Puzzling Pieces

This is my follow-up article to the one in the November issue of Groove Magazine. It has also been picked up for an adoption network magazine. I'm writing again! Yeah...Everyone keep your fingers crossed. Dream Pictures might pick up my animation story. More news will follow next week.


Puzzling Pieces

Our reunion would have been booed on Korean national television. There was no cautious approach, no quivering lips, no torrent of tears as parent and child embrace. Nope. My mind was utterly blank and I had the goofiest smile on my face. I didn't know the etiquette for meeting a birth parent, so I half stretched out my hand. Luckily, she grabbed my hand and then she embraced me as I tried to figure out what to do with my other arm. It wasn't epic: it was more like 'nice to see you again.'

Two weeks prior to meeting my mother I had requested my adoption agency, Holt, to start a search. Thankfully, they keep remarkably good records and two letters went out- one to my father and one to my mother. My mother received hers on Saturday and here we were face to face. It was all happening so fast and I half dreaded the day, because I can't speak Korean. Luckily, my good friend Erica agreed to come with me for support and to translate.

The first thing my mother said was, "I knew we would meet again, and then in Korean fashion, "I thought you would be taller." We laugh and I apologize profusely out of nervousness. We look deeply at each other, seeing which puzzle pieces of ourselves fit where. We both have fine hair and small eyes. We have the exact same nose and mouth. She is thin and petite, while I'm broader- I guess the effect of being raised on a Western diet.

As we sit, she takes out pictures of me as a baby from her purse and hands them to me. For the first time in my life, I have baby pictures. There is one of me roly-poly and bald, sitting on a rock; in another picture, I am on a merry-go-round. The picture I remembered is not here. I describe it: a newborn in an orange jumper which sat on a shelf in our room. Her eyes widen, amazed that I remember the photo-- she lost it years ago.

I tell her my memories of where we lived. I correctly remember the TV, but not the shelves and shelves of books. A precocious child, I would pretend to read, repeating from memory the words my mother read aloud. She laughs as she tells me that I loved to eat and she would starve in order to feed me. I would cry impatiently, unwilling to wait for my beloved fish, "ggong-chi," to be finished cooking before I could eat it.

Many of my memories are accurate, she tells me. Except my hometown was Daegu and not Seoul. This is a mistake many adoptees make because most adoption agencies are headquartered in Seoul. Also, my father was a businessman, not a soldier. My mother speaks fondly of my father. She says, "he was tall, funny, and handsome." For a time we moved out of our home and lived in an apartment that was provided by my father. We three lived together in quick spurts when my father was away from his other life.

One day my mother and father's affair was discovered and it was decided that I would have to live with my father. I reluctantly asked my mother if the memory I had of her getting beat by my stepmother was real, she simply smiles and says, "You remember your mom getting hit?" We have a bonding moment as we talk about how psychotic the stepmother was. After the laughs subside she says, "Don't dwell on the past. It's past."

Then the revelation: apparently, she didn't want to give me up. She had begged my father for me back and she planned on raising me herself. 20 years ago this was a impossibility. If I was not on my father's family registrar, I would have been considered nonexistent in Korea. I would have not been able to go to the public schools, or attend the army. Getting a job would have been an impossibility. With the strife widening in my father's family, it was decided that I would be put up for adoption.
My mother didn't get married until she was 46 because she didn't want to have any more children. She says, "I had my child."
She takes out another picture, as cautiously as if it were a gem, from her wallet. It is of me and her. I am in a baby stroller and she is next to me in a light yellow dress. She is beautiful as she smiles.
I wonder who took the picture.

Daniel Gray

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