12/24/2014 | Share this article: View CommentsBy undercover agnostic ~
continuation of my story of early indoctrination to Christianity. It was at this juncture (age 5) that I discovered my rose-colored glasses.
When Jill and I were five, the adoption process was complete and I distinctly remember Mama crossing out the name Hopper that was inscribed in ink on a hardback story book we owned and replacing it with our new last name Zimmerman. And though the courts had granted to us all of the rights and privileges of natural born children, our insecurities weren’t easily absolved. The abrupt way in which we had been displaced from everything and everyone we knew left us anxious and fearful. The people to whom we had formed attachments, from birth, Matt, Steve, Chris and old daddy were gone and the emotional ties were irreparably severed without any process of closure. Social workers now understand that by helping children keep their existing attachments they are better able to form healthy new ones. The questions started to flow, as the reality began to sink in that we were at one time, Joy and Jill Hopper. Now we were Joy and Jill Zimmerman and we were never going back home. Why did we get sent away? How did we end up in the Zimmerman family? Did our old family love us? Would they remember us? Would we ever see them again? Would they want to see us? Were our brothers adopted too? Did they stay together? Mama would drop hints occasionally about the Hoppers but none of it was good. She said “Old Daddy, Dean” was an alcoholic and didn’t take care of us, and our mother, Lillie had left when we were babies. Thus our rendition of the missing pages of Chapter One, began with, “We were neglected, abandoned and unloved by our first parents.” And whether our assumptions were true or not, the sting was very much real, leaving an ache that seemed to linger just under the radar of our fragile emotions. And if our “real” parents didn’t want us, it was difficult to trust the intentions of our new mama and daddy. For example, Mama used to jokingly threaten her biological children, saying, if they didn’t behave she was going to drop them off at the Reservation to live with the Indians. Our brothers knew it was in jest, and would play along, by dancing around with their hand on their mouth, pretending to be warriors doing a rain dance. But when we came along and she experimented on us, we burst into tears, and promised to be good while begging her not to send us away amidst our anguished sobs. Mama felt terrible as she realized such comments were inappropriate for little girls who had been newly adopted. (Common mistake, I’m sure!) This was a learning process as much for the Zimmermans as it was for us. Another time, we were in the hen house gathering eggs when we saw a diseased chicken with huge bulging eyes. “Oh dear. Looks like we need to chop off her head,” Mama concluded, rather matter of factly. Surprised and somewhat horrified, I asked, cautiously, “Why do you have to chop off her head?” Mama replied, “Honey the chicken is sick and so we have to kill her.” Immediately, my heart filled with panic, as I contemplated the implications. Finally, with all the courage I could muster up, I revealed my unspoken fear and weakly asked, “Mama, if I get sick, are you going to chop my head off?” Mama started laughing, hysterically, assuring me that the rules for chickens did not apply to children. Silly me! I often wondered, though, if little chicks and their mamas, had a similar conversation. “Mama, If I get sick, are you going to shove a thermometer up my butt, force me to take a freezing ice bath, or make me choke down nasty medicine?” “No silly! Rules for children, don’t apply to chickens! You get to have your head chopped off!” “Whew! Well that’s a relief!”
Everything I had ever known was challenged when joining the Zimmermans. Mama would often say, “You may have been able to get away with that at the Hoppers, but not in this family.” That meant I needed to learn a whole new set of expectations --the terms and conditions of membership into my new clan. Everything I had assumed previously became obsolete and I needed to understand and even test the boundaries of Mama and Daddy’s love, which included, “What happens if I get sick?” and “Will you still keep me if I misbehave?”
A Fairy Tale Nightmare
There were other clues as well, that indicated I was still subconsciously adjusting to emotional insecurities despite being welcomed in my new family. For one thing, I had recurring nightmares about being lost and in peril. One that plagued my sleep night after night for years took place in the chicken coop, the very place I had first encountered the bulging eyed chicken, slated for the chopping block. In my dream, however, the hen house became the witch’s cottage from Hansel and Gretel and Jill and I were the lost children. Every night the “witch” who had lured us into her house with candy, would capture Jill and me and we would scream and fight with all our might to get away. Just as we were about to be thrown in the oven, I would wake up trembling, and as soon as I would close my eyes, the story would reset and the terror would continue. While I didn’t understand the significance of my dream as a child, it’s obvious to me now what it represented. The idea of being “lost” with my sister bore a striking resemblance to being suddenly plucked out of our home, without warning and without closure, and taken out in the middle of nowhere on a farm in the country. The candy cottage mimicked the nice home we lived in that was inviting and even enticing when we first showed up, but once we stepped in, there was no going back. The threat of being thrown in the oven seemed to resonate the period of mistrust, wondering if the intentions of the Zimmermans were good or bad and if they had our best interests in mind.
There were other symptoms as well. Mama would try to hold me on her lap and rock me to sleep, knowing that I had likely missed out on this type of nurturing when I was younger, without a mother in the picture. But I would stiffen up, almost in a panic, and angrily wriggle out of her grip like a feral cat, fighting to free myself. I would demand that she let me go and eventually she would give up, realizing it was a lost battle. But for me, the rocking wasn’t about bonding. Her arms tightly restraining me, made me feel trapped and the rocking was meant to lull me to sleep, something I resisted at all costs. When I would finally succumb to slumber, all the “demons” came out to haunt me. Sleep apnea, sleep paralysis, bedwetting, sleepwalking and nightmares plagued my rest, as I surrendered to my heavy eyelids and allowed them to close without a fight. Once asleep, I would occasionally stop breathing and would feel like I was suffocating while trying in vain to get my lungs to inhale. Then suddenly, just as I would be completely out of air, I would wake up and be able to take a breath again. At other times I would experience the sensation of someone being on top of me, preventing me from moving or getting away. My whole body would be paralyzed, unable to move or scream, and my helplessness to respond left me terrified. Additionally, I scared my parents more than once with my sleepwalking. One night Mama and Daddy heard the screen door rattle and found me outside in my nightgown, disoriented and confused. Another time Mama heard doors opening and closing and footsteps through the kitchen. She followed me to the basement behind the water heater, where I pulled my pants down, and peed on the hard, cold cement floor without even waking up.
It was about this age that I first discovered my rose colored, god-shaped glasses. And what a gift they were! Amidst all my fears and anxieties, I was told that everything happens for a reason, and that being grafted into the Zimmerman vine was no random accident. It wasn’t because we were bad children or because Dean and Lillie were bad parents. There was a more comforting and satisfying explanation, when looking at our situation through my special lenses. God did it! Just as Joseph had been thrown into the pit and sold as a slave to the Egyptians in order to save his family later from starvation, so too, God had a special plan for Jill and me. With my new god-goggles on, I could see myself as the center of the universe with God moving the players and pawns for my personal benefit. I needn’t lament the loss of my birth family nor resist the love of the Zimmermans. I was exactly where I was supposed to be. While my subconscious continued to work through the trauma, for the next several years, at least externally, I had a more positive and happy outlook regarding my circumstances. From this new vantage point, I could finally settle in to my permanent and forever family with assurance that I was meant to be there and that God had everything under control.