by Linda Gonzalez
“Can we adopt you?”
I rip my gaze from the wall portraying multiple smiling children with their new parents to the over joyous couple in front of me. I imagine a life with them, a peaceful one. One where I could be happy and be supported by these two people across from me. I imagine playing baseball or basketball with the athletic man and I imagine helping the caramel-coloured woman with gardening or chores around the house. I picture diner time with mouth-watering food scattered over the table with tall white candles in the middle and the three of us laughing at a joke I would make.
My lips turn downwards into a frown as I push the cheery dream from my mind. Dad used to say that rich families were snobs. I let my instinct answer, “No.”
Instantly the Eriksons mirror my expression, with a hint of confusion and hurt. The woman, who had been leaning towards me with a huge grin dancing on her lips, recoils into her husband’s arms with a small pout while she registers my response. She looks like a middle schooler who just got rejected by the coolest kid in school and is wondering why he didn’t want her. The man mutters something indecipherable as he cups his wife’s shoulders. He scrunches his face like he ate something sour to show his displeasure.
I know what they were expecting. They thought I’d jump up and down enthusiastically while shrieking Yes! over and over. Then, still yelling, I’d go tell all the other orphans and the adults who took care of me for ten years the good news. I scoff unintentionally at how people see orphans and how they’re supposed to react when on the verge of getting adopted. Little do they know that we’re actually broken. People think that fake parents who act like our parents will fill the void and we won’t be damaged anymore. They’re wrong. We’re missing an important part of our childhood and of ourselves, that it automatically makes us different from other children.
I keep my expression blank as the woman clears her throat and asks, “Why not?”
“Maia, don’t pressure him,” the man advises softly.
“I’m not pressuring him, Sean!” Maia snaps back. She turns back to me. “So why not?” She nuzzles her head deeper in the safety of the crook of Sean’s arm as if the answer will hurt her. I notice a large pink scar on her left arm, peeking from under her short sleeve. It begins halfway on her bicep and snakes its way up her shoulder.
“I don’t want to be a part of your family,” I say flatly, waving my hand in the air for effect. Sean purses his lips, but doesn’t say anything and Maia ignores this.
“Luc, we really want to adopt you,” she pauses, letting me register her squeaky voice before continuing. “We can’t have kids and we’ve dreamed of having kids for a long time…”
She extends her arms to take my hands and I’m so tempted to let her. I get the sudden urge to climb into her lap like a little boy. I want to feel the warmth of her skin and her protection and I want to agree to go home with her. I almost do but an image pops into my head, quickly slicing through my hope. Mom always said that I wasn’t a little boy that needed to be held–I was strong. I immediately jerk away with my lips pulled back into a scowl.
“Not my problem if your uterus is defective.” I smirk smugly as she cups her peach-coloured lips and gasps loudly. Just the reaction I was looking for. Over the years, I learned that to avoid being liked you need to act like you’re on top of the world, that you have no intention of coming down. Tears gather in the corner of her eyes, making the emerald in them appear glassy. Her bottom lip trembles while she furiously chomps down on it to avoid crying out. Sean tires comforting her while shooting me disapproving glances, then whispering into her ear. My lopsided grin slowly fades as guilt lights up like fire in my chest and burns my whole body.
“Maia, we can’t take this one,” Sean whispers loud enough for me to hear. He sounds like a customer deciding what to buy at a store. I roll my eyes.
“Why don’t you want to be adopted?” Maia ignores her husband. I widen my eyes in surprise and let my jaw drop. She had calmed down fairly quickly, quicker than I had expected. Her determined eyes bore into mine, seeking the answer to her question. I flinch and lower my gaze to my lap. No one had asked me this before and I wasn’t sure how I wanted to respond. I didn’t know whether I could trust these people–maybe Maia, she seemed to care about me–but I wasn’t about to pour my heart out to them. Mom always said that crying or expressing certain emotions showed weakness.
I take deep, over exaggerated breaths and see Maia’s lips curve upwards from the corner of my eye as if thinking, I finally cracked the heartless orphan–or so she thinks. I stifle a quiet laugh at how ignorant this woman is. Mom wouldn’t like her.
“What do you care?” I spit coldly.
Maia flinches at my tone, obviously not expecting that, but persists, “Luc, we’d never leave you like your parents did–“
“How’d you know that?” I demand as I shoot up in my seat and glowered at her. How dare she? My throat tightens while tears burn at the back of my eyes. I blink them back, remembering Mom’s tips and scrunch my nose at the Erikson couple. Maia twirls her finger around her expensive pearls, her eyes wide with concern while Sean avoids my gaze, nibbling on his bottom lip. Dad was right–rich people really are snobs. They say what they want and then don’t know what to say when they offend someone.
“Are we done here?” I cross my arms over my chest and tilt my head sideways, eyeing my escape.
“No!” Maia shrieks desperately, scrambling to her feet. Sean’s eyes widen with confusion while I’ve taken a step back from her, alert. She clears her throat and puts her hands up in surrender. “Uh… I mean, no. You never answered my question,” she says, lowering her voice.
“‘Cuz I don’t wanna,” I try to mimic street/gangster talk as best I can to try to scare her off. Dad wouldn’t approve of this, he was all about proper sentence structure. I have to bite my tongue to swallow the corrections forming in my mouth.
Maia stretches out her arms when she notices I keep glancing behind her, and my eyes instantly go to her scar. Her sleeves have gone up slightly, revealing more of it so I can get a good look at it. Maia catches me staring–“Staring’s rude, Luc,” Mom would say–but she doesn’t look ashamed nor self conscious, she almost looks proud to wear it so boldly.
She shrugs when I dart my eyes away, my face burning, and whispers, “It was a while back.”
“I didn’t say anything though.”
“You were thinking it.”
A pause. “How’d you get it?”
She presses her lips together and takes another deep breath. “I was in a car accident. My body was thrown around and my arm got caught somehow. When they extracted me, they were careless and almost ripped my arm off.”
“I’m sorry,” is all I say and I feel like yanking my hair out at how cliché that sounds.
“You have a scar like this too.” She jabs her thumb at it.
I’m about to deny and cuss her out. Instead, I bow my head. “I know.”
Admitting it made me feel weak and made me realize that maybe that’s why my parents left me. I was too much of a burden; I had a too big emotional scar that they didn’t want me anymore.
“They didn’t want to leave their kid behind,” Maia assures quickly.
I know she’s trying to comfort me, but saying that aloud reopenes old wounds.
“You didn’t know them! They hated me!” I scream. Memories pulse through my mind, forcing me to remember the past–lonely days in a dark room while starving when I didn’t behave. My clammy palms crush my head as I struggle to remain calm and to fight back tears. A few moments pass before I feel a firm hand on my back.
“Why don’t you want to get adopted?” Maia repeats.
I shake my head slowly, clenching and unclenching my jaw as the gears in my head spin to find an intelligent answer. Frustrated, and after many silent minutes, I conclude that I have none. My mind is blank.
“You’re waiting for them to return, aren’t you?”