John Murry’s Adopted Relationship to William Faulkner

John Murry

It’s not hard for me to be drawn into any adoption story. As a writer, I am of course aware of William Faulkner. As a result of disappointment in the initial rejection of his work, he became indifferent to publishers and boldly wrote his next novel in a much more experimental style. In describing the writing process for that work, Faulkner would later say, “One day I seemed to shut the door between me and all publisher’s addresses and book lists. I said to myself, ‘Now I can write’.”

But really, this blog is not actually about Faulkner but about a related adoptee, John Murry. The name Murry actually runs down a long line of Faulkner’s. William Faulkner’s father’s and brother’s first names. John Murry had been adopted by his adoptive parents by an agreement made before his birth. His biological mother was a Cherokee schoolgirl and his adoptive parents thought they couldn’t have children. Also not unusual in cases of adoption, his adoptive mother gave birth to a son a year later, who John was raised with as a brother for a period of time. While growing up in Tupelo, Mississippi, John’s relationship with his parents was troubled (also not unusual for adoptees).

With the birth of their biological son of more importance to them, John was eventually sent away to be raised by his grandmother. She was a first cousin of William Faulkner, who considered her to be like a sister to him. John Murry’s grandparents were related to the Faulkners – on both sides. Mississippi is that kind of place, he says. Murry often refers to Faulkner’s book, The Sound and the Fury. He says that his adoptive parents hoped to model him after a character, Quentin Compson, who appears in that book. John feels more identified with Quentin’s brother, Benjy. Quentin had gone to Harvard University. John says his adoptive parents gave little thought to the fact that Quentin commits suicide in that book.

Faulkner died 15 years before John Murry was born. His grandmother and Faulkner had been inseparable, and his grandfather was a pallbearer at Faulkner’s funeral. When Murry was growing up, his beloved grandmother told him that, despite the lack of blood lineage, he was “obnoxious” and “more like Bill than any of us”. Obnoxious was the ultimate compliment, he says – it meant he challenged authority and called out can’t.

So the character Murry relates to, Benjy, is labelled an “idiot” in the novel. Today that character would have been diagnosed as autistic like Murry was at the age of 32 (confirming his own instincts about who he was most like). He struggles. At times he is in control of all the stuff going on in his head; other times, paralyzed by it. “I have an eidetic memory,” (More commonly called a photographic memory.) He says, “I can remember conversations verbatim. I can hear multiple conversations at once too.” He’s not boasting. Many of his memories torture him. “I don’t want to remember some of these things.”

Not wanting to remember is unsurprising because his childhood was violent. Murry is phenomenally well read, for which he is thankful for one thing: the shelf-full of books his lawyer father gave him. “I was 10 years old, and he puts books out there for me to read like The Communist Manifesto and the Autobiography of Malcolm X – books he didn’t agree with.” Although his parents were set on him going to Harvard, he had other ideas. He chose to play music and compose songs (another way of telling stories).

Murry spent three weeks of his childhood in a host family’s home with other dysfunctional children (who were also being treated at a fundamentalist Christian rehabilitation center). There, he had his first sexual experience, which was being repeatedly gang raped by three older boys. He says they discussed killing Murry in front of him. “I want people to know if something like that happens to you, that violence is not something you bring upon yourself, just as I didn’t bring it upon myself. I was the victim of it.” He blames a later heroin addiction that almost killed him to that time he spent in that Christian rehab as a youngster. “I think the thing that led to heroin was having to repeat again and again, ‘I am powerless over drugs and alcohol, and only Jesus Christ can save me from that’.” 

Giving up drugs and leaving America in a move to Ireland changed everything for Murry. Albert Camus is quoted by Murry as saying, “The first thing a person has to do in life is to decide whether or not to take their own life and once they’ve done that they can choose to live. I don’t want to die – I know that now. I slowly realized my perspective on things has changed. I’ve changed.” I recently completed reading Camus’ book The Plague (I know, a perverse choice in a time of pandemic perhaps but actually enlightening as regards the behavior of people under such extreme circumstances which it seems changes little over time).

John Murry’s story is sadly typical of many adoptees who have a higher rate of suicide, dysfunctional relationships, drug use and are more likely to be victims of abuse.

