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Archive for the ‘Childhood’ Category

First Memory

23 May

Smiling faces hover on cameras with laughter and attentive parents who ask questions about their children. New children from Korea. Children losing their mother’s tongue with such ease. Only three months and fluent! Smile. The camera demands it. The unmet grandparents, demand it. The memories of that other country impossible to hold against pain demand it. Other people will construct what is not remembered, but don’t worry. Smile for the camera.

My new parents owned a large three story house, the third story was the attic. It had a front porch and faced out into the street with a large lawn and a side walk in front. My Dad, who was watching us, told my mom he was going out shopping for groceries.

My brother and I were tossing the ball and having fun, but it went out in the street. I looked at the porch and could not see my mom. She was gone. No other adults around. Besides, habit told me that going out into the street was fine as long as I looked out for my sibling. The adults were too new. Adults were things that could disappear.

The only rule I remembered was that I was to look out for my brother no matter what–to me that was the most important thing in my world. I could not leave him at the side of the street with no one around. He stared at the ball. I held his hand tight while we ran after the ball. He fetched it from under the car. We ran back to the other side.

My mom saw us and immediately marched us into the hall. Her lips were so tight they turned white as her face. An atmosphere of rage enveloped me. My first words were to defend my brother. It was my decision, not his. I firmed my mouth as she yelled over my words. This felt wrong.

She shook me a few times by the shoulders. I could not understand what she was saying because it was so loud the I didn’t understand all her words. I cried again that it was my fault, but she only yelled more and more. The yells turned into shouting. She pointed to us, towering over and raging. The questions she asked that wanted no answers echoed up the back stairs as an amplifier.

“Why did you do that?”

My brother hugged my arm and hid behind me as she stood over us.

When I realized she was not listening, I looked at the wall. Numbness filled me. I just needed to wait for it to stop. The scroll of the faded red flower wallpaper caught my notice for the first time. In the months I had been there with her and my dad, I had never seen that wallpaper before. It was always in my periphery–as if it were a white and red blur. But in that moment it became clear. I wondered what kind of flowers they were.

“Look at me,” she demanded. “You are to never cross the street.”

Which also led to another string of yelling. The back stairs were painted brown. A dark red brown. Adults had yelled at other adults, but never at me before.

The door to the basement was white and had a cat door that was screwed shut on it. I wanted to cry, but that only blurred my vision. There were worse things in the world than being yelled at. I was still afraid that we would be sent away.

There was no escape for my brother. How could I get him to escape? I’d tried so hard before to protect him. I had a forgotten promise to keep and even if I didn’t remember it in words, I remembered enough of it to keep it in my mind. He was not to get into trouble. This was not safe.

She finished yelling, as if satisfied and then took us to the dining room. “You will stay in the corner for fifteen minutes each.”

My brother and I stared at each other laughing, because this was a crazy event we did not understand. Was this to be our new life in this country? She yelled at us for laughing and made us face away from each other.

My dad came home with the groceries. He saw us in the dining room and asked my mom, not us what happened. She told him her version–a car had come and we were almost hit. I was confused because that was not correct, and I wasn’t sure why she was lying. But it was an adult matter I should not interfere with, but I still listened. And we’d crossed the street on our own. That was true. And she was watching. She wasn’t. That it was sudden. It wasn’t. I had hesitated before crossing.

He bent down to us and I cried, I couldn’t put it into words what happened. I had no Korean to translate in. And I didn’t know English well. The jumble of words would not come out in order. I was thinking of my brother again and my own failure to explain and protect him, so I don’t know what I exactly said. I rubbed my eyes and he told us that even though it was five minutes we could go out and play.

My mom yelled at my dad for letting us off easy. My dad used a calm and even voice saying he thought it was too much. She screamed louder over his voice something intelligible as we left the house. My brother acted like nothing had happened. But I was five, and more aware.

