There Are Monsters In My Closet!
Alley Cat…it’s the only name Rickey and I have called Ali Danielle Cotton since she was sixteen months old and one of the prettiest little girls I have ever seen. Her look is unique, a distinction all her own, a look that is impossible to confuse with anyone else, and to someone as independent as I, that is extremely important!
Ali was born on February 28, 1999, in Uralsk, Kazakhstan, and just in case your geography is as rusty as mine, I’ll just go ahead and tell you that Kaz is in Asia. I’m not sure just exactly how many months the baby girl spent in an orphanage because I did not meet her until Susan and Garrell Cotten brought the newly adopted little girl to meet us when she was sixteen months old. Of course, Susan brings all of her children to meet me, and she was beaming, glowing, and bubbling all at the same time on the day Ali came home to be her second daughter.
Because Ali and I had never once spoken of her adoption and because I consider her one of the most well-rounded, well-adjusted teens that I know, I decided that others might learn a lot from her story. As it turned out, I am the one who learned much…from feelings that came from a well of emotions long buried, emotions that I had absolutely no idea could possibly exist in the little girl all grown up that we still call Alley Cat.
“My birth mom tried keeping me for a while and then she realized that she couldn’t take care of me. She was not married, and that was a BIG sin in that culture.”
Ali knows that abortions were legal and free when she was conceived and that her mom could have gone that route. The fact that she did not tells me that the young woman wanted to try to keep her baby. Ali knows it too, but she doesn’t feel it, and that is a big problem for her. At some point, the baby girl was placed in an orphanage, with the stipulation that the mother had a year to reclaim her child.
Ali remained in the orphanage until she was 16 months old, and then it all came together.
“For some reason my parents just kept having the feeling that they should look online and search for adoption agencies, and they found the website that I was on, worldpartnersadoption.org. They scrolled down the page, and they saw me! I was wearing a yellow sweater, and as soon as they saw my photo, they knew that I was the one. They contacted the agency and started the paperwork.”
Garrell and Susan went to Kaz, and they spent two weeks there getting to know Ali and bonding with her. The orphanage required them to visit every day for two weeks before they could go to court. Then, they had the adoption hearing and traveled to Moscow to get the baby a Visa to allow her to travel to the U.S. Obviously, the couple was beyond excited!
Finally, on the day of their first daughter Kyli’s fifth birthday party, Garell, Susan, and Ali walked in the door to greet their daughter and their son, Dillon (4).
Up until this point in our conversation, everything had progressed exactly as I expected it to as Alley Cat and I relived old memories, mine firsthand, hers the story she has heard almost all of her life.
And then I asked her to tell me something that would help others who have been adopted. Why is it that Ali Cotton has never struggled with the fact that she is adopted? Why is it that Ali is a successful student and cheerleader with a slew of friends and none of the emotions that often come with being adopted?
The eyes that filled told me that I am a fool.
From that moment on, our conversation became jumbled with both of us stumbling over our words as we each tried to make the other understand our position, I all the while amazed that I had never once guessed the burden this beautiful young girl has carried for so long. We started with words like abandonment.
“It’s just that the abandonment is really beginning to bother me,” and then Ali went on to tell me that her birth mother had left a letter for her when she took her to the orphanage. It is a letter that to my total amazement I learned that Ali has never had translated, never read.
“Ali, no mother leaves her baby girl in an orphanage with a letter that tells her how much she wants to be rid of her. That letter is going to tell you why your mom had to leave you, why she couldn’t take care of you, not that she abandoned you.”
And, although clinically Ali Cotten knows that I am right, she is afraid.
“Maybe when I’m more stable I will be able to read the letter. I’m just afraid I might think, ‘What if she did keep me?’ Just knowing that she gave me up when she did love me would break my heart in a million pieces. I’ve reached a point where I’ve been very emotional over a lot of things, and just don’t want my heart broken right now. BUT some day, I do plan to read the letter.