Foster Care Reality Check

Sadly, that Rose Garden we were NOT promised at birth is a nightmare for some children and their families. Today, in my all things adoption group that includes foster care former youth and related issues – this question was asked.

Foster Parents: What do you provide that biological families don’t? No specifics!

This was a balanced and complete perspective, I believe –

If the biological parents didn’t have to worry about finances, they would have been able to provide stable housing and access to food, which they were not able to provide. However beyond those two things, there is a lot the biological parents would not have been able to provide, even if given access to a stipend – emotional safety from emotional abuse – safety from physical and sexual abuse – access to mental health care, due to understanding and education, not due to lack of medical insurance or transportation – medical care for the same reason as above – appropriate attention to emotional needs, affection and secure attachment – a model for healthy adult behaviors (as in, an adult who does not actively impose sex onto children) – acceptance of LGBT status – home environment that caters to their emotional and mental health needs – access to extracurriculars that promote mental and physical health such as sports – space to develop individuality without fear of rejection. There are also things the biological parents can provide that a foster parent will never be able to provide: a genetic mirror – the comfort of being in a “normal” family – never having to explain one’s adoption status / history, awkward conversations one can be forced into – insecurities a foster child or adoptee may feel if the parent has or conceives biological kids at some later date – not feeling like one is a charity case or having to feel like they are required to be insanely grateful all the time – missing their biological parents is a really big issue, regardless of any history they caused the removal from those parents – grieving a loss that the foster parent will never be able to fill for that child.

And there was push-back on this and other similar responses – “I can tell you all are foster parents…so many child protective services buzz words…security, safety, stability etc…I know the original poster asked for no specifics ,so you don’t have to tell me, but you all should be questioning whether you provide anything actually concrete or are you blowing sunshine up the behind by inflating what you offer ?”

Foster care is troublesome as is the reason it exists. This is enough from me today.

A Life in the Shadow

Actors – Rose Byrne as Rebecca Skloot and Oprah Winfrey as Deborah Lacks

On Friday night, my husband and I watched The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks on dvd. It is one of those occasional unexpected finds that impacts me deeply. Oprah Winfrey plays Deborah Lacks in the movie based upon the book. Since my name is Deborah, I connected with this powerful, at times tragic, portrayal of Henrietta’s daughter. Since the title of my blog is Missing Mom and that is what drove Deborah, who lost her mom at such a young age and who she was always missing, needing the truth about her, felt somewhat like I how felt about my missing grandparents (both of my parents were adopted). So, I am happy to share Deborah’s story here. I highly recommend either the book or the movie.

The only surviving daughter and fourth child of David Day Lacks and Henrietta Lacks, Deborah “Dale” Lacks Pullum spent most of her early life wondering what happened to her beautiful mother and worrying about what it could mean for her own life and identity. Day was Henrietta’s first cousin, neither had living mothers and were being raised by grandparents who had them sleeping in the same bedroom. No wonder by the age of 14, Henrietta was pregnant. Day married her 6 years later when she was 20.

It is hard for Rebecca Skloot, an independent science writer, to gain Deborah’s trust given her early life of familial abuse, followed by the general disregard of the scientific community for Henrietta’s family. Deborah’s need to connect with her mother’s story is intensified by her difficult childhood and a non-existent relationship with her father, whose lack of attention has disastrous effects on her emotional life:

After Henrietta’s death, Ethel and Galen move in with Day to “help take care of the children.” But Ethel always had a hatred for Henrietta because Galen was attracted to her, and she transferred that with gusto to the children. She forces them to work the farm all day without food or drink and beats them if they disobey. In spite of Deborah’s protests, Galen sexually molests her as often as he can.

Despite the beatings by both of these guardians and the molesting by Galen, Deborah felt closer to Galen than she ever had felt with her father. When he wasn’t hitting or molesting her, Galen showered her with attention and gifts. He bought her pretty clothes, and took her for ice cream. In those moments, Deborah pretended he was her father, and she felt like a regular little girl.

