A Chapter from my new book Searching for Seoul- CHAPTER: IOWA

Welcome to the neighborhood, Hana, Sara, and David! Congratulations, Floyd and Mary! In the picture, three neighbor kids, freckled, blond and Velcro-sneakered, stand beneath the sign they’ve taped to our new mom and dad’s garage door.

Beneath this photo, is one of the three of us; transplants with similar blunt haircuts and coordinating seersucker outfits, sitting in the back of a brown Crown Victoria Station Wagon (later we dubbed her, Miss Vicky). The back seat has been turned down to create a kind of playpen in the rear of the car so that the three of us can sit together. There are toys everywhere. In the photo, I’m pressing a plastic phone the size of my head to my ear, my little brother looks caught, in the lens of the camera and my sister sits, holding a doll in her lap.

Looking at the photo now, I think we look a little stunned, as though we’re suspending our belief, terrified that we could wake-up at any moment to discover that all this–the toys, the smiling, teary adults–are a figment of our imaginations. But when we awake the next morning, the three of us stretched-out on mom and dad’s king-sized bed, it is all still true. (READ the rest of the chapter on my website hanahawley.com

 

kelcy-gatson-511629-unsplash.jpg

photo by Kelcy Gatson on Unsplash

 

 

Advertisements

Sister Theresa (Part III): Last Place

In Korea, I discovered the root of the insecurities that have dogged my steps far too often, thwarting my attempts to step confidently into who I am. I talk about this in part III of my Searching for Seoul Blog. “Sister Theresa (Part III): Last Place”.

Excerpt: A tiny seed of resentment sprouts. I see my awkward grade-school self, my insecure teenage self; nothing I did ever good enough, done fast enough. http://www.hanahawley.com

 

image_6483441

Photo by Samuel Zeller via Unsplash

 

 

Searching for Seoul: Sister Theresa part II

I talk more about my travel to South Korea and my visit to the baby home where I was an orphan, in part two of my story on Sister Theresa on my web (www.hanahawley.com). Read an excerpt below:

Everything I see makes sense, but it feels unreal and intangible. I breathe deeper, open my eyes wider. If I could dig my bare toes into the ground, scrunch the earth between my toes and somehow immerse myself in my surroundings I would. If it wouldn’t be rude, or be weird, I would walk off by myself for an hour or two, sit in the middle of the lawn somewhere, let the past find me.

etienne-boulanger-406364

Photo by Etienne Boulanger

Searching for Seoul Post 11

matt jones post 11

Photo by Samuel Sosina

Josiah and I are sitting in our rental car, A/C blasting to keep the moisture-packed Georgia heat at bay. It must be over one-hundred degrees outside. We’ve parked a few houses down from our intended destination so I can jot a few things down in my journal. I am grateful to my husband for understanding my need to write my feelings, assess the situation, before I leap.

We notice an older Korean gentleman saunter down his driveway with hands crossed behind his back, his face kind, expectant. And I know that he’s looking for us. I duck my head, stare at the mostly blank page, pen poised, emotions flying high in my stomach. I will the man to go back into his house so I can focus.

Last night, navigating what to do after finding out that my birth dad had missed his flight to Atlanta had felt like watching my grandpa do his breathing exercises from his bed at the nursing home; slow, painful.

Three hours after the initial call from Abby, I’d still not called my siblings to tell them the news that our birth dad might not come. I had needed something definitive, something that demonstrated the whole visa thing hadn’t been a willful act of negligence. And I got it late that night, confirmation from Abby that my dad had re-booked his flight for the first week in July. It was the earliest flight he could get.

Today, Josiah and I are to meet at Mr. and Mrs. Lee’s house as planned, even though my birth dad won’t be there and my siblings have delayed their trip. Mr. Lee wants us to meet his family, to know that we hadn’t traveled all this way for no reason, that we are very much wanted…that our dad’s intentions were good. We might be able to get my birth dad on Skype even, and this is what has me feeling like I’m about to embark on my very first job interview.

I try to visualize how this initial greeting would go down. Should I say, “hi, dad,”? Or, would it be more appropriate to say, “Annyeong-haseyo,”? Would I instinctively bow my head a little, or be stiff and “American” caught between my past and my present?

I set my pen down, close my journal. It’s time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Searching for Seoul Post 10

samuel sosina post 10

Photo by Matt Jones

I don’t want her to feel worse than she already does, but the tears seep out of my voice despite my wishes. “Don’t cry, Mira,” Abby* says, and I can tell she’s taking responsibility, her voice, heavy with guilt.

My birth dad never got on the plane.

But I’m already in Atlanta! My brain screams. I’m already here.

Josiah and I arrived a couple of days early, and now, all of my preparation; the extra shifts I’d picked up last week, the new dresses I’d purchased, the family photo albums I’d spent hours making, the hotel and car reservations I’d made for everyone–all seem premature–acts of naivety–of ignorance.

He didn’t get on the plane. That’s all I can hear at first, and it feels to me as though this was a willful act, an act of cowardice or an act that would cause enough pain and disappointment to shut this whole thing down forever.

