To Veronica Capobianco on her 18th birthday

Dear Veronica,

Whatever your adoptive parents have told you for the past fourteen years, I hope they have told you this:

You were loved, cherished, and wanted by your father. I don’t mean Matt Capobianco, even though you have grown up calling him “Daddy” and “Dad.” I mean Dusten Brown, the man who turned himself in for jail time rather than relinquish custody of you.

When you were four years old, the nation alternately cheered and wept, congratulating the Capobiancos or consoling the Browns. There were a lot of politics involved surrounding the people who decided what should happen to you, all the way to the Supreme Court.

I’m sure you know this already. You looked yourself up on the internet, or heard it from friends, or fended off unwelcome interviews from media representatives.

Maybe Melanie sat you down, when you were five and ten and fifteen, to tell you the story of “you.” “A mom and a dad wanted a baby very much but couldn’t have one, so God sent a baby angel to the wrong mommy’s tummy. She was too young and not married, so God fixed the mistake by sending you to your real mom and dad. And we love you just as much as we gave birth to you. You are our beloved daughter.”

“What about my other parents?” you might have asked. “Didn’t my bio mom and dad want me?”

“They loved you very much,” Melanie probably told you. “But your mom was very brave and selfless, so she sacrificed everything to give you a better life. She knew we would be the perfect parents for you, and she knew you would be the perfect daughter for us. And haven’t we given you the best of everything?”

“Of course,” you reassured Melanie, because you knew the unspoken code of adoptees. You had to protect the feelings of those closest to you because you were once given away. You could be given away again. “I love you. But what about my dad?”

“Not your dad,” Melanie would chide you. “Dad is your dad.” Matt, she meant. “He made some very big mistakes, and he went around saying bad things about us. He even had to go to jail because he broke laws.”

“He did?” you asked. You were a bit scared, thinking someone with your genetic material could be bad enough to get sent to jail. “Is he dangerous?”

“Not anymore,” Melanie would reassure you. “Mom and Dad got together all of our friends, and we told everyone that you belonged with us, your real parents, and we would fight all the way to the Supreme Court to make sure you got to stay with us.”

“You loved me that much?” you asked, not sure how to respond. It made you feel guilty, in some strange way, to know you had been in the middle of a tug-of-war between families who both said they loved you, but only one could win.

“Of course,” Melanie answered. “We did go to the Supreme Court, and those nice justices agreed with us. They saw we loved you very much and you were right for us, so they made your birthfather go away. We’re your real parents now, Ronnie. You wouldn’t want to hurt us by talking about him, would you?”

You didn’t. So at five, or ten, or fifteen, you learned to stop asking questions. You were grateful, happy, and obedient. When you were told to smile, you grinned wide for the camera. You said “thank you” for the nice gifts and practiced piano every day after school.

And when a boy first touched you and told you that you were beautiful, you tried to shut down the twinges in your stomach.

Is this what my dad said to my mom? Is this how she got pregnant with me? 

You watched Melanie, feeling guilty as you awoke to your sexuality, because your body could give you what Melanie never could have–a child created from your flesh and blood. You lived your childhood hearing you were chosen and wanted, and your shoulders sank–just a tiny bit–under the pressure of fulfilling an infertile couple’s dreams. When Melanie had “the talk,” warning you away from boys or perhaps even shouting at you to never, ever let a boy do “that” to you, part of you wondered.

Does she think it’s sinful to get pregnant before marriage? Did she think my mom was sinful? Am I a product of sin?

Yet you loved them, with all of your heart, because you were a child and children need to survive. After the first few days of “I don’t want to go!” and the screams of inconsolable grief dissipated, you learned to smile on demand.

I hope the Capobiancos had answers for you, once you learned more about your case. I hope they were able to explain why they needed to cut your father out of your life and then sue him for everything he owned.

A lot of people were angry and saddened at your loss, Veronica. We watched you torn away from your father, stricken with grief because we also have lost family. We prayed we were wrong, that it was for the best, and that you would grow up to be healthy and happy. We mourned as you lost your identity, your right to your original birth certificate, and your connection to your Cherokee heritage.

But most of all, Veronica, I thought of you on this day. The day you are of legal age, old enough to start looking for answers on your own. Maybe you are starting your final year of high school, or maybe you are on a fast-track to a prestigious college. Maybe life was hard for you in the wealthy family after all, so you had to take care of family members. Maybe the psychological stress of your repeated traumatic separations became too much for you, and you are in treatment for addiction or abuse or self-harm. Maybe, God forbid, you didn’t make it. Not all adoptees do.

If I could tell you one thing today, it would be this:

You don’t owe anyone anything.

The Capobiancos adopted you because they wanted a child. Not to “rescue” you. The Browns wanted to raise you because you were their own. You have two families with competing claims on you, and if you connect with the Browns again you will become the focus of a subtle or dramatic tug-of-war, constantly shifting layers of loyalty that always result in hurting at least one person you love.

You didn’t ask for this, Veronica. If you made it this far, you are a survivor. People will criticize you for being nice or too nice to the Capobiancos, being nice or too nice to the Browns, and being good or not good enough in your various endeavors. Your life will be under a microscope when some journalist gets your contact information and entreats you to do a follow-up interview.

“I’m just fine,” you’ll say. “I’m very happy, and I love my family.”

But at the day’s end that smile will slip sideways, where no one can see. You’ll ask yourself if something is wrong with you, and you’ll dismiss it as foolish when you have so much to be thankful for. You’ll reassure Melanie that she did the right thing and that you love her and she is your real mother, because that’s what she needs.

