And now, the much anticipated Part 2 to Yoon Seo Kim’s riveting, powerful story.
As I watch the clock in nervous anticipation I feel numb. There are too many people around to express the grief that is wracking my body. I will the time to pass by quickly, to get the inevitable over with, yet at the same time dread what I’m not sure I can handle. I pace back and forth, sit on the stairs, go to the bathroom to fix my face, and return to pacing. Finally the social worker approaches me. “We are ready.”
When I see my birth mother’s face for the first time all of my childhood pain resurfaces. I want to ask, do you know what my mother did to me? It is best that I do not know Korean. My eldest sister speaks for my parents through the social worker.
“When you were born our family was very poor. There was no food. Mom worked fifteen hours a day as a manual laborer. Your father and your father’s mother placed infinite pressure on our mom to bear a son. When mom returned home from the hospital without you, she told us that you died during birth. Mom went back looking for you two years later but they wouldn’t tell her anything about what happened to you. Only that you had been sent to the US.”
I can only imagine the worry and anticipation preceding my birth. In the US we now have the luxury of knowing the sex of our child beforehand. I try to envision my mom’s horror and disappointment when I entered the world as a girl. I wonder if she begged my father to reconsider. I wonder how she swallowed her first grain of rice after I was gone. I wonder when she was able to smile again. I wonder how often she thought of me in the past 33 years. I wonder if, after each decade passed by, she slowly began to forget.
The reunion concludes. GOA.’L’s program ends Friday night so I say, “Let’s plan on an entire family reunion this coming Saturday.” The rest of the afternoon and evening desperation and anxiety begin to resonate. We are scheduled to leave Korea in 5 days. Why am I wasting precious time that I could be spending with my family?
An introduction is made to a Korea University student volunteer named Ky Heo. I will forever be grateful for his commitment to our family reunion and selflessness. Ky immediately calls one of my sisters on my behalf, arranging for a family reunion dinner the next evening.
November 9th 2011 5:40pm Mok Dong Seoul South Korea
My husband, Ky, and I arrive twenty minutes early to Sapporo, a Japanese restaurant. Purposely I wear a tank top, heels, and my Hudson jeans to make a statement. I will not ever conform to feminine roles or images dictated by Korean tradition. Knowing my family does not have a lot of money, I have instant guilt because the restaurant looks very expensive. We remove our shoes and enter the private dining room. Nervously I look around and count how many place settings there are. I wonder who all is coming. My mom is the first to arrive with my third oldest sister, her husband, and my youngest sister. I rise to hug my third youngest sister. Her face is very sad. She says to me, “If I had known about you I would have looked for you.” My youngest sister’s face is pure devastation. She carries the guilt of being born after me and not sent for adoption. The enormous platters of sushi begin arriving with side dishes and soup.
Thirty minutes into dinner the silk screen parts to our private room and I look up in confusion. Standing before me is the brother I was sacrificed for. He is holding the most beautiful bouquet of flowers that I have ever seen. I struggle to rise with uncertainty, not sure what to do. I hug my brother as he awkwardly reciprocates and impulsively kiss his neck. There are no tears, only curiosity and astonishment. Who is this handsome stranger? Throughout the rest of the evening the tears flow into my lap. Sitting directly in front of me, I curiously sneak looks at my brother yet see no emotion. I ask, “Do you speak English?” He says no, and I look down in despair. None of my family speaks English.
A month later my brother tells me the evening of our reunion was his birthday. He received a call an hour before dinner as he was eating his typical dinner of ramen. “You have a fourth sister that was given away when she was a baby, and she has found us. Please come immediately.” He abandons his ramen in haste.
When dinner concludes my family makes plans to show me Seoul the following day. They escort my husband and I to Ohmok-Gyo coop residence for the night. I feel like I’m floating on a cloud of happiness yet sorrow weighs heavy on my heart. Right before I go to sleep a text comes through from my brother. I am very surprised because I thought he didn’t know any English. The text reads, “I am very happy meet you. You are most honorable sister.” My heart swells with love and adoration.
