Sometimes I'm asked, “What is your happiest memory?” and I never hesitate to answer, “When I was adopted.” I can close my eyes and remember so vividly that exact moment in my life. I see a little boy laughing in the arms of his newly adoptive father, and the joy of unconditional love beaming across their faces.
The first three and a half years of my life were a blur of confusion, fright, and abuse. I was born on September 13th, 1977, in McKinney, Texas, to a very young couple still in their teenage years. My brother, Wesley, was born three years later. Wesley was born with minor birth defects, arguably caused by the drugs my mother was taking when she was pregnant, and a severe case of asthma. Several trips to the hospital, and a near death experience later, the State said enough was enough and they took him away. Despite reports of abuse, I was left with my biological parents, and passed between my father and mother back and forth, as they had separated at some point.
I can remember certain moments of being abused. One in particular involved my brother and my mom's boyfriend at the time, a guy I only remember being named, Jimbo. He was particularly vicious. Wesley was in his crib, crying, and in another room, someone was yelling. I'm scared and confused, yet my first instinct is to run to Wesley's crib and stand guard. Jimbo comes barging into the room, staggering drunk. I grab some sort of toy; I think it was one of those plastic dogs on a leash. It had wheels, and when you “walked” it, it would make a little barking noise. The man yells for me to get out of the way. I stand my ground. I feel a hard slap against my face, and then it felt numb. Jimbo was reaching for my brother's crib, so I swing the toy with all of the might a three and a half year old has. It connects, so I swing again. I feel another hard hit to my face, and I can taste blood. He had knocked out my front tooth. My mother runs in screaming, shouts at Jimbo, and she grabs Wesley out of the crib. Who knows, I might've saved my little brother's life that day.
Another clear memory I have is being left behind at some sort of laundromat. I don't know if by accident or on purpose, but I was scared and crying. A relative eventually came and picked me up. It was hard for me to understand why the people who claimed to love me, the mother and father who brought me into this world, could cause so much harm to their sons. I seemed to stay in a perpetual state of confusion and loneliness and a fear of abandonment would follow me throughout my life like a curse.
I'm not actually clear on what event caused the State to finally intervene on my behalf, but I was eventually placed up for adoption and shuffled around from foster home to foster home in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. I was never in any particular home for more than a couple of months at a time. I doubted I would ever have a permanent family like my social worker constantly promised. The worst of it was wondering if my brother had just been a figment of my imagination.
A year passed and my file was turned over to a new social worker from the Edna Gladnet Adoption Agency in Ft. Worth. She reviewed my case and was horrified to see that I had been separated from Wesley for so long. I was relieved when she told me that I did have a brother, and promised to reunite us. She tracked him down to a foster home in Dallas County. The foster home protested against me staying in their home at first, but they did have plans to adopt Wesley, who they practically raised from infancy.
As I stood at the door of my next foster home, I was anxious to meet my brother. My social worker had shown me a few photos of him as an infant, and more current ones of him at two and a half years old. I vaguely remembered his face, but still, I couldn't wait to be reunited with him. A love that only brothers could have, burned deeply in my heart.
The social worker directed me to push the door bell and I touched it with my tiny finger. So eager was I that I pushed it again and again. A second or two passed...the door opened, and I was staring into my brother's blue eyes.
“Who you?” He asked, suspiciously.
The social worker squeezed my hand and I said, “I'm your big brother.” He was holding something behind his back, and it appeared that he wouldn't hesitate to hit me with it if I was lying. Then, he dropped it and I saw that it was a small plastic guitar. The social worker coaxed us into hugging, and I gave him the biggest hug that I possibly could.
Because I had thrown a monkey wrench into the foster family's plans, it created a hostile environment for me. I remember other kids being in the home, but I seemed to always be the one treated like an outcast. Sure, the family did all that they were obligated to do for me, but I could clearly tell they did not want me there. I seemed to be singled out for the smallest of infractions, and they seemed to push me harder than anyone else.
I didn't know my ABCs or how to count when I entered their home, and I remember being put through a rigorous educational curriculum. I also remember having a fear of water, and so they taught me how to swim, but their swimming course seemed to come directly from the NAVY SEAL'S handbook. One time they dumped a bunch of water weights into the deep end of the swimming pool, and told me that I had to dive into the water, and collect the weights within a set amount of time. If I didn't, I wouldn't be allowed to sit at the same table as everyone else when they went to McDonald's. They applied the same punishment to me whenever I didn't finish my vegetables on any particular meal. I've always had a problem with broccoli and cauliflower because of the bitter taste and smell, and each bite would send me into gagging fits. To this day I cannot stand either vegetable.