 
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Posted in Childhood, Parents

 

Birth Luxury

25 May

There is a luxury for people who are born and raised by the same parents that I cannot share. Their parents can tell the story together about how they met and why they fell in love with each other. Then came to think about having children and want to give birth to them. Then pictures of their mother pregnant with not just any child, but with them, growing larger. Then perhaps a story about the worries about a C-section, labor, where they were, what they were doing, and how the that person was born. There is a picture–maybe many of their mother holding them in their arms. And then again, with them in their cribs in the hospital.

And then, again, more stories about what the first word they learned was. What their favorite toy was, how they came to walk. Who exactly taught them to brush their teeth. How much trouble they were when they were little. Who was at their first birthday party.

Stories within stories, told over and over again, supported by images, touch, tastes, sound and smells flashing in their minds. Voices outside of themselves confirming what they experienced, as a comforting echo.

By the end of three months, after my arrival to the United States I had none of that. I’d deliberately burnt all the memories with the word Korea in them. Half a memory gone because the word Korea was left in it. The edges of memories burnt selecting for the word or the memory. Perhaps they were burnt with pain, with sorrow, with joy, with grief. All burnt in my mind though I couldn’t remember afterwards why I’d burnt them.

As the bonfire erupted I told people what I did know of Korea as the flames licked higher. And when the ashes settled, I spent a lifetime trying to piece together things from those ashes.

What I wouldn’t give for one photo to survive. A picture of my extended family surrounding me for my first birthday cake. A picture of my Korean mother holding me in her arms. One solid echo in the distance that wasn’t my own voice coming back to me from another person. These things people who are born from their parents and raised by them take for granted and don’t think as important anymore. But the echo comforts that heart because they know it’s true without people questioning or doubting them.

So I pasted the leftover photographs and the echoes from my own mouth on a wall in my mind. The wall had doors that would not open no matter how hard I tried, so the only glimpses inside were my wrecked memories. Everything from the age of four and before were gone. Voice accounts left of what I said about Korea, but they do not echo in my own memory because I’d already burnt them. As if the word “Korea” was a cue to the editor to cut the film reel short. And because it’s memories from my own mouth, there was no echo back to tell me that it was true. How did I know I wasn’t lying at the time? And there are no photographs to support my claims. These memories could be false, but I held onto them tightly as if they too would burn.

My parents bought for us Momotaro, the Japanese folktale about a boy that comes from a peach pit. I said something about that book too that it was like Korea, but it blanks from my memory.

I do not remember wanting to forget.

My brother and I used to sing loudly in Korean various songs. Some of them were Christian and taught to us in the orphanage. We often liked singing together. I liked making up songs when I was five, often singing off pitch and recorded them. I remember recording songs, but it is my Mom that fills in the fact we liked singing in Korean together.

I do not remember wanting to forget.

My maternal grandparents came to stay at our house to get to know me and my brother. My parents were going to go out on a date together for a concert. I thought they were not going to come back, so I cried and cried, not sure what was happening. My parents did their best to explain what was happening. I thought they wouldn’t return at all. As I complained, I must have thought of Korea because soon after I forgot the story. My parents told me this story to me three times before I could remember that they told me.

I do not remember wanting to forget.

My paternal grandmother gave me a doll which had a knit cap and a fluffy pink dress and spiky hair. I loved the doll because it had blinking eyes. She lost the cap because the cap caught on my hangnails during the winter. She lost the dress, because I put other dresses on her or I simply didn’t feel like dressing her. I named it Tuta. For years I didn’t understand why I named the doll Tuta, but I remembered her name anyway. She was my absolute favorite white doll with brown spiky hair and chubby cheeks. If I lost her, I cried. If I didn’t have her to hold at night, I spent hours searching for her. If I lost her under my bed, I would go and fetch her before I fell asleep.

The first thing I did with Tuta, according to my grandmother was take her, take a large stretchy cloth and wrap her up in a bundle. I remember fussing with the knots to try to get her to be bundled up tight.

I took her and strapped her to my back. And though I no longer remember saying the words, I said this was a thing that I did in Korea for my brother. A picture commemorates the event. My memory blanks once my past self mentions Korea.

I do not remember wanting to forget.