Throughout the rest of my time in Korea I am overwhelmed by the love my entire family feels for me. In an attempt to make up for lost time my family showers me with gifts. We eat everyday at the best restaurants throughout Korea. Ky is an integral component to the success of our family reunion. He spent one harrowing night until 4am interpreting many tearful confessions. Each of my sisters and my mother wanted to meet with me one on one. I am burdened by their testimonials of hunger, hardships, and their immense sadness of not knowing me.
Throughout my stay in Korea I avoid my mom the majority of the time. I am angered by thirty three years of lost time and a stolen childhood with my siblings. I find it difficult to be in my father’s presence knowing he is the catalyst to this tragedy.
Immediately I grew an all consuming attachment to my brother who is seven years younger. I begin to share my inner-most pain from abuse and my life’s bad decisions. I cannot allow him to leave my side or I panic with terrifying anxiety. He in fact does know some English. He just has poor listening and speaking skills. We communicate by typing and passing my iphone back and forth. I recognize many similarities and personality traits. We both are very kind and loving people but have selfish tendencies and have difficulty managing emotions.
When my time in Korea comes to an end the goodbye was more painful than the initial meeting. As I boarded the Asiana plane I feel like my heart is breaking and my soul is completely devastated.
February 13th 2012 8:30am Encinitas, California
Today my brother has his interview at the US Embassy in Seoul for a student visa. As I write I am burdened with nervous apprehension for the outcome. I miss him tremendously and am hopeful he will pass the immigration officer’s scrutiny. If he is successful, he will join my family in San Diego and begin an English program in preparation for University acceptance.
In the past three months my emotions have gone from suicidal depression to melancholy acceptance. The entire concept of my adoption has become a subject that my own family no longer wishes to discuss. I am left to make sense of my abandonment and reunification by myself. I most definitely feel like I am on an island –apart from my family regarding adoption.
Finding my birth family resurfaced old memories of my childhood that as an adult I was able to suppress. I recall fantasizing about my adoptive mother’s murder as a child through my teens. It is terrifying because I was very close to attempting to kill her. Because I am afraid of blood I could not complete my plan. My adoptive dad has been surprisingly very supportive regarding my birth family reunion. For many years I held resentment because he chose to pretend he didn’t know any abuse was happening. He never treated me differently than his biological daughter. He simply betrayed me by looking the other way. I forgave him many years ago because he was the only family member I had in my entire life.
I found peace when my adoptive mother died in 2009 of anorexia. The last time my mother tried to hit me I was fifteen. She raised her hand to strike me. I grabbed her hand and calmly said with vehemence, “Don’t you ever hit me again or you will be sorry.” She was a sick and depraved person her entire life. I had always told myself that if she was lying in a hospital dying that I would not see her. Although still not sure why, I relinquished this promise and arrived hours before her death. When I approached her bed I gasped in shock. She looked like a concentration camp survivor. Her forehead was protruding from her face, her eyes were sunken in, and her wrists were the size of a small child. I tried to think of what to say as I stood by her bed. Her eyes were glazed over. She was rocking back and forth in the bed, moaning in agony. I took her hand, feeling pity for this pathetic being in front of me. “I’m sorry.” It is all I could think of to say. Those two words meant, ‘I’m sorry your life was a complete waste, and I’m sorry for myself because I will forever be scarred by your derangement.’
Before I departed from Korea my brother said to me, “Your sisters envy you.” I spent days contemplating that statement, recognizing the depth to it. Initially I was angry. The United States is a great nation and is superior to Korea in terms of wealth and individual opportunity. I was given a great opportunity to live a life in the US, but at what cost? I lost thirty-three years with my family. I suffered abuse and emotional trauma.
I believe no amount of wealth, fame, or business success can eradicate the inner pain that on my worst days threatens my very existence. Now, however, after reuniting with my birth family, I have the power to define the rest of my life. In honor of my family’s infinite love for me, I must live each day thankful for my blessings.