The other things I remember vividly from that summer: scorpions, a young girl the same age as myself, and Star Wars: Return Of The Jedi. Being stung by a scorpion was nothing nice, and the house I stayed at was deep in the country, so we were warned to not run around barefooted...But come on! What kid wears shoes in the country? My little kid roots were as redneck as they could be, and besides, I could out run a measly little scorpion! The little girl was something else entirely...I was completely smitten! Her house was not far from my foster home, and I would run down a gravel road to her home whenever I could manage to get away. We'd play, drink lemonade made by her mother, or sip on sweet sun tea while playing in her yard. Once, her family invited me to their Country Club for dinner. I remember a giant swimming pool with a slide, and swimming there. Then, changing into clothes and going into the club house for something to eat. There was a television on with “Wheel of Fortune” playing. The little girl made a comment about how pretty Vanna White's dress was, and I promised her right there, “One day I'll buy you that dress!” I wonder if she remembers me...
Of all the things that stood out in my mind from that time, it was Star Wars that inspired my imagination like nothing else. I vaguely remember seeing “The Empire Strikes Back” with my biological family, but the scene where Luke is training with Yoda on Dagobah, and enters the cave to face his fears, only to confront himself as Darth Vader, freaked me out. I couldn't ever shake the image of Luke's face inside of Vader's chopped off head. So, when the foster family took everyone to see “Return Of The Jedi” at the theater, I was a bit uneasy. Any fears I had were easily replaced with the awesomeness of Luke – a fully realised Jedi, Chewbacca, and the rest of the gang. My love of space, and my obsession with all things Star Wars related, were firmly cemented. I was either going to be a Jedi, or an astronaut...I was certain of it!...But the fun could only last for so long. It was back to learning how to read and how to swim.
I eventually began to love both swimming and reading, and excelled at both, so I give them credit. Even if at times when I'd jump into the water, my imagination would take over and I'd get the feeling that a certain great white shark was about to swim up behind me and eat me whole! But with each stroke I made, I knew I was swimming closer into the arms of a new family.
A call was finally made to the foster family by the social worker. She said that a family who was interested in adopting both Wesley and I had been found. They would be coming from Arlington, Texas, only a few miles away from Dallas, and would be visiting and taking us home with them. A great buzz of excitement began to swarm around the foster home. I think in that week of preparation, I did more chores and activities than I ever had in my short little life!
The social worker believed it would be “the right thing to do” to allow our biological parents to see us and say one last goodbye, and a meeting was allowed. I don't remember much of it, though pictures do exist. I remember receiving a beloved ET stuffed toy from them, and some colouring books, and as a final goodbye from the social worker, she gave us a giant Snoopy stuffed animal.
It was a blistering August morning when the big day arrived. Wesley was wearing an Incredible Hulk t-shirt, and I had some kind of tank top shirt on. We waited anxiously in the driveway, and rode our “Big Wheel” tricycles around. I'm not sure if Wesley fully understood what an important part of our lives this was, but I knew that it finally meant a family. A permanent place to stay...And the social worker promised me that I'd no longer have to be afraid of anything. I firmly believed that every word she said was true.
What seemed like forever to a five year old boy, passed by. I can't recall if any doubt set in as we waited, but I know I was still excited, nervous, and hopeful. As noon approached I began to sun burn a little, but I refused to go back in. The foster parents began to cook lunch on the grill in the back yard and I could smell hot dogs burning. Suddenly, in the distance, I saw a bright flash of light reflect off of something metallic. I squinted my eyes, but could see nothing else. I could hear the distinct hum of an engine as a vehicle approached closer and closer. The hum turned into a growl, then the crunching of tires on gravel. The car was in clear view now, and drove very slowly to the house. I froze in place, and Wesley stopped his tricycle. I watched, breathless, as a hand reached out the passenger side of the automobile, read the address on the mailbox, then turned into the driveway.
My heart was pounding! It felt like it would have burst from my tiny chest. I watched and waited as the car parked, the engine shut off, and then there was a pause that seemed to suspend time. The driver's side door swung open in a wide arc, and I watched as a giant foot landed on the pavement. A bald man with a dark moustache and sunglasses, stepped out of the car. He removed his sunglasses and replaced them with a big pair of clear glasses. The high Texas sun glinted off his bald head and it made me want to giggle.
We both stood there, staring at each other for a few seconds, neither of us making a move...And then, without even thinking about it, I took off running towards him in a mad dash, yelling, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” jumping into his big bear-like arms. He picked me up as if I had always been his son.
I can still see myself trying to impress him in those first moments. I wanted him to know I could read, that I could swim, and dive in the deep end. I could tie my shoe laces, and a million other things. I remember Wesley being nervous, but bonding with our new mom quite quickly, as he shoved doughnuts into her mouth. I wanted my new dad to be proud of me, and I'd spend a lifetime trying to impress him. By the end of that day, everything felt natural. As if they had always been my parents.
Never had I experienced a love like this. Never had anything felt so real. Never had I felt something so pure.
Taken just days before Randy was adopted, at 5 1/2 years old.