My Dad always said that I was left on the doorstep by Gypsies. Although my older brother was also adopted, it seemed my parents had gone through proper channels in order to get him. I pictured little Baby Me sleeping quietly as the caravan pauses for an old Gypsy woman, nothing more than a shadow, to leave me on the porch. My mom opens the door to find a baby in a horrid over-sized, quilted bag. She is almost as excited about the baby as she is about the bag. (She had at least two dozen purses, bags, totes, handbags, pocketbooks, and fanny packs. She collected them. Any trip to Mervyn’s or JC Penny’s was guaranteed to result in at least a half an hour comparing purses, checking which had the most hidden pockets.) This particular ugly bag was used to hide the popcorn she would smuggle into the movies. It had two acrylic hoops which served as handles. Pull those hoops apart and there’s enough room for a family sized bag of home popped popcorn. Or a five pound baby girl.
It was odd to me that my brother would just accept that he was adopted. What did that mean? Didn’t he want to know how he got there? My parents never told any stories about how they got him, and he seemed content with that. He was just adopted. End of story. I was not so easily swayed. Having completely and enthusiastically believed the Gypsy Story, my mother had her work cut out for her convincing me that Dad was only teasing. Any story about an adoption agency would have been met with skepticism. It was obvious they were hiding something. They never outright told me I was adopted, so I figured there must be a better story. A story so lurid, so filled with danger and betrayal, Gypsies and strangers in dark alleys, that they could never tell me.
So I invented my own Origin Stories. They were Fairy Tales. Small, swaddled Baby Me adrift in a heavily reeded river or left in a basket with vegetables on the doorstep of an orphanage. (The influence of my forced biblical training evident in hindsight.) The story I liked best featured me as a Chinese Princess, forced to live with a strange family because my mother, The Chinese Queen, had an affair with a white man and had to give me away or face death.
The fact that I looked nothing like the rest of my family only bolstered my fantasies. My brother was tall and goofy looking. One of those kids who stands out for all the wrong reasons. I was small and dark and chubby. As a baby I was called Apple due to my physical resemblance of the fruit. My skin tone was olive. If I went in the sun for five minutes I would return like a golden chestnut. My brother, mother and father would burn. Trips to the beach took hours to prepare for because my mother needed a tarp, a hat, a shawl, and an umbrella. Just for herself. Fair skinned, lightly freckled and in desperate need of braces, my brother’s adolescence culminated in a love a country music and cowboys. His awkward phase following him into high school and intensifying when he willingly joined not only the school choir, but the cheerleading squad as well. By the time he was a senior in high school he was 6’3, a yell leader, and a stand out in the school choir, where your only job is to blend in. He was the kid who performed Stand Up at the school talent show.
We shared no common traits or interests. This was always a comfort to me. I didn’t like the things that he did, and if genetics were responsible for bad taste in music, or being stupid then I was safe. We lived in the same house, our bedrooms close enough to talk through the wall, but we had absolutely nothing in common. We were, and remain to this day, total opposites. He’s 6’3, and I’m 4’11. He’s a loud mouth Republican, and I’m a loud mouth Democrat. He doesn’t read. I’ve dedicated my life books. He still has bad taste in music, and I still don’t. He is pretty Vanilla. I’m more Neapolitan. My brother’s favorite things include large gold chains, Hawaiian shirts, alcohol, cigars, and Donald Trump. Mine don’t.
The older I got the more delighted I was to be adopted. It explained why I was nothing like my family, and It was far more glamorous. I could be whatever I wanted! I claimed every ethnic origin thrown at me. A friend’s mother convinced me I was Italian, so when I was at her house, I was Italian! I added homemade Anisette to my espressos. I understood that fresh cannoli was better to store bought. I was Italian! Another mother swore I was Jewish, so I claimed that as well and developed a taste for Manischewitz. Sometimes I fantasized that I was Liza Minnelli’s illegitimate daughter born from an illicit affair with either Peter Sellers or Andy Warhol. Celebrity Mom forced into Betty Ford right after giving birth to Secret Baby! And sometimes my parents were just a couple of teenage kids from Tujunga. Just poor white trash who had to give me away because they were just too goddamned young and stupid. Maybe Trailer Trash Mom is out there somewhere, snacking on pink coconut snack cakes, thinking of the baby girl she had to give away all those years ago. Missing me in her daydreams, and snapping out of it when her actual child screams at her from his high chair in front of the television.