Monday, May 20, 2013

If she'd seen my face

In perhaps her second letter to me, my birthmother mentioned almost offhandedly that she hadn't seen my face till the adoption agency provided for her pictures we'd sent to my foster parents (which begs the question as to whether my foster parents ever received them at all). It was determined, before I came out breech, that I'd be taken to the agency, and so, in a moment of near heartlessness, the nurses snatched me out of her womb and took me to another room. Instead of holding me or breastfeeding me (which I am quite certain her body was aching to do), she watched as the tip of my dark haired head was carried out of the room.

I mentioned this to a coworker recently, and he posed the question: "I wonder what would have happened if she'd seen your face?" He explained to me that the second he saw his son's face, everything changed for him and for the rest of his life. I've heard this several times from other parents - when they saw their children's faces, that's when they were so in love. That's when they were willing to do anything and everything for those children.

And what would have happened if I'd seen her face?

The implication my coworker was trying to make, without saying anything seemingly heartless, was that perhaps she would have changed her mind had she seen me. The decision, however, was not hers to make; so I think we first need to ask if she would have opted to see me in the first place. I like to think she would have.

I don't really have an answer to either question. In a perfect, dreamy world, she would have looked at my tiny face and fallen into the love bubble and never come out. And life would have been easy for her, in a way she never could have imagined. Realistically, had my small 5 lb. 6 oz. frame actually changed her mind so drastically, life wouldn't have been particularly easy for her. She wouldn't have been able to keep me (Confucious say no single women raise children), and it would have been an additional financial burden on her family, not to mention dishonorable (see also: The Scarlet Letter). But maybe she would have fought, tooth and nail, against all that just so she could keep me because she looked into my eyes and we had a connection. Maybe I would have grown up, just as feisty as I am today, because she taught me to fight.

Or perhaps, she would have made the exact same decision she did without seeing my face. Maybe my face had nothing to do with it at all.

The Letter I Can't Write

Yesterday I watched the series finale of "The Office," which made me cry and cry and put me into a blue funk for the remainder of the day because I am one of those people who gets totally wrapped up in television shows. And if you haven't watched it yet but intend to, then you should probably stop reading because

SPOILER ALERT

So there's the panel with the office employees, answering questions about the documentary made about them, and Joan Cusack stands up (I love Joan Cusack), and she has a question for Erin, the odd orphan, thrown around the  foster care system receptionist: "Do you hate [your birthmother]?" And if you watched it, you heard Erin's response (and I'm paraphrasing here because I'm not sitting right next to the television and don't feel compelled to Hulu it and give you a verbatim quote), "Well maybe sometimes I hate her. But more like, 'I hate you, Mom!' and then she says, 'Go to your room right now, young lady.' and then we have dinner together." And, of course, Joan is Erin's mom, and if there was anything in that episode that made me cry buckets - more than Steve Carell's return as Dwight's best man or all things Pam and Jim or Phyllis missing Stanley or Nellie finally getting her baby - it was that.

Because it's true. I kind of hate my birthmother in that exact sort of way.

I wish I could tell her that. I wish I could tell her how much she hurt me when, after making plans to miss work and coming thisclose to purchasing two round-trip airplane tickets to ANOTHER COUNTRY and getting a passport specifically for Korea, she canceled our first meet. I wish I could ask her what she does with her days beyond 3 hours of exercise and sauna (this baffles me, even today, as I write it, and I can't help but wonder if the translator wrote something very wonky). I wish I could tell her all about my life and what it's like and what I enjoy. I wish I could express emotions and feelings and then receive the same back from her. I wish I could see photos of my birthfather or get his full name so I can attempt to reach out to him. I wish I could ask her why she never told him.

I wish she were American - that she lived in someplace like Montana, and I could just get in my car and drive to her house and talk to her face to face, without language or cultural barriers. But that's never going to be the case. I will always have to think carefully about every word I write, I will always have to communicate with her like she is a little child so the translators don't have to work overtime (when I do write her - it's been over a year since my last letter, and I don't have plans for one in the near future) to find the Korean equivalent of my American colloquialisms.

