I keep a bunny in a bag in my desk drawer. There is a bunny in a bag inside a square little drawer, a childhood memory tucked away like a textbook that has been forgotten to be used. She sits there like a memento from a time when I believed in the person that gave her to me.
Time has faded her, and tears have stained her cloth skin. A stuffed animal that was once as big as my pre-mature self is now small and feeble, like rags in my hands.
I named her Baby because I didn’t know her gender as a kid and the name seemed to fit. Still, I referred to my little bunny as a she, which is clearly a great example of childhood logic. That was the wonderful thing about Baby though, she was magic to me. She didn’t need to make sense. Like an imaginary friend, she was always there, tucked under my arm as I ran around the cul-de-sac, or sitting beside me on long car rides. When I was sad, she became my tissue. Inside of her stuffing is a lifetime of crocodile tears and stifled sobs. Baby is faded now, her cloth skin so thin I can see straight through her, holes peering back at me like chinks in the armor of my childhood protection.
Colorful thread weaves through the papery cloth, crude and uneven stitches of a child’s hand. I always tried to fix her when she had holes, I would sit there with a needle, trying time and time again to thread it right. With one eye open and the other closed, I would finally get it though, and work on mending my broken little bunny. It was always a terribly done job, but it kept her held together if only for a little while. Baby was the one thing I would always choose to save in a fire. She was my first friend; she held my secrets, my heartaches, and my dreams. My little bunny was the only thing that I have always had.
There are no pictures of my birth. There is no story about how my birthmother went into labor. There are no tales of the first time I was held, or cried, or even breathed. I was placed for adoption as an infant. My birth parents hadn’t planned before my birth. With so many complications during pregnancy, they weren’t sure I’d even survive. My dad always likes to say, “When you were born, you defied the odds. They were sure you wouldn’t be able to breathe, and yet there you were, over two months early, breathing all on your own! And you’ve kept kicking ever since!”
Not that he was there. Neither of my parents were—they didn’t even know I existed yet. (That is one of the perks of being adopted. I get to tell people that my parents weren’t there when I was born and their faces are always priceless.) Eventually, I was big enough to leave the hospital, the beep of my heart monitor following me all the way from Texas to California, where I was given to my adoptive parents—Tim and Terry.
As a child, I asked to hear the story a hundred times, because that was as much as my parents had to offer and I clung to it like a raft, drifting in an ocean of insecurity. Baby became a floating device, something to cling to as the world turned into waves and I risked falling into the deep end.
My biological parents were flighty creatures; my birthfather had stopped wanting contact with my parents by the time I was only three years old. Meanwhile, my birthmother had gotten married and vanished completely for what felt like a lifetime. Those years were the hardest, but every day little Baby would be tucked under my arm—my floaty in the whirlpool of wanting. Every birthday wish I spent on my birth mother, every letter to Santa and every prayer to God because all I wanted was to know if she was okay: if she remembered me, if she loved me. All I received, however, was always stark and suffocating silence.
“Mom?” I’d often ask on the bad days, the ones that soaked Baby in salt and sea.
“Why didn’t they want me?” My gaze was locked on her, analyzing every inch of her response. Sunshine pooled into the family room and touched the perfectly pleated braid down my back. Innocence danced through my bright green gaze, seeking answers from my mother.
“It was an act of love,” she would start, “It was selfless, they loved you so much they wanted to give you a life they couldn’t provide for you.”
I tucked her words into the folds of my heart and echoed them repeatedly to anyone who asked why my birth parents didn’t want me. The answer became so ingrained in me, that I believed it, that I was special instead of a mistake. Baby was there to remind me that I was loved, because someone who gave me such a sweet friend, must love me. In my young heart, if a person was loved then they were worth something, it meant I wasn’t a mistake. Growing up is cruel, and Baby couldn’t protect me from the truth forever, that dreams aren’t the same as reality.
Sacrifice is the purest form of love. I heard that so many times that I repeated it to every kid that asked me that very same question. You bet when I told other kids I was adopted there were always a ton of questions and comments.
“So your mom and dad didn’t want you? What’s wrong with you?”
“So do you know Annie?”
“Why didn’t your parents love you?”
“Are you from an orphanage?”
“All adopted kids have problems.”
That last one was from my childhood best friend. We were seven years old when she said it in her bright red bedroom, and I have never been able to forget it. We sat on the edge of her bed and she simply said it. I walked home after and cried for hours. Baby caught my tears, as she always had. That is the hardest part. When the people you trust and care about let you down, you never can remember them the same way. Much like a torn stuffed animal even if you try to patch it, she never quite looks the same.
