What’s in a name?

This is not a typical blog piece, though nothing about me is typical, so it fits appropriately.

I have been hesitant to write anything about my life that is deeply personal, because that requires an incredible willingness on behalf of the writer to be vulnerable and honest. However, I am always up for a challenge.

I’m 9 or 10 years old. I’ve snuck into my parents’ bedroom and am quietly walking across their carpet, praying that I don’t make a sound. I open their closet and find the brown metal box. My heart is pounding, hands shaking. I crouch down, balancing on the balls of my feet, ready to jump up and escape at the potential first creak of the stairs. Silence. So far so good. I lift the top up slowly. It doesn’t betray me by squeaking. I’m grateful. My little fingers search through the vanilla colored tabs labeled BILLS, LICENSES, etc., until I finally find the one I’m looking for: “FOSTER.”

I cock my head to one side, straining to hear any sign that I might be caught. Reassuring myself that I am safe to proceed, I gently lift the folder out, and look inside. Shamefully, I can’t remember the exact contents inside of the folder, except for the one thing that was most important to me: my true name.


I finally had a piece of my identity, right on that paper. You must understand, my mother refused to talk about my adoption. Whenever I would bring it up, or cautiously try to ask a question, the response would either be a look reflective of one who had just seen their own puppy murdered before their eyes, or she’d ignore the question altogether, feigning deafness.

There are a few things that I did know at the time.

1. I came to them when I was 2 years old through foster-care.

2. I did not speak, nor even cry, (they thought I was autistic).

3. I had been found in a closet eating peanut butter off a wall.

4. I would walk into walls, (probably because I didn’t have the best depth perception from time in said closet).

Other than that, I knew nothing. And in that moment, I knew something new: The name. My name. “Corley.” It rang through my head, as if it were some magic or sacred prayer, too powerful to utter aloud.

My revere over this new information is cut short. I think I hear something. I quickly put the contents back in their proper place, my heart beating into my eardrums. I close the lid, knowing my truth is in there, safe.

A few days later, I slink downstairs into the basement, which is my fathers makeshift office/cave/sanctuary — the only place my mother never ventures into. My mission is to “borrow” some quarters. I know he has them in abundance. I find them waiting for me in the bucket that once housed peanuts. I count out about 12, thinking that will be enough. I press my palms to my pants, trying to muffle the sound of the coins I now carry.

I am at school. It’s lunchtime. I tell an aide I have to go to the bathroom in order to escape the cafeteria. They let me go. I feel the weight of coins in my pocket as I make my way to the bathroom, only I don’t make it to the bathroom. I make it to a pay phone. I slip my hand under the phone and get out the white pages and scan the C’s, (why they had white pages for a school pay phone, I will never know). I find the first of quite a few Corleys. I retrieve a quarter from my pocket and dial. The voice on the other end of the phone tells me the call is 50 cents, so I put in another quarter. Ring, ring. The rings feel incredibly long and short at the same time. Almost as if I’ve entered some weird time warp. A voice answers.


“Hello” I say, “I was wondering if you gave up a child for adoption?”

“What? Who is this? You prank calling someone? You call here again, I’m calling the police.”

Click. I pause, unsure of what to do. It never occurs to me that people might call the police. I reason with myself that I will call 2 more numbers, and then I’ll stop for the day. I dial the next Corley on the list, no-one answers. I am in the middle of calling the second number when I receive a tap on the shoulder. I turn to see it’s the school guidance counselor.

I am in the Principal’s office. He asks me why I was on the phone. I don’t respond. The guidance counselor tells him I was trying to find my birth mother. He says that he’s going to call my parents. Tears start to form from behind my eyes. It is not sadness that I am feeling, but panic, sheer terror… I know what’s coming. She will sound concerned on the phone, but secretly, her rage will be building. She will be kind to the Principal and the guidance counselor. She will look at me with sympathy. She will put on a good show. We will exit the building, and I will walk slowly behind her, head down. The silence will be deafening. I don’t know how long it will last. An hour? A day? 2 days? I will be left to guess, silently to myself, which part of my behavior is making her upset and angry. I do not like playing this guessing game, because if and when the question comes, “Do you know why I’m upset,” I will never have the correct answer, which will only aggravate her more.

After what seems like an eternity, she comes through the front door of the school. My heart beats through my chest. I feel sick. I am going to die. She enters the office, where she proceeds to exchange pleasantries with the principal and guidance counselor. At this moment, I leave my body. It is too much for me. Everything starts to sound as if I’m underwater. I keep waiting for the inevitable, for the horrific moment when I will be forced to leave with her.

We get into the car. My body feels detached from my head. I am hyper aware of everything around me. I feel as though I might float out of my body. I am waiting. We pull out of the parking lot. The sound of the turn signal is reverberating through my skull. Click, clack, click, clack, click, clack.

