All this adoption talk has me feeling candid
by, April 3rd, 2017 at 10:02 PM (455 Views)
Hey this way I can divide it up from when I make my next con report!
So, yeah. I wrote this years ago for a school prompt about dividing things up in some clear way and tell multiple narrative threads but with a somewhat unified theme. I guess I have enough distance on it now that it doesn't feel super personal. Names have been changed and some stuff simplified and all that jazz.
December and February
Although I love often having a white birthday, I hate how the Christmas season dictates any celebration I want to have.
Korea, like many Far-Eastern cultures, has a different perspective on birth. Though I was born in December of ’85, the old ways have me at two years old February 8th of ’86. Traditionally in Korea children are considered nearly a year old upon birth, counting the pregnancy as part of their life span. They later celebrate baegil, the 100-day birthday that signifies having overcome the most dangerous period of infant mortality as well as reaching a full year of existence when counting pregnancy.
After their physical birth, whatever the time, a child then adds one calendar year to their age on the next Lunar New Year no matter when in the previous year they were born. Had I been born February 7th of ’86, by the traditional standard I would still be two years old the next day.
My five-person family, apparently fairly large by Korean standards, set me up for adoption. I would end up in a five-person family in America, where I would celebrate my birthday two weeks before Christmas every year as Western culture dictated. In grade school, this meant fighting white-outs when I wanted to have a party. In high school and college, this has meant figuring out a party when people were available and not busy with family vacations or seasonal work. Lunar New Year, if it were celebrated here, might have given me a chance at least. Valentines Day might have been easier to contend with than Christmas.
Instead, sometimes, I get birthday presents wrapped in Christmas paper.
The last memories I have of my father were in November. As he spent all day at the accounting office in town, my time with him was centered on nights in the garage where he would work on building a two-seater airplane. He was a former naval airman in Vietnam and still pursued aviation as his main hobby.
I would sit next to the boxes where he kept all of his tools and have to guess which one he meant when he asked for a wrench and wonder aloud what the spinning on a sprocket was for. Though fairly technically-minded even at four years old, I was still more interested in what we would do with the plane after it was finished. My dad regularly took the family out on trips in a private airplane, but this would be the first one he had completely built and owned. It would be at our beck and call.
In the next days he would take off on a business trip in a separate, inferior airplane, and I would never see him again. Though regularly comforted by relatives at the time, my biggest concern at the time was not what death was or how I would go on without him, but how my mom was going to get the airplane out of the garage without my dad around to fold the wings up.
The industrial, oily smell of Lowe’s and other hardware stores still remind me of that garage and airplane. I still could not tell you much about a sprocket, other than they are on things like bikes, tanks, and apparently, in airplanes. My mother knew and still now knows more than I and managed to get the airplane out of the garage for the person that bought it.
His things still littered that workspace when my mom moved out of that house twenty years later. I still wish I could have flown in that two-seater at least once.
First grade was out and movies on television reflected their new audience. All Dogs Go to Heaven played at one point, intriguing and terrifying me at the same time. While the story is happy by the end, my religious upbringing has me terrified at the prospect of Charlie going to hell and being chased by a demon dog. Despite my mother’s reassurances, I slept on her bedroom floor that night. It was warm enough that my mom’s fluffy quilt was uncomfortable, but if my head were to come out from beneath the cover a hellish dog might have come for me. So, I waited, and sweated, and stayed awake to a record eleven-thirty before sleep arrived.
I would rewatch the movie some years later in my adolescence, no longer terrified of the fate of dying dogs but confronted with a new scary thought: if all dogs go to heaven, do dying babies also go immediately there? My mother, a foster parent, would regularly take in infant children with family lives more disturbing than Anne-Marie’s from the movie. Quiet Daniel had older siblings that were killed due to neglect. Louise was Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and could barely crawl when she should be walking. Tara and Tabetha’s mother had just entered rehab and we kept Tara six months longer than anticipated. Questions about their fate often troubled me as they troubled my mother.
Tara, at least, would make it to the very college I attend. Tabetha would make it onto a Wanted list. Some of the others, hopefully, made it to heaven.
I loved school, but school didn’t love me back.
Chronic fatigue would strike me so hard over Christmas break in seventh grade that I was sleeping for nearly twenty-three hours at a time. I would not find out until a decade later about Kleine-Levin Syndrome and how similar it was to what I was affected by, though it would be too late to diagnose by then. Onset in the early teenage years, a person affected by the syndrome would have fits of sleeping for days on end unless prompted to wake for food and water, and these fits would last for months at a time.
My actual memory of that first month is disjointed and vague, as anytime I was awake, I felt like I do now as an adult when I drink alcohol: lethargic and apathetic. The smarty-pants mouth I often annoyed my peers with could not care less about saying anything. My soccer-playing, Karate-training body could barely haul itself out of bed to use the bathroom. Television became good background noise to fall asleep to.
I missed days of school. I was smart enough as a kid that missing content left me only slightly behind, but I could be flunked out for missing so many days. I attempted to attend half-days some three weeks into the term. My language arts teacher didn’t care: my reading ability surpassed everyone else anyway. My math teacher was concerned: I was in a difficult class and not doing so well to begin with. My history teacher was helpful: he sent me homework and notes for what we were reading in-class.
My science teacher, so concerned with the state project presentations his students won awards for every year, gave me a suggestion: shut up and buck up.
If I had not spent the rest of that day sleeping, I would probably have cried more. Had she been there, my mom said she would have slugged him in the nose.