My birth mother’s name is Beky—she named me after herself because she always wanted to be Rebecca. She was like a daydream, this wonderful idea of a person who would come in and out of my life with letters, emails, and presents occasionally. Beky was my ticket to understanding where I came from, and so I bought a ticket and poured my hope into her. I always wanted to know everything, but I still often got silence. That is the struggle with caring about a wild bird. They don’t want to be caged, they want to fly. My birth was perhaps a cage to her, and it probably still is, so she never wrote for long. I’ve never seen her in person, and I have only heard her voice once. That was the last time she spoke to me—over eight years ago.
I was thirteen and it was a warm day, the air was touched by the smell of dust and horses, a common occurrence in the area where I grew up. My mother was out of town, and my father was busy doing something else in the house. The phone in my hands felt heavy, like a brick meant to break a window. For weeks, the number had simply sat in my phone, given to me by my biological brother, screaming at me to try pressing them into the device. The first time I called her, I panicked and hung up when her husband Hans answered the phone. Facing one’s reality is a lot harder than living in what could be. So, I stared for minutes, my stomach churning butter until I finally typed in the numbers. With my eyes closed, I waited to hear my birth mother’s voice for the first time.
It was Hans who picked up.
“Hello,” he asked, “Hello?”
“Hi, yes,” I finally got out, “This is Becca, I was wondering if Beky was there.”
“Oh hi, she’s a bit sick right now but let me get her for you.” Then he handed her the phone and my life changed forever.
My birth mother sounded like gravel and cinnamon. Her cold made her human and her words made her real. She drank tea with honey and lemon, just like me. She loved to write and bake, just like me. In an instant, my daydream of a woman had become someone completely real and that was something I was never able to forget again. We had so much in common that my heart was growing, minutes melting as we spoke and I uncovered everything I could find of her in me. Then, she shattered the moment with a breath of the past.
“Are you in contact with A.J.?” Beky asked suddenly.
“No,” I replied, “I have never spoken to him, and my parents haven’t heard from him since I was little.”
“Good,” she said, “He is a horrible person, you should never speak to him.”
Beky hated my birth father, and she had never forgotten that fact, even during the first time she ever heard my voice. The rest of the conversation was nice enough, I learned that a piece of her was always missing with me gone, that she could never have children after me. Even now, a part of me feels like I am both her greatest regret and her person to blame. After we hung up, I sat down and wrote every detail out that we shared—a list tucked away in a soft pink journal. It is still in the trunk in my bedroom; a little pink book that I can no longer bring myself to open.
In the years to follow, I found my biological father on Facebook. Ever since I could use the internet, specifically social media, I was looking for A.J. Smith. He had been a mystery to me, where Beky came and went out of my life as she pleased, he had simply stayed away. It was a blessing in disguise. I could only handle one loss like her, and he never had to bear the burden of letting me down. All that my high school self-wanted was to know if he was okay. When I finally found A.J. when I was eighteen, I didn’t know what to do. My mother reached out to him, without my consent, and before I knew it I was talking to him through video chat. The entire conversation my stomach was churning like butter and I felt like I was going to throw up.
“Hi,” he said.
“Hi,” I replied.
“Thank you for reaching out to me.”
Neither of us knew what to say, and even now, I never have found the right words to share with him. A.J. is the exact opposite of Beky, he wants me in his life, to be the daughter he never got to have. He has no wife, or kids, there is just me and his old dog. When he is around, I feel like I am being suffocated, the pressure of a person’s love I’ve never known is as uncomfortable as the loss of a woman I believed in. One wants too much of me, and the other far too little, it is a push and pull that even now I haven’t been able to figure out. My heart has been battered by the expectations of two people who created me but didn’t raise me, I am like Baby, an echo of something that was born beautiful but has been worn by circumstance.
I no longer want to list the similarities I share with my birth mother. Now, all I see are the bad things growing from the rubble of our relationship. We both are too emotional, we both forget and lose things, we both are imperfect. At the age of nineteen, I was diagnosed with endometriosis, most likely a genetic gift from her. My lungs have been plagued with asthma because she smoked a pack a day while pregnant with me. She loved me when it was easy, and ignored me when it was hard.
Beky is a box, I keep her well locked in a place in my heart—right next to all my failed or broken dreams. That is what happens when you love the idea of someone, they will always leave you disappointed.
