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A few years ago, I came upon the Welsh word hiraeth, described as: a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return; a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, and the grief for the lost places of your past.
Like no other before, this word understood me.
The closest Korean version of hiraeth is keurium, translating to: a longing for anything that has left a deep impression in the heart, such as a memory, person, or place.
To this day, I’ve lived in twenty-three homes—twenty of which I have trustworthy records. There are at least three homes I’ve lived in that I do not remember. I was under six months old at the time. Nonetheless, they are part of my history. Their walls held me. I was sheltered by them.
Upon questioning where I came from, voices from my new family spoke the likes of, You were born in Korea but you are here now. The ones who love their babies the most give them away. Look how much we’ve given you.
And I did have a lot. I had two houses and two parents who looked nothing like anyone I’d ever seen, speaking a language I’d never heard. I had two older siblings and eventually four more—all of whom were related by blood, except me. But I was told, Don’t mind that. You’re one of us now. You are home.
Neither the main nor vacation house ever felt much like home, despite what I liked about them. Fantasies of running away nearly materialized as I packed my things, fully knowing I had no means or destination. I felt trapped, as my mother cackled from down the hall, observing my actions through a surveillance camera. But I did have a room, a couple of dogs, and a few cats. I connected more with the animals than I did with my siblings. To me, we were more the same.
My sixth-through-twentieth homes were in various apartments in the Boston area, Key West, Galway, and Dublin. I teetered between suicidal self-destruction and searching for a reason to live; a way to make real life finally begin.
While residing in my nineteenth home at age thirty, I went to Korea with my partner at the time, but it was very much a solo trip. Before smartphones, I navigated Korea on my own. I didn’t know what to expect but found an emotional labyrinth that I still sometimes visit. I also discovered that the history I believed to be mine was entirely false.
When you’re told you were lovingly delivered to a Seoul police station as a newborn to ensure your safety, it’s heartbreaking to learn you were found one hundred and fifty miles away outside hospital grounds at nearly two-weeks old. I took the train to the Daegu hospital, wandering around wondering where I had been left. And I began to wonder about my first home—the one in which my hiraeth and kerium was strongest.
My second home was renovated and repurposed as a daycare, run by the same nuns from its orphanage years. I only lived at this home for four months but thirty years after my admittance as an infant, it would connect me to my past in ways I could never have imagined.
When my birthday on record came and went that year, I didn’t celebrate. But three days later, on March 19, the date I’d recently discovered I was found abandoned, I received an email from a stranger. She wanted to thank me for allowing her to virtually travel back to the orphanage through the blog I had kept. We had shared second homes. Once again, on March 19, I was found.
Two weeks later, this happened again, and then several times more. With the coaxing of one of my finders, I created an online group which now connects roughly two-hundred of us around the world who passed through the same home. I still struggle with the concept of family—mostly because of how things ended with my original and adoptive families. But my orphanage family is the closest I’ve got and my deepest understanding of what family means.
Visiting Korea taught me that although you can go back to a location, you can never go back to a time and recapture what was or might have been. And maybe that’s a good thing. Some homes aren’t meant to hold you forever. Sometimes leaving allows you to grow.
I’ve spent many years in places that vibrate with sadness. They remind me of heartache and loss. I don’t visit them often, but sometimes when I do they help me work through that labyrinth I found in my travels. Souvenirs of that pain help make sense of myself and those around me. I take them out now and then and use them as muses for my writing, music, and art. But I must always remember to put them back.
I’ve also come to realize that the reason I spent decades waiting for real life to begin is greatly due to not knowing or understanding my life’s true beginnings. I will always have hiraeth lingering inside me. I will live with keurium flowing through my blood. But honoring them as part of my wholeness, and understanding the political factors of Korean adoption, have helped me find balance and accept that this is life—not knowing, but carrying on the best that we can.
My twenty-third home is in the Bay Area of California. It’s not much but has everything I need. It houses my husband and me, our two cats, instruments, art supplies, and so many laughs. Its larger structure contains people of various walks of life, steps from culture and entertainment, not far from beaches, and a short drive to countless hikes. I love it here but it won’t likely be the last place we live. I can make home anywhere now.
Originally published by The Welders.