I left public school and was privately schooled over the Internet by way of Christa McAuliffe Academy, named oh-so-ironically to me for the teacher that died in the Challenger accident. As my entry scores for the school were all college level, the school bumped me up to ninth grade curriculum. No teachers told me to “buck up” here, instead allowing me to work diligently or lag behind at my leisure. I felt like a genius.
I would teach myself the Japanese and Korean words for “genius” in that period. Tensai in Japanese, cheonjae in Korean. While Japanese tensai literally means “heavenly gift,” Korean cheonjae is a homonym for “calamity.” Both descriptions seemed apt.
Time left without peers and fewer means to entertain myself meant exploring alternate routes once I was somewhat more active again. Having always loved to read, I found a new form of media now exploding in popularity with the advent of the Internet: fanfiction. Amateurs would write stories based on preexisting worlds, like the Star Wars films or Final Fantasy video games. With the idea of becoming a writer already percolating in my head in previous years, I suddenly found an outlet, a form of practice. And instead of goofing off like I could between “classes,” like others my age might have, I found myself writing.
And on a website dedicated to fanfiction, I met Christina.
Normally from some states away in Arizona, Christina lived in Japan for much of 2003 and a bit of 2004, during which I was the only person besides her mother to keep in contact with her and send her letters. While she sent me things related to Japanese anime like an Inuyasha wallscroll and Evangelion pencil boards, I sent her M&Ms and recordings of American music videos off of VH1 and MTV. She returned in April some ten pounds underweight and starved of American reading material.
Regular contact with her gave me a new wealth of knowledge to use in my writing. While understanding English or Celtic mythology is fairly easy in a Western culture, understanding concepts you can hardly pronounce from Eastern cultures can be fairly difficult. Aspects of an anime heavy on Japanese mythology like Inuyasha can be lost in translation, but having a person fairly fluent in the language—and a heavy reader at that—helped inspire my interest in Eastern things. More and more Japanese influence began creeping up into my writing as I became more and more familiar with the culture. Thanks partially due to Christina’s influence, partially due to my own strange circumstances, I would come to the desire to bring Asian inspiration to a wider American audience.
Some four years later, also in April, I would get another letter in the mail from my biological mother, revealing the reasons why I was adopted and that I had two biological sisters also adopted in the States. I would get in touch with one sister some months later. My return letter to my mother did not spark interest, however. Perhaps they could detect my traitorous interest in Japanese entertainment.
I often joke in Japanese class how terrible a Korean I am. In many cases, the two cultures do not get along: Koreans consider themselves culturally older than the Japanese and “look down” on their island neighbors, while the Japanese traditionally view the Koreans as undeservingly arrogant and barking at the foot of their Chinese masters. While this is changing as older generations make way for the new “enlightened” youth, there are still cultural tensions that exist.
Tension with Christina would eventually come to a head. I lived up to the Korean stereotype despite my interest in the Japanese.
September and October
If all dogs go to heaven, do all unborn children?
Raised Christian and somewhat conservative, my stance on the pro-life/pro-choice issue has always been colored by the belief that abortion is comparable to murder. Deeply close with a liberal friend who has had two, my feelings on it have been colored by my respect of said friends’ right to make choices. Adopted from a country that can consider me a year old upon birth, my opinion of it has been colored by an uncommon circumstance. What “birth” and “life” mean to me is a rather complicated bag that I doubt I’ll ever have a satisfying answer to. The closest thing I can do is say that I simply mourn over the possibilities.
Christina left me in late September for Rob, a guy I had known since kindergarten. Angry enough at the both of them to stop talking to Rob completely and argue with Christina on a regular basis, things only worsened that October when Christina found out she was pregnant. Too far along for it to have been Rob’s, the child was miscarried late in the month.
I’m certain the stress of what was going on between us was a contributing factor.
We secretly met each other regularly after that for months, alternatively arguing and making up in a not-so-healthy manner. Had Christina become pregnant then, neither of us would have been able to explain away the timing. Rob never found out, and we never came to a satisfying conclusion to our problems.
Every October, I celebrate what might loosely be called a Korean birthday for the one we lost. And I wonder if it went to heaven and what I would tell him or her about their mother and father if I ever met them.
March and May
I was raised on a twenty-acre farm, surrounded by cattle and chickens. I was raised by my mother, who, along with her skills on a farm, went to college as a seamstress. I was raised driving tractors and sewing parts of my own Halloween costumes. I have had friends who teased me by calling me a cowboy or a future stay-at-home mom.
I moved away from that house on a day in May, convinced I needed to be acclimated to living on my own before I started going to the university later that year. My mother then moved from that house in March the following year to be closer to my sister and her growing family. There is no “going back home” for me, no holidays in which I return to the house I grew up in, built an airplane in, watched movies in, went to school in, wrote in, possibly conceived a child in.
My driver’s license still had that place listed as my home address.
July and August
Both Japan and Korea celebrate a holiday based on a Chinese folk tale about the stars we in the West know as Vega and Altair. On the seventh day of the seventh month, a festival is held. In Japan, Tanabata is held on the Gregorian 7th day of July, but in Korea, Chilseok is held closer to August 7th coinciding with the Lunar calendar. The story of the festival revolves around the weaver daughter of the heavens falling in love with a herdsman and how they can only meet once a year due to the neglect their jobs otherwise suffer. As a herdsman and a weaver, I sometimes find myself thinking about this tale a lot.
Roan, Christina and Rob’ son, was born early in August. I wonder if his presence will make Christina forget about the one that we would have had.