think of the children

I feel inclined to preface this with a deep, warm gratitude that I had an opportunity to leave ‘the system’, though I did not understand foster care to be a bad thing, as I believe I had better experiences than most in my foster home in Los Angeles.

Also, I only had one foster home that I can recall, which probably illustrates my situation rather well.

Children who are given up at or near birth (and even later) are often overlooked, and I am certain I will hold a soft spot forever for those who’ve been through the foster care system and adoption, even if I don’t end up voicing it after this.

We are better than the unfortunate things that have happened to us.

I am not going to go into great detail about my childhood post-adoption – that is to say, I will not be discussing isolated incidents. I have decided that doing so has been and will continue to be detrimental to my moving forward as an adult, but I will say that it was not all rosy.

As a young girl, I was given most freedoms over sense of style, save special events and holidays. I usually liked shirts and pants. I was fond of stripes. I wasn’t most folks’ idea of girly, but I was a kid, so none of that mattered to me really. I had a lot of energy, and when I wasn’t reading, I was running around playgrounds chasing people I liked.

I did well in school without much effort, and people in my little family praised me as gifted, but I never felt anything out of the ordinary. Not until I started asking questions that some adults didn’t want to answer.

My personal history was not my business, I learnt.

‘You don’t need to know’ statements surfaced. It struck me as odd that there was such secrecy around the first few years of my life, and my curiosity was met with anger usually. Eventually I stopped asking, but my curiosity never abated.

Fall ’05, Los Angeles: I find an album with photos of me.

I am seven years old in this photo.

I only felt as good as my accomplishments, most of which I felt to the person raising me included getting high marks in school, being and staying pretty to be bragged about, and being subservient. Since I don’t tend to pride myself on any of those things for too long a time, that didn’t make me feel good at all. I grew distant, and got quieter.

As I am nearing my thirties, I find that I am not any closer to finding out about my past than I was 10 years ago. I find that disconcerting, and shall begin filling out California state paperwork to the best of my ability and limited knowledge, in the hope that I can figure this out and put it all behind me, if necessary. Some chapters ache for closure.

Summer ’07, San Francisco

I am slowly processing the observation that the person who raised me and I want and value different things out of our parent-child relationship. I cannot give this person what they want, and they cannot give me what I want. The other party takes personal slight to this, but as the years go on, I can only hope they’ll see it’s more a matter of accepting things as they are between two people who are so different.

I look forward to pushing the files of this closed adoption open, to learn about my medical particulars and maybe even see if I can connect with my siblings. I wonder, do they even know about me?

It is within a person’s right to seek out their own personal history, with whatever aid they can find along the way. I am lucky to have support. Here’s to this adventure I’m about to embark on, one that might be the most difficult ever I’ve ever attempted.

what it is to be bran

I had a different name at birth that only a few people know. Sometimes I forget it, and I have them remind me.

 

I’ve been told I was given the name Brandy later on due to the colour of my skin. I carried it for a decade plus, though I never felt it fit my persona. It seemed to fall off my tongue wrong every time when introducing myself, and I was already packing the awkward sheltered kid bit.

While developing said awkward sheltered kid bit, my mother would occasionally call me Bran. This was found to be most convenient when shouting for me to come home from playing outside with other children from my block, as I was much more likely to hear a heavily stressed one-syllable name than anything else, with all the adrenaline swarming about.

It stuck.

 

 

Bran started out as a thing between my mum and I, for aforementioned daughter retrieval purposes. For reasons I’ve yet to fully identify or explore, I decided to take it back in my late teens. That was a period of great personal change, sparked by family tragedies. I reckon a small part of it was due to being tired of having my name misspelled any number of ways — my given surname and first name both have lots of alternatives. (One problem abolished, another arrives; I’m sometimes called Bren or Brian.)

My first love knew me as Bran. It turned into a thing between myself, my mum, and those close to me, an upgrade to provisional nickname status. I didn’t make a big fuss about it if folks weren’t aware or simply forgot, because it felt private, and special.

branfront
Bran in secret, sometime 2004

The name resurfaced with some urgency in my late twenties somehow. I entered a work environment where I felt okay enough to go by the nickname, not fearing being questioned too much about a name most in my experience assume belongs to a male-bodied person. I started introducing myself as Bran, although I knew with it came questions and a need to repeat the name occasionally. “Like the muffin,” I add from time to time, as I find it’s a good way to dial up the name and spelling to newcomers.

