Privilege

I never understood privilege till later in life, but I obviously understood the benefit from privilege because I lived it in many forms. It isn’t until you grow up in your head that you really grasp the fact that the things you take for granted aren’t normal everyday things for everyone in the world. I had many examples of this, but I never felt the examples how you’d feel them if you read the situations now. I just didn’t feel privileged at the time, but there are reasons for that as well.

I’ve recounted through numerous… numerous…’God tell him to stop writing adoption posts now,’ posts about my abandonment as a child and my adoption journey. I know you all love it.

Anyways, as an adult I sometimes joke I eat like an orphan because I was told that joke after seeing me eat as a child. The adult in me can laugh, but at the same time something in the back of my head hurts a little bit, or maybe it is my heart. I think there was a period of my life, maybe a half a year or more, that I knew hunger. I know this because I visited several orphanages in Korea in 2000 and even then these kids were eating “fluffy Korean rice” as a meal. It was heartbreaking. I hated being there.

I got adopted by the most wonderful humans in the world. My father is a priest and a doctor and is honestly someone I aspire to be in my next life… because I’ll never be the kind of man he is. But I am damn sure proud to call him my father. My mother is a kind, giving person who is a wonderful inspiration to me. She pushes me to want to find out a little bit more about myself each day.

I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth, not in my mind. My father was a new doctor which means, and I understand this now as an adult, that he was paying medical bills while supporting a family with three children they had adopted. That’s no small feat and I grew up thinking getting a large French fry from McDonald’s was a special treat. As long as you gave your mom the bag fries right?

Eventually things got better and as I grew up on Stonewall street in Memphis, Tennessee we literally moved up in the street through life. Looking back down my memory lane in my mind I see the road I grew up with, roller bladed down, and fell off bikes on. But I also see the progression my parents worked hard to achieve for us to get to each stage. Things I now appreciate as a father with two daughters of my own, things a parent understands as they kiss their kids to bed and go downstairs to pay the bills.

But let’s get back to privilege and the day I realized it. Actually there were two days.

I loved Easter Sunday and I always knew that if we could afford to we would go out and get a new outfit for the biggest celebration in the Orthodox religion. I mean you have Christmas… but EASTER WOW! A lot had to do with the service in an Antiochian Orthodox culture. You got to stay up all night because the service started at like 10 pm! In kid time that was unimaginable because I had a standard bedtime as a child and this was well past it! Even better, there was a procession with candles in the middle of the night which was always fun because one of my friends would always do something stupid with their candle, and then there was a huge feast! After it we would go home and sleep in, only to come back the next day for a cook out around the church!

We were playing soccer after eating our burgers and one of the boys decided we should play soccer. I was wearing my new white shorts and polo shirt, but we didn’t care what clothes you wore back then. We just wanted to play.

The game was going and it got rough, as games always do with boys. One of the kids kept hacking at my leg until I pushed him and his brother immediately stepped up in his defense.

“Tell your brother to stop hacking at my leg,” I yelled, but more screamed because I was young and had a soprano voice still, ugh. It really makes it hard to be aggressive when you have a high pitched voice.

His brother sneers at me in the most evil sneer my memory can conjure. “No one gives a shit about you and your fancy clothes Jason. Go cry somewhere else.”

I was shell shocked and I remember walking off and being very confused. It suddenly occurred to me that I was wearing new clothes and they didn’t have any on because of circumstance. It didn’t occur to me that it was a privilege though because my parents worked hard for our money and I knew that.

As an adult I understand all of that and that is all that matters. But privilege is always a topic on my mind as an adult and I do feel something in my heart when I see someone with a sign by a street. I do often give what I can from my pocket and I try to remember that circumstance is what put me where I am. A small flip of the coin and I might be the one with a sign right now.

I can’t honestly overlook that.

Jason C. Cushman

-Opinionated Man

9/28/2017

@smokendust

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Chapter 1 Page 2 RD/Trash

I had family out there. Real people. Not the family of your imagination or the family you would stubbornly conceive mentally because every adoptee has done that. I had proof that two people existed that were physically related to me and I finally had an answer to why I was adopted, but it only brought more questions. It brought another feeling, a feeling I was fighting to be fair. Why did I suddenly feel so angry? Maybe she couldn’t have taken care of two children and my sister was older. Did that matter to me? I wasn’t sure exactly how I felt, but I couldn’t deny the growing feeling inside.

