In 1969, Marlene Olive, 10, the child of oil executive James “Jim” Olive and homemaker Naomi Olive, Americans residing in Ecuador, played in her father’s study. Marlene came across a paper that troubled her.
At dinner, Marlene asked, “Daddy, what does the word ‘adoption’ mean?”
Jim wanted to know why she asked.
The child handed him the document found in his files.
Jim told Marlene that some people aren’t able to have babies of their own. They become parents by taking in the children of other people who aren’t able to care for them. He assured Marlene that she was just as much his and Naomi’s child as if Naomi had given birth to her. He told her that other babies are automatically taken home because the mother has given birth to them. As an adopted child, Marlene was special because her family chose her.
It was the accepted explanation of adoption.
Years later, she recalled being confused because she didn’t understand how that other woman was her mother and the woman she called “Mom” could be her mother too.
This was the latest trauma in the life of a child who had enjoyed little security.
Jim was an Army recruit when he met and wed Naomi Wagner in 1944.
The war ended, Jim was discharged, and the couple moved to Panama because Jim hoped to take advantage of its real estate boom.
They yearned for a baby. However, marital relations failed to produce one.
They adopted Marlene the day after she was born, January 15, 1959.
Perhaps because she was late in becoming a mother, Naomi displayed extreme vigilance. Richard M. Levine reports in Bad Blood: A Family Murder in Marin County, “For the first six months of Marlene’s life Naomi never came near her daughter without wearing a gauze mask, and she insisted that everyone else, Jim included, do so as well. She repeatedly sterilized every object that might come within Marlene’s grasp.”
In Bad Girls Do It!, author Michael Newton writes, “The summer after Marlene’s adoption, James lost his life savings in a failed business venture. He soon found a new job with Tenneco, serving the oil company in Ecuador, and while he loved the change of scene, Naomi hated it, becoming a paranoid recluse, drinking heavily, sometimes accusing James of mythical affairs.”
The family returned to the United States in 1965 as Jim’s work brought him to Colorado and then New Mexico.
He was fired.
He got a job with the Gulf Oil Company as a general manager, again in Ecuador.
Naomi’s mental condition deteriorated. She conversed out loud with voices in her head and was seized by fits of inexplicable rage.
A bright spot came into Naomi’s life when Marlene brought home goldfish she won at a fair.
Naomi started collecting fish. She faithfully fed her finned friends and gazed for long periods as they swam.
Marlene’s friends were reluctant to visit Marlene after seeing her unkempt, often drunk mother.