I’m feeling a strange kind of pressure about the reunion. Everybody wants to know what happened, how it went, etc. But just like the documentary producer who filmed my Korean search for Kim Sook Ja was disappointed I didn’t deliver enough excitement or tears, I kind of feel the same way now: disassociated. Despite this, I think I’ve come a long way. I’ve further to go, but I’m proud of how far I’ve come addressing difficult emotions in the past few years. (for those who don’t know my story, you can read about it here) You don’t go through something like that and just skip through life, peppering your words with emoticons…
That’s why I really wanted someone else to document the whole journey. Behind the scenes, pre-reunion, post reunion, all those little moments that say so much more, instead of me just verbally relaying everything, instead of stiff emotionally masked tight me. And predominantly, what I mostly feel is anger that we were separated and shipped off and abused and the only evidence of our connection lay behind lock and key, collecting dust, denied the light of day.
Here’s two photos I have from the reunion: it just didn’t feel appropriate to interrupt the conversation to take more.
I’d tell you more about her, but mostly she told me all about her life, and I don’t feel that’s my place to tell the whole world about her life or what her real name is.
Today I’m back in Korea. I still haven’t put my things away, the apartment is a mess, and as soon as I got “home” I’ve been even more motivated to leave this place than ever before and spent half a day trying to figure out my exit strategy, watched six episodes of the newly discovered “work of art” in a row, and basically been decompressing by totally avoiding all my obligations.
The thing about this place is its clutter, in all ways. It’s like the difference between dirt and earth. Korea is dirty. Washington state is earthy. Korea is like living in a salvage yard, the remnants of human consumption spilling out over the mini fortress walls and collecting at their base: the remnants of social oppression junking up everyone’s lives. The photos of this place are all of the extant past or the shiny brand new, but the vast bulk of it that never makes it into print is this huge collection of waste. It’s a landscape of things cast off. I don’t belong here. I belong on a barge, heading to a landfill. For an environmentally sensitive person like me, the cacophony of paving textures, hangul signage, trashbags, and grime just makes me want to run for shelter. And I do. The shelter of my laptop.
Nothing has changed, not really. Korea’s the same as when I left. I still have anxiety the second I wake up until the moment sleep gives me relief. The adoption industry is still an industry and nobody cares about the damage it does. I think I’ve just got to embrace this frustration and do something positive with it. I’ve spent the last several years letting everyone share this journey, seeking justice for myself and everyone that follows, so its already been positive, at my expense. But maybe it’s time to stop trying to save the world and do something for myself for a change.
I am fortunate that there are many things I am good at, but I don’t want to just do what I can already do. And I’ve spent my entire life compromising, and therefore sold myself out on what I really wanted to explore. Even Architecture – I really wanted to major in Art, but my major had to be approved by social services and I knew they wouldn’t approve of Fine Art, since artists’ incomes are so tenuous – even Architecture was a hard sell. I remember begging my parents in middle school to send me to another city for school. I cut out newspaper articles about the school I wanted to go to, that studied Shakespeare and the kids were learning to weld sculptures and paint with oils. They said no, because they were helping my brothers with college. There was no talk of me going to college. I knew they wouldn’t support me majoring in something frivolous like art..they penalized me for leaving home at 17 and was forever on my own after that. My first Architecture job I was hired on the strength of my drawings, and for 15 years I was never allowed to draw again.
My daughter prodded me into thinking about coming back to the U.S. and going to school, only all the majors we looked at had to do with saving the world again or maximizing income outlook over tuition, which is what I’ve always done and it just equals constant dissatisfaction. I just don’t think I can handle micro-economics and statistics and political science classes, etc., in order to get the opportunity to make decisions to help people, or put energy into being a technician in some repetitive task in a sterile environment, either, just for job security. When what I really want to do is learn some skills to express myself. Yes, I want to indulge in my own art therapy. So we’ll see. I have at least another year to think about it, think about what I want to be when I grow up, now that four decades of arrested development can be buttoned up. I want to begin again. Or rather, begin for the first time, even if my hair is white and I’m too old to wait tables. I can’t wait for the next life. I only have this one life to live.
I still feel robbed. You can never undo abandonment, or replace innocence, or reclaim a lost childhood. You can seek justice, but since all my protests are just one dandelion seed in the whole planet, and I have tried with a lion heart and gotten nowhere, I need to get the rage out of me and find something to give me peace.
So maybe it’s good there’s no work in my profession, and that I’ve had all this grief and incredible, unenviable experiences. Maybe I needed to come to this alien country and be rejected like a splinter to get to this point where I can think about finally doing something I want to do. Maybe finding Kim Sook Ja gave me permission to do that. I only hope these cold shaky hands and failing eyes are up to the task after so many decades without use.