We went to a Korean Church for an adoption cultural event. These events were held out in the suburbs which was a long drive. My paternal grandmother had come with us. In the basement of the church they sold Korean fans, Korean candy and Korean snacks. As part of the event they also sold substandard Korean food. To me, it never tasted right.

This lasted a good three months. A woman, who must have been in her 30′s came to greet us and said something to me in Korean. I cried so loud, though I don’t think she said anything mean. My grandmother commented that she had no idea what I was crying about. I don’t either. I can only guess. Maybe that was the point where I understood I had lost something important and I no longer understood anything about Korea. Perhaps that was the point that I realized Korea was filled with pain and I wanted to forget. Since I cannot remember the event, and because it had to do with Korea, I cannot remember.

These previous events became foreign to me. I forgot how to write my Korean name. I forgot my Korean father’s name. I forgot my brother’s Korean name though I used to call it constantly. I forgot the language. Anything associated with Korea got wiped out. As soon as I forgot, I wanted to remember more fiercely than I wanted to forget. But too, as I forgot and my mom realized we had forgotten, she constantly told us after that point that any memories we had were lies we fabricated.

What I knew became blank again as English and a new culture struggled to replace them in my mind. Images blurred and faded from my mind. I became deaf to the sounds in my memories. Feelings were the only thing left.

I kept secret the impression I had of my Korean father, Appa. And my Korean mother, Eomma. Both words I had to relearn and memorize as if remembering the words would bring back their images to my mind.

Appa was a man holding my hand, his face blurring as the days went by, his hair, though black, also fading from my mind. His expression remained. A sadness and a seriousness I did not understand. I wanted to help him so much, but I couldn’t.

The image of Eomma faded faster, and faster until the only way I could remember was to a time when I was trying to remember her, as if I were hanging onto an image out of focus. All I knew was that she was pretty and how much I desired to be pretty too, like her, but I no longer remember what that ideal was that I was trying so hard to remember.

These feelings of people I once knew struggled against my mom’s voice as she told me that feelings were not provable fact. I could not prove any of the things I felt, so they were not real unless I could see them.

Psychologists call these repressed memories. Elizabeth Loftus staked her career on telling people that any memories once you’ve forgotten them cannot be recovered. You cannot prove them and that they are mutable. My mom leveraged psychologists like her to say that after three months all memories and feelings from Korea were not real. But left behind in the place of these memories was an unexplained empty hole. I often did actions that I could not understand or explain because I had no memories to explain them.

The sounds, tastes, smells, and sights of the images faded in my mind, but the feelings were left behind, but even those feelings did not count. So any memories left over from the ashes I pieced together I kept secret from the voices that said that I could not prove them. I was afraid they, too, would fade in the torrent of denial.

 
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Posted in Adoption Politics, Childhood

 

Uneven Sidewalk

23 Jun

In the front of our house there were linden trees between the street and the sidewalks. Their roots heaved up the panels of sidewalk so they bent in the middle. My mom and dad were watching us on the porch. I was running on the sidewalk faster and faster. My lace socks bouncing. My foot caught against the sidewalk and bam, I slid forward.

I sobbed, holding my left knee. The scrape covered the wrinkled part of the knee.

My mom scooped me up and brought me in the house as I sniffed. Her face was grim and frowning. She sat me on the toilet seat. She took a wash cloth from the side of the bathtub and then handed it to me.

“You don’t want your eyes to get puffy.”

This struck me as strange.

While I held the washcloth to my face, she cleaned my knee. “Stitches? I don’t think so.”

I sniffled, wincing at the idea of a needle.

She said she was going to get spray for the knee to disinfect it for germs. She explained again why getting germs was bad.

The door stayed open as she went into the hall and got the spray disinfectant. She told me it was going to sting. I sucked in my teeth, still sniffling as I did.

“Washcloth,” she said, holding it up to my face.

She put a huge bandaid on it.

“Don’t pick the scab. You don’t want germs or need stitches.”

I said nothing in return.

“You’ll be OK,” she said.

The threat of stitches played in my head as I was returned to go out and play.

