I had worked diligently polishing my speech and speaking skills for months and now the time had finally arrived to see how well I had done. It was state competition day for DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) in Georgia. My membership in DECA came about when I signed up to take Marketing as an elective class during my senior year of high school. Typically students were able to choose a different elective each year as part of their schedule, but for students like myself who were in band, there was no extra opportunity for other electives since band took that space in our schedule each year. Once senior year rolled around though, there was one more spot in my schedule I could fill since I had met all of my other credit requirements. I am not exactly sure why, but I chose to enroll in Marketing. It sounded interesting, I guess, and I wasn’t particularly interested in any of the other offerings such as typing, auto shop, health services, cosmetology, etc.
At first, I wasn’t so sure about the marketing teacher, Mr. Carter. He seemed nice but also strict in a way. Since I was a people pleaser and rule follower, stern teachers like him who didn’t seem as friendly frightened me a little and made me feel like any wrong move could send me straight to the principal’s office. And the principal would surely call my parents, who would be livid and then I would be in real hot water! I’m not exactly sure what I thought would get me in so much trouble because the worst things I did at school were to talk too much, daydream, and chew bubble gum. That bubble gum chewing did get me sent to detention once in 7th grade when Mrs. Wilkerson caught me with a fresh piece of Hubba Bubba as I was walking in the hallway, but I think I got away with that incident without my parents finding out. In Mr. Carter’s’ class, I did not have to worry about getting in trouble for gum or candy though because he actually allowed us to have snacks during class! Certain snacks anyway. The ones we purchased from the school store. I was happy about that and I decided Mr. Carter was a pretty cool teacher after all.
Part of our marketing class was operating the school store, which was in a small room that adjoined our classroom. It was stocked with school supplies, spirit gear, snacks, and candy. The store was completely ran by the marketing students and overseen by Mr. Carter. We were assigned times to work during the mornings before school hours where other students could come by and make purchases before heading to homeroom. The typical purchases were things like Cheetos, chips, Gardetto’s, Reece’s, M&Ms, Buncha Crunch and sour straws. But we weren’t just worker bees, we were actually putting what we learned in class into practice. We were learning about good customer service, cost of goods sold, profit, suggestive selling, target markets, accounting, and other skills that would help us as future business men and women. Our performance in the store was part of our grade and I definitely wanted to get a good grade. In addition to making a good grade, my people-pleasing tendencies kicked in and I worked hard in that store to do well and always be very pleasant. I wanted Mr. Carter to be proud of me. It paid off! In January, I was named School Store Employee of the Month and got my name in lights! Ok, well, not lights but I did get my name posted to the big marquee on the outside of the vocational building for the whole world to see. Or at least my little part of the world anyway. I was so proud that I marked the occasion by standing in front of the school building for a snapshot that would later go in my Senior memory book to document it. I was smiling real big as I stood there wearing my green corduroy jumper with the green, black, and cream striped turtle neck that I had recently bought at Express, with the marquee hovering over my shoulder boasting of my accomplishment. I was achieving my goals and on my way to big business success one day! I could already see myself in a downtown corner office with a large credenza desk, leather chair, and amazing views working for some well-known and highly respected company. Then after each 9 to 5 day, I would drive home in my black BMW convertible with the top down and the radio up.
Those were fun things to dream about but for the time being, I had to get back to focusing on my speech because if I did well at this state competition, that would secure my trip to the national DECA completion in Anaheim, CA. I wanted that so badly because I was adventurous loved to travel! All of the places I had been were mainly in the Southeastern United States but I had been as far north as Washington, D.C. All of these were driving trips. Some with family in our own vehicle or a rented mini van and some with church and band on a big charter bus. But the trip to California would be on an airplane. I had never been on an airplane before and the prospects of getting to fly excited me!
It was my turn. I took my place at the front of the room and laid my 5×7 index cards on the podium in front of me. Written in dark blue ink were bullet points from my speech for that extra peace of mind in case I got too nervous to remember what was supposed to come next. I started my speech as the judges took their score sheets and started the timer. I was nervous but also confident. It was not the first time I had been in front of an audience. I had many previous performances and speaking engagements under my belt to audiences both big and small. I actually kind of excelled at being the center of attention, I was an only child after all. I was also the only young child in the 6 houses surrounding mine on the dead end street where I grew up. Our street was straights and was lined on each side with mostly ranch style houses that had been built in the 70s. I was doted on by all the neighbors whose children were already teens or older when my parents got me as a newborn. I guess I was the newest attraction and kind of like the neighborhood baby doll. So having all eyes on me was not that scary. The time ticked by quickly and my speech went well. Once I finished, I thanked the judges and left the room to return to the waiting area that had been staged in the cafeteria of this high school that was hosting the state DECA competition. It would take a bit for all of the students giving speeches to take their turn in the spotlight. I passed the time while in this holding pattern by talking with other students who has finished their competitions and just hoped and prayed that I had scored well and would finish in 3rd place or above to get that coveted trip to the Golden State. Finally… it was time! The results were in and awards were being announced. The nerves started to get stronger. My stomach churned slightly. “Oh please, oh please let them say my name!” I prayed as they went through the process of calling out each competition and all of the winners. And lo and behold, I had done it!! 3rd place. Not bad. 1st place would have certainly been more to my liking, but 3rd place was all I needed. I was heading to California!
