Reversing an Adaptation

The only place I ever came across the idea of reversing an adaptation other than in evolutionary terms was in the novel Dead Sleep by Greg Iles. The story was obviously forgettable because I have no idea what it was about even though it wasn’t that long ago that I read it, and an online synopsis didn’t help much. But I do remember what he said about reversing an adaptation. Or rather, I remember making note of the quote from the book. “Missing persons cases that have lain dormant for years, then suddenly the child or husband turns up. It’s disorienting to people. Homo Sapiens survived by adapting to change, even terrible change. Being forced to reverse an adaptation you’ve made to survive can cause a lot of strange feelings. A lot of resentment.”

That struck a chord in me somewhere deep down because I wonder at times what I would do if Jeff ever returned. I know he’s dead; I was there. The only way the scenario would work would be if he showed up on my doorstep and said, “God decided to let me come back. So here I am.”

It seems such a betrayal of both him and my grief, but part of me is glad I will never have to deal with a reversal of my adaptation to his death. For eleven and a half years I have been adapting to his being gone. For eleven and a half years I have slowly been turning someone I wouldn’t even recognize if I were to see me from the point of view of the woman I once was. For eleven and a half years I have been developing new values — not deep down values, the ones I’ve had all my life, like kindness and loyalty — but other values, such as having a place to live out the rest of my days; of owning that place. Owning a house is not something I ever wanted or valued, and yet here I am, grateful every day for this boon.

Without knowing the name of this phenomenon — reversing an adaptation — it must have been in the back of my mind for a long time. Years ago, I was involved in a time travel writing project with other authors. My character, a widow, went back in time, saw her husband, saw herself, and was appalled at how small her life had been. She could see that she had been on the way to becoming like her colorless mother-in-law, and once back in her “real” time, she threw off the shackles of her dowdy clothes and decided to live a little.

I do think sometimes of what my life would be if Jeff were to show up here. I try to think how to fit him into my life, into my house, but he doesn’t fit except as a photo I talk to every night. It’s been too long that he’s been out of my life. It’s been too long that I’ve been in this new life I’ve slowly been creating out of the ashes and shards of our shared life. I think it helps that I had no choice — I had to become the person I am to survive the shock of severance, the angst of his absence, the utter pain of grief.

To this day, I miss him and I continue to feel the void where he was ripped from me, so if there was an option, would I want him back? Could I deal with the truth, whichever way I decided? Could I reverse the adaptation? I have no idea.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.