Where’s the Cheat Code That Unlocks Adoption?

One writer strives to understand how she came to be

02.24.16

My adolescence was sponsored by The Sims, a life simulation game wherein success was measured by one’s ability to avoid drowning in a pool without ladders. Free time was dedicated to manifesting characters from the stranger crevices of my imagination into virtual Vitruvian men and women, except with pixelated genitalia. I would adjust their eyebrows and style their wardrobes to reflect the personality traits that came resultant of their astrological sign. Then the family unit was built, with this term encompassing individuals, couples, couples with children, platonic roommates and ~roommates~ (an alien and a burglar). Once perfected, I would drop them into an unfamiliar world with whispered hopes that they would prosper.

My obsession with this game filled the void of a prepubescent social status, but it has since returned to mind as I seek to process my existence as an adopted child.

I think of myself as a Sim. I was created as “Paola” and then was placed into Neighborhood 1 where my game began. But someone, somewhere, had second thoughts, pressed pause and decided to go back to the drawing board. They hit “delete” on my given name, changed it to “Mia” and reimagined my parents as characters who would raise me as their own despite the difference in our skin colors in a faraway Neighborhood 2. I look at this green diamond overhead indicative of my existence with gratitude, yet the dissonance between my assumed character and the one that remains unplayed is a frustrating distraction.

First, ethnic ambiguity in the age of Rachel Dolezal riddles the question of, “Well, what are you?” “I’m an honorary Italian-American Colombian,” I reply, in full anticipation of a moving violation from the PC Police. My race became an exoskeleton for the culture that has become me, though I feel unqualified to claim either as my own. Hyphens help to straddle the selves, but they are certainly not a permanent bridge.

Then there’s guilt that comes with privileges like a college education that would have been but a dream in the beta version of my life. What’s more is the guarantee of family, a home, clothes, a computer for frivolous gaming and unconditional love. Why were these luxuries bestowed upon me, even in an afterthought? What gives for the extraneous cheat code?

This is where life diverges from the computer screen and reality crystalizes, all saturated with responsibility to prove that I am worthy of the walls that were built around me. I still race in fear of the click that might demolish them once again, scraping to find my sole purpose beyond that of a character created to entertain a brace-faced omnipresence. Yet I wonder if the search is futile. For I am not a Sim, and there isn’t a manual to clarify the reason for my place among these particular pixels. There never was one in The Sims. The fun in the game was watching what became of the bodies in the square footage that they were given.

Follow author Mia Lardiere on Twitter @TheOliveEye. Photograph by Tim Walker for British Vogue, April 2011; collage by Krista Anna Lewis.

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