The days leading up to that trip were very exciting! I was looking forward to all of the adventures we would have but most of all, I was enthusiastically looking forward to flying on an airplane. I would be 18 years old, flying for the first time, across the country from Georgia to California, and doing so on my own. Yes, I would have Mr. Carter there and some of my fellow students, but I would be taking this flight independent from my parents. I was a very independent girl and I liked going on my own adventures.
As we backed away from the gate, my heart may have beat just a little faster. While I had been looking forward to this day that I would get to see the world from a completely different view point for the first time, I have to admit that there was a slight trepidation because I really didn’t know exactly what to expect. Questions, like popping corn, were taking shape one right after the other in my brain. “What if we take off and I don’t actually like flying? I don’t think they will stop and let me off like they did at the carnival when I screamed my head off because the Sizzler was just too much for me. What if I get sick? Where did the flight attendant say the life jackets are located again? When will I know its ok to get up for the bathroom? My bladder will certainly not make it all the way to California. What if we crash?” Soon, the swirling engines replaced my swirling thoughts and we were off. The take off was smooth and my anxieties subsided as we zoomed through the air and watched the cars and buildings grow smaller and smaller with the climbing altitude. Then all of a sudden, we rose above clouds. WOW! It was amazing! I could see nothing else around except big beautiful white cumulus clouds below us and blue sky above. I leaned over and asked my friend Jessica, “Do you think this is what Heaven looks like? I kind of hope so because it’s so beautiful!” I sat back, relaxed, and reveled in the view.
A few hours later, we made it to California. I did not get sick and we indeed did not crash. My very first flight was a success! The trip was everything I had hoped for. We made many memories visiting Disneyland, shopping on Rodeo drive, and visiting the beautiful California countryside with its rocky beaches and beautiful ocean views. And of course, I would never forget that airplane ride.
About a year a later, my memories of this trip would be altered somewhat when my parents (or maybe just my dad), shared information about my life with my then boyfriend, Nick, that they had never shared with me. I had been adopted at birth by my parents and I knew that. They informed me of this when I was around 4-5 years old. I don’t remember actually having the conversation and being told. It was as if I had always known. I was fine with it. Proud of it, to be honest, and happy that my parents loved me and I had a good home. But after that initial conversation about being adopted, it was implied to be a taboo subject because it was just not talked about. There were a handful of times where the fact of the matter had to be stated, such as at the doctor’s office, but otherwise it was hush hush. I was very curious about where I had come from and wondered all the time about where my parents might be, but I didn’t dare ask. I just knew that my questions would not be received well. After all, we didn’t talk about adoption. So why suddenly one day, during a car ride to visit me at college, my parents decided to tell my boyfriend that they knew who my biological mom was, I may never know, but they did. They had never even let on that they knew anything about me or my family before I came to them. For whatever reason this car ride apparently seemed to be a good time and Nick an appropriate person to spill the beans to. Why not just tell ME?! And why tell him and then instruct him not to tell me? Did they assume he would actually keep the secret from me or did they feel certain that he would tell me and were ok if he did that because deep down they wanted me to know but couldn’t bring themselves to discuss it with me directly? I don’t know what they were thinking, but he told me. I though never told them that he told me.
I couldn’t believe it! Nick relayed all of the details he had been given to me. He began telling me about how I had come to be adopted by my parents. It certainly wasn’t how I had imagined it to be, because in my mind I had been in a bassinet all wrapped up in a blanket, in a big nursery and a sea of bassinets filled with other babies up for adoption. I imagined my parents had visited the nursery and looked around at all the babies and picked me out of the bunch! Isn’t that how it happens on tv? Or maybe it was just as my adoptive mom had always said and they picked me out of the cabbage patch. But no, that wasn’t it. It was all privately arranged before I was even born through friend connections and lawyers. My parents had also given Nick my birthmother’s name and birthdate, her father’s name, and they told him that I had been born in Northfolk, VA. “Virginia??” I was puzzled. My birth certificate was from GA and said I was born in Clayton County, I would have never ever guessed that I was born in Virginia. But what he told me next, just may have been the catalyst for what would eventually lead me to becoming a fierce advocate for truth and transparency in adoption because it changed what I thought I knew about myself and made me more determined than ever to find my family and my truth. He proceeded to tell me that at 5 days old, on my biological mother’s 18th birthday, I was taken from my mother’s arms at the hospital where we had been together since she birthed me and I was delivered into the arms of the attorney handling my adoption. The lawyer was accompanied by my biological grandfather and together they flew me from Norfolk, VA to Atlanta, GA where my adoptive parents were anxiously waiting amongst the snow flakes that were falling on the very cold day in February. Upon hearing this part of my story, I became sad. The awareness that there was so much about myself that I didn’t know was setting in. I was also realizing that my parents had not been truthful with me as they had sat silent while hearing me talk about the exhilaration of taking that very first plane flight, all the while knowing that it was not my first flight at all.