A few weeks ago I finally realized on a deep, aware, cognitive level I am an orphan. Even though I have been virtually partial orphan since 3 month after my birth, and a full on orphan since age 15, it has taken me until very recently to actually adopt that at part of one of my identity descriptors.
I am not sure why it took me so long get here. I mean, I did think about the idea of being an orphan in my youth. And I readily identify with the orphan in films. One of my earliest childhood heroes and idols was Pippi Longstocking. I sort of admired her. I wanted to travel with her. Heck, I think if I am honest with it, I think I wanted to be her. Later I identified with the marooned or lost or isolated alien. I also think that is why the film Lemony Snickets hit me hard (and I put it out to the universe that if anyone ever wants to get me a very special present, the entire book series I think would be one of those items) without me really understanding why.
But I was always very reluctant to actually consider myself an orphan. I mean I had my mother (mostly), my grandfather (sort of, even if he was abusive), my grandmother (on brief occasion till she passed). I still had aunts and cousins. I was not in an orphanage or on the street. We were not impoverished. My clothing was not ragged. And I was not relegated to eating gruel or porridge or whatever it was orphans were expected to survive off.
Even when I lost my mother and basically left my grandfather, the idea of considering myself an orphan never crossed my mind. I was a foster child after all, in the foster care system, living in group homes or foster homes. Nowhere does the word orphan or orphanage appear in all that. And I still had consanguine kin out there, even if I wanted nothing to do with them. Orphans were supposed to be on these great quests to find their true parents or their relatives, where there would be this joyous reunion at the end. Or a life or wealth and prosperity if they could not find their “real family” and finally accepted the love and adoration of some kindly rich person.
Nor did I consider it again at age 17 when I found out the man who was my father – who my mother divorced soon after my birth and who I believe I have never seen – had died. Hell, by that time I was so numbed that I think I just shrugged it off and wonder what was I supposed to feel or say.
And then I just sort of moved on.
And it’s not like I did not consider or think about the impact not having those family ties have had on my life. I was acutely aware of it. It made me reluctant to move on from relationships, any relationship, which promised or hinted at some form of solidity and stability. The loss of everything from my youth – including every single picture of myself or my mother – I believe as caused me decided problems in divesting myself of material objects in my life which I have no more use for. In other words, I have a basement full of junk I can’t get rid of because even attempting to do so almost causes me break down emotionally.
But I think the biggest limitation is my almost inability to take risks. Because I have no fallback plan. I know have no family to call up and ask for help. I have no one to watch my back. And I only ever have myself to rely on. Even if I have friends or fictive kin who say they are here for me, I do not ask for that help of favors, but I can never know when I will have to cash in the bank big time and ask them for a family level favor.(1)
But I do not think that I have ever previously considered the impact being an orphan may have had on my perception of the world and my experience with community. For me, community is so often this alien thing. Something I have to navigate alone, because I can never find people quite like me. And I definitely feel as though there is no option of leadership or guidance or invitation or mentorship for me. No, it’s pretty much figure things out on my own. I have always had to be my own mentor and teacher. Or maybe attend that class or something. But actually be reached out to, invited in, and treated as part of a family? That I rarely find or feel.
If anything I always I have to create the family myself. And then act as leader and teacher and authority when I have no references for those things myself. I make light sure. Patricia Pan I call myself. And my fictive kin are my Lost Girls, but it is exhausting some times.
I don’t know where I am rambling with this. Other than to say that I have suddenly come to the profound revelation that, because I am an orphan, that I may have a very different view – and outsiders perception – of so much of reality. And in a conversation I had today, I found there is some sort of psychological archetype of orphan. And I am now wondering more about that. I am going to have to do some digging.
(1) And yes, I am quite aware that people with families face these issues as well. That absent parents or tragic events or family rejection or family poverty can these same effects. Recognizing similarities in oppressions is understandable. But please don’t derail with trying to minimize or dismiss my analysis of my experience of being an orphan because other people experience this as well.