In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, Portrait of an Adoption is hosting the fifth annual acclaimed series, 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days.  Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying experiences.  

By Amy Passalugo

I study myself in the mirror and consider what they see:

Almond eyes so dark they look black until you look closer.
Hair so straight and thick hairdressers drool over it.
A face so flat and yet so round it’s a physical dichotomy.
Short, slender body with bones too big to be graceful and too small to be strong.

I look deeper and consider what they know:

I am Asian… but not Chinese.
I am cute… but not beautiful.
I am smart… but not genius.
I am loud… but not rude.
I am adopted… but not unwanted.
I am me… but not only.

* * * * *
I guess you could say I was destined to be the baby. Papers from the adoption agency say I was the last of my biological siblings; in America, I was the finishing touch on a family of five.

As a really young girl, it was a position I cherished. I loved knowing there was always someone to play with, to fight with, to annoy, to take care of me, and – unfortunately – to tease me.

But as I got older, I realized what being the baby really meant: age gaps too wide to cross until adulthood, footsteps too big to ever fill, and the slow torture of abandonment as – one-by-one – my siblings all left home. Pretty soon, it was me, my parents, and the invisible burden of loneliness, stifling and unrelenting.

Amid the loneliness came bouts of sadness. For weeks, I’d walk through mental sludge, underwater and barely breathing. Sleep was the only relief, coming suddenly after hours of silently sobbing into my pillows. The feeling of loneliness was only compounded by this dark secret I knew no one would understand.

As I got older, I learned that my emotions had names, and I began to embrace them as part of my everyday life. Loneliness became my near-constant companion, a not-fun invisible friend; Sadness visited every few weeks, like a rude houseguest who left your spare bedroom a mess; Ineptitude came in the face of my peers.

But the worst one was the one that never went away: Incompleteness. It was like I had a hole in my soul, and no amount of anything – food, music, friends, good grades, crying – could fill it.

In college, a jaunt of sadness during my sophomore year led me to a very elementary attempt to end my own life.

Said jaunt sent me on a two-week reprieve back home. When I returned to school, I was mandated to twice-weekly sessions with the school psychologist. I talked and he listened, then he talked and I listened. I smiled. I talked some more, and I listened some more.

By the end of the semester, I was declared “cured,” and the good doctor had never asked what caused me to take those pills and drink that vodka.

If he had asked, I would’ve told him it was Incompleteness.

You see, Incompleteness alone is manageable. But add it to academic pressures, four jobs, a crappy relationship I refused to get out of, social obligations (read: drink a lot of alcohol), and family drama… and it becomes unruly. I felt too much and not enough, and I just wanted it to stop. And what do you do with a computer that’s misfiring and not responding?

You unplug it.

* * * * *
This is what my adoption papers say:

NAME: Joo, Hyeon-Mee
DATE OF BIRTH: 27/02/1986
BIRTHPLACE: Seoul, South Korea
LENGTH, WEIGHT: 19 inches, 5 lbs., 5 oz.
ILLNESSES, DEFORMITIES: Child born with fluid in her lungs, diagnosed as pneumonia.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Child displayed allergic reaction to lactose-based formula; switched to soy formula and cereal. Child enjoys music and will move as though dancing. Child will not put pressure on ankles and cries when forced to; concerns about child’s ability to walk.

FATHER’S INFORMATION: Father is 34 y/o, dark skin, slanted eyes. Level of education: third grade. Employment: fruit peddler.

MOTHER’S INFORMATION: Mother is 33 y/o, fair skin, round eyes. Level of education: fourth grade. Employment: fruit peddler. This is the mother’s third pregnancy. Also gave birth to a healthy baby girl (Baby A).

And then…

Mother opts to keep Baby A. Mother does not wish to see Baby B and is forfeiting rights to the child.

* * * * *

I don’t find the headlines; they find me. In an instant, I can lose minutes, hours — sometimes even days — reading and watching documented reunions of twins separated by circumstance. Some twins are reunited within months or a few years, others not for decades. But the story is always the same:

“It’s like the part of me that I always felt was missing, has returned.”
“The void is filled.”
“She looks more complete with her sister by her side.”

Observers record the same behaviors and mannerisms in siblings who shared a space for nine months but have not been in the same room for half a century. Research and experience shows that twins have a special bond, a connection that cannot be broken by distance or time.

But what about twins who are never reunited? What happens to their connection? Does it grow stronger over the years, or will it eventually die out like a slow-burning candle?

How do you live with only one half of your whole?

* * * * *
There’s an old episode of Friends when Chandler and Monica are visiting friends whose son is adopted but doesn’t know it. In a classic sitcom faux-pas, Chandler runs into the son in the hallway and casually mentions that he’s talking to the boy’s parents about his adoption. Naturally, the son is devastated, and Chandler and Monica are asked to leave the family’s home.

That was never my story.

As far back as I can remember, I knew I was adopted. My parents were always very upfront about the fact I didn’t come from my mother’s belly. I flew on an airplane to get to the U.S., and I left a twin sister and two other siblings behind. They were very honest when it came to any questions I had.

At first, being adopted had the same impact on me as having brown hair or eating peanut butter and jelly every day did. I even remember reciting the chant, “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these,” while innocently parroting the offensive hand gestures of my classmates. Then, when I was about eight years old, it dawned on me:

I was different.

My hair and my eyes were different. My face was different. My skin was different. In the game of Which of These Things is Not Like The Other? the answer would be me.

* * * * *
I wish I could tell you I found the answers I’ve been searching for.
I wish I could tell you I reunited with you, and that we finish each other’s sentences.
I wish I could tell you I’ve gotten over the anger towards my birth parents for abandoning me, the weak one.

I wish I could tell you I found a way to thank my adoptive parents for taking a chance on a child who may never have walked, and for making me feel so much a part of their family that it took eight years to realize how different I actually am.

I wish I could tell you I never feel incomplete anymore.
I wish I could tell you I’m whole.

Instead, I’m 29 years old and living a 29-year-old life. I have a steady corporate job that I offset with amazing friends and a supportive partner; fulfilling volunteer work; intense workouts and coaching; and quality time with my family, who I love more than anything.

It’s a good life, and I’m grateful for every second of it.

But I never stop thinking of you. I never stop wondering where you are or who you are or if you even know I exist. I never stop asking why we were separated, and I never stop planning to someday find my way back to you.

I never stop hoping.

* * * * *
I study myself in the mirror and consider what they see:

Almond eyes so dark with wisdom and experience.
Hair so straight and thick with my heritage.
A face so flat and yet so round with cheeks perfect for smiling.
Short, slender body with muscles strong enough to carry myself from one moment to the next.

I look deeper and consider what they know:

I am Asian… and it’s enough to stand out and be noticed.
I am cute… and it’s enough to attract a handsome partner.
I am smart… and it’s enough to do my job and make wise decisions.
I am loud… and it’s enough to make others feel welcome and loved.
I am adopted… and it’s enough for me to know I’m accepted.
I am me… and it’s enough until I find you.

Amy Passalugo is a 29-year-old from Rochester, NY. She works in corporate training and enjoys writing, reading, volunteering, spending time with her family, and leading a fit and healthy lifestyle.

Portrait of an Adoption is hosted by award-winning author Carrie GoldmanFollow Carrie’s work on Twitter and Facebook

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