Enter Lawrence’s (who was Henrietta’s oldest son) wife, Bobbette. She insists that they take in and raise the younger Lacks siblings to get them out of the clutches of the abusive Ethel and Galen. Bobbette makes it pretty darn clear that if that couple ever touches Henrietta’s kids again, she’s going to open up a can of ??? on them.

In Henrietta’s absence, Bobbette also acts as a mentor and inspiration to young Deborah. She tells her to stay in school because that’s what will get her success in life. She also encourages her to fight off the advances of her boy cousins because, she said, “That’s uncalled for.” She warns Deborah about the dangers of first cousins having children together.

Deborah reads articles about HeLa cells (named after an abbreviation of Henrietta Lacks name) with a dictionary in hand and learns to use the Internet to make sense of her mother’s immortal life. Her brothers don’t understand her need to pursue something that has been so hurtful to them. Deborah is quite clear in her mission: “All this stuff I’m learning,’ she said, ‘it make me realize that I did have a mother, and all the tragedy she went through. It hurts but I wanna know more, just like I wanna know about my sister (her sister Elsie had defects that eventually institutionalized her, where she later died young). It make me feel closer to them, but I do miss them. I wish they were here.”

The need to know and to be in control of her past is always stronger for Deborah than the need to forget her past and protect herself from future harm.

Her older brother, Lawrence, never stopped taking care of Deborah. He put $6,000 on his credit card to pay for her funeral. She died less than a year before the book, written by author Rebecca Skloot, about her mother was published.

“Henrietta had been chosen by the Lord to become an immortal being. The immortality of Henrietta’s cells had something to do with her telomeres and how HPV interacted with her DNA.”

Not Your Usual Adoption Story

Possible Triggers. Warning. Difficult Content.

An adopted woman, Christine Marie Salley’s search for her biological parents in 2018, utilizing DNA and a private investigator, has led to the identification of two bodies found buried in a remote part of the Mojave Desert in 1980.

The body of a woman, previously known as “Jane Doe 10,” has now been identified as Pamela Dianne Duffey. She was born on April 6, 1959 and estimated to be 20 years old at the time of her death. The body of a man, previously known as “John Doe 29,” has now been identified as being William Everette Lane, who was born on May 23, 1960. The victims have now been linked to an incarcerated Mississippi man, Howard Neal, age 68. The case is among the oldest cold cases the Sheriff’s Department has dealt with.

Both of the victims were estimated to have been dead for six to eight months when they were discovered. The bodies in San Bernardino County were initially discovered in November 1980 about five miles east of the town of Ludlow and a little more than a quarter-mile south of U.S. Highway 66. Ludlow is off Interstate 40 in a remote area between Barstow and Needles. Neither victim was wearing any clothing nor had any identifying information on them. An autopsy was performed and it was determined that both died of a combination of a gunshot wound and blunt force trauma. Attempts to identify the two with available resources at the time of the autopsy were unsuccessful.

In December 2018, the private investigator submitted Salley’s DNA to GEDmatch DNA and a child/parent match was indicated between Salley and Duffey’s body. Salley then learned that before her mother was considered missing, she reportedly knew and traveled with a man known as “Digger Lane,” a former Virginia prison inmate who was released in either late 1979 or early 1980. A DNA sample from Lane’s mother in Jacksonville, Florida, positively identified the male victim as Lane. Christine Marie Salley provided sheriff’s investigators with adoption paperwork and additional DNA samples.

Prior to the positive identification of the bodies, sheriff’s investigators were aware that Howard Neal, age 68, and his family previously lived in Ludlow, California and had moved to Mississippi shortly after the killings. Investigators made several attempts to interview him, however, they were not successful in securing a meeting with him until August 2017. Both of the now identified victims are believed to have been murdered by Neal. He is currently incarcerated in Mississippi for the 1981 rape and murder of his 13-year-old niece and her 12-year-old friend, as well as the murder of his brother.

In an interview, Neal provided “very little” information but gave accounts of picking up a woman hitchhiker, who left her daughter behind (one wonders what happened next in this situation, news accounts don’t answer that obvious question), and a man he described as being a “hippie.” When he tried to make advances on the woman, an argument ensued that resulted in the fatal shooting of the man. Neal then sexually assaulted the woman and also killed her. Afterwards he took the bodies to an isolated part of the desert, dug a shallow grave and buried the two.

