Travel five minutes across the New York State border into a small, suburban town called River Vale, New Jersey. Make a right onto a street called The Plaza, a quick left onto Winding Way, a right up Rolling Hill, and the third house on the left is mine. It sits on the corner of Drake Lane and Rolling Hill; 781 Drake Lane is my address to be exact. Countless birthdays, family dinners, holidays, and laughs all tucked away in boxes filled with photos just in case we forget the good times.
The house itself is a four bedroom colonial with a pool in the backyard for those hot summer days, and a fenced in yard for the family dog to run around in. There is the green L-shaped couch that always has someone fast asleep on it because of the ever-so-soft goose feathers. The newly renovated kitchen is my mother’s safe haven where it constantly smells of pasta and homemade meat sauce. The bedrooms echo with the sound of television shows and music played at too high of a volume. But, the one annual event that defines the Beyer household is the Adoption Anniversaries celebrated for my sister and I with posters and desserts.
I had always been Maria Rose Beyer. I had Italian family Sunday dinners and a last name that was of German descent. It wasn’t until people started asking me questions about China and my “real” parents that I started to become curious myself.
It was the morning of April 2nd, 2007 when I walked downstairs and stared at a colorful sign that read “Happy Adoption Anniversary Maria” and in the corner the number ten was bolded and underlined. Ten years, the number flashing in my head like a flashlight’s bright light that flickers on and off from a dying battery, annoying and constant. Ten years of acceptance, of not asking questions, of just enjoying my perfect bubble of a world in small town River Vale, and ten years of not truly understanding where I came from.
It’s funny; I never really cared about my family roots, until it was brought up in a somewhat casual way at the school lunch table. My adoption was always celebrated and it made me feel special. I was able to sit on the makeshift playground throne while all the other kids fought for attention, and I was simply handed it. I played tag, hide and go seek, and had play dates like any other kid. The problems only arose when I was asked questions I couldn’t answer myself. Some of the popular ones included: do you remember the orphanage, can you speak Chinese, or, my favorite and most inconsiderate of all, do you know who your real parents are.
I was always caught off guard by this very insensitive, yet genuinely curious inquiry. My response was always somewhat along the lines of “what do you mean, my real parents, my real parents are the ones I call mom and dad” and the follow-up question was always along the lines of “I understand that, but I mean the parents that gave birth to you, your real parents” but, my quick response of “oh, I don’t really know” usually ended the uncomfortable conversation that wasn’t meant to be that way at all. The word “real” blared in my head like the annoying fire alarm that never seems to stop.
So, it was on the morning of April 2nd, 2007 when I decided to ask my parents the difficult questions that I have always subconsciously thought but avoided asking. I first started off with the politically incorrect and definitely hurtful, yet innocent, question of “Who are my real parents?” My mom and dad, startled and confused, sat me down and explained everything. Well, everything I could understand as a kid entering her middle school years.
In March of 1996, Ann Marie and Gary Beyer, the newly married couple, decided it was time to have children and start a family. However, unlike most of their family and friends, they decided to begin the process with a unique approach: adoption. My mom had always made it clear that family wasn’t about the biological relationship, but the love and support between people. I think it was her way of putting it simply and making sense of it all to her curious young daughter.
My mom had never wanted us to feel like outsiders in our own home, making celebrating our adoption days a slippery slope. There was always a fine line between the desire to want us to be proud of where we came from, but not praising it so much that we feel too different. I guess my lack of curiosity deemed my mother’s approach successful, until this very moment.
On July 4th, 1996 a baby girl was brought into this world, or at least that’s what the nurses think is her birthdate, also known as the day she was found on the doorstep of an orphanage. Too innocent and naive to understand the reality of her circumstances, but now, leading a life that may have never been.
There is an orphanage in Nanjing, China that I once called home. However, I am now living in River Vale, New Jersey, a place very different from there. The crowded spaces, created by hundreds of baby cribs lined up with only a few inches between each, unsanitary conditions, and nurses running around doing their best to care for each baby as if it was their own, was my world for the first nine months of my life. Laying in my makeshift crib, fascinated by the motions my fingers made, my version of a mobile, I was swooped out of my natural habitat unknowingly, never to return again.
Halfway across the world, I was lying in a brand new wooden crib, playing with a real mobile that hung at perfect arm’s length. The other babies that once surrounded me no longer drowned my cries out, and all attention was on me.
Growing up in a house, with space to throw my dolls across the floor, and a backyard to run around in, inevitably my legs covered in Band-Aids from scraping my knees like every clumsy toddler. But the scraped knees beat the germ-ridden orphanage floor I’d be crawling on. It’s just a simple fact that being an orphan in China is a very different life to lead. I can only distantly relate to the potential struggles through my parents’ experiences while adopting me.
Meetings once a month to receive updates on the potential baby that’s ready for adoption, the anxiety built up over a yearlong period until the phone call announcing them as parents came through, the nearly 24-hour plane ride, the use of money belts stuffed in the waistband of their pants with hundred-dollar bills, and a two week stay in a foreign country, just waiting to hold a baby in their arms. It was the ultimate waiting game and the very real process of adoption, a concept I was just scratching the surface of comprehending.
What I did understand was the parents I was raised by, the siblings I laughed and unavoidably fought with, and the cousins I’ve vacationed with annually. The Beyer tradition of bringing in a freshly made pizza pie, the cheese melting in our mouths, knowing it was taken out of the brick oven only minutes ago. Jumping into the car at exactly 3:30 p.m. and driving twenty minutes across the New York state border to hug my grandparents and sit down for an Italian family Sunday dinner that always started promptly at 4 p.m. The al dente pasta, and the taste of homemade meatballs were the ethnic foods I was used to. Even Christmas Eve was celebrated with a seafood theme, a spin-off of the ever-sacred Italian tradition of eating seven fishes the night before the birth of Jesus Christ. Chinese food was only consumed at the Jade Village on two days of the year: April 2nd and October 13th, our adoption anniversaries. An important yet seemingly insignificant tradition compared to the many others integrated into my life as a member of the Beyer family.
And while my curiosity still sparked, my sister chose to ignore the place she came from. To her, our four-bedroom colonial is her only home. The crowded spaces, created by hundreds of baby cribs lined up with only a few inches between each, unsanitary conditions, and nurses running around doing their best to care for each baby as if it was their own, was her world for the first eight months of her life, and that is all it is to her, a mere eight months. The homemade signs, mint chocolate chip ice cream cake with the words “Happy Anniversary” written in perfect cursive in blue frosting, and the endless hugs and kisses from our parents was enough satisfaction. Ana Frances Beyer, who attended Italian family Sunday dinners and carried a last name that was of German descent, didn’t ask questions when people started asking about China and her “real” parents.
But, on the morning of April 2nd, 2007 I did ask questions. Questions that may only be answered by traveling back to the place that is a part of me. A feeling similar to that of someone who is in love, and cares so deeply for that individual that when apart from that person, a piece of he/she is missing. And while my desire is to find the place that is the essence of my being and the reason behind who I am today, it will never be the third house on the left as you drive up the freshly paved, winding hill. The house that sits on the corner of Drake Lane and Rolling Hill; 781 Drake Lane is the address to be exact, where countless birthdays, family dinners, holidays, and laughs all tucked away in boxes filled with photos just in case we forget the good times, the place that isn’t just a place, but my one and only home.
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