My thoughts were interrupted by a gentle hand on my shoulder. A reminder once again that I was sitting in the office at the orphanage I had been adopted from when I was three years old. The starting place of my journey in life until this revelation which now showed that path to the past was much longer for me than I had previously known.

The director of the orphanage placed a second book in front of the eyes I only wished to shut. As he flipped through the pages I could tell, even though it was written in hangul, that it was some type of guest log from the numbers and what looked like addresses with them. He finally arrived at the page he was seeking and dragged his finger until he reached a box near the middle of the page.

“This your mother’s entry when she signed out for your sister. Her name is Kim Ie Soo and she listed her address as well which is procedure for signing out a child.”

The words “she listed her address as well” instantly stood out to me and I starred at her name. I said her name to myself, not daring to speak, and I instantly wondered if she was still living there with my sister. Was it really that simple? Could I find the answer to my personal mystery within a few moments of discovering it existed? The hope must have shown on my face because the director paused before hurriedly speaking again in broken English.

I can take you there.”

Jason C. Cushman

-Opinionated Man

44.1

@smokendust

Chapter 1 Page 1

I look down through my tears at a trail of tears leading to a photo. My sorrow draws a line from the photo towards the one taped above it. I hear the words again that have impacted me so, that have made me want to flee.

He says that this photo above yours is a picture of your biological sister. Apparently your mother left both of you on a street in front of a police station. After the officers brought you here your mother had a change of heart and came to retrieve only your sister. I am sorry you had to find out this way.”

They are words that will replay over and over in my mind as long as I have a mind to play memories in. My Korean translator was as kind as you can be while shattering the only world a person has ever known. I was eighteen years old and about to go off to college after the summer was over, and what was supposed to be a fun vacation touring my motherland had just transformed into a horrible nightmare I couldn’t wake from. I felt like everything I had known about myself had suddenly been erased as these strangers began to tell me about myself.

As an adoptee you often find your life is held between the sleeves of a manila folder. As long as you know what that folder contains your life is less of a mystery and is instead simply difficult… as life is for everyone. It is when missing pieces of a puzzle you never knew were missing pieces begin to show up that you find your course in life is altered. I thought I knew everything there was to know about myself and my life because I had read that folder and knew what it said. I never imagined how much a single sentence could mean to me.

Jason C. Cushman

-Opinionated Man

44.1

@smokendust

A Book of Triggers – By: Jason C. Cushman

If I were to imagine a book of life it would best be described as a book of triggers. For what is life other than a slowly revealed circle of need, want, and more need? My book of triggers has always been my journals that I have kept throughout my life. Triggering thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the moment laid to permanent rest by drifting pen. At rest, but never sleeping, they are active memories that swim before my eyes even still as I read my life from dried ink. Is there a point when life can finally be accepted and we see a trigger no more. No, I think not.

I have lived my life balanced on the knife’s edge of emotion. Being far too sensitive as a child, I carried much of that pain because of my inability to ignore pain. To ignore the barbs of life that found welcoming flesh every time within my body. Within my soul. Is there an MRI for the soul and what would the picture of mine look like? I imagine my soul is much like me. We would not appreciate the eye of such scrutiny or the nakedness of such honesty. We would instead turn in upon ourselves, as we have always done, seeking the shell that God never blessed us with.

I write my triggers because I recognize they exist. They are as real as the scars that mark my skin. Denial is a luxury I cannot afford anymore and maybe never could. After my first suicide attempt I realized that I very much hold the ability to deny. I could ignore the sun until it burned my face. Actually that is an apt analogy considering I still remember the burn of bile coming up my throat as my body fought desperately to live. I do not take credit for such actions. A white flag of acceptance hovered above my falling body during this point of my life. Falling for I had indeed fallen to the moment. There was never a clearer time in my life as my body fought to live through my stupidity and that is ironic still to this day. To me the sadness that fact brings is the largest trigger of all.