My knee healed with a big scar. The scar slowly drifted up to my knee cap as I got older. “Don’t pick the scab,” echoes in my mind.

 
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Posted in Childhood, Parents

 

Kindergarten

23 Jan

One day my Dad took me to a store and told me to pick a backpack. My vision focused on a pink one. He also had me pick out pen and paper and a lunch box. We went to the store and bought new clothes. He explained that I was going to school, but I didn’t have any concept of what that meant.

He spent some time trying to explain to me what school would be like.

“You can make friends and you’ll learn new things.”

The thought of having friends excited me. I imagined being able to play games like we did at the day care. I imagined being friends with a group of girls, and having fun together, like we did in the neighborhood.

He explained the types of things I would learn in school, though most of it went over my head.

On the day I was supposed to go, he woke me up early and I chose my first day of school clothes. He made my lunch which had a huge dark pink Thermos, and a sandwich he made himself, plus two Oreo cookies. This was put into the pink lunchbox I’d selected and then put into my backpack along with some pencils and paper.

On the way there he explained to me again what was going to happen.

“Since this is your first day of school, I’ll be here when you get out,” he said smiling under his salt and pepper mustache and beard.

Other kids passed me holding the hands of their parents. My dad wasn’t coming in with me. My parents never really came into the school except in the days of day care programs to do things like take off our shoes and make sure we had our stuff.

This was the first time I was alone and away from home with no one else I knew. I was absolutely determined to bear all my feelings alone with clenched teeth if I had to. It was the only way I knew how to survive.

I entered the school with that determination. The first thing that hit me was no one looked like me. It was a sea of Caucasian or African Americans. No Asians. No one looked remotely like me. I was greeted at the door by my homeroom teacher. I understood her, but looked at her confused.

I wasn’t the type to talk unless I felt there was a need outside of the home. I already felt awkward which made me feel shy. Silence, I later learned is considered evil. I saw it as a form of diligence.

The classroom was chaos. Kids were running around, parents still lingered, and there was noise. I thought this was a waste of time. I could see blonde girls, black students and again no Asians. Kids were already making friends. I was quickly isolated.

The teacher finally called us to order. I was waiting for it. She told us her name, the rules and what was expected of us. The only rule I remember was that any work you didn’t finish in class was homework. If you finished work early that meant you could spend time in playtime. The rest of her instructions fogs away for a more potent memory.

My first crystal clear memory of school was being surrounded by two or three kids. One was African American–frankly I noted it, but it didn’t seem to matter. They started to chant at me and shifted their eyes with their fingers. “Chinese.. Japanese… which are you? You look Chinese.” I didn’t know what to say at first. I said proudly, “Korean” and they asked “Where’s that?” in a half-taunting tone. I looked for the teacher. I was used to looking for adults. It was what I was taught to do. I didn’t know where it was in the world. It was just a place in my pushed back memories. I said nothing. The country I’d grown up in was invisible to them. This was a personal blow to me.

My thought was as it had always been, “I will not cry.” I wanted to save face. It was the only thing I had left. I was not going to give them the satisfaction to show that their teasing worked.

My dad was there as he promised. We walked home together. He asked how my day was. I told him what we did, gave him the list of supplies that I needed–no books, but never mentioned the teasing. I was convinced I could deal with it myself.

One say when I couldn’t handle it anymore, I asked why kids tease. He couldn’t answer. He said, “Say to the kids, Stick and Stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt me.” This made the teasing worse. The kids said because they didn’t know where Korea was, it didn’t exist. The adults made it worse by saying, “Oh yeah, the Korean war.” My little heart was shattered.

The teasing didn’t stop until I changed schools in seventh grade. I didn’t gain confidence in Korea until I was in my twenties.

 
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Posted in Childhood

 

The Worst Teacher

23 Jan

The biggest ass teacher I ever had was a substitute teacher. He was nervous. His hands shook and I remember his mouth quivering. His hair was parted on one side. He was disorganized. He didn’t know the material. I wasn’t impressed. It was fourth grade. He was subbing for a teacher I liked.

