STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
The author A.M. Homes has a memory of her adoption that cannot possibly be true. She'd just been born when her adoptive family took her in, yet she has an image of arriving at her new home - as if an infant could remember.
HOMES: I literally think I probably got to their house and they said, welcome home, you're adopted, and here's your room and we hope you like it, and here are all of your relatives, because they're all lined up waiting for me to get there.
INSKEEP: There's a story that gets constructed in your mind.
HOMES: Absolutely. And I think all of family history is essentially a narrative. It is a story that a family constructs for itself and it's only when you start to kind of take it apart that you realize it's as fragile as a storyline and it has as many holes and questions in it as any novel or short story would ever.
INSKEEP: And today we conclude with a woman who decided that she did not need to know her full story. A.M. Homes says she had no particular desire to find her birth parents. But then her story found her.
HOMES: When I was 32 years old, I actually went home to visit my family, as I call my adoptive family, my family, for the Christmas holidays, and I arrived, my mother said, you know, we gotten a phone call and someone is looking for you. and it was terrifying. It was literally the sense of the rug coming out from under.
INSKEEP: Well, how did your family story and your personal story - the narrative - from which you construct your identity, begin to change once you met this woman who was your birth mother?
HOMES: Well, the thing that was interesting about it was on the one hand the things - the few facts that I had always heard, which was that she was unmarried, that my father was married, turned to all be true. And on top of that, my fantasy of her, which was that she was a person who had never made another life for her, also turned out to be true, which is a little bit unusual. I think the experience was in many ways very threatening for my adoptive family, that they worried that in some way they would lose me...
INSKEEP: You were 32 at that point, and still they're concerned about losing you emotionally, I suppose.
HOMES: Absolutely. And I think they also were concerned that in some way I would be hurt by my biological family. I think what was also interesting about it and kind of scary was finding out, you know, little tiny details like my biological mother telling me that her father had died very early of a heart attack, all of a sudden it became, you know, a huge detail. So I could die early of a heart attack. And that it turned out that he hadn't really died of a heart attack. He'd been killed in a shootout, and that became another kind of information. Well, what kind of people were they that they would be in a situation where someone would be killed in a shootout? So it was both fascinating and terrifying at the same time.
INSKEEP: In the end you met both of your mother and your father, your biological mother and father?
HOMES: Yeah. I did.
INSKEEP: And you said that your adoptive parents were concerned that you would in some way be hurt. Did their fears turn out to be justified in any way?
HOMES: You know, I think it's in a funny way more complex than that. One of the things that sort of became clear to me was my biological mother was lost in time, and that the conversations I was having with her were not in the late 1980s or the early 1990s. They were back in the 1960s, where she left off...
INSKEEP: You mean she kept circling back to her own youth and talking about that?
HOMES: It wasn't so much that she kept circling back from her own youth, but I think when she returned to find me, in many ways she hoped to find her fantasy of the child she left behind. And in many ways I think for myself, I also tripped off feelings about having been given up or abandoned in some way. You know, it's almost like a molecule that you begin to kind of take apart and have to look at the littlest fragments of it to think about how it will all fits together.
INSKEEP: So were you disappointed then by this woman you met?
HOMES: Well, I would say my biological mother was somebody who I think had had a very, very difficult life. She had left home as a teenager, which I think for a young woman in Washington, D.C. was a very difficult thing to do. She got involved with my father when she was in her late teens. My father...
INSKEEP: And you said he was married at the time?
HOMES: He was married, he was in his 30s. And I think she very much hoped that he was going to make a life with her, and that never happened. And there were a lot of promises that weren't kept. So by the time, you know, she found me, she was incredibly needy. She would say things to me like go to the roof of your building and jump off. And I would say why? And she said, you didn't send me a Valentine. And there's a very peculiar set of expectations and needs. So I can't say I was disappointed, because I don't know exactly what I would have expected, but it was certainly not in any way an easy relationship.
INSKEEP: What about your birth father?
HOMES: You know, a similar but different story, my biological father is married to the same woman that he was married to when my mother got pregnant. He has four other children, all of whom are older than I am. And his promises - very much probably like the promises he made to my mother - you know, fulfilled.
INSKEEP: What did he promise you?
HOMES: He wanted to take me into his family, to make me a part of things, and that wasn't something he could do. I think what's painful about it for me is that I would have liked to know him better. I would have liked to know both of these people better. You know, one of the pieces of information that became clear to me is that we are not just the products of our mothers and fathers. We are the products of the larger history that brought us to this country at a certain point in time, that I am not just my adoptive parents' child and I am not just my biological parents' child. I am simultaneously all of their children and their parents' children and their great-grandparents' children.
INSKEEP: Did you ever consider adopting?
HOMES: When I was growing up I always used to say, when I grow up I'm going to adopt a lot of children. So yes, I absolutely considered adopting.
HOMES: Well, I - it's interesting. I decided that I wanted to have a child and I wanted to have a biological child, and my adoptive mother sort of angrily said to me, well, is adoption not good enough for you? And I thought, well, of course it's good enough for me. But why, just because I'm adopted, would that mean that I wouldn't want to have a biological child?
INSKEEP: You have a son or daughter?
HOMES: I have a daughter.
INSKEEP: What, if anything, have you told her about your own background, about being adopted?
HOMES: You know, I haven't told her that much about it at this point. I mean she's very, very young. The first time I tried to have a conversation with her about where she came from, I said, well, where do you think you came from? And she said Guatemala.
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HOMES: (Unintelligible). But I thought that was fascinating, that that was the first thing that she said. I think it will be interesting to try to explain to her that my parents are not her only grandparents.
INSKEEP: You'll tell her more as time goes on?
HOMES: Oh, absolutely.
INSKEEP: Is there anything that will be hard to tell her?
HOMES: No. I think what's interesting is to realize that, you know, I describe myself as an amalgam of these four parents. But what's amazing is that in my biological child I also see my adoptive family, and there was a moment about a year ago when I took a photograph of my daughter, and she somehow had the same expression on her face as my grandmother, who she never met. So she too is an amalgam of all of these things.
INSKEEP: A.M. Homes, thanks very much.
HOMES: Thank you.
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INSKEEP: A.M. Homes wrote a memoir called "The "Mistress's Daughter." You can find an excerpt and hear all of this week's conversations on adoption in America at npr.org.
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