption. To me it doesn’t feel resolved but it probably is to her, just like meeting my birthmom isn’t very interesting to me even though it is to my new neighbor.