We cannot live our lives cringing from the sound of every trigger we step on. Instead that sound should become like music to our ears as the cacophony of reality impresses upon us the reality of our conquest. We are taught now to ignore triggers and to steer clear of even the subject. In our politically correct society we are forced to forewarn people that “trigger warning” the words written here might actually mean something to you. Might actually affect you in some way.

When I look over my shoulder I do not see a past presented by picturesque Monet created pathways. Instead I am assaulted by the rawness of Memphis city streets alive with the power of memory. A painting littered with forgotten words and stained with pain born tears. A painting of reality is what my past presents and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I wake up to a trigger each morning. A Korean face looks back at me in the mirror and no matter how many times I splash myself with cold water, still the same slanted eye, half smile appears. It must be me. It has to be me. And yet that introduces the second trigger of my story, the power of acceptance. To accept what does not feel right, to be forced to be who you don’t think you are. Who cannot relate to such a feeling for differing reasons? The world is a melting pot of such forced persuasions as we are each told who we are and what we were meant to be.

I think the saddest part about my first two triggers is that they were decided for me. They were part of a path connected by an action one cold morning in Busan, South Korea. A morning when a mother decided she no longer wished to be a mother and in doing so she placed around my neck a necklace that did not hold a locket of love. Instead it held a golden trigger upon which was written a name. A meaningless name which was never to be used. A name that I sometimes wish I was. Ahn Soo Jin.

It is amazing how much meaning a name can have and yet not have at the same time. I suppose much of that has to do with acceptance of what that name truly means. We are given words to mark us as singular in an overcrowded world that will rarely see you as an individual. Who does that name mean more to? To an adopted child a “given name” is simply another tab in our adoption file. Particularly if that child is Asian and adopted into the United States because most of us are forced to have our names changed. Our “given name” becomes an amusing item of memory that we sometimes fondle late at night as we look to the East.

My Korean name is more than just a trigger because my birth mother gave it to me. I am constantly reminded of the holes in my past when Koreans shake their heads and exclaim “that is a girl’s name!” So we can at least pinpoint where my love of alcohol came from. She had to be drunk to name this Adonis of a man a woman’s name. What was she thinking? Did the orphanage mix up my sister’s name with my own? Dominoes of life fall with a clatter as the inevitable line of questions rattles off in my head. I cannot stop them. I allow them all to fall and run their course. Stopping this line of thought simply bookmarks my pain for a later time of contemplation. I rip off quickly the band aid of life to get it over with.

I have long since placed my Korean past in the closet it belongs. It is only revisited when society tells me I should reflect on certain days with happiness… such as mother’s day. People often say that Christmas is the worst time of the year for them and that depression always seems to rear its head during that holiday. For me mother’s day is the most depressing of all holidays. My depression no longer “rears” his head when he hears of this joyous annual occurrence. Instead he grumbles and mumbles. Only the attentive can make out the words he repeats over and over. “Fuck mother’s day.”

I do have an appreciation for mothers and fathers and I have my adopted parents to thank for that. They were great role models, provided for me, and even more importantly were supportive during my adoptive search. They never once tried to hinder what must have seemed like an inevitable train wreck and neither did they belittle me with advice on a topic they had no experience with. That is something many adopted kids forget is that there is no guide for their new parents and mistakes will be made. The love and compassion though that it takes for someone to take a stranger, even a child, into their home is immeasurable.

As I have grown into my new role as a dad I have found moments of pause. Times where I wonder about the man I will never know, nor have any desire to meet. Whenever I walk into a doctor’s office and fill out the family history survey with a large N/A I sometimes catch my eyes rolling… as much as Asian eyes roll. I wonder how many times I will have to explain my own confusion and lack of answers to the world. When entering the military I had to be cleared for my Tops Secret clearance for the Air Force. I remember my mom telling me that the investigators were at their house and kept asking about my birth mom. One of the agents said “well we will need to speak to her. How can we be sure he is really South Korean?” My mother responded “well when you find her tell her that her son says hello.”

