Finding My People
Along the way, it becomes apparent to me that I am searching not just for biological history but for my combined history—the intertwined narrative of how I became who I am. From my adoptive relatives, I collect tales of my great-grandfather Jacob Spitzer's dairy farm on the Mohawk Trail in North Adams, Massachusetts, and information about Simon Rosenberg and Sophie Rothman—my adoptive maternal great-grandparents, born in the 1870s in Braila, Romania. With each name and date comes imagery. I start making mental pictures of who they were—who I might be. I am the granddaughter of an English Southern belle. I am the granddaughter of a Romanian-French immigrant. I am the granddaughter of the Lithuanian farmer girl, the granddaughter of the Russian bookie, the granddaughter of an Irishwoman. I am the adopted daughter of the guidance counselor and the leftist artist and the biological daughter of the adulterer and the wayward girl, the little girl lost.
I am back in time, wading across a clear running creek, I am a farmer on a plantation, I am captain of a ship, I am the woman in a long white dress, my curly hair high up on my head, I am feeling the heat of summer—the Southern humidity, the thick, stagnant afternoon air, the coming of thunderstorms. I am conjuring sea captains and drinking glasses of bloodred wine. This is the stuff of poems and strange fever dreams. I am of a plantation, and I can say I knew it all along at some preconscious level. I am imagining the lives of indentured servants and slaves—some of whom had the very same names as the people I am looking for. When were they freed and where did they go?
What becomes clear is that all of this is about narrative—the story told. I can't escape the oddity of how it happened that I, a person without a past, became a novelist, a storyteller working from my imagination to create lives that never existed. Every family has a story that it tells itself, that it passes on to the children and grandchildren. The story grows over the years, mutates, some parts are sharpened, others dropped, and there is often debate about what really happened. But even with these different sides of the same story, there is still agreement that this is the family story. And in the absence of other narratives, it becomes the flagpole that the family hangs its identity from. The choices these generations of relatives made became the twists and turns, the turn of the screw of my family history. I am thrilled by what I am finding, by dipping into history, by seeing how people lived and died and considering how and why they made the choices they did. There is great comfort in connecting the dots—in having names and dates and some sense of where my family lines and I fit into history.
In the end, did I find what I was looking for—did I find myself? After a lifetime of feeling I had no right to exist, I finally felt I was claiming a place of my own. Discovering my biological background, I felt an identification with people I had never known, with locations I'd been drawn to since childhood; things that had inexplicably resonated now made sense on a very primitive level.