This Is Us

Bridges between me and those I’ve lost

Black and white stepping stones in a river.
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I cared for both my boyfriend and my mother in my house. My boyfriend died in his hospice bed in my living room. Afterward, whenever I stepped onto my patio, I passed through the physical space where he sighed his last breath as I held him in my arms.

Most nights, after helping my mother to bed, I’d stand in the salty air, staring out at the lights reflected in the marina. If…


How I Never Made it in Hollywood

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“You would be the dead girl,” the director said. I could do dead. A low-budget independent film was a step up from the student films I’d been doing. At least there would be pay.

The director had graduated from USC film school and made sure to insert this impressive bit of his resume into our conversation. A framed diploma hung from a nail behind his desk. …


A teenage pregnancy led to an adoption I regretted years later

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There were many things I was unprepared for when I relinquished my son for adoption. A naive 17-year-old, I believed the secret I carried would grow lighter, not heavier. I believed the pain of separation would fade. I believed the poster I saw in the adoption agency’s office, proclaiming, “Today is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life” was a harbinger for my new beginning. I would be a college girl, respectable, confident, and happy that my traumatic past was behind me. All of this turned out to be miles from the truth. …


The law of significant enclosure says that we feel comfortably enclosed when the vertical edge of a space is at least one-third the length of the horizontal space we’re inhabiting.” — — every garden design website and blog on the internet.

Photo by Mitchell Gaiser on Unsplash

It’s late and our hotel is under construction. We’ve spent days driving through the wide-open West, and now the parking structure feels like a warren, barely tall enough to accommodate the car. My daughter and I are hungry and grubby. We look ridiculous as we enter the slick and glamorous lobby. Shoes spill out of our suitcases. Shredded grocery…


Here. This was the bad turn. This was where the engine cracked open.

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On a July afternoon with the scent of rosemary drifting into the dining room, my husband told me our marriage was over and that he was planning to marry someone else. “And we’d like the house,” he said, “so we can raise our new family here.”

I wish I could explain how it was that I had known for months that he was cheating on me. I knew where and when and with whom, and yet, periodically, an odd amnesia of unknowing would come over me. He wouldn’t. He couldn’t.

Thirty years earlier I was the cheater. While we were…


Photo by Mickael Tournier on Unsplash

I was a girl without a choice

In the spring of 1970, a couple of months before my baby was due, I sat at my desk in my bedroom late into the night and wrote two suicide notes, one to my boyfriend and one to my parents. I folded the letters into tight, flat squares small enough to fit in the palm of my hand. The next morning at school I stood on tiptoe in front of my locker, stretching my arm across the top shelf, and slipped them into the crevice against the locker’s back wall. Only the edges of the bright pink paper were visible…


Are you that guy?

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I didn’t tell my son’s father I was pregnant until my mother made me.

I was 16 in 1970 when I got pregnant in the backseat of my boyfriend’s Ford without going all the way. Facing up to the unlikely consequences of that October night felt impossible. My boyfriend and I were good students, intent on escaping blue-collar life in our small Catholic Midwestern town. We were in love, had been going steady for years, and planned to marry — being pregnant would ruin it all.

Something better than minimum-wage jobs awaited us, I was sure, and so I kept…


“Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul” — - — Emily Dickinson

Photo by Milin John on Unsplash

Perched on the back of a dining room chair, the parrot’s tail feathers trailed almost to the floor.

Addie had just awakened from her afternoon nap, but she wondered if, perhaps, she might only be dreaming that she was awake. She wanted to know more about this borderland between sleep and waking, where she seemed to spend so much time lately, but the sight of the parrot in her dining room was to be savored, not wasted while she went off on some tangent. She said hello to the bird and it said hello back. “Hello,” Addie said again, testing…


How you can reach out to a woman who lost a child to adoption

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1. I know you’re a mother, so I’m thinking of you.

2. Is there a way I can bring some comfort to you today?

3. Wanna talk?

4. Would you like to go for a walk, or out for some coffee, or maybe see a movie?

5. Do you ever think of searching for your child? or How is your reunion going?

6. How do you think your life would be different if you’d kept your baby?

7. What would you do if your son/daughter contacted…


For some Covid-19 victims it’s already too late

Photo by marcos mayer on Unsplash

In 1970 when I surrendered my newborn son, he was part of a bumper crop of 175,000 babies, handed over to strangers with adoption agencies acting as the middlemen.

Adoption is often a murky operation. In closed record adoptions murkiness intensifies into total blackout when the original birth certificate is sealed and a new birth certificate is generated, concocting a fiction to replace reality. As was the norm during the period that later came to be known as the Baby Scoop Era, my son was placed with strangers who claimed him as their own. …

Denise Clemen

Birth/first mother, recovering wife, retired caregiver, traveler. Advocate of #adopteerights and #reproductiverights and other good things.

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