“I am at the stage where the abandonment is hitting me. I have trust issues that I think come from being adopted. I also get really scared if I am left alone, and I think this probably comes from something that I can’t even remember. It’s comforting knowing that there is a letter, but I don’t want to know how she felt when she gave me up. I know I shouldn’t, but I feel guilty that she had to go through all that for me. I would hate to be in her position, knowing every day that she has a daughter, not knowing if I’m alive, if I’m safe.”
And then we talked about genetics.
“All of my friends are beginning to look more like their parents, and I’m seeing that. I don’t look anything like either of mine. It sucks when I see my friends have the same traits and genes as their parents, and I have no resemblance whatsoever.”
That everyone I know thinks Ali one of the most beautiful young women they have ever seen wouldn’t have made a difference at this point, and so I stayed silent.
“I do want to see my birth parents, but only to see what they look like, etc. I don’t want a personal relationship with them. I would like to know what my mother looks like, how she acts, the little things she does, and if I look like her. I don’t really want much more because I would assume that she would leave again as soon as I got to know her. I’m curious, and that’s all I am. It’s just the curious thing, and I’d like to KNOW.”
I must admit that when the race issue came up, I was completely overwhelmed. It was a conversation that maybe I should have seen coming and yet, I didn’t because I don’t see “race” when I look at Ali, and I must admit that this one has caused me more than a tear or two.
“No one treats me like a minority at all, but when I step back and look at everyone else, I do realize that I am. Sometimes I wish I could be white; I feel white, but when I look in the mirror I am reminded that I’m not.
“I do struggle some when I look at someone that I think is beautiful and I wish I could be like the others. Everything about me is white, but when I look in the mirror, I’m not. I’m reminded of that every day. I’m also part Mongolian, which is where I get my darker skin.
“I think some guys don’t look at me like other girls because I’m Asian. The race comes in because deep down, I’m afraid that I will date some guy whose parents will be opposed to my race. Will they even want Asian grandchildren? I highly doubt that I will marry an Asian so my children are going to have a problem.
“I’m not so afraid for my daughters, but I am for my sons. And that really scares me because I don’t want people not to like them just because they look Asian. I bring off the vibe that I really don’t care who I am but deep down inside, I think about it every day and I always have.”
Obviously, I was hearing things that were ripping my heart out, and I could see what it was doing to Ali and yet, when I asked if we should discontinue our talk, she replied in the negative.
“Once I start talking about it, it is a little overwhelming. I’ve just never told any of this, and I should have talked about it because it helps me to get my feelings out. I’ve been thinking more about my birth parents and what might have happened if I didn’t get adopted….
“BUT it wouldn’t have been good for me there. I’m so glad my parents found my picture because I don’t know where I would be had I stayed. Here, I have family and friends who love me and I can’t see my life without them.
“The mother you love is the one who raised you and was there every second of your life. Part of me feels bad for wondering because I have great parents, but part of me wants to know…not for a relationship, just to see them.”
I’ve tried to write as we spoke so that you can feel the disjointed sentences that tripped over each other as the contradicting thoughts swirled, the wanting to know and the being afraid to know, and finally the feeling guilty for wanting to know. It’s all so normal and so human, isn’t it? And most importantly, feelings so strong about a subject so big need expression. And that is where Ali and I closed our conversation.
“Adoptive parents, don’t be afraid to tell things. Adopted kids are very, very curious about who their birth parents are and what they look like. Adopted kids are afraid to ask because they are afraid of hurting the adoptive parents’ feelings. Be way more open and talk about the things you know. My parents have done that.
“Adoptive kids, don’t be afraid to ask. I have been, but I shouldn’t have been. I’m sure parents want to talk to their kids…but they are afraid too.”
When Ali’s mom, Susan, walked into the room, I asked if she had anything to leave us with.
“I always say that I think it is amazing that God brought the most perfect child to our family, who just happened to be ½ way around the world. He knew just what we needed!”
And I’ll take the last word here by saying that I don’t know how “real” many of the monsters that have been locked in Ali’s closet until now actually are. What I do know is that to a sophomore in high school, they seem real…and that makes them very, very real in Ali’s world.