When I was little, I didn’t understand that my parents couldn’t have children of their own. I grew up surrounded by busy adults who had no time for a little girl and her play and I was lonely. So every night when I went to bed I would pray for God to send me a baby brother or sister.
Then one day God sent Donny. The story my mother told was that she had received a call from Judge Zoe Ann Warberg in the middle of the night. The judge told her that six children had been abandoned by their mother in nearby Burley, Idaho. The judge wondered if my mother and father would be willing to take one of them in. My mother agreed and Donny came into our lives.
Donny was five when he came to live with us; a year older than me. He was a dark haired boy with freckles. I remember him wearing jeans with suspenders and a plaid shirt. I was thrilled with my new big brother.
My parents set about making him fit into our family. They cut his hair and bought him clothes and shoes. They turned the old glassed in porch into a bedroom just for him. He was included in everything. There is a professional photo of us together when I turned five.
In another photo, we are having a tea party in the living room, and another shows Donny and I wearing the matching cowboy and cowgirl costumes we received for Christmas. Donny’s was black with chaps and mine was red with a short skirt.
I was happy to have a brother but on some level I was jealous of Donny. He got to play with trucks and guns and Lincoln Logs. Donny was allowed to go out on the tractors with the men and to help feed the cattle. He was not marked by the shame of being a girl. Sometimes my dad would let Donny sit with him in the evenings. He helped Donny with his homework. I thought my dad liked him better than me.
My mom’s seemed intent on wiping away everything which made him different from us. I remember they took him to see Dr. Luke and he had an operation. Every night for a while, Mom would make him lie on the kitchen counter while she tended to him. When I asked her what she was doing she said, “We had to have him circumcised. What kind of nasty people don’t have their sons properly taken care of?
Over the next year, the temporary placement turned into a pre-adoption. I am sure there were a lot of legal hassles. The children’s mother had run off with a milkman and the father’s whereabouts were unknown. The state would have had to sever parental rights to free up the children to be adopted.
One day Donny and I were playing in our favorite hideout behind the sofa. A friend was having coffee with my mother and I heard my mother say, “I don’t like them to play together out of sight. I am afraid of what he might do to her. You don’t know the things that went on in that family.”
Then one bright summer morning I awoke to a scene. It was unusual because in my family we didn’t have scenes. My mother was crying in the kitchen. Her white hairbrush with the black bristles lay on the linoleum kitchen floor. My usually silent and calm father had beaten Donny with it. “Pack his suitcase and take him back,” my father yelled. “I will not be spoken to like that in my own house.”
“But he is just a little boy,” my mother pleaded.
“He told me he didn’t want to live here anymore because our house is full of bugs,” my father said. “I work hard to put a good roof over his head, and if he doesn’t want to be here then he can leave.”
I remember my mother crying in the car all the way to Twin Falls. I remember the dark wood paneling of Judge Warberg’s courtroom and how our footsteps echoed in the empty space. I remember Donny’s room being empty when we got home.
Our family never spoke of Donny again. It was like he never existed, but things were never quite the same. Every day for a year I got off the school bus to find my mother in bed with a sick headache. I stopped believing in bedtime prayers, and I accepted my lonely isolation.
Something else changed in me as well. My mother claimed she told me I was adopted when I was four. It must have been about the time Donny came to live with us, but I don’t remember her telling me. I might have blocked it out, because I must have understood what it meant for me. After Donny left, I worked very hard at being good. I didn’t talk back. I didn’t break things or make scenes. I did everything my parents asked of me without question.
I wanted to be very, very good, because I had learned an important lesson from Donny. If you are adopted and you are bad, they can send you back.