Colouring outside the lines


Rachel Carrier
Focus on Adoption magazine
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In recognition of BC Youth in Care Week, we asked a young adult adoptee to write about her journey to understand her identity.

Dear Self,

I know it’s been a while, and you’ve had a hard time lately. There’s a certain time every year when you feel the expanse of emptiness in your body a little more. That slow ache.

I find that even now, at 23, I struggle with pieces of who I am. Pieces with beginnings I don’t know and endings I won’t find. They float around and catch on memories, scents, and laughter. That’s when I feel the ache the most. I’m writing this letter so we don’t feel alone in the emptiness.

The first time I felt it, I was in grade two. I was 6 years old and eager to please. I had recently found out I was adopted, and I thought it was the best thing in the world because no one had told me differently. They didn’t have to tell me, though. I found out for myself that I was different.

When my teacher said we were making family trees (the kind you make with your entire arm and hand) something in me shifted. She held up an example, pointing out apples and leaves on a tree that depicted your standard, nuclear family. My beaming classmates chatted excitedly about their grandparents and parents and if apples could be purple because “Grandma’s favourite colour is purple.”

heartI didn’t know how my non-standard, non-nuclear family tree was supposed to look. Would I use both arms and have an alien tree? I felt uncomfortable and confused, pulled to make choices no one else had to consider, but at six years old, I had no way of explaining the ache.

The thing about being adopted is that I don’t really notice it until someone or something makes me feel different. There isn’t really a place where I fit just right. I’m not similar to anyone in your life. I don’t quite fit in with my adopted family, but I would no longer fit in with my biological family. I live on multiple planes and resonate through multiple worlds without belonging to any of them.

There’s no nice, neat box or category I can slip into. There are no lines to stay between. My life feels like a picture coloured outside the lines or a lost piece from one puzzle that is taken to complete another. It makes a different picture, but it works. 

These days I find myself getting quiet, feeling that same buildup of discomfort I first felt in second grade. I relish the melancholy in a cathartic sort of way.

This past Mother’s day, I looked back at the biological family tree in my adoption file. It’s the most generic, nuclear tree I’ve ever seen. There are no names or details that would lead me to believe I came from any of these branches.

Up until I was 18, I knew nothing about my biological family. They were like myths and I felt like a ghost. As for my adoptive parents, their family story and their life together began on another continent, 12,819 kilometres away. I had no connection to that life either. I was full of questions I didn’t know how to ask and couldn’t imagine being answered.

When I was 18, I was given my adoption file, including a letter written by my biological mother. It was disconnected and noncommittal as if written from a third-person perspective. I felt the ache again, identical to the one I felt the first time my world’s axis shifted when I was six.

My love for words and literature blossomed after I read that letter. Maybe if I made words the centre of my life, I would understand hers. If I made language my raison d’etre, maybe I’d find the reason I’m here at all.

Even now, when I’m driving down a long road, I’ll catch myself thinking about her. I wonder if, in her own lost, quiet moments, she might think of me for a second—the child that made her a mother.

I write to you because you’re the only one who’ll understand this. When you read it, you might find comfort knowing I understand it too.


Rachel Carrier is a life enthusiast, always seeking a new adventure and learning new lessons. She currently works as a Marketing and Brand Development Specialist. Rachel finds her greatest solace in writing and sharing stories for herself and others.