What I hope for you, Veronica, is that you will love yourself. That you will take care of your own needs.

There are others who have walked this path before you, and we will wait with open arms.

We love you, Veronica, and we have prayed for you these past fourteen years.

Please take care of yourself. What you need is important, too.

42 thoughts on “To Veronica Capobianco on her 18th birthday

  1. you are killing me with this…someone could have written this letter to ME in 1968…a little bit different on the details…my mother wanted me and my father’s family hid my existence from him, but all the rest…all the rest could have been written to me…and I did all that stuff to survive

    • You are right. I said “Capobianco” here because I assumed they would change her last name, and that’s how Veronica would think of herself. Thanks for pointing this out so I could clarify.

  2. Fourteen years, not sixteen, otherwise she’d be twenty. She’s four now. 4+14=18. Sorry, I’m hopelessly analytical, so that got in the way of an otherwise perfect letter. And I do mean perfect. Thank you.

    • Thank you so much. I’ve had such intense emotions this week, and it was good to find a place to express them. I’m humbled that others have found comfort.

  3. This is so poignant. I could have written this for Veronica, probably not as well, but it is everything that I have been thinking about what the Capobiancos will say to her and the walls she will have to put up to protect herself. Thank you for writing this. I hope she finds it one day.

    • Maybe we won’t have the honor of being there in person for Veronica, but we will be there in spirit. I hope she will adapt because it’s necessary for her survival, but it will be at such a heavy cost.

    • I don’t think she ever will, but if she does…I hope she is not upset at what I wrote or that she feels it dishonors her or her families in any way. Thank you.

  4. “You lived your childhood hearing you were chosen and wanted, and your shoulders sank–just a tiny bit–under the pressure of fulfilling an infertile couple’s dreams.” <– This is one of this things that I have found hardest to explain to people about the adoptee experience–how the the things that seem "nice" on the surface can actually be the biggest burdens.

    "There are others who have walked this path before you, and we will wait with open arms." <– Yes, this.

    • The people who understand will understand. Those who don’t will not because they choose not to open their hearts. Right or wrong, those of us who do understand will wait. Thank you, Rebecca.

  5. Everything you spoke of about how it feels to be adopted, and what adoptive parents say is what I was told growing up! I was adopted in 1964, an Indian child adopted by a non native family. I was always told that I was chosen and all the other things you’ve said above. But after I was adopted my adoptive mother was able to conceive 2 children of her own. Even though I loved my adopted siblings and still do to this day, things were so different after that. I was the one who looked different. I had never seen anyone who looked like me. I was so grateful and still am to this day when I saw my birth mother at 25 years old! Then later I saw my siblings. That was amazing!!!

    To Veronica… I can’t wait until the day you’re reunited with your family… your birth family! I wish for you that this happens much sooner then 18. Our family talks of you every day wishing for you to return as soon as possible. You have truly touched so many people!

    • It’s not (usually) about love because love is there (except in the cases where it isn’t, but that’s a different story). It’s about connectedness, belonging, and loss. Of course biological families aren’t perfect, but they give a sense of identity not possible in an adoptive family. The sadness is thinking about all the years before Veronica will be able to choose for herself, and she will never get her childhood back.

  6. You should put up things on the internet that are like flowers of joy blooming here and there for her to find when she is older. Of happy things and things about her people that will bring a smile to her face and give her hope and lead her home. Give her a diary of love from all of you plant these seeds all over the internet and everywhere in books, in newspapers, in everywhere she looks to remind her and everyone who she is and that she is loved always. Let your voices be heard as a ripple across the universe and back that she is a part of you and give her the love that she deserves. Don’t fight over her love or over her. Let your words of love pour out and wash over us all. So no one can say bad of you but only good. Do this and you will have defeated them and she will know you and love you back.

  7. Why could not someone put her and others that are the lost on milk cartons like they do other children or on wicapedia. And ads on bus stop booths etc. It is endless the places that could be used. Just as ad campaigns are run. I am sure that there are tons of ideas that could be used to keep her name fresh all the time in the public eye. These people will not be able to hide from what they have done. Someone could do a documentary for public tv? Putting the ideas out there and someone who can will.

    • I understand the sentiment, but I don’t know if those kinds of steps would be helpful in the long run. Would it restore justice? It couldn’t overturn the court decision, could it? But thank you for your desire to support. Maybe we can keep her name alive in other ways.

  8. Somehow, I don’t think Veronica will be grateful to the Capobiancos and will view Melanie and Matt as her mother and father. I also don’t think it will take 14 years for a showdown. Stay tuned.

      • Honestly, for her sake, I hope she can have a semblance of a stable life. Don’t forget–she’s a small child. She’s surrounded by adults who have told her their story.

        But when she is ready, I hope she finds out the full story. What a roller coaster for her. She didn’t ask for this. Poor honey.

  9. I think veronica will vote with her feet around 15 to 16 years old, she will come home to her father Dusten where she belongs and the Copobiancos will not be able to stop her. God Bless you both.

  10. Waiting for the day………. she come home, home to where her true roots lie ! I Looking forward to seeing her find her Dad and other sisters and brothers they remove from her life !
    Adoption is the elephant in the room these adopter need to see they can hold … but not have the bloods of true family ties!

  11. Look forward to day she come home to her family ! I believe there are people watching her from a distant and will be there to help her find them when she reaches 18yrs ! ( Remember there always a way to find the right path to home )

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