I was much too young to really comprehend the meaning of guilt. From a very young age, I did what I was told not knowing where it would all lead me but with some knowing that I would eventually go home. It was not until later, once I had come to live in America, that questions fell upon me, all wanting to know how, and why, I was adopted.
Prior to my adoption, I did not need to know these questions. I was in my homeland with my family. Even in the worst of times, I was able to escape, as many children do, whether it was running off to play in some field or drifting off into my imagination. Perhaps, if I had never been adopted, I would have grown and eventually come to question the events and decisions of my family members. And perhaps, I would learn guilt. But this guilt would be very different from the one I have carried all my life. It is not to say that it would be painless but the weight of such guilt would not carry me to the deep ends of two worlds. Eventually, I would be able to confront my guilt and perhaps, just perhaps, be able to talk to my sisters and brothers and learn the truth before the young mind grows older and the seeds to her darkest fears are rooted firmly in the heart and her memories.
As early as I can remember, maybe about one year after I had lived here in the States, in my adopted home, people began asking me many questions regarding my memories of my past. I believe this was at least one year post adoption, since it took about that long to be able to speak English. When family or strangers came to me, I was, I think , rather frank about telling 'my story'.
In some way, I recall, telling it quickly like it was no big deal, and then running off to play. When asked, I would tell them, " I don't remember my mother. She died after having me. My father, he died because my mother died. Then, there was a big fight. My sister went to live with a lady, my brothers went away, and I lived with my oldest sister. I lived with her until she got married. She had a baby. I cared for this baby and told him to always remember me when I was gone. My sister wanted to start her life with her family and told me to be good and that if I was good, worked hard, and be a good daughter, my new family would take good care for me. She told me how everyone was rich in 'America'. That I would be with a rich family and be happy.
This was my usual quick, 'let me tell you my story'. My mother asked at times as well, and she recalls hearing many stories but also remembers thinking and wondering what kind of 'history' I might of had prior to adoption. But ,eventually, I stopped telling my story and tried to 'blend' into my new 'world'. I do not believe it was a conscious decision (at least not totally) but it just happened. In my early elementary years, I quickly adapted and realized I was not going anywhere and that I was now part of this new family that I had come to accept and love. And, in some respect, maybe, I needed to be loved by them more. More than ordinarily possible...I needed my security. I needed to know...this was my home.
Home. Inside myself, divided by two worlds. One that was fading away, drifting out of reach. The other, I felt, could never quite embrace me. And, in this divide, I carried the guilt. I tried to understand why and how everything came to be. Every body's questions were now my own. I retraced my memories and revisited them often as the years went by. No matter how I looked into my past or what my parents or others would tell me, it always came down to one conclusion. If my Mother had not died, we would all be together. I grew up believing, knowing that she had died due to complications of giving birth. I knew I was the youngest of five and therefor, I was the cause of her death. How do I know this is true...my mother even verified the data. It was all there in the adoption papers. I was the youngest of five.
I rationalize this repeatedly in my head as I grew up. People reassured me of how hard it must have been for everyone in Korea. That we must have fell into some very hard times. I told myself that I was a baby and that I could not cause anything that terrible to happen. I was a child who knew and believed those words that throughout my life had reassured me. But I found myself there again and again, in the divide. Needing to know the answers. Playing out all my thoughts and endless possibilities. Wondering, if I was never born, then my mother would have never died, and my father would be alive. My family would be still together. What if she was very sick but did not die? Would we all be still together, living together, and healing together. Even if times were hard, would our unity make a difference? I felt terrible every time I went searching for the answers. Searching for her. And perhaps, this is why I never tried to remember her name, her face, and the memories of my mother and me. It was a guilt I did not want to be responsible for and over time, it was easier to accept the 'rational' answers to my mother's death and to what had led to my arrival.
5 years ago