kedim iv: airplane day

Today is Airplane Day.

Thirty-two years ago I was put on a plane bound for John F. Kennedy International Airport with nine other Korean children.  Eight of us were born in 1984, from October to December.  One girl was born in October 1972.  Our flight’s 막내 [“maknae” — the youngest person in a group] was born in January 1985, which means that she would have been considered a Rat like the rest of us — and I really do mean the rest of us.  Coincidentally, all ten of us were born in the Year of the Rat.  1972 is a Water Rat year and 1984 is a Wood Rat year.  Had we grown up in the culture we were born into, we nine could’ve called each other 친구 [“chingu” — same age friends] and we might’ve called Miss 1972 언니 [“eonni” — a term that means “older sister” and is used by younger females to address an older female they are close with; also romanized as “unnie”] or 누나 [“nuna” — a term that means “older sister” and is used by younger males to address an older female they are close with; also romanized as “noona”].  I’m going to put a list of the names of my fellow passengers here on the off chance some of them are out there in the void:

  • Choi Myung Wha
  • Kim Jeong Soon
  • Lee Ja Won
  • Kim Yoo Mee
  • Yoon Mee Sook
  • Choi Seong Jin
  • Kim Min Seong
  • Lee Seong Joon
  • Kim Yeong Ae

I came with an instruction manual like every other imported good.

I also came with a letter stating:

Re: (84C-3093) SHIN, KONG JOO —ALBORA—

The above mentioned case is the birth mother was unavailable at the time of intake.  We received this child from the Head of Clinic after the natural mother disappeared from her recovery room.  Therefore, no one has any information about the birth mother and we have no possible way to locate the mother.  Thank you.

Sincerely,
Mrs. Choi
Chief
Information Department

This is the first Airplane Day I’ve experienced since the rift between me and my parents became utterly insurmountable.  This time last year I was still soldiering through, still trying to go along to get along, still choking on retorts whenever various events from my past were inevitably brought up in “casual conversation” — events that painted me as the villain to my own tragedies.  There’s probably some truth to that, but there’re at least three lies for every truth when my parents tell a story.  Maybe it’s cowardice on my part that lets me write publicly about them when I have not spoken with them since I sent them a text message on July 31st, 2016 asking them to leave when they arrived uninvited at my door at 10:15 p.m.

Here is an excerpt from something I wrote that day:

I have not been answering my parents’ phone calls or text messages recently as a matter of self preservation, so tonight they showed up at our apartment uninvited and spent the past fifteen to twenty minutes banging on my front door [which was not locked; thankfully they did not try to open it out of curiosity; I am still not sure what I would have done in that case, but things probably would have become physically violent] and yelling and calling out to me.  At some point my mother began theatrically weeping and wailing.  “Don’t you feel like what you’re doing is evil?” they asked.  “Don’t you feel that turning against your parents is evil?  You can’t possibly feel good about yourself after what you’re doing.  You can’t possibly feel good at all.  You can’t possibly feel good as a daughter or a person.”  My door is not soundproof; it was easy to hear them talking to each other and to my dog — “go get Mommy, Kennedy; go get Mommy and tell her to open the door; Kennedy, where’s Mommy?” — and I am going to refrain from posting the things I heard because I am ashamed and hurt and infuriated by them and because I don’t want anybody else to have to house this vitriol.

When I was younger, I never thought I would ever in a million years want to meet or even know about my birth mother.  Today, though, just for a little while, I admitted to myself that I do.  That not knowing sometimes hurts.  I still don’t know for sure whether excommunicating my adoptive parents was the right thing to do.  I know that my depression and anxiety are my things and not necessarily linked to them, but I also know that life without them is easier.  I know that I feel healthier.

I’m not good at burning bridges.  The fire hurts my eyes, burns my fingers.  Everything I am is equipped for putting them out instead of starting them.

Anyway, enough of that.  Airplane Day is always a bittersweet day, but I’m going to end this post on a sweet note.  What’s important to me is connecting with my culture and connecting with people who share it and can teach me about it.  On June 5th, 2016 I received my Ancestry Composition Report from 23andme.com and was able to confirm my Korean blood; on June 13th, 2016 I connected with a second cousin through the same website whose parents were born and raised in Busan.  I have joined Facebook groups for Korean-American adoptees and have joined the Portland Korean Language Meetup Group.  I haven’t been brave enough to make real life contact yet, but I hope I will gain more confidence soon.  ^^;;

I’m also keeping up with KEDIM, even though by the time I publish or upload anything it’s a day late.  As long as I stay motivated, it’s okay.  Right?  ㅠㅅㅠ

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laugh

trigger warning: profanity, abuse


When I was small, you loved me so much you named your boat in my honor.  You called it the Royal Princess, making reference to my Korean name — a name that you carefully folded up and locked away like a relic from a dead, unblessed time.  I don’t remember what came first, me or the boat, but I do remember that when you piloted it, you laughed — and when you laughed, your teeth broke white and shining through the tan of your face and that was my cue to laugh along.

