Subject: FW: RE: RE: Letter from your birth mother
I just got your email and I don’t know how to respond. That’s not right; I do know how to respond but I don’t know if I want to anymore.
You say that it’s “apparent that [I] never set out to begin search and reunion efforts.”
You say I need to explain “where [I] was in 2010 and where [I] am today.”
You say I need to provide “a clear synopsis of how then wasn’t a good time for [me] to open the doors of communication” and you say I need to prove how I am “better prepared to initiate and follow through with contact today.”
I wish you would have asked me instead.
In truth, I’m continuing a process I started half-heartedly last year. In my half-hearted defense, the letter response was one of many things I attempted last year, some of which I did complete.
Last year, I successfully married and hosted a wedding (ask me about my pink hair and custom corn-hole game!). I added a kitten and puppy to my previously one dog brood (ask me about their names - they’re funny!). I closed on a house and then moved into said house (don’t ask me about the repairs the inspector said we needed to make!). I bought way too many succulents (please don’t ask me how much money I spent, on succulents or otherwise!).
Last year I replied to an email I received in 2010. I wanted to make sure that you had an active address, should I write a letter. That woman responded quickly. She was friendly and concise and told me she’d confirm the address and get back to me.
I never heard from her again.
This time I decided one year was long enough and sent a follow up. But that caseworker was gone and now there’s you. Your response was much longer than the previous. To me, you were seeing the time gap, first six years and plus this additional one, and was demanding I explain myself by holding my potential reconnection hostage.
I needed confirmation that the message was intended how I read it. I wanted to be told that I didn’t have to be treated like this (ask me about my struggles!). I wanted someone to tell me that I’d done everything I could and that this was the end of the road (ask me about how hard I try!). I wanted to be righteously indignant (ask me about how the world has wronged me!). I wanted to rant and rave and be the victim so I wouldn’t have to feel bad (don’t ask me about my unresolved birth-mommy-issues!).
But I wasn’t and I didn’t and after a weekend of fuming I tried to respond (ask me about my bravery and selflessness!).
(Ask me about the year 2010.)
The beginning of 2010 was the second half of my first year of college. It’s just enough to say that it had been miserable. That was the year I failed to make new friends (don’t ask me about my social anxiety!), broke up with my high school boyfriend for the final time (don’t ask me how many times it took!), changed my major three times in three quarters (don’t ask me how my parents reacted!), and was so homesick I thought my heart might burst and I’d die on my extra-long twin bed (don’t ask me about my depression and suicidal thoughts!).
The school year ended and I survived and I spent the summer failing to make it as an actor in LA because I failed to make it to LA because I’d failed in yet another friendship (don’t ask me about our current relationship!).
That fall I was a sophomore and my parents sent me back to school, this time, ostensibly, to live with friends. I was living with a friend from high school and the friends she’d made her freshman year. It’s the same old story and it’s boring to rehash. I was lonely; I was homesick; I couldn’t find my place in the big pond; school felt meaningless; life felt meaningless.
And then my dad called me saying a caseworker from the adoption agency wanted to know if they could send me a letter from my birth mother. It was clear I could refuse, if I wanted to. But that was too much like making a decision so I accepted and there it was, nestled in my inbox next to a copy of my unofficial transcript and one of those surveys asking me to tell them how much alcohol I did or didn’t drink in exchange for five dollars.
I filed the transcript and agreed to the survey; for five dollars, the world was my oyster. I let the letter sit. I read the email; it was informative and included links to support websites and other stories of reconnection, but I didn’t open the letter attached at the bottom. Sometimes I’d look at the subject. “Hye-Ran, whom I miss so much.” Sometimes I’d imagine the things it might say and the feelings I might feel because of them.
Eventually I read it.
She wrote about me, the past me. The me she knew. She wrote how sorry she was, over and over again. She wrote about how poor she was, and still is, how difficult it was in Korea at the time for a single mother to survive. She apologized again. She told me about half-siblings that I have. How she was able to keep them because the Korean government provides a subsidy now and she’s able to live with them. She talked about how she wished she could have kept me. She said I used to like vegetables and pretty dresses. I still like vegetables and pretty dresses.
She wanted to thank my parents, for adopting me. She wanted to apologize to me, again, for giving me away.
I hated reading her letter. I hated her for making me feel sorry for her and for making me sad. I hated her for making my head hurt and my heart hurt and confusing me even more. I hated her for making me curious.
I didn’t have anyone to talk to. I couldn’t talk to my brother. He had always resented that I was adopted as an older child, as if being three meant that my birth mother loved me three times as much as his did, having been given away as an infant. He was jealous of the memories I didn’t have and of the love I don’t know I received. I don’t know anyone else who was adopted, let alone anyone else whose adopted parents reached out. I had the stories I told myself and the articles the case worker sent me along with the letter about what to expect and anecdotes of success and failure.
