3:16 AM and I’m lying awake, chest tight, replaying all the times I’ve been victimized/helpless.
Like the time I’d paid extra rent every month to have my carpet removed so I could have hardwood floors and how they ripped off the baseboards and never replaced them, and when I moved out the new apartment manager was impressed how spotlessly I’d cleaned the place, but still I got a bill for his boyfriend’s labor for supposedly having to paint the walls and for new baseboards to replace the ones I supposedly removed. Or like the time a co-worker recommended a dentist and how I asked the receptionist if they took Blue Cross and they said yes, only to find out they weren’t a preferred provider and the check-ups for my family weren’t covered. I knew I couldn’t afford to go anyplace that wasn’t in my plan, was concerned when I saw how sumptuous his office was, and that’s why I asked them to begin with. After months of battle, I finally succumbed and wrote them a check. Which bounced. I was $4 short on accident because those three checkups and two cavities were never in my budget to begin with. The rich dentist sued me instead of running the check again, and I lost the case because my check bounced due to some precedent where this was done with no intent to pay. The check-ups for my family ended up costing about $2,000, after debt collection and lawyer’s fees. Everyone in the courtroom had been rooting for me and was silent and solemn after the verdict. The judge even felt bad and apologized, but there was no law protecting a poor person from lying professionals. Or like the time my welfare check got sent to the wrong address and I was accused of welfare fraud because someone else forged my name and cashed it. Or like the time I got a bill for six months of daycare because the subsidized care-giver my children had stayed with continued to bill the state six months after I’d ceased using her services. Or the time a bar tried to collect on bounced checks which my alcoholic husband had stolen from me and forged my signature. Or the time…I have many many more of these stories. WAY too many of these stories. I always fight these things, in the name of justice, but I know too well that justice is fickle and uncritical. Good thing I’m a pacifist, is all I can say.
Sometimes, I think some of us are just marked. It’s like that nursery rhyme where each day of the week describes a child. I am Wednesday’s child, have always been Wednesday’s child: full of woe. That’s the day set aside for orphans, if you didn’t know already. Did my mother realize what chain of events she would set in motion when she left me at the market? Did she know that I would cease to exist on that day, lose my identity and become girl 4708? That I came to America afraid to let anyone out of my sight, or that I guarded my food from thieves and ate every crumb? Could she have even imagined in a million years that white fathers made their yellow daughters bathe them? And call them concubine? At 4 years old? Or that, instead of becoming doctors and lawyers, and obtaining the best education, they instead run away from home and into any arms that don’t make them bathe them and call them my little concubine? That they bounce from job to job, dream to dream, and wander the earth, searching for someone to really love them?
I remember I owe M. an email. M. doesn’t just bounce from job to job: M. can’t hold a job. Her last email was long, rambling; made no sense. M. was homeless, couch-surfing, being exploited at every couch. She was being persecuted. What THEY were saying about her, it just wasn’t true. And on and on it went. I didn’t write back, because what can you say to comfort someone who’s apparently become schizophrenic? And who probably IS still being exploited? This is what happens to abused adoptees. M. was also marked. We were both marked as nice girls, vulnerable girls, candidates for manipulation. Such sweet, beautiful little Asian dolls we were. Only M’s daddy didn’t call her concubine – he called her little lying bitch. I felt so helpless, witnessing M. lose her mind. That’s what being an abused adoptee does to someone. They lose their minds, or self medicate, or unleash their rage on others and sit behind bars, or resist and get sent to special ranches, or act out and get put on Ritalin. I have talked to many abused Korean adoptees. It’s a dirty little secret, that even we can’t talk about to ourselves. Well, I can. I’m not sure it makes me feel any better. But maybe it’s kept me from M.’s fate. I love M. But I can’t help her. I can barely help myself.
These are the stories network news doesn’t want to hear. They don’t even want to hear about happy adoptee reunions and ESPECIALLY not reunions that were never supposed to take place because the separations were never supposed to see the light of day. Because they were hidden in some black cardboard ledgers in a major adoption agency’s file-room shelves. Because one person’s loss is another person’s brand new baby. Adoption is a wonderful thing. And can never be anything else. EVER. The black book, slammed shut, makes little noise.
Ever searching for the next new thing to move towards, and that thing always losing its luster, and becoming frantic because the time-frame between oscillations of this pattern get shorter and shorter, to the point that I can anticipate losing interest, rendering even trying not worth the energy, I still fix my sights on plan B and C and D, because I’m determined to challenge this mark I can’t wash off, so I don’t end up like M. I mention Africa as next train stop to my daughter, and she’s upset and worried. She knows it’s just a temporary interest, and that afterward I’ll still be in the same situation: running in place. She wants me to start over; maybe go back to school. I can’t see myself sustaining that, either. Interest isn’t the issue to her – my living in isolation is. But she doesn’t understand that this isolation is deeper than physical. This isolation is a place: a defunct market in Wonju, S. Korea, and it turned me into a number: 4708. It has a name, and its name is mother. The world’s biggest adoption agency whispered in her ear – Do it. She’ll have everything you can’t give her…
5:23 AM and I’m lying awake, chest tight, replaying all the times I’ve felt helpless/victimized by my adoption agency.
I am over 50% gray now. Actually, it’s pure white. It’s really quite lovely. The one pure thing about me. My hair grows 3/4 of an inch or more every month, requiring dying of roots every two weeks or less. There is a box of American hair dye sitting on the vanity, so I can look put-together for meeting Kim Sook Ja, as too much time has passed and my roots are exposed. I fear it won’t match my Korean hair dye. I fear I’ll be a two-toned mess. My video-camera only shoots in red.