I see where you’re coming from. I know the culture you are steeped in. I know how you are shamed for sending me away as a newborn. I know how it haunts you 30+ years later. I also know that your society would assume you literally jump off a bridge than deal with a mental health issue. I know your country has one of the highest suicide rates in the world because the pressure is too much and you aren’t taught how to handle it effectively. I know there aren’t great resources available for you to deal with the years of hurt that you’re carrying. And even if there were, the stigma you are up against is too great. I understand and I feel for you, because I know the heaviness of that weight on your shoulders. I carried my own issues for far too long before I was able to reach out for help. I live in a culture with stigmas about mental health, too, but nothing compared to what you face.
But, still, I struggle. I’m sorry. I try not to. But do you know that your words hurt? Do you know a glib, “I was stressed when I said that,” doesn’t undo all of the venom you’ve spewed my way? Do you know it keeps me up at night thinking of all the seemingly intentional ways that you’ve hurt me since our reunion?
I’ll never forget the first time. We were sitting in your living room talking about my relinquishment and subsequent adoption. I asked you, “Do you feel regret?” Even though we were already years into our reunion, I wanted to reassure you that I was OK and I didn’t want your worries keeping you up at night.
“Yes, I still do,” Appa said, with watery eyes. “I’m still sorry.”
It’s the answer I expected, even though I didn’t want either of you to still experience that. My Appa, always so genuine, shared with me that his heart was still broken for all that we missed together.
But then you spoke up.
“No. I’m not sorry.”
I thought I must have misheard, so I asked you to repeat yourself.
“I’m not sorry and I don’t regret it.”
The knife cut deep, then twisted my flesh around it’s razor-sharp blade.
But even that wasn’t enough. You’ve told me no less than ten more times since. You have no regrets. You’re not sorry.
I don’t really think that you mean it. I think you have to keep repeating it in an effort to try to make yourself believe it. So you don’t have to face the pain of all of the time that we’ve lost. It’s easier to live in denial. Trust me, I know.
But what can I do with this? I’ve carried the weight for too long. The burden for too many years.
I know it’s not fair and it doesn’t make logical sense. I wanted you to say that you don’t carry that shame anymore. But could you be more flippant in your response? When you know how deeply I grieve all of those lost years? All of the family vacations. All of the times with granddad. All of the holidays together. Even the family funerals.
Did you know that your response changed my entire narrative? 20+ years – just gone in an instant. Growing up, the single thing that we adoptees have to hold onto is the idea that we have a family somewhere in our mother country – missing us, grieving us, wishing things hadn’t come to living separate lives worlds apart. But you communicated to me that this was not the case at all.
Omma, I hope this is your self-defense mechanism. I have to believe it. As my mentor told me, “Could you imagine if Omma began to feel these things now 30 years in? She might never stop crying in this lifetime.”
I don’t wish that for you. I’ve gone through the depression and the unstoppable crying jags. I know how it feels to wish you could end it.
But I don’t think I can keep putting myself out there for you to push away, either. For 7 years, I’ve tried. For 7 years, you’ve only dug the knife in deeper.
I know you don’t have the ability to face these things now and you probably never will. It’s a reality I’ve had to come to terms with. That our relationship can never be what I wish it to be because you are simply not healthy enough to give that to me.
I hope you understand that I understand. But I also hope you can see that I have no choice but to put up my own defense mechanisms now, too. Because I can’t keep watching my world spin out of control for weeks at a time when you flippantly tell me how much you don’t regret all that we’ve lost together. I can’t give you that power anymore. I can only recover so many times.
Please understand my heart, as I have tried to come to understand yours.
And, someday, I hope that you can find peace.
Your only daughter, Jeon Hyun-Ah
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