When Life Sets You Up Not to Fit In
I wasn't born to fit in. Nothing about me was "mainstream" or "normal". In fact, my very existence was the subject of controversy from Day 1.
I came into this world on July 27, 1971, a black-haired, blue-eyed beauty by all accounts. I was also just over 6 pounds of scandal and the subject of gossip all over town. I was born guilty of being not only a biracial child, having a Black father and a white mother, but of two other "crimes". I was, in the parlance of the day, illegitimate, meaning my parents weren't married. Well, at least they weren't married to each other. My mother, as it turns out, was indeed, technically and legally married to her husband, although they had been separated for quite some time and had each gone on with their own lives.
Even with all the whispers and innuendo, my parents were determined to keep and raise me as well as my siblings. However, that was not to be the case, and more controversy ensued. When I was 3 weeks old, my mother died under unknown circumstances. Speculation abounded, but it seems she may have succumbed to complications from an earlier surgery. Under normal circumstances, when a mother passes on, the father goes on to raise his children.
Unfortunately, these weren't "normal" circumstances. At 3 weeks old, the powers that be determined that I didn't belong in my own family, or what remained of it. Their reasoning, I didn't belong to him, at least not legally. You see, I was registered under my mother's married surname. So were my siblings, but my father was allowed to keep them because he had bonded with them. "The Baby", which is what they called me, had to be placed elsewhere.
Among the first calls made were to my mother's "widower" and his family. I place that term in quotation marks because he was only her widower in a strictly legal sense. They were given an opportunity to take me. The matriarch of the family, my mother's former mother in law, made the family's stance abundantly clear on the phone with social services when she said, "we want nothing to do with any Black babies." Not even a month old and I had been deemed an outcast in 2 families.
As luck would have it, I was adopted rather quickly when my father's brother and his wife stepped in and took me. They were a military couple, both Black, with a 15 year-old son. I was a very pale, light-skinned little girl who, by the age of 3, had wildly thick curly hair that seemed to defy the skintone.
I never noticed anything different about me, or about my family when I was small. Race and colour were foreign concepts to me. I had a mom and a dad and a brother and that's all I knew. That's all I needed to know. Then I went to school.
I struggled to make friends as it was, being oddly precocious and preferring books and writing to dolls and blocks. But I made a few, some I still have to this day. Others, came into my life briefly, only to be snatched away for reasons, at the time, I couldn't comprehend.
By the time I entered the second semester of kindergarten, the queries began. Friends started saying things like, " my mom says your parents are brown; why are your parents brown?" They always said "brown," not Black. And I had no answer. I had no answer because, I honestly never noticed. It sounds inconceivable, but I promise you, it is one hundred percent true. I really never noticed. But once you see it, you can't unsee it. I was suddenly acutely aware of the fact that I didn't belong. I didn't look like anyone in my family. To this day, when I think about it, that old song from Sesame Street comes to mind:
One of these things is not like the other,
One of these things just doesn't belong.
This realization left me paralyzed by a sense of confusion my young mind had no idea how to handle. I remember my father trying to reassure me, but the sense of awkwardness had already been deeply ingrained and forever etched on my little heart.
Some of the adults in the neighbourhood seemed to make it thier mission to ensure I never forgot that I didn't belong. I can't count the number of times a new child would be posted into the military base I lived on, someone I somehow managed to befriend, only to lose that friendship.
The story always went the same way. A friendship would form at school and eventually I'd be invited over. Invariably, the parents loved me. I was a kind, polite child. My father would pick me up and the next day, the VERY NEXT DAY, my new "friend" would tell me, "my mom says I can't play with you anymore because you're... (insert excuse here, bad influence, not "our" kind, etc.)."
Each time, I was surprised and each time I was devastated. It was bad enough being different at home, but being rejected socially as well left me feeling like I had nowhere to turn. I was never able to grasp how one minute I was a perfectly acceptable playmate, only to become persona non grata overnight.
The pattern continued well into my teenage years. At 16 I fell in love with a boy. He was the most handsome, wonderful, amazing person I knew. He lived with his father, and his father thought I was great. We sat in his livingroom countless Friday nights as he praised me for my dedication to education. He often told me I reminded him of his own daughter, high praise since she was his obvious favourite. I was the perfect girlfriend for his son, someone to keep him on the straight and narrow. That is, until my father came to the door one night and picked me up. All of a sudden, I wasn't the kind of girl he wanted his son around. He was concerned we were getting "too serious." Again, I was crushed, but at least this time I wasn't confused. More than a decade of the same thing happening to you over and over wises you up a bit.
I was also angry, livid, in fact, and in that anger, the mouthy young woman I was, I called my boyfriend's father and demanded to know exactly what his problem was. I knew what it was, I just wanted to hear him say it. He stammered and stuttered, giving a series of non-responses, as racist cowards do. So I made myself clear and told him, I'd see his son, who had just turned 18 and was moving out in a few weeks, whenever I darn well pleased and there wasn't a thing he could do about it. I also "may" have told him he could kiss the Black half of my bottom (too much?). Looking back, I think that was the first step on my journey to embracing who I was.
Around the same time, I decided to explore my biological father's side of the family. There, it turned out to the be the exact opposite. The adults welcomed me with open arms, no questions asked, no concerns about the colour of my skin or the texture of my hair. There, it was the kids that made it clear I didn't fit. I was teased unmercifully by my sister, and cousins for what they called "pretending to be white," "acting white," and "being uppity". I had no idea what any of that meant. I was even given a new nickname, the White Witch from New Brunswick. There I was again, shocked, saddened and angry. I had expected that treatment from white adults, but not from my own relatives. I went home after a month more confused than ever. I was the Black sheep on one side of the family and the white sheep on the other.
As the years went on, the opinions of others, especially adults, became less and less important. A lot of that is probably because I eventually became an adult. I still don't fit in, for many reasons, but now, it's my choice. I know who I am. I love who I am and celebrate it every day. Everything about me is unique and as far as I'm concerned, beautiful. I've never fit any mold. I've been breaking them since the day I came into this world, and I have no plans to stop.
P.S: Remember that boy, the one whose father decided seeing me was a bad idea? Yeah, I married him.
About the author
Retired legal eagle, nature love, wife, mother of boys and cats, chef, and trying to learn to play the guitar. I play with paint and words. Living my "middle years" like a teenager and loving every second of it!