Essay of the Week: “Opening a Tough Door”

By Zoe Carter

Minutes after I sink into my pillow, a loud baritone voice creeps into my dream. It gets louder and louder and I jump out of bed and discover the noises are real. I rush down the hall following the trail of sounds to the family room. My heart races as I approach the door that divides the tranquility of the hallway from the mysterious commotion in the family room.

“Come on. You got it. Yes”

I now know He is in the room–the man who has invaded my household of three women–Steve, my stepfather. Should I open the door?  There is a line I do not want to cross. I stand there debating and remembering when he uttered something else four years ago.

“I love you.”

I hated those words when I overheard him saying them to Mom. I could not stand the sight of them holding hands as they walked down the street and I always raced further ahead. Their relationship signaled yet another change that I could not control. Upheavals were constants in my life from the beginning. My twin sister, Mei, and I were born in China and adopted by an American couple when we were 20 months-old. My parents divorced when I was ten. A year later, my father died of a sudden heart attack. A year after Dad’s death, I saw a strange man with a long, beige trench coat sitting next to Mom at my sister’s basketball game. It was Steve, her college sweetheart.

Four years later, I wonder what he is doing in our family room. Should I enter? The internal debate has deep connections to my history. While I am thankful for my adoption and my life in America, I wonder if that life-changing moment—being taken from one life to a new family and country—triggered the sensitivities that once impacted my reactions to major changes. I cried when assigned to a separate class from my sister in Kindergarten after being in the same classes together in nursery school. I was apprehensive about puberty because I liked the way I was. Most challenging of all was my father’s death. Even after my parents divorced, I remained close to Dad, iChatting with him every night. I was devastated I never got to say goodbye to him. Initially, I thought accepting Steve was disloyal to my father. Now I stood at the door of another big change. Finally, on a whim, I pushed it open.

“Hey,” he said in an inviting tone.

At first, it was so strange to see someone else on the couch where Mom, Mei and I enjoyed “movie night”. The Chicago Cubs were playing the Cleveland Indians. I barely knew the difference between the Mets and the Yankees, but when I sat down, he kindly started guiding me through the game. The energy of his enthusiasm was contagious, and becoming a fan was much easier than I would ever have expected. I actually jumped up with him and screamed when the Cubs hit a home run.  I didn’t want to go back to bed.

Through baseball, I welcomed Steve into my life as a father. I also fell in love with the unexpected suspense of the sport, waiting with the crowds on the edge of my seat to see what would happen next. Ultimately, accepting Steve helped me overcome my aversion to change, as I saw with Mom’s major announcement in the spring of my junior year.

“We’re moving to Brooklyn.”

Rather than dread the change, I was excited for something new after 16-years in the same apartment. It was a turning point in my life because it confirmed my new approach to change and the recognition that it produces new opportunities. I did not see the move as erasing part of my life, but as just another chapter in my story that started with opening that door.

Zoe Carter, a graduate of Little Red Schoolhouse & Elisabeth Irwin High School, is now a freshman at the College of Wooster.