Chapter One: The Star of Siam

The Star of Siam.

It all started the way that good things start – with love.  Yes, I adored my husband.  Sweet, loyal, funny, caring.  Every New Year’s Day, we sought out a body of water – the Pacific Ocean, or the roller-coaster pond at Knott’s Berry Farm.  Then we turned around three times, and made our three vows for the coming year.  Fidelity was always on the list.  But there would have to be other vows, and they varied from year to year.  Bridge kissing was a big favorite, especially when walking on a bridge over water.  Shower hugging was self-explanatory.  We were happy to be selfish pigs, wallowing in our friendships, our coffee, our homemade pizza, our jobs, our very own mortgage that gave us our very own backyard.  Our very own backhouse for his very own game room.  We’d been together for 14 years, married for 11 of them.

But I had to go and want something more.  I wanted a child.   Specifically, a girl.  One thing I had learned in all my years was how rough life in the female side could be.   So I wanted a girl.  I wanted to do something important, to love someone else, to give my life to a great cause, a great purpose, create a happy childhood, like the one I never had.   And Steve (not his name but a name I’m fairly neutral about) had to go and lie – and say he wanted a child, too.  But that part comes later.

So, considering my age (one where wisdom should have kicked in) and the fact that the hospital and all the needles and the depression therapy I had to deal with after my miscarriage were NOT my idea of how to live, we (I thought) decided to adopt.  Not that we had so much extra money that we’d go through an attorney.  Having adopted puppies and kittens, and even the rather mundane dogs and cats that those cute and furry little creatures grow up to be, we (I) decided to go through the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.  To this day, I praise their name.  I thank God that I was able to adopt my first daughter with my former husband, (or didn’t you know by now that he was my former husband?).   And then because my first daughter’s half-sister became legally available, I adopted my second daughter with their help.  But by that time I was a single parent with a new and fully justified phobia about having anyone else claiming custody rights.

So Steve and I went to their weeks and weeks of How To Adopt in Los Angeles County classes.  And we submitted to weeks and weeks of interviews.  And finally we sat through the initial office meeting that would introduce us to the little three year old girl who was to become our child.   The Department knows far better than to show prospective parents the child’s photo first.  Because no matter what you might hear about the child’s birth parents, or the child’s psychological issues, or their physical problems, or their learning difficulties, you fall in love at first sight.  So finally the social worker let us  look at the picture.  It was a little dark haired girl with big eyes, wearing a cheap red print dress, looking straight at the camera as if to say, “Yes, you are my parents.  Please take me home now.”

So when it comes to using names,  I’m not going to use my daughter’s real name, or my former husband’s real name, or the real name of his girlfriend-turned-pregnant bride-after-promising-freedom-from-ties-to-homes-or-marriage-or-children.  I probably will use the real names of the Judges and attorneys and court-appointed personnel involved.  Because forewarned is forearmed when it comes to dealing with the insanity called the California Family Law System.  And because of us all, I believe they are the least innocent.

I’ll be calling my daughter “Stephanie” in this blog, because after all, she’s still only 17 years old.  Even if I haven’t seen her for more than two hours in the past two years, even though a lot of my motivation to write all this down is so that she’ll understand that I love her and will never give up on her, she still needs some privacy.   Probably, in spite of the alienation that led to her shoving me, or kicking me, or simply refusing to get into the car when she was 15 and I had only two precious weekends with her, which led to my following her up and down the streets of Altadena, California after school till I could no longer catch up – she’s the closest one to being innocent of us all.

But back to the DCFS office day.  Best of all, when we first saw Stephanie’s picture, she immediately became one of the family.  She looked just like my sister-in-law, Steve’s sister, now an Aunt.   We smiled.    We were a family.  I remember the day we borrowed Stephanie from her foster mother for a short trip to the park.  When it was time to drop her off at the foster home, and get her out of the child seat in back, she didn’t want to get out.  And I thought, “Yes, she knows.  She’s ours and belongs with us.”

And the next thing we knew, it wasn’t a matter of giving back to the world.  It was all about the wonderful things we got out of being a family and having a family.  A few more days, and Stephanie brought her small plastic box of belongings home, and that was it.  She had her bedroom.  We had ours across the hall.  Whereas before, Steve and I might sleep sans clothes night after night, I started wearing pajamas.  Over Steve’s protests.  Didn’t it make sense that I might have to rush into her room to check on her some nights?  And maybe, just stand there, so contented to watch while she breathed in and out?  Was that the start of the problems?  Or did it start with his childhood?  Or mine?

The world changed.  It was bigger.  Suddenly, we were parents, like the other parents at the park.  We talked about child care.  We became experts at child psychology.  We shared experiences in line at the market.  Most of all, we pitied those poor couples with no clue about what they were missing in Life.

And so, three years passed, and Stephanie went to daycare, and then to kindergarden, and then to first grade.  She was a good student.  She was a sweet kid.  We were going out of town for a combination vacation/job.   Las Vegas, and our friends would be there.  It was going to be just us, something special.  Stephanie would stay that week with her Aunt and Uncle in San Bernardino.  As usual, Steve enthused about the trip and planned out our days.  We had to go to a new restaurant when we got there.  The ads sounded so good.   It was one more exciting thing to think about.   The Star of Siam.