There is a lot to a name.
As a child I was told that being named Victor Lopez was an honor. I was named Victor because I was my father's first-born American son. Having conquered communist Cuba by making it to America, he named me Victor. Although my name signified his freedom, I never knew the man. He left, never to return, before I was able to walk. His freedom was my mental prison.
My biological mother is clinically insane. This explains how I ended up in the foster care system before age five. She would hear things that were not there. Her family, my biological family, took the route of helping her and forgetting me. My biological grandmother did the best she could to introduce me to my biological family, but they couldn't be bothered.
Her son, my biological uncle, a very harmful man, once said, "you should have never known who your biological family was." He expected me to be an orphan. The adults in my life failed me. I should add these folks were all devout Christians.
So, I kept my name. I was raised by foster families and watched my biological family live their very comfortable upper middle class lives without helping their own blood. For years I tried to be accepted by these people. All I ever wanted to do was go to college and be part of a family.
I did not meet my biological grandfather until I was in my early teens. Because she was mentally ill, he hated his daughter so much that he refused to have anything to do with her children. Later, when we finally met, we had a special bond. I believe my Grandfather would have taken me into his home after my adoptive parents were killed, but only three months after they and my grandmother passed away, he died of a heart attack himself.
For years I struggled with homelessness, being in one precarious position after another, and having legal problems to boot. My Uncle, the only living member of my biological family who was not elderly, was quick to judge me for my errors. I could not "pull myself up by my bootstraps."
Now fast forward many years. My new family found me. I have a book coming out, so I do not want to spoil my story by giving many details. I will just say that they knew about my background and my past. However, that did not stop them from loving me as a whole person. I have my new mother, who claims she has more grey hair since she took me in, and a new father who is always available when I need him. There were others along the way who propped me up, like Mike and Kathy Malloy, a radio talk show host and producer who connected my story with the world. The results of that was a nationwide, if not global, support system that eventually led me to North Carolina.
I enrolled in school and did things that normal people do to succeed. I wanted to be a journalist at first, until I realized I would need to find a career that could pay the bills and allow me to help others. So my family and I decided I would go to law school. I have been in and out of courtrooms since I was 5 years old, so the Law means a lot to me. I can still pursue writing, but I decided I needed a mainstay.
I could have pursued my undergraduate education at a place that was less difficult. However, my mother decided that I should go to Guilford College. The institution is a writing intensive private school that does not accept subpar work. I went on to become a senior writer at the college newspaper, and had the ear of all the decision makers. My journalism took me to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in 2012, and has led me to meet and befriend wise folk such as Noam Chomsky, who has truly been a mentor.
This past May, I graduated from Guilford College, but something still haunted me. It was my name. It did not represent the freedom of my so-called father, a man I never knew. It represented my mental imprisonment and a family who did not love me. A "family" that could tell me about all of my mistakes, but could not tell you what my favorite color is or what kinds of movies I watch. In short, they knew very little about me.
My adopted Aunt and Uncle came to my graduation. Afterwards at a house gathering, on the best day of my life, my Uncle Kenny and Aunt Diana said, "You do not owe your biological family anything. Fuck them. And that is a legal term." My uncle is a New York attorney, so he would know these things. I felt loved by this family from the moment they took me on. My late adopted Grandmother would announce to her entire retirement community that her grandson was coming. This family celebrated my existence and I loved them for accepting me as me.
My new mother said, "It is about time I adopt you," although she has been my "mom" since the start. We did just that and last week my name has changed. Even as an adult, people who hear the story are moved. Even a woman at the DMV began to tear up as she heard the story.
Although I am an adult, I am thankful that I was eventually found and adopted. I am no longer alone and can face this world with my chin up. Better late than never, that is what I say. We are never too old to be loved and accepted. My life will forever be better because of it.
Most of my writing will still be searchable under Victor Lopez. However, in order to make a clean break, I will continue writing under my adopted name, which feels more natural than anyone would ever know.