“He was supposed to meet my mom at the gate, but he never came.” Abby, is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Lee, my birth dad’s friends who moved to the U.S. ten years ago. They’ve been friends for twenty years now and Mrs. Lee was to travel back to the U.S. with my dad.

Abby has been bridging the gap for all of us since late February, translating messages between my birth dad and me because no one else speaks English and I don’t speak Korean. The very first message I received from her back then was, “Hello, is your Korean name Mira, Park? I know your dad…”

“Your dad is in chaos, right now,” Abby says, and this refocuses my attention on the problem at hand, the reason my birth dad couldn’t get on the plane that would have brought him to Atlanta to meet me just sixteen hours later.

He didn’t have a visa to travel to the states. No one thought to ask him if he had one. And he didn’t think of it himself because he hasn’t traveled outside of Korea in years. He could have applied for it online, been approved within the hour, but by the time he was apprised of this, it was too late.

He was already on his way home, a four-hour drive from Incheon Airport in Seoul, by the time I was getting the news.

And then I want to call my birth dad’s travel agent, yell at her, ask her how she could let this happen in the first place? Wasn’t it her job? Her duty to get her clients from point a to point b with as little trouble to them as possible? And now, her oversight was ruining our lives. Words like, incompetent! Worthless! Gurgle up in my brain like poison.

How was I going to tell my brother and sister about this?

I realize I dread this task even more than not knowing if my birth dad would get the necessary documentation and re-book his flight. I know that in under eight hours my family plans to board a plane from Minneapolis to Atlanta, and I struggle with how to tell them not to come.

 

*not her real name

 

 

Searching for Seoul- Post 2

hangul_familyI’ve never looked around the supper table and wondered why I didn’t resemble my parents.  I never had another sibling tell me that I was “adopted” with a snicker and cruel tilt of the lip.  I’ve always known I was a choice my parents made.

People are usually amazed when they realize that I was just a couple of months shy of my seventh birthday when I came to America from South Korea.  I was so “old” to have been adopted.  Didn’t being older make it rougher for me to adjust?  Make it more difficult to assimilate into a comprehensively strange new world?  Didn’t my parents have a more challenging time raising me? One would think I’d have more emotional baggage than a baby orphaned at birth.  A blank canvas would be easier to embrace than one with seven years-worth of impressions from another world; impressions which might be better off erased.

I see now that I had the advantage of understanding that my circumstances were improving when I was finally adopted, while being young enough to unreservedly shut-up the memories which may have interfered with my ability to fit-in with my new family, in my new country.  My subconscious stepped-in and pushed me toward survival and because of this, I’ve never intentionally walked through my life as a victim of tragic circumstance.

But time can change a perspective, plant different desires.   I’m older now and standing at the threshold of my past, asking my seven year-old self to let me in, to give me a glimpse of what it is that I do not know.

The closer I become to my best self, the more I realize how important those lost years are to my continued growth as a human being.  I can acknowledge now that there are deep wounds rooted in that initial act of abandonment by my birth parents that have caused fractures in the apparently smooth surface of my life.  I want to understand the damage it’s done so I don’t inadvertently wound the relationships I care about or pass those same hurts onto my future children.

So I’m writing the story I’ve always told myself I’d write in the hope of understanding my story better and engaging with people like me who’ve never quite felt like they’ve belonged anywhere despite their best efforts and their beautiful lives.

Searching for Seoul- Post 1

9806534325_0afb4166f3 (2)

When I see the fog settle over the San Fernando Valley in a misty blend of grays and purples, I imagine that I can see the Korea of my childhood.  Three mountain peaks shrouded in mist, crisscrossed by dark power lines and cables.  The scene is as dingy and ambiguous as my memory but somehow I’m able to smell the coming rain; feel the perspiring air against my face.  I vaguely remember driving by these mountains, sorrow threatening to swallow me up as I sit in the backseat of a car or a bus.

I wonder if this is a real memory or something fuzzy my imagination cooked-up to help me cope with the lack of information I have about my childhood.  The first seven scenes in the movie of my life have been redacted yet I’m supposed to have a strong sense of who I am and where I’m going.

Not everything from my past draws a blank.  Sometimes a taste of something new becomes something familiar and I know without a doubt it’s my past trying to resurface.  I had dinner in Koreatown one night when the flavor of one of the side dishes made my heart leap.  I told my friend excitedly that I was sure I’d had it before.  She looked underwhelmed as she explained that it was a common dish- sweet red kidney beans simmered in soy sauce and sugar.  With each bite I willed the memories to come.  Where was I when I tasted this? How old? Is this something I’d eaten at my mother’s kitchen table or a dish I’d had at the orphanage she’d ensured would be a part of my past by her lack of involvement in my future?  Even as I write this I can almost taste the sweet kidney beans, feel the mealy texture on my tongue and against my teeth.  Still- nothing.

I grasp continually for impressions that are as elusive as the mist that triggers them in the first place.