This was a class I originally liked because the teacher was strict and fair, but never let any injustice pass her by. Everyone hated her. The lessons they complained were too hard. Most of them didn’t even want to try. She didn’t let any disorder go in her class.

Now she was gone. The class was chaotic as there was no “real” teacher. The students all whispered about the freedom they would have without our teacher there.

The first order of business for the students was finding other students to pick on. I was number one as a good target. And this other student was another target. Neither of us fought back, which made us perfect. The other kid was tall and big. He was African American. I didn’t know it then, but the kids must of, that his parents were white. He was also adopted. The kids loved pairing us together. The more I objected, the more they teased.

The roar of kids dominated the classroom. Every motion or thing they thought disgusting was under their critical eye if they didn’t like you. Today was no different.

They accused me of farting. A bunch of kids started teasing and laughing, disturbing the class. They started making sound to imitate. In addition they pinned it on our side of the classroom pointing to me or the other guy.

The teacher was not able to handle the chaos. In a desperate attempt to control the chaos he asked me if it was true. When I said nothing from the shock that he was going to blame me he escorted me to the bathroom.

This was the first time an adult had failed my expectations. Even when Eomma left, I had faith in her. I forgave her. Even when I was placed in the orphanage, I had faith in Appa.

He took me and forced me to sit in the bathroom, which was inside of the classroom. I spent my time in there crying silently while the kids outside laughed at me. The class went wild.

 
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Posted in Childhood, Teasing

 

Adoption Ghosts

23 Jan

I saw my mom crying in the living room. There was a video playing with a woman’s uterus on it. It was explaining an abnormality that was genetically passed and caused by infertility. Mainly it talked about the pain it caused. It was painful to have because anything to do with the uterus caused pain–menses and childbirth. It wasn’t a video on the disease as much it was a video about the feelings these women had towards it. Their sadness and tearfulness over what had robbed them of what made them women.

Despite this it was information that first hit me and made me curious. I sat down in the door hallway and watched it with her. I asked her questions that I now know I shouldn’t have. She explained as she always did. She talked about the facts. I wondered if there was guilt. I only connected the pieces later and realized this was what my mom had.

She said during my questions that she really wanted to give birth to a baby. She was still fantasizing over it. This startled me. I was much older by then and hadn’t thought in those terms.

At the same time those events seemed to never happen. The video was filed in the video cabinet somewhere near her exercise videos and the Disney films that my paternal grandmother had sent.

She continued to complain about her period and how painful it was. I would think and realize it had to do with that video tape. She rejoiced when her periods stopped and when she went through menopause. She told her sister in NY that it was bad, but worth it. She talked to me about her estrogen injections warning me about the needles. But we never discussed the tape again.

In the meantime I took some of what she said. My subconscious played with it in forms of dreams. I was walking towards my parents in the living room. Their backs are turned towards me and then I see it. A baby boy–unnamed. The dream doesn’t offer how the baby got there, but it does tell me that this is their genetic child. I can feel joy and the knot of mixed feelings which include horror and the fear of replacement. Why did they need me anymore? This dream played again and again. I couldn’t reason with it.

But this was my encounter with my other ghost. This was the person I replaced when I was adopted into this family. I had killed them. I am a replacement for a child that was never born.

Because we never spoke of it again, this memory of my mom watching the video feels unreal. Perhaps I’m pushing it back like the little girl I was who pushed back her own memories. Coming face to face with this other self is never pleasant. They haunt me in revenge. They say perhaps I am not Jewish, because they would have been. They talk about things they would have been that I never can be. And sometimes I think that voice is right.

However, My brother never saw the tape. So I never know if he has the same ghost whispers too.

 
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Posted in Adoption Philosophy, Childhood

 

Look it Up

23 Jan

When I wanted to know the definition of a word, I would ask my parents, “What is the definition of…” and then the word. My parents would say, “Look it Up.” For example, I wanted to know what “Thou” was really used for, so they said, “Look it up.” The old beat up dictionary with a short proper name definitions in the back would come out and I’d sit it in my lap or on a table and leaf through. I’d find the word, and announce it. Occasionally they really didn’t know and would say so. If I stumbled my mom would insist, “Sound it out.” Which only with my knowledge now can see how much folly it is to say that. She would sound it out with me if I really got stuck.