I could always make you laugh.  It was a skill I acquired early.  I’d make you a crown out of garish yellow construction paper, grip a Crayola marker strong-steady in my fist, and spell out your name on the brim until the marker’s pinpoint tip slow-eroded to a blunt plateau.  I’d cry out, “Hail to the king!” and parade around the living room and even if you were watching football, you’d spare me a glance and you’d laugh — a gentle, tolerant, paternal laugh — and call me your little princesa.  When your team did something you didn’t like, you’d yell in outrage and pound your knee, words I wasn’t supposed to know, and I’d laugh, scurrying out of the room to cover my ears so I wouldn’t accidentally overhear them — but I always listened.

When I got a little older, I developed a penchant for accents that would turn your face red and send you reeling for the first piece of sturdy furniture.  You still laughed, but it wasn’t just tolerant anymore.  I’d leveled up.  You told your friends I was a “funny kid” and put me through my paces.  “Do the Rap Reiplinger skit!” you’d urge me, your eyes already laughing in an anticipatory way.  “Do the room service one with the haole guy.”  I was shy, but I launched through my repertoire with ease.  I’d mimic with uncanny accuracy the yawning vowel sounds of Boston and New York, the rollicking singsong of the island, and the chattering quickness of the Filipino family who lived next door.  You always laughed.  Your friends did, too, but that was just a canned laugh track in the periphery; you were my target audience.

It got so the jokes were so warm and worn that you’d start laughing the second I uttered a fragment of a line of dialogue.  They were our jokes.  I knew them backwards and forwards.

I was maybe ten when I learned a new brand of humor: the self-deprecating kind.  Some boy at the beach who I had a crush on called me fat.  “You’ve got a lot of pudge on you,” is what he actually said, not unkindly, just stating the facts and calling the shots as he saw them, and when I went crying to you about it, you laughed — and I watched the white of your smile flash through the dark sheen of your face in the Waikiki sun and for the first time I didn’t get the joke.  “Come on, honey,” you said, still grinning, impatience thinning the edges of the mouth that used to blow raspberries into my flyaway hair, knifing your lips into something unfamiliar.  “What’re you getting so upset for?”  Your voice took on an edge of irritation then that I now habitually wield as a blade against myself: come on, honey, what’re you getting so upset for?

I tried to catch up.  I said, “I guess I’m growing out instead of up, yeah?” and you clapped me on the back with your strong-steady hand and laughed.  The impatience bled away but I stayed away from the beach after that, and you sold my neon pink and yellow Local Motion shortboard to the same boy who referred to me thereafter as “Pudge” in an exquisite act of betrayal.  My love for the sea warred with my fear of the boy and the threat of your growing friendship with him, because he was Korean, too — only he got to keep his name and his Korean parents, which made him more than me.  More Korean, more svelte, more worthy.  Better surfer, too.  When I saw you laugh at a joke of his, your face bright red and your arm groping blindly for the nearest palm tree, I learned to hate myself.

That was around the time I stopped being a “funny kid” and started being a “pain in the ass” or a “smart ass” — (Come on, honey, what’re you getting so upset for?) — and our relationship began to decay.  Over the next five years, you laughed — but a lot of the time I was the joke, and I was seldom laughing along.  I was fifteen when I met a boy you didn’t approve of, and looking back now, I can’t remember if I was ever able to make that boy laugh.  I can’t remember if I ever really tried.  That was when we had the cleaning business — when things were good and we could throw money around and the laughing you did at my expense was muted by the cloud-cushion of being found attractive and useful and sweet.

I let that boy own me officially for the next three years until he put me on consignment for the next fifteen, and I learned real quick that I wasn’t any of those things.  He’d settled for me, and he made sure I knew it, and I disappointed him about as often as I disappointed you.  When things went really south, you found out.  You didn’t laugh, but what you learned turned your face red and sent you reeling for the first piece of sturdy furniture: a wooden folding chair.  Your strong-steady hand lifted it effortlessly and fierce-flung it at me, and your teeth broke white and shining through the tan of your face as you screamed at me, renaming me: little whore.  I showed my teeth, too, warning you away, but you didn’t listen — so I fierce-flung myself at the door and slammed it in your face and slammed the lock home.

You yelled at me through it, shaking the walls with the boom of your voice and the pound of your fist, and I remembered how, when your team did something you didn’t like, you’d yell in outrage and pound your knee, words I wasn’t supposed to know, and I’d laugh, scurrying out of the room to cover my ears so I wouldn’t accidentally overhear them — but this time when I covered my ears it was to keep you out.  That’s how you found me when you kicked my door down: palms pressed to my ears, fingernails digging hard into my scalp.  You laughed.  (Come on, little whore, what’re you getting so upset for?)  Your eyes were wide and wild, the gash of your lips sliced open with the serrated alabaster of your triumphant grin, and you laughed, panting and slavering, your mouth wet and cruel and your skin dewed in perspiration.

I could always make you laugh.

mute

Sometimes, if I am having a particularly warm conversation with someone and that person starts to wind down, I feel a sense of panic and dread — because tomorrow is going to be a different day, and I might be in a different mindset, and I can never be totally sure whether I will be able to “get there” by the time we reconnect.

