More Than Words
Excerpted from The Sign for Drowning by Rachel Stolzman MFA ’96
Anna’s sister, Megan, drowned when they were children, and Anna taught herself sign language to cope with the emotional destruction of her family. Now she’s the head of a school for deaf children, but her life is still shadowed by that day on the beach long ago … until she adopts Adrea, a deaf foster child.
I had been counseled by a social worker before considering adoption; she tried to prepare me for becoming an adoptive parent, telling me that it is integrally different, at first, from having a child. She said I would be asking myself questions that a biological parent would never entertain. That I would find myself wondering, “Why her? Was this the right child?” I did not tell her that I had met Adrea and then decided to adopt, instead of the other way around. I did not tell her that there were larger questions and doubts in my mind.
One thing she said stuck with me. She warned that in the beginning an adopted child is not your child. You will love her before you will feel at ease with her. You will feel false, unwilling to find anything trying, tiring, or unpleasant about caring for her.
“You will watch yourself with her, from the outside.” She guaranteed it would be a moment of frustration, an admission of anger, in which I would discover she was mine. She swore I’d recognize the moment. She was right. I’d been sleeping poorly for about a month while waiting for Adrea to move in, then we both had insomnia, and when she finally slept, I watched, wondering at having brought her so entirely into my life. I fretted over our mutual awkwardness, remembering the unchallenged ease of our previous relationship.
One Saturday morning I was finally sleeping; although it was probably only eight in the morning, I was luxuriating in sleeping in.
At first I thought it was my anxiety waking me, as from a nightmare, an abrupt shock. But once I was awake, there was a second crash, quieter and more glassy than the first. I ran into the kitchen. Adrea was standing on the counter by the sink. The hanging rack for pots dangled from one chain; the cast iron pans that had been released had rushed straight down into the cart of glassware. The broken glass and pans were all heaped up in a pile, as though they had already been swept. Had Adrea been afraid, the moment would have been delayed. Perhaps such an accident is not frightening without the sound effects. She jumped off the counter, avoiding the mess, and scooting her way out of the kitchen, signed, “You sleep later than Mrs. Carter.”
I grabbed her arm as she headed past me, surprising us both. “What were you doing?”
“I’m going to clean this up. Go into your room,” I signed with pointed enunciation, my face compressed. “You are not allowed to play in the kitchen by yourself. This is a rule. Do you understand?”