Mom says I've been reading at an adult level for a while now. “You're mature for your age,” she tells me, “so I think you'll like this.” She hands me a thick paperback.
At ten years old, I go to my room, slump into bed, and trace my fingers over the cover of Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton.
I beam while reading my very-grown-up novel on the bus. I carry it to class, always at the top of my stack so everyone can see.
As it turns out, Jurassic Park has everything a mature young boy could ever want.
My biological grandparents visit the farmhouse one Sunday afternoon. My relationship with them is the byproduct of a quasi-open adoption, the last vestiges of a now non-existent childhood.
Eight of us pack into the living room. Grandma and Grandpa have the couch to themselves. A U of I basketball game is muted on the TV in the background. Mom and Dad each have a recliner while the four of us kids are scattered around the floor.
The adults do most of the talking while us kids distract ourselves with toys and puzzles.
“What have you been up to, Matthew?” Grandma asks me, interrupting my playtime.
I look up. I think and then tell her, “I like to read.”
“Oh that’s good!” She leans in. “What are you reading right now?”
I get excited. I look at Mom. “Can I show her?” I ask. My mother nods.
Nearly everyone has moments, now or in the past, of feeling like a stranger in our own family, trying to figure out where our alien traits fit into the overall organic kaleidoscope we call “personality.” For adoptees that feeling is often dialed to the extreme. We can’t unwind that knot. Those bits and pieces that point us to *us* are gone.
Thirty seconds later I return with my prized possession. I hand it to Grandma. She inspects it, then hands it to Grandpa, who reads the back cover, then hands it back to me.
“Do you want to hear my favorite part?” I ask them.
“Why not?” Grandpa shrugs.
“We’d love to!” says Grandma.
I know the page and flip right to it.
I read. “Nedry opened the car door, glancing back at the dinosaur to make sure it wasn't going to attack, and felt a sudden, excruciating pain in his eyes, stabbing like spikes into the back of his skull.“
Grandpa chuckles. Grandma is smiling.
“Jesus, it was disgusting,” I continue. Mom and Dad steal a glance. “But the skin of his neck was already starting to tingle and burn. And his hand was tingling, too. It was almost like he had been touched with acid.”
Mom interjects. “Matt you really don’t need—“
“—and he squeezed his eyes shut and gasped with the intensity of it and threw up his hands to cover his eyes and felt the slippery foam trickling down both sides of his nose. Spit. The dinosaur had spit in his eyes.”
“Matt,” says Dad.
I look up from the page.
“Then what happens?” Grandpa asks.
My sense of irreverence is reflected back in his smirk. I look back down to the page. “The earth shook beneath him and Nedry knew the dinosaur was moving, he could hear its soft hooting cry, and despite the pain he forced his eyes open and still he saw nothing but flashing spots against black.”
My siblings are paying no mind, but I have the full attention of the adults. I go on. “Slowly the realization came to him.”
I look up at my grandparents to punctuate the line. “He was blind.”
“Oooooh,” Grandma says.
“I think that’s enough, Matt,” says Dad.
“That’s not even the best part!” I plead and before he can say anything more I keep reading.
“He couldn't see anything, and his terror was extreme. He stretched out his hands, waving them wildly in the air to ward off the attack he knew was coming.”
I know what’s coming too, and I barely suppress my smile.
“And then there was a new, searing pain, like a fiery knife in his belly, and Nedry stumbled, reaching blindly down to touch the ragged edge of his shirt, and then a thick, slippery mass that was surprisingly warm, and with horror he suddenly knew he was holding his own—”
“Don't—” Mom tries to stop me.
I double back. “—holding his own intestines in his hands. The dinosaur had torn him open. His guts had fallen out.”
I stop. Silence sits in the room. Grandpa purses his lips. He looks at me then looks at my parents. Like me, he’s not just amused when others cringe. He’s amused because they cringe.
Grandma leans back now and folds her arms. She shakes her head and chuckles.
My adopted parents are a shade of red that’s equal parts anger, embarrassment, and dread.
But I’m not done. I want to keep going. “There’s only a little bit left,” I murmer.
For a moment, no one moves. Then Mom slouches in her seat, resigned. “You can finish,” she says.
“Okay,” I smile. “Nedry fell to the ground and landed on something scaly and cold, it was the animal's foot, and then there was new pain on both sides of his head.”
“Oh my Lord,” Grandma winces.
“And?” Grandpa coaxes me. His voice lingers in the air. And maybe it’s my voice too?
The knot unwinds a little. I slow my speech, and lower my voice to punctuate the final moments. “The pain grew worse….and as he was lifted to his feet he knew…..the dinosaur had his head in its jaws….and the horror of that realization was followed by a final wish…..that it would all…..be ended….. soon.”
I close the book. Proud, but also embarrassed. Maybe it really did go too far this time.
“Thank you very much,” Mom says. “You can put it away now.”
“Sorry. It’s just …that’s my favorite part,” I tell them all.
Grandpa asks, “Where did you get this book?”
“Mom gave it to me,” I tell him. “She said I'd like it. And I'm mature enough to handle it.”
Mom blushes. Dad sighs.
“Well, she was right. We can tell you like it,” Grandpa assures me. “Besides,” he adds, “maturity is overrated anyway.”