At birth, I am marooned on a spotty chain of islands, my identity & heritage removed within seconds of a starving dawn. The Philippines, my love, a darkening land of ancestral bone & vulnerable poverty, my past condemned to hand-typed, brittle paper. My skin is brown & the clock is ticking.
I need stable caregivers.
I am relinquished to an orphanage in Cebu City.
The social workers at Asilo de la Milagrosa are nuns.
There is no record of what I experience there, besides a feeding schedule.
I am adopted through Holt International.
At the age of two, I am sent to the United States by plane, thrown into a glittery blur of ballet, birthday parties, & Barbies. I burrow, burying my brown in a green turtle sandbox as I legally bond & psychologically mesh with a white, Midwestern couple I’ve never met & an adopted brother from my home country.
He was two years older & it was just the two of us.
We were meant to keep each other company.
My brother kicks holes in my bedroom door after school.
Wobbly in Western rhetoric, I voyage into the jungles of eczema, braces, teenage hormones, Today’s Top 40 Billboard Radio Hits, & sunscreen. Sometimes I sneak out at night to lie underneath the Wisconsin stars & whisper to the light above, all the jigsaw secrets trapped in my young lungs.
Frigid winters & Arizona sun. I am a pioneer. I am a monolith. I am ablaze with honors English & secret piano affairs. Ablaze with classic works of literature, encyclopedias, & games on boxy desktop computers.
My brother is breaking down. My parents mishandled both of us in different ways. They will never know the pain they’ve caused & will never reach their Filipino children. We move all the way to Arizona to start over & it doesn’t work.
Extravagant family get-togethers replace Tagalog & jeepneys, cock fights & city slums. We celebrate Easter & Christmas. As I reach legal age, an untapped wilderness grows like weeds within. I move out, voyaging further away & dissolving my adoptee ties through silence & reconditioning & therapy. Rebuilding my identity into a new amalgamation of American & Filipino.
What does my birth mother look like? Does she ever think of me? I travel to Mexico. I soul-search. I make mistakes. I burn bridges & never look back & I discover a love of books.
My brother will always haunt my mind.
Through all of my graduate degrees & loneliness.
There’s a black hole inside me.
A raging train.
A life untold.
I was living in Hawaii when he died of alcohol poisoning. He was homeless on the streets of Mindanao. He left two children that I’ll never meet & as I write these words I’ve resettled in Indiana & am working at a public library in my thirties. I don’t talk to my parents that much anymore.
My adoptive relations aren’t part of my life.
All that is left is me. My birth name that no one knows. My biological papers & memories of a lackluster reunion at my old orphanage. The past is dead & gone.
However, I am the author of this life & I can imagine my own endings now. I can look back & see instead the fragile constellation of hope
I left for myself like breadcrumbs.
The glistening grains of my life lead me back to a star-filled moment
when I am just entering this world on a small nexus of islands, alone, without
family—all the love of my ancestors bringing me here &
then scattering into oblivion.
One day, I find a way to reveal some of what’s locked inside me.
I find a place to put my pain.
I find a way to shape
on my own.
Next up in the portfolio: “Adoptable” by Mee Ok Icaro
Desiree Maru was born in the Philippines in 1985 and adopted in 1987 in the United States. Her adoptee-centered essays, fiction, and mixed media have been featured in Nzuri Journal, Oyster River Pages, Helen Literary Magazine, AGNI, The Sonder Review, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, The Healing Muse, and elsewhere. She has blogged for InterCountry Adoptee Voices, and her work has been featured in Third Flatiron anthologies. smflood.weebly.com (added 10/2023)