This was also their answer to something if I wanted to know what something was. So if I wanted to know what a kiwi bird was, I’d have to pull out the index of the huge Britannica or the Compton’s encyclopedia. The order was always the smaller one, then I’d announce I couldn’t find it or that it wasn’t very long at all. I hated actually looking anything. It was tedious, and I liked to skip ahead. If those smaller volumes didn’t have it, then I would have to go to the Index of the Britannica. Then go to the Micropedia section, look in there. When I didn’t find it in there, they would help me with the Macropedia. These volumes were huge and I still remember their weight on my small body and how heavy they were to lift. It was literally physically and mentally demanding in the wrong ways that I hated the process.

Occasionally, I would leaf through the index of cute dogs, horses and cats because Compton’s had and try to memorize the breeds. I found out the breeds of the dogs in the cartoons. For example, Lady and the Tramp, had a mutt, a English Terrier, Scottish Terrier and Bloodhound. I figured out that my Aunt’s Horse was a Thoroughbred. And then try to figure out the cats, and read all of the entry.

I spent so much time looking through those pictures and laboring through looking through the volumes, I was kind of sad to find that when I came back home my parents had given the volumes away. Though it was for the child, bitter memories of having to pull large volumes in her arms and then sort through them, scan through the passages, and so on, it still well… as like my parents would like to say, “Built character.”

These days I’ve already looked it up when they say, “Look it up.” And then they are forced to usually say, “I don’t know.” I’ve learned through this that there is a lot they don’t know, even if they are MIT graduates.

 
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Posted in Childhood, Parents

 

Explaining Swimming Cramps

23 Jan

I was staring at the sparkling pool at my Great Aunt’s and Great Uncle’s place. I’d just eaten and I’d had the foolishness of asking why I couldn’t go into the pool. The words besides pool, muscles, blood flow, heart, cramps and drowning washed over me. I always wondered if that meant that if I went into the water at all my leg would automatically cramp, because by his logic, it was furthest from my body and then I would drown, or if it really meant that if I went into the water and started swimming that my whole body would cramp like I have Tetanus into a small ball sink like a cannon and then like a cartoon I would come up with x’s in my eyes.

My cousins were doing other things. I patiently waited. I was thinking the last words, eying the clock and the pool, keeping track like I always did. His talk was about 5 to ten minutes– I don’t remember which. When he finished, I knew the time and said, “Can I go swimming now?”

He looked and said, “Yes.”

My parents did this with almost every scientific and engineering question I asked, no matter how old I was.

 
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Posted in Childhood, Parents

 

It Will Build Character

23 Jan

My parents were fond of the words, “It will build character.” But I now know that those words mean one thing and one thing only–you will be miserable through the process and most likely get nothing out of it in the long run besides to entertain other people.

They said this when I needed to brush my teeth, when I should wash my face, when they wanted me to get a job. They said this and I knew what they really meant was, “You will be miserable and you will get nothing out of it.” I never really got anything out of things that were supposed to build character. If anything, I just got more cynical about life.

 
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Posted in Childhood, Parents

 

The chronological events as I know them

23 Jan

I have enough of an impression to know why I was given up for adoption. I pieced this together over time and from the little flashes and a bit of painful recollecting, I pieced together the story from the ashes of my memory–photographs that play like a flip book, curling up in flames just as I put them together, fleeting away.

Some of this was told to me, some of it I purely have put together to fill spots, some of it, I just know without words or explanation. Some of it, is purely from flashes and some of it is piecing things together over time. I don’t think one could say any of these things is invalid, to me, even if I can’t always recall it, or the memory fades as I write it, it’s still a truth that was there, even if it’s a truth that one cannot grasp with proof, like a photo. One just knows it’s true.

