Do you want to go back?
It’s a question I have been asked numerous times throughout my life. No matter how many times I have heard it, I have to admit that I am always a little taken aback when people ask me that question. In a way, it’s a reminder that, while I am an American citizen, I won’t ever fully belong here. And, because I was born there, I am also a Korean citizen, but I will never belong there, either. I realize people mean well when they ask, but for me, it’s a really difficult question to answer.
When I was found abandoned in a subway station in Seoul, South Korea, I was crying and had bruises around my eyes. The back of my head was abnormally flat, presumably from not having been held enough. I was left without any identifying information, so I was given a birthdate of July 20, 1982, and I was given the name, Soon Duk Kim, which means kindness and virtue. I spent about a year in a foster home in Korea prior to my adoption. I have a photo of my foster mother holding me. I don’t think I will ever forget the gentle face—wrinkled, yet kind and serene—staring back at me from that photograph. It’s the closest thing to a baby photo I will ever have.
When I think about the way in which I was found, and when I feel the back of my head, I have a very difficult time believing that I came from a place of love. I look at my sons, both of whom have perfectly shaped heads, and I think about how I couldn’t hold them enough when they were babies. It saddens me to think about my first year of life. I know a majority of birth parents give their children an opportunity for a better life out of love. However, when I think about my birth parents, I have a hard time believing that they ever loved me. Many adoptees try to imagine what their birth parents must have looked like. Whenever I try to picture what my birth parents looked like, I don’t see faces. In fact, I have never seen anything but shadowy outlines of figures standing over me, but I have never been able to visualize a face.
For many years growing up, I actually feared going back to Korea to visit. My fear was that, if I went back to visit, I would not be allowed to leave the country. I know now that my fears were completely unrealistic, but those fears were very much a part of me for a very long time.
I used to wonder all the time. I used to imagine having another family in Korea. I used to imagine what it would be like to someday meet them and for them to tell me that they were searching for me and they loved me. Now, more than anything, I fear going back and looking at the crowds of people who look just like me and wondering. I don’t want to think that I might have a sibling or a relative living in Korea. I stopped wondering a long time ago because, now, I don’t want to know.
I have found comfort in the belief that there is nothing in Korea for me. I am well aware of the fact that because I don’t have knowledge of my birth name or my birth date, it would be nearly impossible for me to ever find any information about my birth family. I don’t read many stories about adoptees making their homeland journeys. It’s painful to read about the adoptees who found their birth families, and it’s heart-wrenching to read about those who were never able to find any information.
By leaving me without identifying information, I believe my birth parents were sending me a message that they don’t ever want to be found, and I’m okay with that. For me, it’s easier not knowing than feeling the pain of rejection again. It’s a pain that I don’t think I would ever be able to bear.
When my sons are older, I’m sure my family and I will make the homeland journey together. The purpose of the journey won’t be about trying to find my birth family, though. It will be an opportunity for my family to learn about the Korean culture together. For me, that will be a much more valuable experience than trying to find pieces of a puzzle that I was never meant to complete.