Part 1: Twice Adopted – Part 2 – Click Here
My name is Karen Elizabeth McGinnis.
How I wanted to say those words many times throughout my youth. That was the name given me by my mother when I was born. I can’t imagine my father had any interest in naming me. My grandmother, who died when my mother was a wee child herself, was named Elizabeth.
My mother, Ellen, tragically died after a fall when I was not yet two years old, leaving my brothers and me in the custody of our respective fathers. Ronnie’s father, unknown to us until this time, swooped in from out of nowhere and took Ronnie back to New England to live with him. Michael and I were left in the care of the man who took part in our creation – who then left us in the care of an elderly, arthritic, depressed, and muscatel-loving grandfather, who had lost two wives and his only child after coming to America from Sweden.
The man known as our father loved his freedom more than he loved his children and he soon disappeared. His sister apparently wanted nothing to do with us. We had step uncles and aunts who were mysteriously gone from our lives. Except for Morfar, our grandfather, we were orphans in a huge house by the river. Eventually, I was adopted by some neighbors who stopped by looking for their lost cocker spaniel. Lose a dog, gain a kid. Interesting.
I remember the day my mom sat me down in the kitchen, telling me “You can’t call us Doris and Skip anymore. We are Mommy and Daddy.” Oh. Okay.
I was adopted out of a life without parents, a life of certain hardship, of being an orphan, and brought into a home and being a loved daughter. It was dysfunctional, but I know my mom loved me. She was a bit of a control freak, but she loved me. My dad? Well, it was tough with him. That’s another story for another day. My brother, Michael, ended up journeying down a different path with his own trials, tribulations, and triumphs. I am so proud of him.
So much power in names. I never thought twice about my name until I was in school and discovered the annoying sing-songy way Karen Keim sounded and how the kids soon discovered it rhymed with Slime. Slimy Keimy soon was shortened to just Slime, and became the name by which I was known in school. I hated it. I hated school, and I hated myself. Once, even one of the teachers referred to me as Slime. Nice.
One day I found my original social security card. It said “KAREN ELIZABETH MCGINNIS” and I was filled with anger. Kids couldn’t call me Slimy Keimy if my name hadn’t been changed from McGinnis. And, after all, it was MY name. Nobody had the right to CHANGE it. If I were Karen McGinnis, I would not have to argue with kids to make them believe that the popular Mike McGinnis was indeed my brother. I could ride on his coat tails and have some validation. But instead, I was just Slime.
I can still hear the kids on the bus. “Get out of the way, Slime!” “Ew, who wants to sit by Slime! You’ll get corroded!” It didn’t help that my parents were chain smokers and I reeked of cigarette smoke. I had no idea. Growing up in a smoker’s house, I never was aware of the smell, but other kids were and told me, frequently, how smelly and slimy I was.
I was adopted. I had a new name, and I hated it. I wanted to cling to my old name, even though that name was connected to a father who didn’t want me or love me, connected to being motherless, connected to being an orphan. On the positive side, it also connected me to my brother, and to the mother who gave me life and nurtured me from the womb.
Looking back tends to be human nature, I guess. Look at Lot’s wife.
As I grew from childhood into adulthood, my life was centered around finding happiness. And while I didn’t realize it, I felt that happiness would be found in finding a man to love me. My father’s abandonment left a gaping hole in my soul. My dad (adopted) did not know how to show love and was, in fact, expert at the opposite. Boys at school wanted nothing to do with me.
The first man I remember “crushing” on was my dad’s friend Jimmy. My mom told me once I ran up to him calling him “Daddy.” Odd since he didn’t look like my dad. (I later learned he played guitar and wore a cowboy hat, which made him resemble my real father. Later it was other friends of my parents – Clyde (“Tinker”) was a favorite because he always took time to twinkle at me and let me know he was pleased to see me.
When I was 13 a man who knew my parents showed attention to me in an inappropriate way. He was 47 years old and told me how pretty I was. He kissed me, secretly, numerous times. And I was ecstatic. A man found me attractive! A man wanted me! I made the mistake and told someone at school who scorned me and naturally, did not believe me. I didn’t care. It was my special thing, and he didn’t care that my name rhymed with Slime. Little did I know how dangerous this was and how close I came to being molested. Now looking back I am glad for the watchful friend of my mom’s who spotted a clandestine kiss and that was soon the end of that. However, once my dad found out he seemed to blame me and once referred to me as “a little tramp.” My mom never put the blame on me and instead placed her wrath, rightfully, on the man in question and basically said we’d never be seeing him again for any reason. If that were my daughter, I would have called the cops. But hey…different times.
As I grew older, I grew more and more depressed. Nobody would take me to the school dances, nobody asked me to the prom. Nobody missed me when I didn’t go on the senior trip and I was not included in any graduation celebrations. No Friday night dates, no weekend sleepovers except when I had a few slumber parties and invited some kids over, who amazingly, came…I guess it wasn’t ALL bleak but invitations for me were few and far between. One boy DID ask me out and I thought he was joking and I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of hurting me. Years later I found out he was serious and did like me, but my insecurity kept me from believing it.
Then after graduation, I found Glenn. I wanted him. I wanted him to give me a new name – his. I was 17 and knew what I wanted. I would now have a “place.”
To be Continued…..Part 2 click here.