Neal was initially sentenced to death in 1982 for the previously mentioned familial murders. His lawyer filed an appeal based on Neal’s mental status in 1990. His death sentence was commuted after he was found to be “borderline mentally challenged” following an IQ test. Neal is currently serving three life sentences.

Older Adoptive Parents

I read an adoptee’s story this morning. It reminded me of my adoptee mom’s experience as well. The woman wrote, “My mother did not teach my too cook or sew or quilt or any of the things she did so well. ‘Its easier to do it myself.’ When i got married at 16 to escape I had virtually no life skills.”

My mom was pregnant with me at 16. Thankfully, my dad married her (he had just started at university). He had to teach her how to cook and clean house. He was also adopted but his adoptive parents were humble and hardworking with a small business making draperies. I assume they expected him to help around the house as well.

She writes, “I was adopted by older parents- 39 and 41. By the time I joined their family who they were was pretty ingrained and they never really adjusted to having a small child or a teen.” When I had my second family with my second husband, I was 47 and 50 when my sons were born. I have seen people our age who seem much older to me than my husband and I. I guess we are both just young at heart. Certainly, for my own self, at 67 this May, some physical decline is setting in. However, we adjust. I remember thinking when I turned 60, that my youngest son will only be 20, when I turn 70. It was a sobering thought. When we told my parents we wanted to have children, my dad honestly said “I question your sanity.” Like his other saying, “You have to eat a little dirt.” it has stayed with me.

We stayed with my dad’s adoptive parents many weekends (to give our parents a break from us or simply because my grandparents really wanted to have us – though I suspect as much to save our souls by taking us to their Church of Christ on Sunday). They loved to fish and so often took us fishing with them. Mostly we just played outdoors. At home, we were outdoors a lot too. I am grateful for that actually because it instilled a love for nature in me.

The woman writes, she got her first car at 15. I believe I was 16. My parents gave me a car so I could take over the transportation services for myself and my middle sister who was 13 months younger than I am.

The woman writes, “I was the perfect child. Smart, self reliant, great grades, active in church.” I smile. I, at least, pretended to be a “good girl.” I did make good grades and I didn’t depend on my parents very much. They were a bit weirdly detached. I blame it on their adoptions.

The woman asks the rhetorical question, “Would I have been better of with my first family? Probably not.” In coming to terms with both of my parents adoptions and learning about my original grandparents, I realize I would not even exist had this not happened. My mom would have grown up in poverty in her early years, though he father eventually owned his own little grocery story, so things might have improved. I learned from the daughter of my mom’s genetic half-sibling that her mom remembered going to bed hungry and seeing the chickens under the floorboards of their shack.

I have a great deal of compassion for the woman’s who’s story I read today. Her adoptive father was a violent, functional alcoholic and other men with associated access to her sexually abused her as a child. One was a family member, another a family friend, one was part of her church, another her babysitter’s husband. All these assaults occurred between the ages of 6-16. She writes, “I told the very first time, nothing happened and I never told again. I didn’t see the point.”

She ends her piece with this – “Abortion should be legal. I am making my life now and I am happy with my husband and my ‘made’ family but at 60, I should not still be trying to over come my early life.”

Thank You For Choosing Life

Some questions were posed – How many pregnant women do you thank for “choosing life?” Why say it to the woman who is a birth mom? You don’t know that was even an option she considered. Yet, you want to blast it off social media thanking your kid’s birth moms for “choosing life.”

Until you start saying it to the preacher’s wife, stop saying it to expectant moms considering adoption or first moms. Stop blasting that crap on social media. It’s so incredibly disrespectful. Have you ever told someone “thank you for choosing life?” Have you ever given credit to your children’s birth moms on social media for “choosing life?”

An adoptee comments – I have not. I have forgiven her for the decision she made to give me away without a legal adoption but I don’t see her not having an abortion in 1961 as some great thing. 