And at the end of the day, it's too much work for me. I hate that it's too much work.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

And I felt nothing

The other day, my half-sister randomly posted, in response to a Facebook status update about an upcoming haircut, that she was in Korea. As though I would immediately write back and say something like, "Great! See you in a few hours!" As though she had no clue the lengths I might have to go to up and leave my home for the homeland.

But what really got me, after the initial frustration and hilarity wore off, was my otherwise lack of feeling. So she was in Korea. And I am in America and there are millions of people in other countries as well.

When I first discovered I had a half-sister and half-brother, I was so excited. An only child, I've yearned for siblings nearly my whole life (I say nearly because whenever I am around friends and their siblings, I start to think I've really got it good). But these weren't siblings on my terms. I hadn't grown up with them, mothering them (the age gap is staggering - I could theoretically be my brother's mother), worrying over them, laughing and crying with them. And I'm a little jealous, I suppose, that I was the one sent away.

Which isn't to say I am displeased with my life. When it really boils down to it, I'm pleased as punch that I ended up here. But still.

I know I'd said the next post would be speculation of what might have happened had my birthmother seen my face, but this experience happened and I couldn't let it pass. My sister is in Korea, and I don't care. Or perhaps (and this is probably more likely) I care so much it's consuming me.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wanting Someone to Want Me

If there's one thing I've realized recently I do not handle well (and we're tying this directly to adoption because, let's be honest, there are several things I do not handle well on a fairly regular basis, like raw meat or stranger danger), it is rejection. Or, more accurately, the intense and overwhelming fear of impending rejection, as though it's just around the corner, lurking and waiting to attack me.

I've spent my entire life yearning to be wanted by nearly everyone I meet. And I don't even mean that in a deep, bonding relationship and/or friendship sort of way -- I just need to know that people are as interested in me as I might be in them. If I am only mildly interested, then a reciprocal mild interest will more than satisfy that need.

This proved to be a tricky thing to deal with when it came to romance. I dated a few men (only a few -- I chalk this up to my overbearing personality and, you know, apparent fear of rejection [and I say that to mean apparent to probably everyone else but me]) and didn't have really any success with them. In fact, I felt as though I spent our entire time together, whether it was a few weeks or a few months or, for one completely failed relationship, a couple of years, pushing them away with all the fear I was harboring. When I met my now husband, however, there came a great change from within (wow that sounds dramatic, doesn't it?). I found a man who, and I'm still not quite sure why to this day, wanted me exactly as much as I wanted him. And, nearly three years into our marriage, still wants me, despite the agony I've put him through with all the attempts I made, early on, to get rid of him as well (without actually meaning to; I should state right here, right now that I am madly in love with him and haven't spent a single second feeling otherwise.)

But here's the rub. This inexplicable and irrational panic (sometimes even freneticism) over someone maybe, perhaps, possibly leaving me in the near, not so near, far, even almost eternal future plagued me to the point where I made up my mind that I would do all I could to control the situation. If I could, for example, push a friend away so much that she had no desire to try with me any longer, well, excellent. At least she left me for a viable reason than for none at all. Leaving me for no apparent reason other than tiring of me or growing weary of how I am? Awful.

And that's where I run into my problem, and where I'm afraid I will run for the next while, till I am able to sort everything out and attempt to overcome these feelings. I spent nine months making someone grief stricken (and, it could be argued, even the past twenty-eight years), and she left me. She sent me to an entirely new country, she had so little desire to be around me. There's the cause and effect. So I do what I can to duplicate it with all my other relationships. I used to think my relationship flaws came from me thinking she had no good reason to abandon me in the first place, but I see now (and when I say "now," I mean quite literally this very moment at 11:33 pm MST on November 28th), that they actually come from me realizing she had plenty of good reason to do so.

Thus far my parents and husband refuse to leave me, regardless of how awful I've been in the past (and I assure you, I have been awful in the past). They remain immovable, these strong forces with which to be reckoned, and I am coming very close to waving my white flag to surrender. I'll do it someday -- stop pushing them away because I've finally come to realize they're not going anywhere. But not today.

For the next post: What if she'd seen my face?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The quick and dirty

Last night, I composed an email to someone who desperately wanted me to delve into the messy world of my adoption story. I'd spent a lot of time avoiding it at all costs, and I knew he was getting remarkably frustrated, but I was pretty unwilling to budge. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it just needed to be done.

