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To be Vulnerable - An Adoptee's Greatest Fear

Updated: Apr 13

A loud bang and clatter make me jump. I nearly drop the contact lens precariously balancing on my index finger, and as I lean forward to adjust it, a shooting pain rocks through my right leg.

I sigh.

My crutches have slid from their perch and slammed onto the floor of the narrow hallway in mother-in-law's house. I ignore them. I really should just use my wheelchair, but I'm too stubborn and antsy to slowly squeak around my in-law's house now that I can finally tolerate some weight on my legs.

I shift and hop on my left foot, scooting closer to the sink edge, and focus in on my task. Contact lens. Eye. Focus.

My right leg is lightly throbbing even with the pain meds. I can feel every heartbeat pulse through it with a whoosh of prickles. The prickles, I'm told, are my nerves are trying to make sense of the recent surgery that sliced open the fascia of every muscle in my lower right leg - the first surgery of what will be a double fasciotomy. Meanwhile, my left leg is aching. My Achilles tendon is violently angry about suddenly having to do double the work, the foot is burning from being in a constant flex, and my hip is jammed up into my belly inducing stitches in my side as I balance over the bathroom sink.

I'm nine days post-operation. Nine days since I've driven a car. Nine days since I've been able to get my own water from the fridge. Nine days since I've been able to innocently forget something on the bathroom sink or bedside table and turn back for it on my way out the door. Nine days isn't really that long, but as I jam my finger into my eye and feel the contact lens flop somewhere into the sink below, I'm ready to sob. Or scream. I'm not sure. I'm just sick of being a cripple.

I let my exhausted left leg win and collapse onto the closed toilet seat. I feel silly and pathetic. I can't even put my own contact lens in. As if on cue, my husband appears in the bathroom doorway. "Your crutches fell." he says, a means of asking "you need help?"

He knows if he asks that outright I'll say "NO!" with the angry hiss you might expect from a wet cat.

I nod mutely. His waits. I gesture vaguely towards the sink. "My contact lens fell." I mutter.

He lets the requisite beat pass between us while I let the emotions bubbling in my chest simmer down for a moment. "Want some help?" He asks, gently.

Emotions flare in my throat and I swallow back an angry and embarrassed "no!"

I pause to consider. I can just stand back up, hunch over and squint around for the contact lens. I'd find it eventually, right?

But, I'm woozy. Both my legs ache and throb in different but equally annoying ways. And if I have to hold myself together for another 30 seconds while I fish around for the contact lens I think my head might actually explode.

I can almost picture the concern on the face of my last, incredibly patient therapist nodding slowly and saying carefully, "So, do you think you need help? I think you deserve help."

I'm not gonna cry like I did in that therapists office, not in front of my husband as I sit askew on a toilet seat in my mother-in-law's house. This is not the time.

I take a deep breath. "Can you help me find it?" I mumble, eyes averted. My husband beams and immediately begins hunting for it. I feel a hot flush of shame and guilt. Why can't I ask nicer?

My husband finds the lost lens and presents it to me. I take it, and realize I also need to take some more help if I'm going to be ready for my physical therapy appointment. We are supposed to leave in fifteen minutes. That's a tight timeline on a normal day, but immobile and bound to crutches, it's nearly impossible.

I feel something untwist in my chest as I mentally prepare to frame the request for my husband.

He's been dressed ready to go for the last half hour, patiently waiting for me to drag myself from the bathroom, to the bedroom, to the closet, back to the bathroom, back to the bed in halting hops and ju-jitsu style floor rolls. He watched quietly as I, fiercely independent, scraped up various articles of clothing and makeup. He didn't interrupt as I painstakingly hauled myself onto the bed or to the mirror to apply the various articles of clothing and makeup, cussing about accidently bumping my surgery-pain leg, or cussing about the ache in my overworked-pain leg. If he had interrupted me then, I would have been unreasonable and irritable - and he was wise enough to know sometimes I just need to wear myself out. And I'm worn out. I'm finally ready to admit it.

Padding my request with unnecessary justifications as to why I won't be ready in time without help (and a hint of mock-puppy-dog eyes) I ask if he would help me finish getting ready. "Of course, lady!" he grins, relieved I've finally decided I'm ready to accept his help.

The hardest part of my morning begins now.

Over the next ten minutes I stretch the limits of my vocabulary and emotional patience to describe the coat I need, the shoes that match the outfit, and the place I last left my purse. I hate it. I feel like crying as he brings back the wrong coat. I feel a burst of anger when I can't remember exactly where my purse is. I feel embarrassment akin to physical pain as my husband appears from the bedroom holding a pair of my socks loyally fished out of my unkept underwear drawer, brimming with good intentions to help me cover my ugly swollen foot and gently stuff it into my shoes.

The vulnerability of the situation is not lost on me. Like many adoptees, relying on others is one of the most miserable and unnatural feelings in the world. Relying on external care to this infantile, fundamental level? Physically painful.

The days are long, full of an exhausting combination of shame, fear, embarrassment and frustration. I'm riddled with memories of my own adoptive family and their lack of attunement in caretaking - memories of crawling under the kitchen table to cry alone after the wrong cereal was poured, or the dry and confused laugh of my adoptive mother when I raged over an ill-fitting top she brought me to try on at the store and the following shame over my own discomfort, or the blank stare in the rearview mirror when I said I REALLY needed glasses because I couldn't read the road signs on our weekly errand run followed by the dismissive "well your brothers never needed glasses that young. Are you sure you aren't just making it up?"

Having limited mobility has been a difficult and healing journey for me. I have finally been forced to accept help. I've been shocked to discover the willingness of my in-laws to make space for me in their home, by my husband's eagerness to set aside his tasks to bring me water, or his attentiveness to any sign of discomfort on my face in case maybe I need another round of medication. It's bewildering. It is inducing a lot of grief too, as I see all the places my adopters held back basic care and concern due to their own biases about me as their strange adopted child.

For the first time I'm realizing I'm not truly that hard to take care of, and I'm also realizing I need and deserve help. I'm learning how to ask for it and how to appreciate it. I'm figuring out how to be patient with the inevitable imperfections, and how to open myself up to be loved in such intimate and purposeful ways.

It's healing.

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