Prologue

Prologue

It feels like I have been in this room before. It feels like I am stuck in this room in my dreams. A room full of sadness where crying children are brought to cry some more. Shelves line the walls full of their memories, their recorded logs of displacement and attempted replacement of what has been lost for them. The room is furnished with a large desk of authority against the far wall with a couple wooden chairs that were never built for comfort facing it. I hate this room.

My eyes wander in sadness and search for an escape from what I have just heard.

The last time I was here I was crying my heart out as I struggled to know what was going on. I know this to be true even if I don’t have the memory still. Something inside me tells me there are cries still leftover inside from that experience, from that day. Those screams seek now to join the rest of the surrounding depression this room has known, a feeling I can feel like painted sadness on a wall. It is an overwhelming pressure that squeezes my saddened heart and makes me want to erupt from my chair and run, never looking back. I knew I shouldn’t have come here.

I see a window and look out onto a busy Pusan street, a street I can’t remember walking as a child. Cars whisk by and a Korea from my dreams becomes a moving reality before my eyes.

It feels almost like a movie, but the sights and sounds are as real as the pain I am feeling right now. This pressure around my heart that makes it want to burst.

The window frames the picture of the city of my birth and begins to age with the clouds of my depression until the screen looks like an old fashioned television show.

And then I see her. I don’t know why my eyes are drawn to her, but I notice a woman walking quickly down the street holding the hands of two young children behind her. She looks so familiar, like the glimpse of a memory I can’t remember, and I know that I know her and yet I don’t. The older of the two kids, a young girl, looks around obviously confused by the early morning adventure into the city. She is too far away for me to make out her face and I feel suddenly frustrated by my lack of view, I feel like I must see her. Behind her struggling to keep up with the group is her younger brother.

The mother has a face of determination as she marches by purposefully with a need to see the deed done, whatever deed that may be. Again I have this haunting suspicion that I know this woman as she passes further from my view. I keep watching as the young boy turns his head quickly and shoots a furtive glance in my direction. Our eyes meet and I look at myself in the mirror until he turns away to find his mother suddenly stopped in front of a building.

I can tell they stand in front of a sleeping police station that hasn’t started protecting people yet. The mother seems to gather herself for a second before gathering her family around her. She gently pulls the two children closer in and hugs them while saying words I obviously cannot hear, but somehow I know them in my heart. I can tell she is trying to make the moment last a lifetime that can’t last forever as she abruptly pushes the children away with some last words given forcefully towards the eldest daughter, before quickly walking away. She doesn’t look back, I wait for her to turn back. The children instantly look scared and confused as all they know walks away. I can almost hear their cries and the sorrow of the moment brings me back to my moment and the sorrow that waits for me.

 

 

Chapter 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 apparently had a change of heart and came to retrieve just 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 I knew. 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 changed into a life altering trip. 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 more just different. It is when missing pieces of a puzzle you never knew was missing pieces begin to show up that you find your course in life 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 line could mean to me.

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 know 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 them. 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.”

He then turned to my translator who worked for the motherland tour I was on and quickly had a conversation with him in Korean.

I hesitated. I didn’t know what to do. It is a hesitation that ended up meaning the world to me even though I didn’t know it at the time, and it is an action I will regret for the rest of my life. In that small window of doubt my tour guide quickly climbed through and took control of the situation before I knew what to say.

He shook his head for the both of us as he explained that “that isn’t the way it is done through the organization” and that we would need to return to the rest of the group and discuss the matter with the director.

 

 

Life is a blur when you don’t give a shit.

-OM

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@smokendust

Adopting Yourself – By: Jason C. Cushman

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The ironic part about being an adoptee is that the first and final steps of our lives are the same. Just as we must accept being adopted in the first place, we must also accept ourselves for who we are in the end. That acceptance, that journey, can take a lifetime to occur and not all adoptees ever fully accept who they are. Those people caught between the want of “what ifs” and the “hard place of reality” never fully live life as they should because they are stuck living half their life with regret. I have known that place myself and can recount times in my childhood when I wished for anything but what was real. I wished to be someone else.

Adopting yourself is a lot easier when you know where you came from. You have a starting point and regardless whether that position in life is a good one or not you still have something to build off of. Life is hard enough without feeling like you must add additions to a question mark. That is what it feels like for many of us that are missing years of our past as we are forced daily to build upon that emptiness that we often feel. The old saying goes to not build your house upon the sand and mentally I can relate to this analogy. When you pile memories upon clouds of hope sometimes those clouds explode and your hope comes tumbling down. That shouldn’t stop you from hoping, but as humans we learn to become wary of things that can potentially cause pain. Hope is a good thing, but it can also become the bearer of the worst pain imaginable.

Many adoptees encounter struggles with depression as they struggle with images of themselves. When you walk for too long in the land of depression you become numb to feeling and your daily life flashes like a fading memory. Only strong and personal moments are fully captured and those glimpses into our lives are often garbled by the mental struggle that we are enduring. Sometimes the memories are pictures without sound and other times they are words or phrases that stand out in the night. I have held depression’s hand many times and my head is full of glimpses of our encounters.