Growing up the only Asian idol I had was Bruce Lee and unfortunately I really didn’t start liking him until college. I instantly connected with his struggle to prove to his own country his worth and how that drove him so hard through his movie career. I wonder if other displaced children have day dreams where they return in triumph to the homeland that rejected them. Maybe they return as the adopted child of the President or they become the next Korean boy band sensation. Instead we live in a reality that never fully accepts us and we in turn never fully accept it. Living life between two shadows of want is a sad way to live.

~**~

-Opinionated Man

Jason C. Cushman

44.1

@smokendust

Pages of Me

It is far too early in the morning to make decisions that last a lifetime and yet you did. You made our decision for us as you packed us away with our memories. I sometimes wonder if you held our hands as we walked away from the life we knew. Having little idea that we were walking the final walk, we approached the day like any other. Like any other…

How simple it is to walk through life when you have nothing but a name to hold on to. How difficult that life becomes when that name is taken from you and a different identity is given for you to adopt as you adopt yourself. I walked away an Ahn. I walked with you as a Korean and left your life a stranger. More strange now is the face and name I wear today, a stranger heart you have never known. A loss of name was not my first lesson in pain. That was yet to come.

We made our way through the morning streets of Pusan. Past the sights and smells I knew and had no clue that it was my last time to experience them. We waited in front of a building for a bus that would never come as you said your goodbye. Is parting such sweet sorrow when half of those that part have no inkling of the finality taking place? It was sorrow for us. How were you able to hide your tears as we showed you our fears?

My soul still waits for you in Pusan beside my empty heart. My right hand holds the shadow of your own and my left hand grasps for my sister’s in the night. The only thing left for me is a mind and it betrays me each day. Putting memories in the wrong order, placing hope where it does not go. I scream at my mind at the same time I miss my soul. I scream at my dead heart at the same time I miss a beat. I scream at your memory to turn around just once.

Just this one time.

~**~

I’ve never liked the sound of children crying. I’ve always avoided orphanages or hospitals when I can. Something about the sound of unhappy kids in a forced situation sends my mind scrambling to my memory box. I pry it open with hesitant care as I look inside my past. A past filled with those same cries in my head… only this time they are my cries, my screams in the night.

There are moments in life when you know you are truly alone. I have a feeling at some point I realized I was on my own when the only hand left for me to hold was taken from me. You came like a sneak thief in the night and stole the only companion I had ever known. You selfishly tore her from my side so she could remain by your side… to comfort you till you die. You killed me twice that day. The hope of seeing you again went without a sound, but the loss of hope of seeing my sister again did not go unannounced. I let the world know it with all my sound.

Left, but not forgotten. Adoptee, but not adopted. I remained in between the worlds I knew and a nightmare that had become my reality. My name was taken with my clothing and I was given a new role in life assigned by a number. To live life seeking something lost. To never know what that lost thing was. That was the meaning you left for me as you left me to find my way. A way that did not lead back to Eastern shore, but instead sent me to an unknown coast. A place where crying children are sent to learn how to cry alone.

~**~

A person can think about a lot while trapped with their thoughts at 40,000 feet. An airplane becomes a thought tomb and our bodies squirm for freedom from our metallic coffin. Fortunately for me I don’t remember my journey to America. I imagine I was very confused, scared, and exhausted by the time I arrived in Memphis, Tennessee. Many years later I would return for the first time to my homeland and experience what true culture shock is like when you are immersed into a society that is foreign to you. I assume that same feeling was felt when I walked off that plane into a white and black world and was introduced to my new parents.

America gave back instantly to this orphan. I am told one of the first foods I would eat were French Fries from McDonald’s and unsurprisingly I still love them to this day! My new brother gave me an unsure smile and a stuffed dog named Fluffy. I was suddenly accepted, but my journey towards accepting myself was just beginning. I left the airport Korean and walked into a world I knew nothing about. I only knew that everyone was excited about something and that something was apparently me. I couldn’t understand why their words were so strange and it wasn’t until after speech therapy that I learned what those abrupt sounds they kept making meant.