It was too much and I shut down. I wanted to leave school and I wanted to leave life and I didn’t want to think about making adult decisions that would affect who I was and who I might be and who I could be forever.
In 2010, I didn’t respond to my birth mother’s letter because I didn’t know how.
The letter became a fuzzy part of my history, a fun fact that I’d blurt out when I was drunk and my guard was down. I desperately wanted to talk about the letter, to address its impact on my life and psyche. I didn’t know what the impact was, just that it had left an indentation that I felt constantly.
Everyone knows I’m adopted because my parents are white and I’m not. And everyone wants to know if my brother and I are related, like really related. The answer is no, I guess, we don’t share blood, probably. We don’t know because we don’t know our birth parents. They want to know if I’m all Korean or maybe something else because they knew someone, had a foreign exchange student, went on a band trip and saw someone, who was Japanese and I look a little like that as well.
They ask what I remember about Korea when they find out I was three when I was adopted and the answer is nothing. They ask if I know anything about my parents and the answer is not really. Sometimes I tell them I have half-siblings but sometimes I don’t because it’s a fact, but one that doesn’t mean anything to me most of the time.
Seven years is a long time. I finished school, in just over three years, and I spent the extra time looking for a job and being underpaid social media interns and the like.
I first followed up with the caseworker in the Spring of 2016. I was getting ready for my wedding and I had the support of my future husband. I had started a career and recently, that previous fall, with the support of said future husband, I had quit said career because I wasn’t emotionally and creatively fulfilled and also it was so stressful I thought about killing myself almost daily. Instead I was trying my hand at being a full-time writer. It was my dream, always had been, and vaguely what I went to school for, a half dozen major-changes later. I had written a first draft I wasn’t humiliated by (ask me for a copy, it still exists!). My wedding dress had arrived and it needed to be taken in (ask me about my society-mandated weight loss!). I’d tasted cakes and sometimes it felt like the sun was shining right on me, or sort of, adjacent to where I was (ask me about my undeserved happiness!).
I thought I might be ready to reach out to my birth mother.
I didn’t know what I wanted. A photograph maybe. Of her, or me. Of my half-siblings. Maybe I just wanted to let her know that I was getting married; that I’d made it out ok; that I was alive. I wanted to send her an engagement photo so she could see how happy I was with my husband-to-be, with our dog. That I was pretty. I wanted her to know that I could be pretty.
I reached out. And heard nothing. So I let it go.
At this point wedding preparations had picked up and life was stressful again (don’t ask me about unhelpful fiancé’s!). I hadn’t received a single non-form rejection to my manuscript (don’t ask me about my query!). I was working part-time at my old job, just helping over the summer to help pay for wedding expenses (don’t ask me about writer life!). The sun had disappeared even though it was pretty much the middle of summer (don’t ask me about my emotional instability!).
It felt like I was moving backwards and I didn’t want to write a letter. I wasn’t sure I still had anything to say.
But this year, 2017, was a new year for me, as it was for everyone. I’m back to writing full time (don’t ask me about counting chickens!). I’m making good progress on my new manuscript - a middle grade fantasy novel with room for a sequel (don’t ask me about my four chickens!). I thought I’d follow up (don’t ask me about my expectations!).
Instead what I got was the accusation. The response felt like somehow this was my fault, that my silence had been too long, that now I had to prove myself worthy of a reconnection. I was no longer a child, abandoned, but an adult who’d turned my back as well. I was hurt and shamed and I wanted someone to tell me that it was alright, nothing was my fault, and to make the mean lady go away. But it’s not 2010 anymore.
I responded. And now I’m waiting.
I still don’t know what I want. I don’t know if I want to open lines of communication completely. I don’t know if I want a relationship. I don’t know if there are answers to the questions I don’t let myself ask.
I need to know what she looks like. I need to know if I look like her and if she’s pretty. I’d like to know if I look like my birth father. It’s strange, but through all this the only times I considered my birth father was when I realized I didn’t think about him. I didn’t resent him, I wasn’t angry, I didn’t get teary when I thought of him. He was nothing and no one. All I wanted to know was what he looked like. If he was Korean or something else, so I could finally answer the people who asked.
But my birth mother. I don’t know what I feel but I know it’s delicate.
I’d like my half-siblings to know that if they want to communicate with me, they are welcome to. I don’t hold anything against them; they weren’t even born yet. I want to know if we have anything in common, if we look alike, if we sound alike, if we have the same tastes in food and media and anything else. I want them to ask me questions and I want to ask them questions. I want to know about their lives and by extension, what my life might have been like if I hadn’t been give up for adoption, if I hadn’t been adopted by my parents. I want to know, even if it’s too hard to ask right now.
I don’t know if I want to tell them that I’m planning a trip, have been planning a trip to Japan and Korea for the end of the year, if the money lands right (don’t ask me about my savings!). I don’t know if I want to tell them that I’d like to meet (don’t ask me about my grades in Korean class!).
(Ask me about 2017.)
Ask me, so I can tell you.