It’s a continuum of fluctuating circumstances. Forgiveness is. It should not be a foregone conclusion. Forgiveness. It might heal some superficial wounds but leave open other, more lethal, ones to fester. Forgiveness can trick a community into feeling closure, but the reality of a complicated, unresolved present will always be there to remind us not to go so compliantly into the promise of peaceful coexistence.
Like any addictive substance, forgiveness prescribed by someone who stands to benefit from your dejection is not your friend. To forgive in order to accept someone else’s excuses for treating you a certain way and causing enduring grief that frustrates your efforts to be taken seriously is an act of self-sabotage. Offering forgiveness under the thumb of contrition is to cede a hard-fought dignity to exist on your own terms.
When forgiveness is a sincere act and feeling, inseparable, then it won’t appear to be anything other than what it is: a tiny blossom imperceptibly growing on a warm spring day, completing an inevitable cycle. Forgiveness will be there when you awaken and when you close your eyes to finally sleep. You won’t have to will it to be; it will present itself when the time comes.
It’s been a long-running inner debate since the time I was born. Abandonment will do that to a child. It’s been my sickening suspicion that my life has been a waste. This suspicion was probably implanted in me as soon as my birth parents scattered from my presence. The fact that I was left in the care of strangers who couldn’t quite get past the impression that I was a stranger in their midst was never lost on me. With my identity as an adoptee not yet fully realised or solidified so early in life, there were days when I felt unmoored. Not knowing what it truly felt to be loved by my own blood, I would wish only to be expelled from the love and care that had been handed down to me by those who tried to convince me they only had my best interests at heart. The residual resentment of not knowing whether my father and mother loved me and wanted me with them has coloured the way in which I distrust myself with the feeling and act of loving someone. I remain convinced that there is something wrong with the way I love and how I have sought love from others. Even allowing love for myself was never an expectation. Love is a thing that people always said they had for me but could neither show nor explain to me because how can you describe something that seems to be only pulled out of thin air at one’s own convenience. As a youngster I grew up with the nagging feeling that I was thrown in with a lot of people to live in a random place that I didn’t share a history with, but was coaxed each and every day to respect and appreciate by saying “I love you” whenever it was my turn to speak. Affection and companionship were thrown at my feet with the admonition to take them or leave them. I mirrored customs, expectations, and incentives to love, but what was missing was a genuine and clear-headed comprehension of what it means to love and what happens to your mind when you decide to show love and receive love. Absent any key discussions and explanations, my young mind could only play along and follow the unwritten rules when it came to familial bonding, early crushes, and soul-mating. Because of my pretend existence and ignorance of my innate truths, I conducted myself like a laboratory technician whenever the atmosphere softened around me and I started to tingle all over when my eyes settled on a girl at school or in casual passing. In my head, I had all the flasks, tubes and chemicals available to concoct a love potion that I could sprinkle over the brow of the one who had caught my eye at the time. The sad, self-defeating thing was, though, my feelings, thoughts, words, and so much of my personality resided solely in my head. This self-imposed silence, masquerading as humility and reservedness, had the effect of extracting sympathy from a potential lover. I then used this sympathy to position myself as the man who could rescue them from pain that others had inflicted, from histories of spouse/partner abuse and from their own self-destructive habits. My ego always got a kick out of playing savior, exalted as it always was by any reciprocal affection. Selfish were these gambits, nay, habits of involving myself in a person’s life so as to ostensibly use them to help me remind myself that I am a good person, even though I feel myself drifting out of humanity’s fold as each year passes.
Yasmin, I remember driving you to your part-time job at Albertson’s on Mercer Island. I knew of your story, which is to say I knew what I had been told by others at the agency. I think I asked you how you were doing on the way to the store. I’m sure you said, “fine”, like any other adoptee whose rivulets of pain flow deep and gather in dark pools; all you could do was float in temporary suspension until something else in your life led you down another fateful decision. They said that your adoptive parents had had enough and that they finally decided that your adoptive father would fly you back to your orphanage in Kolkota, India. But you came back to the U.S. You returned, despite the best laid plans. Yasmin, only you knew where you went, where you belonged, where you would end up. Your passing is just that: you’re past the pain; you’re past the recriminations; you’ve simply passed into each of our thoughts to rest your weary soul. And we’ll keep you safe. You’re safe now.
“All those moments will be lost in time like tears in the rain.”
I’m reminded of that line from the movie Blade Runner that was set in November 2019 and spoken by Roy Batty, the replicant who was fighting against time and against his creator who doomed him by installing a kill switch. Those words weigh heavy on this adoptee because I have chosen to stop my clock by not looking into my origins or searching for any blood relatives. Any memory of roots or of faces or events that would connect me to my own origin story I have chosen to forego because no one can claim me. I am no one’s son. My biological existence and furtherance are all now under the aegis of my force of nature. I know my face and other physical features are not reflected in anyone else on this planet, so I am free to take control of my own story, to tell it to myself without deceit, without manipulation. My name is in a passport within another passport, within another. My tree of blood is a stump in the backyard of a tenement where my body was found in Saigon, lost, then found again in a two-level suburban house in northeastern America that couldn’t keep me forever. Because forever is a fallacy to my adopted body. In my own body is where I belong.
My origins have not left me, my history still lingers in archives and attics, my blood relatives may still be circulating somewhere in the region from where I was scooped up and transported out of South Vietnam and into the United States in 1974.
Sure, as an eight-month-old infant, I had no idea what was going on around me and there was no way I was given any choice in whether I stayed or not.
Being uprooted and re-settled, and re-named and re-homed, all within my first year of life, made not a dent on my infant memory.
The failure of recall of all the micro and macro events and faces behind them who coordinated and shaped my early beginnings was expected and encouraged.
I was trained to not look back at the person I was prior to my transformation into a naturalized U.S. citizen.
My infanthood as an orphaned foreigner was seen as illegitimate; my “real life” was only recognized when I became an American citizen.
But what I cannot remember is still what I cannot forget.
What I do remember are the many times when I withdrew from my community because it became readily apparent to me that I was never going to truly settle quietly and comfortably into the life crafted for me.
What I cannot forget is my adoption was meant to ostensibly wipe the slate clean for me while at the same time wipe my mother and my father and their child off the face of the earth.