Appa was in Eomma’s town and thought she was pretty. He was older than her and she really didn’t like him. He wasn’t the kind of man she could trust. He was charming and wrote poetry to her. Despite her better judgment, she let his persistence win her over. It was near the end of the Japanese occupation and her family was in a town of farmers.

Her parents really didn’t approve of Appa in the first place. He was a man from Kyeongsang. They were from Jeolla. Jeolla and Kyeongsang had a long rivalry that’s translated in the modern day into fighting over presidents and fighting over political issues that dates back from the Three Kingdoms era–so long it’s been going on for almost 2,000 years by the time Appa met Eomma. They also were from the same clan–Kim Hae. I doubt that either of my grandparents were happy about this, especially since my impression of my grandfather is one of a man that had quite a presence and was quite stubborn. He must have hated Appa–and they had quite a rivalry that went on for as long as they knew each other.

Eomma, being around 19 at the time, probably called Appa, Ajussi. I could see her doing that because he was older than her. Appa refused to tell me any of it, as if that memory died when she left him.

Eomma did come to love Appa, and Appa slept with her. This caused quite a fuss when both parties’ parents found out that she got pregnant. Locked with Appa because she was pregnant, and because laws said at the time that children go with their father, she was really happy to be pregnant. She was coddled quite a bit through her first pregnancy. Both sides loved children dearly–my maternal grandmother had seven children–and my paternal grandmother loved children to death.

However, the issue arose–where would Eomma live? For the first 9 months, Appa stayed with Eomma in Jeolla. She didn’t travel very much and she was quite happy. I was born in her house and upon seeing my face and having a birth dream of me as a Korean Phoenix, Bong Hwang, Appa decided to name me “Bright Beauty” which must have really gotten to my maternal grandfather–as the eldest male in the family, he had a right in the say of the name.

This is where the relationship changed. Eomma, either over the course of her pregnancy or right after, started to fight with Appa over where they should live. In Tong Yeong, it was quite choking to her. She had no friends in Tong Yeong, her family was in Jeolla, some miles away and as warm as Tong Yeong is to visitors, it is not warm to outsiders. They are cloistered together and she must have suffered being alone a lot. Appa would not listen to her loneliness and she felt torn about it. I was carted back and forth between Jeolla and Tong Yeong. Appa,being a little self-centered, could not understand how a woman would feel isolated in his home town. But as he could not understand her loneliness and isolation, she could not understand why he couldn’t understand her. He wanted her to stay home and be a good mother, but she wanted more freedom. They fought, and fought violently at times. She tried hard to get him to understand, but he wouldn’t listen to her.

He thought she would be satisfied being a mother, but she wanted a social network, friends and people to talk to. This would not get through to him. And her mother-in-law wasn’t supporting her at all. So fed up at nine months after I was born, she left, most likely torn and in tears.

This left her with the stigma of “bad mother”, me crying so hard and so long for my mother that Appa consoled me at nights, trying to get me to stop crying for her. And my grandmother trying to get my needs met. Both sides of the family tried to pitch in, but the bad seeds were already sown. This was an irreversible situation already. Once the bad feelings started, they didn’t mend.

Eomma came back later on when I was older, probably just learning to walk. This is when she tried to reconcile–I think the largest reason was because she missed me and couldn’t stand to leave me behind. So she firmed herself up to try to bear the loneliness. She was only near 19 at the time she had me, so this would have been doubly hard for her. Firming herself against the loss of social life, so she could be a good mother, she tried her hardest, and became pregnant with my brother. I don’t think she was happy during this pregnancy. I have a piece of her, holding my hand as I was really small, walking through a market, as if she were trying to hide her inner determination and pain,  caught in her own world, quite unhappy, but knowing that without her parents, without Appa, she couldn’t quite make it through the pregnancy.

She had my brother–a son. And the rivalry between Appa and my grandfather sparked anew. In order to try to meet to Eomma’s needs, we were shuffled back and forth, back and forth between the two cities. This was the best compromise either side could have, but the bitter feelings between the parties lasted, and Appa, being super stubborn and not able tolet go of grudges, needled Eomma into why she left, which left her feeling anxious, depressed and lonely again. She was trapped between loving her children and trying to find a peace of mind for herself. The shuffling left her with very little stability and I think everyone realized that it wasn’t good. Appa, being stubborn, couldn’t understand why Tong Yeong wasn’t good enough for her.