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~**~

The life of an adoptee is all about change, adaption, and trying to find stability. After the trauma of rejection runs its course we quickly find a need to find some type of stability through acceptance. I have seen what constant rejection can do to a child having had a friend who was repeatedly let down and rejected again and again. It wears on you and thankfully I didn’t know the burden it places on your heart until later in life. I at least found love and acceptance before finding out the pain of not being wanted once more.

When you grow up in a white and black world and you aren’t white or black it becomes a struggle to feel accepted. As a Korean with no Asian friends, I found I had little reference as to what an Asian was. Why we looked as we did, why people thought I looked differently at all, and why I had to explain my family constantly to random strangers. When your life is a puzzle you try and piece together a stained glass of your life. You grow to appreciate the whole picture of yourself including the tape used to hold it together. It only becomes difficult when people poke holes in your image and force you to adopt their own.

I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi and was quickly informed I was different. My mind plays tricks on me and memories flash of a yellow bus that picked us up on our street. I remember pencil breaking contests, a bully of a white kid that lived down the hill and pestered me, and going to my speech therapy class. I see bags of marbles and hear the sounds of CH and TH till I am tired of anything that resembles English. Through the learning and the growth of my childhood I never once considered that I was not yet truly learning about myself. I had time for that later I thought. What was there to learn?

the-next-day

~**~

The birth of a tongue doesn’t occur when you are born. Your speech is learned when you are young and begin to communicate for the first time. This is the learning process of all humans and yet what if you allowed a child to learn just enough to know their tongue and then displaced them to a foreign world. What if you took everything they knew and forced them to learn a new reality?

I took speech therapy and language courses from a friend of the family during school hours. She came and tutored me, awarding me bags of marbles for lessons accomplished and well done. I learned how to unlearn Korean fairly quickly and with that transition I found a new American tongue. A southern tongue full of twang, ya’lls, and southern comfort. I began building within the person I was meant to be, but remained on the outside the shell of what I was.

It is funny because as easily as I learned to forget my culture I found it was much harder to relearn it later in life. To reconnect with what has been trained out of you and to find yourself in a memory that was never real. That is what life sometimes feels like as adoptees stare at themselves in the mirror and what they have become. Are we truly a picture of our true selves or have we become instead a product of our path in life. Is there really a difference? I still don’t know the answer to that question.

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~**~

When you are adopted as a young child your life is not all about adoption. It only becomes centered upon that reality when people make you realize you are different. That your life isn’t “normal” and you aren’t where you are supposed to be. That is when the walls of security we have built come crashing down and we seek a new safety blanket only to find that there is none. There is only the power of acceptance.

I remember a steady path of incidences that reminded me of my adoption. They appear like stepping stones in my mind and many of those points in time are pain points of mine. I think the hardest part for an adoptee as they grow up in a foreign country is finding not only acceptance, but also understanding. Seeking, searching, striving to find someone that can relate to your struggles… that might be able to understand where you truly come from. This is the reason why many adoptees find solace and comfort in communicating with other adoptees. This is also why so many of us take rejection so hard because we have never fully recovered from the first rejection in our life.

In a smiling world that believes you should smile all the time, I found my smiles where I could. My family life was real life and not the thing of Disney tales. There were smiles, tears, fears, and laughter growing up and I have fond memories of my early life in Jackson, Mississippi. I remember being different, but I also remember growing to love this country I now called home. I am thankful that someone above thought I needed a break finally and allowed me time to heal and to grow. Remembering all the while that I was not an adult yet, I was still a child that wanted only one thing. To be wanted and accepted finally.

 

Jason Chandler Cushman

-Opinionated Man

@smokendust

44.1

Writing it All

Can I write it all? … Even a life of scars.

Showing a sky not full of stars. A life that starts after a pause.

I see the child I used to be. A child that seems to flee from me.

A past I once could see. Is now a blessed blur to me.

A vision I see through tears. Real tears, from real fears.

So much to run from.

Until one day I said I was done.

I killed the child I once was. Rejecting all that I came from.

And here I stand, the standing end.

Pen in hand, I finally begin.

-OM

J.C.C.

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