I am staring straight ahead when my mother announces that she is going to be taking me to the family pediatrician, *Dr.Strauss. Somehow, in this moment, it makes me feel safe, and gives me the feeling that perhaps it wont be as bad as I think.

I am sitting in a pale yellow room. My mother is in there with me. I feel as though I have entered a strange new territory, one of security mixed with dread. Its similar, I’d imagine, to feeling the terror of being in a lions den, but comforted by the fact that the lion has just been shot by a tranquilizer gun.

The door opens. Dr. Strauss, his tiny glasses magnifying his blue eyes, looks at me and smiles. This puts me at ease enough to feign a small smile in response. He sees my mother and asks her if he might be able to talk to me alone. She begrudgingly acquiesces. I note her demeanor: she’s taking it personally. It will get taken out on me later.

He takes a seat on a stool with wheels. He rolls over to the exam table where I am sitting. He asks me what happens. I hesitate. He reminds me that he won’t repeat what I’ve told him to my mother. I fill him in on what I’ve been up to. He tells me about his own adoptive children, and how it’s natural to want to know where you’ve come from. I ask him if he knows anything about me or my birth parents. He sadly doesn’t have any information. I’m wondering why I’ve been brought in here to talk with him.

Back at home, my mother is leaning against the counter, arms crossed, staring at me. The ice out has begun. I stare back at her, my eyes inadvertently causing her head to look shrunken. I’m waiting for her to say something, anything, but she just continues to stare. Her eyes begin to well with tears as her head shakes in disappointment. When she finally does speak, she asks what she’s done wrong that would make me do something like that. She proceeds to tell me that I have everything, and keeps asking, “What did I do? Tell me”. It isn’t a question, its an accusation. I stay silent. I have lost my ability to speak. I am caught in the jaws of fear. I do not know what to say. I do not have the words to explain that I want to know about my beginning, where I came from, who gave birth to me. Instead, all I can mutter is “I’m sorry.” She sends me to my room.

A few days later, I am sneaking into my parents room again. She is out, not to be home for hours. My dad is in the basement, drinking and listening to jazz. I am safe to explore. I open the closet with the box still there. I lift the brown metal lid, fingers quickly remembering the place where the file is, only it’s not. It’s gone. I frantically look up and down the filing tabs. Nothing. My stomach sinks. I search again, and again. The reality of the situation sinks in. This is my punishment, my biological erasure. But she can’t take the one thing that really matters, the name that is seared into my head:


*Name Change

**Subsequently, I did get to meet both of my birth parents, but those are blog posts for another time.

182 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. Wow, I am appalled at the way your Mom was so self absorbed that she viewed you behavior as an affront to her ability to provide for you. I have never known anyone who was adopted who didn’t want to know where they came from and who their parents are.

  2. As someone who was also adopted at a young age (also by parents who resented that fact and were NOT happy when I wanted to ask questions about it), THANK YOU for writing… please please please continue your story

  3. Really nice piece !! And frankly speaking there should be no demarcation of typical and untypical . Writing is something what soul portrays . And yours portrayed quite well !

  4. I love this, thank you for sharing so honestly. My husband comes from a family where he was the only natural child, and his parents just kept of fostering and adopting…..and it never ended well. So I have been close to your pain, and I hope you were able to eventually get some closure.

  5. The sense of leaving your body is something I experienced as a child. I was not in foster care or adopted. I was abused. I was frightened. I felt alone. I used to tell myself this can’t be happening… this cannot be happening. Yet it was and I felt like I was drowning in the very air I breathed. I hope you can find closure, and I am waiting to hear more about your story.

  6. That was an amazing story, thank you for sharing something so personal. I have a friend who use to foster and then adopted 3 boys. Thank you for sharing.

  7. I kinda understand how you feel. I was adopted too but I was just old enough to remember where I came from and I don’t ever want to go back. My biological parents are still looking for my brothers and I. They even found out our new names.

  8. Reblogged this on naturalblackqueencorner and commented:
    Wonderful story! It’s great you put it out there you inspire others who are adopted that it’s okay to want to know who you are biologically! I too was adopted but I never met my parents all I have are names but I don’t think I will look to find them though!

  9. I love how you used a piece of your childhood to make a point thank you for sharing. I share a lot so if you want to give me some advice on what I’m feeling I’d be very greatful😊

  10. Your story is so powerful. All adoptive parents need to read stories like yours. It’s so important for us to understand how you, as an afford child feel. Thank you for sharing.

  11. This is hauntingly written and very courageous. Caught my attention because I recently titled a blog the same thing. I’m so glad it did. Thank you.

  12. Wow. You have great writing skills, which was especially noticed in the end of your blog. It was very suspenseful and at the end I literally just thought “wow”. Thank you for sharing your story, it was captivating.

  13. As for me, you have every right to know who your birth parents are. Actually as you get older you may want to know if any illness runs in your birth families. This is something we all should keep in Mind. Our genetics play a big role in not only who we are but what our health will be like as we age.

Leave a Reply