What is so wrong with you that she wants absolutely nothing to do with you? You are so worthless.
I was treading the waters of rejection and even Baby couldn’t keep me afloat this time. She let me drown.
For years, the battle has raged on inside of my heart, a war between insecurity and truth. Worth is often defined by whether something is wanted or not, and a part of me will always feel unwanted. It is like there is a crack inside my heart that is bandaged but has never fully healed. Some days when I am forced into silence once more, and my heart is clenched by the distance of someone I love—it rears its ugly head. The insecurity thrashes at my heart like a farmer tending to wheat, over and over again, until my tears stain my pillow.
Love is an impeccable emotion; it can make a person feel like they are invincible or it can tear them to shreds against the shore of reality. All a child wants is to be loved and wanted, that was all I ever wanted from my birth parents, especially my birth mother. If they loved me like my mother said, then I wasn’t worthless. Love meant I wasn’t the mistake, the broken sail on the family boat, the patched life-preserver that wouldn’t float, or even the wrecked ship at the bottom of the ocean. Love meant that I was a cruise ship sailing into sunny skies and happy endings. I was wrong though, and love to Beky was a very selfish thing—it took and didn’t give. She bandaged years of silence with birthday gifts and tried to fill the void with pretty things—a doll from Belgium, a locket, a jewelry box, things I clung to as I clung to her. It isn’t last though, and they became nothing more than remnants of a destroyed relationship. Love cannot be found in things, it is seen in actions, in presence. Love to me is selfless, so perhaps the woman who gave me her eyes was never fully capable of loving me as my mother said. Perhaps, letting her go was all she had in her.
I don’t use Baby to catch my tears anymore because now she causes them.
Perfection doesn’t keep you afloat either. It is a lifeboat with a hole in it—you expect safety, but the waters rush in and you sink anyway. I have tried time and time again to get everything right, because people who are useful, and good, must be worth something. With every friendship, I poured in dedication and support, a cake intended to be so sweet that it could cause a cavity. There were days full of listening to others cry over their lives, and I gave them love free of charge. I spent ceaseless nights and countless hours doing homework just trying to get it right. Car rides were filled with my parents’ rants because even they sought a breath of advice from their “wise” little daughter. I gave, and gave, and worked, and fought because I wanted so badly to feel worth something. I hid my tears in bathrooms, and pillowcases, and tried to be perfect.
It didn’t work. It left me at the bottom of my ocean of insecurity. Pulled down by the weight of the boat, I was reaching for the glimmer of sunshine. The thing about drowning is that a person will fight for a while and then eventually, they just let go. The water fills their lungs and that’s it.
“When you were born you defied the odds. They were sure you wouldn’t be able to breathe, and yet there you were, over two months early, breathing all on your own! And you’ve kept kicking ever since!”
I untied my heart from the boat of perfection and just like my dad always likes to say, I kept kicking. I kicked until I reached the sunshine soaked surface and breathed in my worth.
The hope that I have worth lingers in the love of God. It is in the heart of those who care for me, and in the promise that I am loved. There is a purpose in every life, even the unplanned, and even the unwanted— because there is always someone who wants them. It would be a lie to say that I have escaped the water completely because I haven't. So often I wish that I was “normal,” that my birth parents didn’t despise each other, that Beky hadn’t vanished like a ghost, that things were simpler. Wishing doesn’t heal a broken heart though. It doesn’t build a boat to keep you afloat on the insecurity ocean, it just wastes a breath on the birthday candles of what could have been.
Baby stays in a premium plastic bag inside my desk drawer, I keep her out of sight, lest she cause a hurricane of tears. Yet, she hasn’t been sent on an all-expenses-paid trip to the trash, or even stuffed into storage. When you love someone and the idea of who they were is gone, it is almost like they died. Everything you wished would be, becomes an ink blot on the book of your life. Baby is an echo of my childhood dreams of a lady who looked like me and loved me, but now she is sewed in disappointment and smells like musty years of waiting in silence. Perhaps that is what happens when a heart is broken. It is torn in two and left to bleed out over the memories, both good and bad.
Tonight, I held my childhood in my hands, falling apart in the reality of adulthood, a decaying creature of destitute daydreams. Yet, she still smelled of musty wishes, with cotton as soft as silk. The yin and yang of heartbreak.
About the author
Becca is a chronically-ill lady, writes on health, humanity, and what it truly means to be alive. She invites you into her unique world, and the imagination, that comes with being stuck in bed. The world may be still, but words keep moving.