There’s a Yearning
by JS LEE
When I was a toddler, I envisioned the woman who bore me as a nameless, faceless saint. Her love transcended the physical realm. She was more like a spirit than a person. I thought her akin to the Virgin Mary in our Christmas manger, because there was never any talk of male involvement; just this ethereal figure who loved me so much that she sent me away.
As I got older, kids taunted me with their eye tugging gestures, karate chops, and Me Love You Long Times. It was easy to hate the way I looked—which was obviously Asian. They loved to sing “Little China Girl” and “Me So Horney” up close in my face. I was their prop. My distaste for my own features quickly transferred onto the woman who carried me inside her. I assumed her face was like mine because each of my adoptive siblings looked just like their mother.
Being forced to take my younger brother to war movies that depicted the graphic raping of girls who looked like me—brought me shame. My once virginal mother figure soon became a pitiful woman who was raped or prostituted. During that transition, I began to hate the man who would’ve been my father, too.
I began to push all thoughts of these people away. After all, I was told that they were incidental. I had new parents and a new family. The ones who made me weren’t supposed to matter. They weren’t supposed to be real. But eventually, they came to me in dreams. Tucked away, deep in my subconscious, I started seeing my true mother’s face. And at the same time, I was beginning to uncover the truth behind the face of the woman I was told to call mom. Each time she left me, I wondered if it was because she, too, loved me so much. It took quite some time to unravel that love doesn’t equal abandonment, and life is more complicated than love.
Now that I’ve gone through decades of work to untangle self-hate and its collateral damage passed onto my natural parents, I’m left with a deep longing. I crave a biological connection to an Asian mother, and the pride of an Asian dad. There’s a yearning to see myself in their faces and feel the warmth of their hearts. I’ve let go of the hope that this will ever happen, given the untrustworthy documentation in my adoption files. So now all I can do is dream.
My true mother holds me the way my adoptive mother never could. She gazes into my eyes and tells me she tried to stop dreaming of me too, but I kept coming back. We share the same crooked smile and quirks and have both held on to a similar pain of not being good enough, for too long. She can be so stubborn, but it’s all out of love. When she criticizes, it’s not because I’m not enough but because she sees my potential. When I lift my hand to her face and close my eyes, it feels like my own.
My true father’s humor is strange like mine. We laugh together over nothing at all. His feelings run deep but he struggles to express them with words. He shows his affection by asking me questions. There’s a genuine desire to know who I am. He’s regretful of the time we’ve lost. Sometimes we paint together in the countryside, or take photographs in the city. We both share a love for trees in the winter, but hate the cold. His voice is soothing and his arms feel safe. He tells me he’s proud of who I’ve become.
Perhaps the one benefit of never knowing is that they can be what I need them to be.