I remember one day when I was fully under depression’s influence and I was taking klonopin daily to fight the shadows of doubt over whether or not I wished to live. I was standing in the kitchen of my parent’s home staring out the window while it rained. I watched as before my eyes the rain suddenly stopped falling and hung midair as if nature had rebelled against its natural course. My father walked up behind me and saw me looking out the window.

What are you looking at son?” he said with concern in his voice.

I hadn’t realized that I had begun to cry. I looked at him and said in a near whisper, “the rain has just stopped midair Pop. It won’t fall to the ground. It is the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.” A week later I tried to kill myself.

It is easy to consider things in retrospect and to wish you had done things differently. I have many regrets in my life, but some of the hardest actions to accept from my past have been in relationship to my adoption. Actions I did or did not take when the opportunity presented itself, those are the memories that are on constant replay in my mind. It is a hard thing to live life by tracing the lines of regret from our past, but often in our depression we do this. We do this because the saddest times often outshine the happiest from our lives. It is far easier to focus on what we don’t have than what we do. That is very human.

When I was two years old my mother left me on a street in front of a police station. In the Korean culture this was translated into the mother no longer wanting the child. I was not alone though, I later found out she left me a hand to hold onto. A five year old sister I have since searched for was also left on that street to hold my hand and wait for a mother that would never return for us. She must have had half a heart though because she did come back for my older sister later on… but left me behind. Sometimes in the night I imagine I can still feel her hand. I often wonder if she remembers me.

I was adopted and sent by plane to a black and white world. At 3 years old it did not take long for me to realize I was in a world I did not fully belong. Growing up as an Asian American in the deep south of the Unites States is a challenge for anyone. That challenge is increased astronomically when you are unsure of who you are and what you are supposed to be. The only thing I remember being sure of was that I was different. My eyes were small, I was small as well, and my family wasn’t created from the cookie cutter mold of southern society. We were multi-cultural and at the time that was still visually a strange thing to see in everyday life. I found it hard to accept myself in a society that obviously did not accept me.

I found for most of my life I was forced to continuously adopt the image that I was. Growing up in a black and white world with almost no Asian friends was tough. I had no point of reference for what an Asian should look like, act like, or even just “be.” I can recall many days where I would return home from grade school and I would slam my door shut on society as a whole. A society that chased me in my dreams, a society that made me ashamed of my skin color. I would look to the sky and pray to any god that would listen to please make me a different race. Black… white… it didn’t matter at that point. What mattered was being accepted and I simply knew that I would never be accepted clothed in the skin I wore at the time. I remember praying for this many times through tears of confusion because I still could not comprehend why I was so different. I simply knew I was and I hated it.

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Jason C. Cushman

-Opinionated Man

@smokendust

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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?

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~**~

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

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Visit my personal blog at https://aopinionatedman.com/

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“Daddy, Do You Have Another Mommy?”

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As my children grow older I find myself constantly caught off guard by the maturity and insight they have into issues I think, and may always think, are too mature for them to worry about. Growing up in the south provided a lot of core values that I later on found out aren’t shared around the world… or even in this country. Divorce was not a common occurrence in the bubble I was brought up in, but it did happen occasionally and was talked about in hushed tones. Now my children come home and discuss how some of their friends have two families and how cool it is they have two sets of stuff, not to mention the two Christmases and two birthdays they also receive. This of course introduces more topics to the table.

It was while explaining why this happens to my children that my daughter Anna asked the question I wasn’t expecting. “Daddy, do you have another Mommy?” It was an innocent question from the most innocent mouth. The words struck me like a dagger and for a second I failed to formulate a response. I finally found the letters of the only language I know and said to her “Yes, Daddy has another Mommy.”

It didn’t end there of course. Even from a 6 and 7 year old the silence was palpable… actually ESPECIALLY because it was a 6 and a 7 year old the moment was rare.

“Where is your other Mommy?” the inevitable second question came. I loved her tenacious nature even as I wished for a way out of the conversation. I struggle with explaining “it all” to adults… how could my young daughter understand what I still didn’t get? What was the right answer here and how do I reassure her that what happened to her father would never happen to her? How do I let her know that only some children are left on a street or are unwanted by their mothers? Only “those” children have such things happen to them…

I took a deep breath and steeled myself. I told them both that their father was adopted by Susu and Pops and that my mother did not want me. I quickly reassured them they didn’t have to worry. That this only happens in movies and to unlucky children. It was all a balance you see, a balance against the fortunes I would have later on in life.

The fortune of having both of them in my life.

I told them I would always love them and that their mother and father aren’t going anywhere soon. Only some mothers and some fathers leave their children forever.

I will never leave either of you until I die and even then I won’t be far. I will always be close to your heart.

Jason Chandler Cushman

-Opinionated Man

44.1

@smokendust

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