I used to be a girl who spoke to strangers without hesitation and told them exactly what I felt — so long as what I felt was positive.  What happened to that girl?

I used to think she lived here, in my fingers, readily available — but now I see her curling in on herself, curling into fists, unable to post things as simple as, “Happy birthday!” or “Congratulations!” because she fears the screen is no longer enough to protect her.  She worries about apologies she still needs to write, inquiries she still needs to make, and she remembers how she used to talk disparagingly of fair-weather friends, and she realizes she has become one.

Am I losing my voice?

little julep

“She’s so widdle!” I used to squeal, cradling your huddled body in my cupped hands, bowing my head to breathe you in.  You slept so deeply I had to double check to make sure you were still breathing.  Sometimes I’d slide my hands under you while you slumbered, taking my time; I’d lift you without waking you and shove you in Matty’s face, forcing him to marvel at how fragile and precious and perfect and absolutely tiny you were.  I always called you tiny, even when you grew so plump you got stuck on the lip of your kennel when you tried to clamber out of it.  Your stomach grew before your legs did.  I’d offer you my hands, palms up, and you’d step into them and climb up my arm to shove yourself in the crook of my neck.

When I couldn’t find you, I panicked.  If you weren’t in your kennel at work, it was safe for me to assume that someone was holding you — you brought joy to everyone around you, and nobody could resist holding you or taking pictures of you — but I searched for you anyway, trying to be subtle.  I worried constantly about losing you — in the living room, under the chair, in the couch, tucked behind the trash can or bookcase; in the bedsheets, in your kennel, between the pillows — because you were so small and your world was so big.

I broke all of my rules for you.  “Don’t give the kitten a name you’d want to use for your own pet someday; don’t post pictures of the kitten online until she makes it past the bottle-feeding stage; don’t call her yours because she isn’t, not really, and it’ll make it harder on you later when you have to give her up.”  I was reckless and willful.  I couldn’t bear to think about adopting you out to someone who I didn’t know personally.  I couldn’t bear to think about adopting you out, period.  I knew I was ready to go to war for you.  I prepared arguments and retorts in my head before they ever needed to be spoken; at the top of the list was, “She’s too little!”  Too little for vaccinations or flea medication; too little to be spayed; too little to eat solid food adeptly.

And when I held you for the last time, I remember thinking, “God, she’s so little.”  You were featherlight and infinitesimal, and when I placed you finally in the tender embrace of people I love and trust, I remember feeling the weight of my own hands as they fell empty to my sides and realizing that this emptiness is a blooming exit wound that goes on forever and the ache is wider than my outstretched arms.

guilty

I swear I must have some kind of PTSD.

I finally fell asleep maybe four or five hours ago and I just woke up from a really odd, disturbing dream where I was put on trial and nobody would tell me why.  I was trying to run away from my mother in an empty mall parking lot which meant there were very few places to hide.  She was chasing me down in a car and had some other person chasing me on foot from the side, so they sort of herded me into a corner and led me away. The idiot dream version of me just let it happen, which probably isn’t so different from the idiot real life version of me.  I didn’t protest or struggle; I just let myself be dragged away.  Dream KJ knew that she was just going through the motions; she was defeated before she even started running.

The policeman was clearly from Hawaii and possessed some Asian blood.  The moment I heard his telltale, lilting islander accent, I thought to myself, “Oh, at least I’ll have an ally in him.”  Yeah, not so much.  The stories my mother told, supplemented by a stranger who had never met me previously, must have been far too compelling.  Anything I said in response sounded frail and false — because the truth is that I’ve never felt completely blameless when it comes to the more traumatic events I’ve experienced.  I’ve made mistakes and said awful things; I’ve said “okay” when I probably should have said “no”; I’ve let things slide that I probably shouldn’t have let slide.  My mother, in stark contrast, played the martyred victim card, which meant she was blameless — innocent as freshly fallen snow.

In any case, I inevitably started to get frustrated, which only made matters worse.  I could see a crease in the officer’s brow that deepened every time I spoke — a tiny fissure of skepticism that grew with every weak word I stammered out.

My mother, of course, was crying.

I don’t know what the punishment was.  I don’t even know what I was guilty of.

All I do know is that I was actually innocent that time — and I knew before the interrogation even started that I would be found guilty anyway.

I had the best intentions about today.  I was going to get some writing done, apply for registration at an event I’m interested in attending, and spend some time relaxing before the last few days of my grueling work week [followed immediately by a trip to New Jersey to visit in-laws I haven’t seen for years, followed immediately by another grueling work week].  Instead, the panic attack I woke up with induced an asthma attack because my mild cat allergy has turned into a severe one and my fluffy children are now able to literally kill me with their cuteness.

I need to come down from this cycle before it takes over my whole day.


Writing helps center me — it always has.

It’s been two hours since I wrote that and I already feel a little bit stronger.  To prove that strength to myself, I’ve decided to post this here.  [I also don’t get a lot of traction on The Unapologetic INKDOG, so I don’t really have to worry about who reads it.]  Recording my dreams is something I’ve always done — provided the dreams are strange or torturous enough to remember vividly — so I’ve decided to make a category specifically for the weird workings of my slumbering mind.