The grandparents were trying hard to shuffle us back and forth, and resolve the problem of the split hometowns, but they couldn’t. And I think at some point, both grandparents realized this wasn’t working. The stability and the rules they were trying to make were failing and thus a new rivalry sparked between them. More hurt feelings were flung and it was effecting the larger family as well. Both sides started to dig in their heels, and what was just between Appa and Eomma became a family feud. Factions rose up across both families as finances were being torn into.

Eomma couldn’t just leave Appa–she loved her children, but the life she was living was pure insanity–living week to week in a different town, going back and forth, back and forth trying to be filial. And Appa at some point just wanted her to stay in Tong Yeong. She could feel the noose tighten on her and without much ceremony, she left both families behind.

Appa was mad, upset and swore to never forgive her. I cried in my aunt’s lap, crying “Eomma, Eomma” over and over again, inconsolable at losing my mother yet another time.

The families became colder to each other until the contact just up and stopped. Reconciliation was gone because my maternal family had lost their daughter and Appa was not big enough to forgive anyone.

The economy started to downturn and the fruit stand where I ran and played with my brtoehr, because no one else would, started to fail. My grandmother couldn’t keep it together. She recognized that Appa wasn’t doing his duty as a father and that the economy was bad. The family wasn’t doing well. My Aunt was still in school, and my other Aunt was leaving the family. There were three hungry children, and an uncertain future.

As the fous became more on the finances, I took more and more care of my brother, trying to protect him from the yelling of my parents, the neglect of the adults, and took over some of the parenting roles. I became his emotional support and guide when no one else would. People often didn’t know where my brother was, but I always knew where he was. I had a tracking system on him.

I tried to help with the family finances–I begged for money door to door, I picked up change and trained my 2 year old brother to help me. I carried my brother on my back and tried to relieve some of the stress, but no matter how hard I tried, it wasn’t good enough. My grandmother and father decided it was best to give us up for adoption. The stress on the finances would be less.

It took him a long time for him to be able to do it. He took months before he could steel himself to let go. I would watch his face, not understanding what he was thinking, wishing I could make his hurts go away. Maybe I thought since I had failed with Eomma, I could succeed with Appa.

So Appa took me and my brother over the bridge, while I was crying. When we got to the police station, I begged him to take me around Tong Yeong one more time. One more time Appa. Appa couldn’t refuse. So he took me around Tong Yeong one more time while I cried and held my brother’s hand. My brother was too young to understand. I was four.

Appa dropped me off at the Police station and upon his pride he said to me, “Take care of your brother.” Determination set in. He filled out the information about us and why. I made a faint promise that I would meet him again. I held it deep and hard as if these last two things Appa had given me were the two things I would never forget.

The orphanage was hard. And though I suffered a lot, I tried my hardest to keep strong, be strong for the sole reason that my brother was there and I wasn’t going to break my promise to Appa. No matter what I was going to look out for my brother. I was going to be a good big sister to him.

I didn’t know that without us there, the last straw of the family broke apart. It broke my grandmother’s heart to make such a decision. The grandson she loved so much was gone, and though she drank before, she drank even more. The fruit stand went bankrupt. Appa turned towards being a monk. With my grandmother gone, his anger and resentment turned and my aunts left. My cousin was almost put up for adoption, which upset my uncle’s wife and she left.

The house had to be sold after that and the chapter on Korea ended.

I internalized a lot of the problems and tried to forget the past–because it was painful. I forgot about Eomma taking me to the market. I forgot about the laughter I had. I forgot about the women washing clothes. I forgot about the washing boards. I forgot about Eomma’s face. I forgot everything, and turned my attention towards keeping the promise to myself and to Appa. I needed to protect my brother above all else. Even if that all else was myself.

And that’s the history I had before I came to the United States. Something that looks like a melodrama, but in some essence is true.

 
 
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