Jeon, Seon Soon.
That is the name recorded on file.
Almost exactly six years ago, on September 16, 2002, I received a single paragraph via email from a social worker in Korea.
That block of black writing revealed more to me about the circumstances surrounding my adoption than I had ever known in all my life.
The several months preceding the reception of that infamous email, a cascade of unusually coincidental happenings and paths serendipitously crossing led to my decision to initiate a search.
On the surface, it began as a search for my birth mother. Below the surface, it continues to stretch far more deeply than I had ever imagined.
Its end is nearly indiscernable.
Its depths shutter and teem with undiscovered life and terror.
Here's how the story goes...
A friend of mine had called me up one day and asked me if I would like to have dinner with her. Sure thing, I responded.
So, we're sitting there at Chili's restaurant chowing down.
Before I know it my heart is pounding in my ears, and everything has slowed to a dull murmur.
"...So, I've got the number. I talked to the agency, but Duk said you have to call. To find anything else out, you've got to call..."
Her words twist and turn in my ears and burrow their way to my heart where I feel a pang of deep emotion beginning to writhe.
What? What in the world? I'm thinking to myself.
I feel like I'm in a dream.
Melinda had a neighbor in her apartment complex who went by the name Bob. He had recently moved from Korea to America with his wife and two sons. Melinda had shared my adoption story with him one day. Bob responded to the story by giving her a contact number to a rep at Holt International, suggesting that they might be able to help.
So, Melinda gave them a ring. She gave them the same shpeel...my friend...adopted from Korea...1975...David Livingstone Program...
Oh, yes, the rep, says, David Livingstone Program, that's now Dillon International. Here's the phone number. Give them a call. Maybe they can help your friend.
Needless to say, this was not at all what I had been expecting when Melinda invited me to dinner that night back in 2002. I had not even been aware that she had been doing any of this fancy investigative work.
I wasn't angry. I was just shocked. Quite honestly, I had never even really entertained the notion that searching for my birth mother was even possible.
And now, Melinda was sitting across a table from me, holding a phone number in her hands that could potentially open a door that I had never known even existed until that very moment.
So, I called.
Hands shaking, heart racing, face burning, I called.
I had no idea what I was getting into.
I had no clue the Pandora's box I was cracking open.
So a month or two after making the call, I see an email in my Inbox from my contact in Korea.
This is what it said:
According to the record, your birth mother's name, Jeon, Seon Soon (we are not sure whether or not her name is right), she had 2 brothers and 2 sisters (we just know their names) she graduated night time middle school. Your birth father had 1 brother and 1 sister, graduated high school and a retail merchant at the market in town. Both were neighborhood, had dated since 3rd grade in high school. And they lived together without marriage. However, their both parents were strongly opposed to their relationship. Your mother considered and decided to separate from your father as she thought your father was not a promising man. At the time, your mother was 21 years old, your father 23.
I could not believe the information burning through the screen on my computer.
To know nothing for the first twenty seven years of my life. And then pow! All of a sudden, I have a name. A name for this elusive woman who carried me for nine months. Whose voice I heard. Whose fears and distresses I felt. A name. For her.
I didn't care that they were not 100% positive that this was the right name. I told myself, it has got to be the right name. Of course, why wouldn't it be the right name?
I felt elated. The possibilities began to bloom one by one in my mind's eye.
Yet simultaneously as my heart was soaring to new heights, it came crashing down to new depths.
The email also said:
I regret to tell you that your birth mother did not leave her I.D. number with our agency...I am sorry that we do not have your birth parents' I.D. number. I hope your birth mother will contact us someday.
This is why they are not certain that the name they have on file is her actual name. The I.D. number in Korea is comparable to the social security number in America. Similarly, a legal document must accompany the name to verify that a person's name is her actual name. The agency in Korea has no record of any such document or number for my birth mother or my birth father.
I have been told before that along with the losses, I must remember to acknowledge the victories. Another balancing act.
It is true, though. I am very fortunate to have in my possession the background history that I do. And truly, knowing what I now know, this information is priceless. I cling to it as though it is air. I breathe it in again and again, that it may become a part of me. As though she had told it to me herself.
Maybe it is dangerous to think this way. To pretend or to imagine in this way.
But it is all that I can do, at times, to stay sane. To have hope. To not be overcome by the sorrow and angst that threaten to swallow me.
And besides, I've ripped the lid off of Pandora's box. There is surely no retrieving it now.
I have gone hunting for it a million times. Eventually, I find myself walking in circles, right back to where I began, gazing into her box.
Trust me. I am aware that I must temper what I imagine and feel with what is veritable and realistic.
But every once in a while I cannot help but stare into that email and imagine what it might be like and feel like to sit across from my birth mother, chowing down on some bulgogi and rice together, listening to her tell me in her own words all that she has ever thought and all that she has ever done.
I know that these are children's games.
And I am an adult.
While I know that I must learn to move on and live on, I also know that the human capacity to imagine, at times, is what offers us the unique power to overcome that which hinders us and ultimately, the ability to move on and live on even in the face of deep sorrow and loss.
The astounding and phenomenal human being, Helen Keller, said it best: Doubt and mistrust are the mere panic of a timid imagination, which the steadfast heart will conquer and the large mind transcend.
Although I am not worthy to compare myself to Helen Keller, I can at least hope to seize life, along with its hardships and triumphs, as did she through passionate perseverance and unyielding creativity.
That way, hopefully, whether I ever find my birth mother, I can at least look back on life and know that I lived it with all the strength and hope that I could muster.