Archive for the ‘Unremembered memories’ Category

Unremembered Memories

23 Jan

When people ask about my adoption they want facts. Whether it was teachers or other people. They want to know that you know it, that you aren’t unsure of what you know.
It’s what Charles Dickens wrote in Hard Times: “NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!”

I read beloved and I remember the phrase “unremembered” used in that book by Toni Morrison. I remember how it was used in the book. I think that older adoptees often deal with such memories.

There is something in this society that says if you forgot once, from a long time ago, then you cannot remember later. This is the biggest way that people learn to invalidate each other early and often. I never understood why people feel so compelled to tell that what they remembered is wrong when that the person claiming it said they weren’t there.

Because my memories were invalidated, I often developed flashes later in life–painful and blinding flashes that overtook me. So please, please, when an adoptee claims to suddenly remember something don’t say they can’t remember. Accept, validate and love them.

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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.


Supressed Memories

19 Feb

There are things that I said that I don’t remember. I think I pushed them to the furtherest reaches of my mind. Like I saw women wash with washboards like when I saw a picture of Peach Boy. I don’t remember that, but when I saw a washboard I’d get an edge of a feeling I’d push hastily way.

Or even with my favorite doll. I named the doll Tuta (Too-t’ah). I even didn’t know considering I liked calling my toys things like “Kathy-Nathy” “Barbie” (for Barbie–very unoriginal considering some of the other names I came up with, but I had somewhat of a code that I wouldn’t name it if it already had a name) and choosing American names… why did that one sound so strange. It occurred to me to look it up after trying to look up my use of Korean with “Oogaya” which is baby talk command form for “Run” from a video my parents were recording shortly after adopting us. I looked at my dolls’ name and it turned out to mean roughly fuzzy cap. I realized that was the first think I remember about the doll as I opened the large box. The first think I saw was the pink fuzzy cap. I must have been a sensible child. I had a hard time looking up the words because the way I say it is in baby language regional dialect. A Korean dictionary from Seoul isn’t going to cover baby talk Kyongsangnamdo dialect as part of it’s vocabulary.

Meanwhile my brother gave all of his toys American names, “Big Bear” which is still his favorite and never wandered (a bit beaten up–he’s given it shirts, usually blue to wear over the years), Arthur, and other names. He never named any of his toys with Korean names.

Or when I wrapped my favorite doll in a cloth and showed my paternal grandmother and said that in Korea that’s how they carry babies. But then I’d stare at that cloth and wonder why I liked it so much.

My paternal grandmother also said that we were going to a Korean church (even though we’re Jewish, my mom tried really hard to make sure we were surrounded by Koreans occasionally.) that I cried when someone talked to me in Korean. It probably was something mundane as “You’re cute,” I probably understood, but didn’t want to remember what came with that.

And when I told my mom that we used to beg. Perhaps this is why I always failed at selling girl scout cookies and things for my school later. My brother and I would spend time in the record store hunting for change. My brother once while we were playing this game found a twenty dollar bill. I no longer knew why, but we did it anyway.

Each of these little things have things in common. I would push to forget, but after I’d forgotten I would want to remember again. I would want to remember why I said that and what I was basing it on. In that sense there is a large separation from me of now and that child freshly adopted. That child freshly adopted tried hard to adapt and forget. But the me of now is trying so fiercely to remember. We contradict each other, she and I, but she’d probably forgive me since I love Korea and her Korean family as much as she does.

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