Moving to a new state sort of meant I could reinvent myself as I pleased. I’d long abandoned the idea of moving to Philadelphia and took on my first choice of Seattle. It is here that I have attached a somewhat political undertone to the Bran name, with a slight nod to my mum due to its origins. Instead of hiding away my boyish mannerisms, I’ve chosen to embrace them in addition to the occasional streaks of femme I yearn for.

rainbowbran

Bran out loud, sometime 2010

I wouldn’t say that I’m angry at all when people choose to call me by my full name, especially if they aren’t aware that there is a name that I feel suits me better.

There are occasions where it’s just easier to go by a more common name, places where I don’t want to open myself up to the scrutiny of strangers, and a myriad of other possibilities that I cannot predict. We’re human, we falter. I am certainly guilty of that.

I feel it’s a matter of trust. When I refer to myself as Bran in front of you, I am placing a key part of my identity that has evolved over the years into your hands. I don’t have to get into the whole story, but I’ll tell you in person if you so desire. I am far from famous but if I have made an impact in your life in any way, I hope you’ll remember my name.

twisted and tangible

It’s been a little over a year since I jotted down some stray thoughts and observations regarding the voluntary changes in my hair’s appearance.

The impetus to write came from someone I once knew, who found the photos I was sharing of my hair at that time to be remarkable. He felt that I was more in touch with myself when I ditched the straightening comb and hair dye.

I had some reservations about the message I received from that person, but have not voiced them until now. While I’d be hard-pressed to deny the striking physical shift, not much else changed beyond the surface. Not immediately, anyway.

March ’11, Seattle Center – photo by Gary Kornheiser

about five months of new hair growth

I’ve had the natural hair on top of my head ever since I can remember, save for a couple of experimental chemical relaxer incidents in my preteens that went sour without delay. My hair was often unkempt and dirty. It was considered an afterthought, because my mum was a single businesswoman with a single kid. There was only so much ground she could cover.

Years of being teased by other black kids got old quickly, and I developed a thick skin. High school came round, though, and that dramatically changed things for a solid while. I was in a new area of town where no one knew me. I got made up like a little princess, my hair in carefully pressed curls and sealed under a headband. A little darling for show.

From the last good drops of high school ’til college and a bit beyond, the straightening of my hair endured. I’d fallen into a pattern with it, as most would, and it seemed to placate the folks in the neighbourhood where I lived (which was predominantly black).

January ’06, Los Angeles

To be honest, I don’t know why all of that mattered so much, because I never really interacted with anyone around there. I was usually somewhere else – schlepping around with gamer friends or lovers, or lost in any Douglas Adams book I could get my hands on.

I didn’t start considering ‘going natural’ to be A Thing until about summer 2009. My roommate’s sister had these artistic wonders in the form of hair on her head. She took good care of it each day. The texture was ever so tempting to touch, but I never did, nor did I dare to ask. It had a delightful amount of thickness, yet appeared light and fluffy. It defied anything my hair ever was, and I believed I had done everything under the sun!

There was a sense of culture and confidence that was positively bubbling, and I’d been blind to it. It came as a real shock. I couldn’t have imagined that not only were there people out in the world who were comfortable with the natural look and feel of their hair, they were celebrating it, and sharing it online. I gobbled up personal stories, photos and videos.

April ’10, Ballard Locks, Seattle – photo by Greg Stonebraker

six months prior to chopping off & starting fresh

Seattle became my home in the fall of 2009. It didn’t take me long to acclimate to the cooler weather, the many bodies of water, the mountains and the trees. The new, wet environment was perfect. I put some serious amount of time and consideration into not only returning to my nappy roots, but toying around with items with few to no chemically altering ingredients.

I had to transform the idea into action. This took a year; I’d grown attached to my fun, loud hair dyes. I managed to whittle down the use of them to absolutely nothing, got my head shaved (which wasn’t my first time), and went right to work on my first manageable ‘fro. I had support from my partner and friends, which I credit in part for my going forward.

December ’10, Skagit County, Washington

two months of new hair growth

It’s been a worthwhile learning experience thus far. I have attended natural hair workshops, purchased homemade natural hair care materials, and have even created my own. I can achieve an amazing amount of length when I remove harsh elements from the mix. I have returned to a mode that I grew up in, with a higher level of understanding and satisfaction.