This blog is my feeble attempt to sort things out and try to understand what has happened to my life and -- this is most important -- why I want to push it away so much of the time.

Not all my posts will be happy -- in fact, I presume at the beginning, most of them will be steeped in anxiety and sadness and anger. But the end goal is for me to close my search with a light heart and less burden. Ultimately, I want to find the girl who disappeared when I became Mary Carman, and understand better what would make her tic.

So as to make things easier on myself, I'm simply going to post the majority of the email I composed last night -- it was probably the first time I was able to look at things with a real clarity and conciseness.


The quick, dirty version  (you probably know me well enough to realize this won't be that quick) is that I spent about 20 years feeling extremely content with the way things were *cue Barbara Streisand*. I'd made peace over Mee-Yun's decision to place me, particularly after learning what little we did about her situation (unmarried, working as a merchant, recently broken up from my birthfather). Confucianism is not kind to single mothers so I believed she'd had no other choice. And my life was idyllic here - I always felt as though, no matter what, I wouldn't have properly fit in with Korean society. I was always supposed to be Mary, the crazed liberal pacifist from Oregon. 

When she finally contacted me, I was elated. But as time went on and I received more letters, I started to become ... disillusioned. She hadn't told her family, aside from a sister; she had placed her 2nd daughter in her parent's care as an infant for ten years till she met her most recently failed relationship and had a son with him. Why hadn't she placed me with Oma and Opa as an infant? And what really took the cake (this is a pun) was the two years of no contact, followed by a depressed letter about her Mother's passing - a woman who bought a birthday cake and had a small birthday celebration in my honor every year. 

This made me feel hurt, betrayed, and more deceived than loved. We'd had contact long enough that she could have told me about her mother's terminal cancer, and I am positive my parents would have moved heaven and earth to get me to Korea. 

Since that letter, probably about 4-5 years ago now, I have pulled away and come back and pulled away several times. I don't know that I am subconsciously trying to punish her in the way she hurt me, or if I am simply trying to self-protect. Either way, I have not emailed her since perhaps December of last year. 

My half-sister finally found out about me (she is 23), but to my knowledge our half-brother (13) is still entirely in the dark. This obviously begs the question of what explanation he would have received this last March when I was to meet the extended family, but we all do things differently. 

I've had several fellow adoptees try to explain this entire situation, but it remains quite inexplicable to me. If she were truly overwhelmed or scared, then I submit that she should have not contacted me in the first place. She had 21 years to come to grips with things - I don't mean to sound awful and heartless, but it seems to me that she had time to take into consideration the gravity of what she intended to do. 

I did not want this. I'd been waffling as to whether or not I would spend the $50 and open my file anyhow, expecting it to be empty, and, just prior to the call from Holt, had decided against it. It wasn't that I didn't feel ready; on the contrary, I had lost interest for the time being. 

The first "abandonment" (if we want to vilify her) still doesn't phase me (although I know you'll disagree on that matter, and that's fine), but the second abandonment ... well, it broke my heart. Lest I sound melodramatic, I'll leave it at that. 

When I finally decided to put the adoption part of my life aside, it simply felt right. I've never felt that comfortable labeling myself an international adoptee; a second-hand child put through the ultimate trauma of being shipped from one country, with its unique sights, smells, and sounds, to a country full of strangers who would either find me novel or awful (I don't pretend like I haven't and don't still encounter racism from time to time, although the last time I was told to return to China/Japan/Hong Kong - they never got it right - "where I belonged" was elementary school). 

I am also left ultimately with the question of "Who is Kim Jong-Mee?" What would she have been like? And what would she be doing right this second? I will never know. It's like the movie 'Sliding Doors' - my life came to a crossroads, and, without my consent, it was thrust into one completely different than the other. 

--

I said the first abandonment didn't phase me. I lied. It's awful - in a time when most women are overjoyed at the thought of giving birth, she was miserable. I hate that I inadvertently made a person miserable. I never really put that into any sort of context till somewhat recently, but I'm quite certain it was always in the back of my head, nevertheless.