When you wake-up in Tokyo, California dreaming… READ THE STORY at Hanako and Jiro in Japan on hanahawley.com.
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
“I can’t,” I say, loud enough for him to hear but hoping the girls won’t.
“I can’t do it.”
“You can,” he says, equally quiet. “Just try it.”
I shake my head, taking in the sight of the other girls, their tight abs, their perfectly round backsides. Their shapely legs pull in unison against the ropes, their bodies bent in two like the legs of a shiny metal compass completing measurements. I’m flanked by them- out, in, out, in. Their tight bodies strain against the effort but the girls still manage to look like they’re filming a Beach Body DVD.
That would make me the –you can do it too person sweating in the background while the pros glisten and glow up front near the instructor. The sweat from my effort on the treadmill ten minutes ago is still evaporating from my skin and surrounded by these girls who can, I find myself choking on the humiliations of the past.
I see grade school me, shoulders slumped in defeat, eyes cast down and boring holes into my white Reeboks as I toe the blue tape of the shiny gym floor. I’m overwhelmed by a sense of ineptitude, of invisibility. I listen despondently as names are yelled enthusiastically from the team captains standing before me. Will they remember my name this time or will I be the last one called, my name then becoming irrelevant?
Then, as expected, the voices calling the names take on another tone. They deign to divvy up the lesser of the less. I can hear them roll their eyes and sympathize with each other on having to take that girl who plays violin and doesn’t play sports.
I try to lift my body in a similar fashion but land on my hands and knees. I feel as though the Beach Body girls are judging me from the corner of their eyes, already deciding to pick me last.
Before the grade school me becomes paralyzed on the gym floor I pick myself up and leave. I feel bad for the kids facing team captains all over the world but I’m not trapped in those situations anymore. My worth isn’t based on the number of people I can hit with a dodge ball. So I go, marveling that wounds from the past could still hurt in new ways.
I lean back in the passenger side of the car as the traffic lights flash through the windshield. We’re almost home. The time glows digital green from the dashboard of the car. We’ll make it back just in time to watch our new must-see Sunday night show, “Believe.”
I want to say something a loud to J but I hesitate. If I say it, that implied meaning it. Did I mean it or was I compelled because I always felt inspired when I left Mosaic? Well, mostly inspired, sometimes discouraged by the comparisons I drew between the lives I heard about and my own.
“I feel like I’m trying to preserve my life” I say a loud, like I mean it. “What am I saving myself for? ”
If I were a pre-recorded message my themes would consist of these phrases:
“That. Is. Full. Of. Germs.”
“That. Could. Kill. You.”
“Do. Ing. That. Is. Sue.I.Cide.”
I am apparently saving myself for some great cause and it’s a necessity for me to be without a physical or emotional scratch when the cause reveals itself.
When I ask my questions a loud, I realize that I’ve been aware of the cause most of my life. I may not have always been old enough, independent enough, or resourceful enough…but those are not excuses I can lean on now.
I connect the dots that have led to it- my cause; my birth in a foreign land, my adoption into a forever family, what I’ve seen as random skill sets accumulated over a decade of careers that just didn’t stick and the people who did.
As we pull up to our house and bring the car to a stop, my cause light goes from yellow to green.
I’ve been afraid to live. Afraid to get hurt, get dirty, or be unable to find myself home again, safe and sound.
I’d still like to avoid getting hurt and getting dirty but not at the cost of losing my life because I focused so hard on saving it.
I can barely sit still in the hard, plastic chairs facing the stage and as always when this moment comes I wish I was standing in the mosh-pit where it’s too crowded for anyone to see my face and judge my reaction.
The spotlights are roving and tension building music seems to be drifting from somewhere although I’m not sure if that’s the ambiance in my head or if the band is playing.
My ears are hyper-tuned to the emphatic screams of girls yelling, “JOSIAH” and as always I think for a moment that these voices are the loudest. Every time a voice is heard clear and piercing above the rest, my heart does a little victory dance.
Afterward, as the cheers fade and the stage empties, the fervor-ed and surreal state I’ve been drifting in dissipates as swiftly as a rosy dream I might cling to when morning comes.
Cool, night air fills my lungs outside the stage and I realize that this moment in time will fade just as quietly, with just as little fanfare when the time arrives for Josiah to come home.Silence —-is daunting. But I’m not afraid because, “We are all time voyagers leaving history in our wake, pioneering into the future” (Erwin Raphael McManus, Chasing Daylight).
And the future is where I want to go.
I feel my heart jumping around inside my chest, pushing against its bony restraints in erratic, desperate throbs.
I must have forgotten to breathe.
It’s like I’m standing on the beach with the very tips of my toes kissing the edge of the icy, early morning waves.
All I can manage are goosebumps and shallow breathing.
I’m grounded for now but with each lick, lick, lick, my balance shifts. I get sucked further in.
My ears are overwhelmed by the sound of the waves- a car driving 90 miles-per-hour through a never ending traffic tunnel.
I’m on the verge of some great experience and all I can form are common, ineffective words.
What is going on? I mutter. Holy shit! HOLY SHIT!
This doesn’t even sound like me. My heart’s irregular beating is producing word vomit.
The sand beneath my feet finally succumbs to the convincing pull of the water; submerged.
If I look down at the sand as the water pushes beneath me, I move backward- my feet lurching and settling into the sand while everything around me glides forward with relative ease.
As I begin to breathe, I know I must regain my footing or be lost in the fog that settles around the ocean when the night comes.
“Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave…They are full of all the things that you don’t get in real life– wonderful, lyrical language, for instance, right off the bat. And quality attention: we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention.”
Anne Lamott in her book, Bird by Bird.