Woog’s World: Piecing together a family portrait from a shattered past
Mark Wolf Faulkins always felt different. It was a feeling of loneliness. He never knew anyone like himself. It was a shameful feeling, one he could not share with anyone else.
He’d look in the mirror, and know there was more to his life than he could see.
He was born in Meriden. That puzzled him, because his family was from Westport. His mother and father gave him “the most love any parents could give.” Raised an only child, he nonetheless felt “a strange connection” that there were family members somewhere he had not met.
In Burr Farms Elementary School, his kindergarten teacher sent him to the office after an argument. As part of his reprimand, Principal Leonard Metelits told Faulkins that just because he was adopted, he could not always get what he wanted.
That was the first time Faulkins learned of his past. But he had no idea what it meant.
Metelits explained that his real mommy and daddy didn’t want him, so they gave him away. Faulkins cried for hours in the principal’s office. Finally, his mother came.
She told him he was their son, and she and daddy loved him more than anything. It did not matter that he did not come from her belly; he was still their son.
Classmates teased Faulkins, and he continued to act out in school. Each time, teachers used the phrase “adopted kid.” He felt different, ashamed and lost.
Faulkins does not think other boys and girls were being purposely mean. “They picked up on my uniqueness,” he explains.
He cannot recall meeting anyone else in Westport who was adopted. He always wondered how teachers knew his secret.
Recently, he discovered that his birth mother and her family also lived in Westport. At 14, she was raped at the Staples High School baseball field, when it was still on Riverside Avenue. The rapist was an 18-year-old ice cream vendor from Bridgeport.
Faulkins says the story made the Norwalk Hour six days after he was born. Westport was a small town then. People talked. And in his two families, there were many mutual acquaintances.
His biological grandfather owned a gas station downtown, and was a lifelong friend of Faulkins’ adoptive parents. The owners of a Main Street hardware store became his godparents.
“Living in the same town as my biological parents was probably very awkward for both families,” Faulkins notes. “I’m sure there were encounters. I don’t know if there were resentments.”
His birth mother was sent to the Long Lane School in Middletown, which is why Faulkins was born there. Beyond the knowledge that his biological father was held on $5,000 bond, he does not know what happened to him.
“Was the rape violent or consensual?” Faulkins wonders. “Was this boy accused and convicted of a crime he may or may not have committed? Why were my birth parents treated so badly?”
He believes a “gross injustice” happened, but would like to know the facts for sure.
Faulkins has contacted both sides of his birth family. There are siblings on both sides. The boy who thought he was an only child now is one of 10. That has taken some getting used to.
“Being adopted is a beautiful thing,” Faulkins says. “But it comes at a high emotional price — a price all families pay.
“Knowing who you really are is important. No child or person should have to hide in a closet because of rumors or misconceptions. I read every day about children who don’t know where they came from. Good or bad, we need to process. We need answers, so we can move ahead.”
Faulkins points to the fictional character Mariska Hargitay plays on “Law and Order: SVU.” She too is a product of rape. Faulkins asks himself many of the same questions she does.
“I’ve been trying to find my own answers,” he says. “Maybe they can help others who struggled like I have.”
He has tried to get inside his birth mother’s head. What did she feel? Did she get to hold him? Did she share any of what had happened with her Staples friends?
Faulkins has felt a mix of emotions — surprise, joy, sorrow — on his journey of discovery. And the journey has not yet ended.
“This has been like a giant jigsaw puzzle, with all the pieces upside down,” Faulkins concludes. “Piece by piece, things are coming together. But what do I do when my puzzle is done?
“My wish is to have the story somehow told, so other who are hiding in a closet can come out and know that it’s all right. The shame of being different is something no child should ever have to bear alone.”