My adoptive parents told me I was “chosen,” but the kids at school told me I was a “bastard.”
The recent headlines about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s infidelities and the son he fathered out of wedlock have stirred many old memories and emotions.
I was four years old when I learned I was adopted. It was just before my sister Maureen’s eighth birthday. I told her, “I know what you’re getting for your birthday.”
“Don’t spoil the secret,” she said. “If you tell me, I’m going to tell you a secret!”
Well, that was the wrong thing to say! I had to know what she was keeping from me! I said, “You’re getting a blue dress for your birthday.”
Maureen said, “And you were adopted.”
I ran off to find our mother, Jane Wyman, in the den. I asked her, “What does ‘adopted’ mean?”
Mom’s eyes flashed dangerously. “Where did you hear that word?” she asked.
After Mom finished dealing with Maureen, she sat me down and explained adoption to me. “You are a chosen child,” she said, “and that makes you special. We love you very much.”
I could tell that being “chosen” was a good thing. But I also realized for the first time that Mom wasn’t my “real” mother — that I had another mother who had mysteriously given me away.
One day, when I was in the second grade, I got into a playground argument with another boy. We took turns one-upping each other. “I’m better than you,” I said. “I’m special ’cause I was chosen! I was adopted!”
The other boy didn’t know how to answer that, but the next day he came back to school and laughed at me. “My parents told me what ‘adopted’ means,” he said. “You’re not special — you’re a bastard! Your real mother wasn’t married, so she gave you away — bastard!”
That’s when I realized there was something horribly wrong with me. I never again bragged about being “chosen,” and I never again felt “special.” But I did feel marked.
I wondered, “Why did my birth mother give me away? Was it because I’m a bastard?” I figured Mom couldn’t have known I was illegitimate or she wouldn’t have adopted me. And I didn’t want her to find out!