On Being An Adult Orphan

When my father died, I grieved. When my mother died, I fell into a void. I’ve never felt more alone in the world than I have since she died.

I want to talk about The Rolling Stones today. I want to talk about books or any damned thing that isn’t today. Fuck today.

I didn’t know what an adult orphan was until I became one. The day before that, I would have laughed at you if you used the term. Adult orphan? Don’t be a child. Once you’ve turned 18, your parents become your friends. You might want them around, but you don’t need them anymore because you have a job and your own home. You’re old enough to put foie gras on your plate.

All. By. Yourself.

Nobody needs parents after they’ve flown the nest.

But let’s not talk about adult orphans. Let’s talk fucking coffee shops. The longer the list of things I want to talk about becomes, the harder it is to breathe. Why is that?

Today is my mother’s birthday and she’s not there to send flowers to. This is my first year as a member of The Adult Orphan Club. When my father died, I grieved. When my mother died, I fell into a void. I’ve never felt more alone in the world than I have since she died. I think in “what ifs”: What if I need a parent one day? What if I have a crisis and need to move back home? What if I get ill and need someone to take care of me?

When my father died, I lost a parent, but when my mother died it felt as though I lost my history. My mom and dad were manipulative and selfish, but they made me feel safe just the same. I don’t need my parents. Any parents will do. I need someone who’s been there since I was born to tell me about the day I buried my teddy bear in the garden. I’m nobody’s daughter, and I want to talk about The Rolling Stones or books. Face it. So do you. The only people who feel vaguely comfortable talking about adult orphans are members of the crappy club, and even we hate the subject.

When someone calls their mother they remind me that if I dial mine, nobody will pick up the phone. The only reason my family ever got together was that my mother kept us connected. Now we’ve grown so far apart we might as well live on separate continents. This year I forgot my sister’s birthday for the first time in my life.

I defined myself by my parents, so after they were gone I had to find a new way to figure out who I was. I haven’t quite done that yet. I feel too grown up, too close to my own mortality. I’m nobody’s child, so I’m 100% grown up.

I used to think the house I grew up in was home, but I’d always call my mother when I didn’t know how to change a plug or cook a dish. Home meant having someone on the other side of the line to talk to about books or The Rolling Stones. It meant being able to phone someone about fucking coffee shops.

I don’t believe in heaven, but my relationships with dead friends have never ended, only changed. I had to find a way to relate to my memories of them.

I knew about rock before I knew about dolls. My mother played me vinyl and taught me about The Rolling Stones as soon as I started speaking. When I got addicted to Barbies, I was far more interested in finding a record to listen to while I played with them. I was a fucking Iron Butterfly girl. My entire childhood was woven around music, so today I’m not going to talk about The Rolling Stones.

I’m going to listen to them. All damn day.

Kirsten Holmes learned everything she knows about writing from her mentor, Lionel Abrahams. She worked as a freelance South African hard press writer before moving to digital publications. She has appeared in the academic journals, Carapace, New Coin, The Journal, and New Contrast. Her first poetry collection was released in 2011.  

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