Another adoptee perspective – I may sound dramatic but since my own adoption is closed and no information provided and lots of lying surrounding my adoption (Connecticut is one of the worst states for coverups in adoption). As much as I may love my life at this moment, I would rather have not been born. Then I wouldn’t have be abused and suffered pain and trauma. So those words thank you for choosing life wouldn’t ever come out of my mouth. I find it very problematic and just adds to the fake rainbow of adoption world.

Yet another adoptee says – If I’d been aborted, I wouldn’t know it. If my birth mom had chosen and been able to abort, I hypothetically support her, as I do anyone seeking abortion. If we want to end trauma, forced birth is not the way.

One woman shares – When my husband and I were first dating, I got pregnant and miscarried. A trusted adult who I told (not a parent) said “at least you didn’t murder it” because we weren’t in a position to have a child. That’s forever bothered me.

An adoptive parent adds – In many cases, being backed into a corner is not really choice, regardless of “choosing” abortion or parenting vs adoptions. In far too many cases, women are in crisis situations and are not helped so that they can make a decision free from fear or coercion. I also think the lifelong trauma connected to being adopted isn’t something I can be dismissive of in these conversations because I can’t possibly know how it feels to be adopted. I’ve read adoptees who say they would rather have not been born, and I think that feeling needs to be given space and consideration.

Some more reasons that it may be inappropriate to say thank you for choosing life.  It could be inappropriate because she may not have had a choice. The pregnancy could have been a result of sexual assault, incest, statutory rape, or some combination thereof. The pregnancy may not have been discovered early on, and if it had, the birth mom may have aborted rather than carry to term. Maybe birth mom wanted to terminate the pregnancy but wasn’t able to do so. How many states require a parent’s permission if it’s a pregnant minor? Maybe the birth mom misses her baby so badly that she wishes she had killed herself while pregnant, so they could be together forever.

A mature perspective adds – because they (the adoptive parents) got what they wanted. It’s always all about what they seek to gain, a child they cannot have on their own. Are they grateful someone else made them parents? Sure they are. It’s sick to be grateful for someone else giving you their kid. If they actually tried to break down the actual act of adoption, without their feelings, they would understand that.

Some additional thoughts – We don’t generally say thank you for choosing life to an expectant mother who is not in crisis. We assume the child is wanted, accident or not. And an alternate choice would not be obvious ie morning after pill or termination. Pregnancies are generally pretty easy to spot at some stage and strangers love to comment, so it is only those people who know the expectant mother or the plethora of manipulative pro-adoption information that push the “choose life” guilt trip to mothers both before and after birth or relinquishment. The people who benefit most promote it and have indoctrinated and manipulated society to believe this dross. The privileged customers need for it to be this way to soothe and convince themselves that they have done a good deed, rather than participate in a cruel trauma.

So You Want To Help A Child ?

Many people go into foster care with good intentions. They really want to help a child who might need it. Here are some words from a woman who did that.

So, having been a foster parent, I want to just get out there to those considering it to say – don’t. Child protection is a corrupt vehicle of systemic abuse. The system abuses children, and as cogs in that machine, you are participating. If you ‘have a heart’ for children or ‘feel called’ or whatever it is, let me suggest you can do any of the following:

1. Volunteer as a CASA. These advocates listen to kids and represent their position in court. No one listens to foster kids, and this is a genuine chance.

2. Volunteer at a local women’s shelter, as a domestic violence or sexual assault advocate, or within the shelter childcare system.

3. Support wellness courts, programs that serve addicts, and programs in your community aimed at helping with food security or relieving poverty. Most children are removed because their parents are struggling with addiction.

4. If you truly want to be a foster parent, license for transitional care or teens, and don’t waiver.

5. Donate your kids clothes and baby items.

What else can you think of that might help?

My family has long taken our obsolete toys to our regional women and children’s shelter for those fleeing domestic violence (children do grow up and we bought more things at Christmas – trying it make it magical like we experienced as children ourselves – than we should have and while it was a lot of fun to open all those presents on Christmas morning, many – sad to say – remained on shelves and were never looked at again. Happy they get a second chance). We have also taken the children’s outgrown clothes and the women’s clothes no longer need by me to the same place.

It is a small thing. Nothing to win awards for but it is some thing. Do what you can. It matters.