The Monster Named Adoption

Sibling rivalry gets taken to a whole new level. You spend twenty (20) years of your life competing with your older sister, following in her footsteps and trying to beat her at every possible thing, only to give up once you realize you’re only a failure whose own birthparents didn’t even love. You talk to a therapist and realize that this rivalry may be rooted in the fact that your older sibling is your adoptive parents’ biological child. After this realization, it becomes easier to put things into perspective. You have your own strengths, and your sister has hers. You come to terms with this fact.

 

You aren’t “Asian” enough to for first-generation kids’ parents, while simultaneously being “Asian” enough for fetishization. When you go to your Chinese or Korean friends’ houses, their parents try to speak to you in a language that makes about as much sense to you as Latin. You learn to smile and explain that you’re adopted – that you’ve been living here since before you were one (1) year old. Funnily enough, you have to explain that to strangers who compliment your “good English.” You have a response to that compliment ingrained in your brain, with four different tones: sweetly, bluntly, aggressively, and sarcastically. Somehow, explaining to a stranger why you speak English so well never comes off your tongue with the exact amount of exhaustion, disbelief, and anger for your liking.

 

Your friends tell you that you’re the “Whitest Asian they know.” You want to respond that the drunk frat boys who yell “Ching Chong” at you while grabbing at your body seem to think you’re very Asian; tell your friends that everyone person who asks “No, where are you really from?” also seem to think that you’re pretty Asian.

 

When your white boyfriend brings you home to meet his whole family for the first time, you don’t feel white – you feel other. Despite only the kindest words and warmest welcomes, you are on edge the entire time. When you get back in the passenger seat with a wave and smile back to his family, you break down as soon as the door shuts.

“Do you think that you’ll end up with a white girl?” you ask

“No. I think I’ll end up with you.”

You don’t feel so sure, and end up crying on the car ride home, while your boyfriend holds your hand and tells you he loves you over and over again.

 

Your boyfriend brings you home to meet his newborn nephew. You are filled with sudden rage at seeing the mother and baby together. You can’t place a finger on what your fucking problem is until you get back to your apartment that evening.

“Do you know what it feels like?” your voice starts to rise. “To see a mother, who never even had to think about what would happen to her baby? Who never had to question if she would get to watch that baby grow old? What would happen to it?”

“I know, it must be very hard.”

“I can’t stand it. I can’t do it. You don’t get it,” you start sobbing as your voice continues to rise until it beings to screech. “Do you know? I will never see where I got my long fingers or intense personality from. I didn’t have the option. My mother didn’t have the option. We were torn apart; the beginning chapters of my story ripped away by a force beyond us.”

“I know.”

“You don’t,” you’re screaming now, and you can tell your boyfriend is getting irritated, “You’ll never get it. You know why you have bad eyesight and long legs. And guess what? Whatever your nephew turns out to have, he’ll get to see too. He’ll see his mother’s eyes and father’s facial hair. He’ll see his mother’s mild temperament and father’s intellect. He’ll never wonder if his mother truly loved him, if she really wanted to keep him. He’ll know his story, right from birth. And why don’t I get to. I hate it. I hate him.”

“Don’t ever say that again. He’s my family.” Your boyfriend’s usually warm and open eyes turn cold and narrow.

You suddenly realize how crazy you must sound. Hating on an infant, who has hurt no one. Hating on a woman who you do not know at all, who has also hurt no one. How crazy it must sound, to someone who has not once thought about their own mother abandoning them at two weeks. How crazy it must sound, to someone who has not once thought about abandoning their own child at two weeks.

You shut down. Completely.

“Okay,” you say. “I’m going to go to bed.”

“Okay.”

You don’t discuss the topic again.

 

Months later, you go to speak to a life coach about it. A life coach who is also adopted. Who understands loss like you do. Because telling people who don’t know how angry and jealous you are of pregnant mothers, of infants with their mothers, makes you sound crazy, sound heartless. Because they will never know the hole in your heart. The monster that claws at your heart when you see an infant and its mother.

A monster that rips your heart to shreds and reminds you that your mother never looked at you like that, reminds you that you were disposable enough to be left in a box. A monster that has slept for many years; one that has slept since you killed it and realized there were other facts involved – politics, socioeconomics, quality of life expectancy. It does not matter, because your heart tells you that your mother could never possibly look at you, hold you, coddle you, the way mothers do their newborns. If that was true, how could she possibly give you up?

You cry, and scream into a pillow. You cry some more and your cat wanders up, suddenly no longer hungry, and curls up at your feet.

You feel crazy still, but on top of the craziness, there is a feeling of inadequacy. Of loneliness. Of no one understanding how strong the monster inside of you has grown since you last slain it. You fall down a dark hole, and everything seems very far away – where do you turn to when there is no one? You fall, deeper and deeper; the voice telling you you’re worthless and unloved gets louder and louder.

Suddenly, your cat meows and slow blinks at you, pulling you out of dark walls caving in and the screams inside your head.

“Not yet, you fatty, I’ll feed you once it’s actually dinnertime.”

Your cat seems to glare at you as he jumps off the bed and take your favorite chair in the living room, but it’s okay.

You stand up and stretch. It’s not good, but it’s okay; and maybe someday it will even be better.

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Relationships are hard

I wrote another blog post recently. It talked about an angry demon inside of me, filled with rage and jealousy, that has recently made its appearance into my life again.

I didn’t post it.

For fear of being seen as the monster. For fear of seeing myself as the monster.

Recently, I’ve been down. Like, really down. To a point where my loving and caring boyfriend called me to talk about a rather hard incident that happened to him that day and I ended up complaining to him about my day instead. He told me: “We’re both in a really bad state of mind right now, huh? I’m just going to hang up and we can talk later because neither of us are benefiting from this, obviously.”

The past couple of weeks I haven’t been able to “stabilize” myself. I’ve been struggling with adoption issues (happy birthday to me in a few months, and hello to my abandonment issues), self-identity, and, you guessed it, relationships.

It always seems to come back to relationships in my blog posts, huh? This time, it is not relationships with those around me, but my relationship with myself.

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My internal self looks at my external self like this about 63% of the time

I know many people who disagree with the quote “You can’t love others until you love yourself first.” However, I find it to be true for me.

Time periods filled with self-doubt and anger, sadness and loneliness, I tend to lash out, or sit in a slump when I could be reading or playing video games. I cry because I dropped my ice cream spoon on the carpet. I scream because the dishes weren’t done. I become, essentially, a 5’2” demon.

However, it is the “not-quite” periods that are the hardest. When I am not quite angry all the time, but it seems anything sets me off. I am not quite lonely, but I find it difficult to reach out to talk to anyone. I am not quite sad, but if I misread the tone of a text, I’ll become upset.

In these moments, I have found that maintaining a relationship with myself seems almost impossible. I will pick apart every single mistake I made, and go over it a million times until I forget that it was merely a minor spelling error in an email to a coworker. I will be vague as possible in messages, hoping that no one asks “how are you” because I don’t know how to respond. I will stare at myself in the mirror and point out every piece of myself I hate.

When I remember (and trust me, it is really hard to remember sometimes), I look at myself – at my brown eyes that I find to be such a dull brown, with straight lashes that won’t curl, and mono-lidded so that basic makeup tutorials never quite work out right – and I whisper, “Hey, it’s okay.”

Oftentimes, I’ll cry right after that, and let sobs consume my body as I tell myself over and over that it is okay and I watch my reflection as it cries and breaks down, but know that it will be over. It will pass.

Afterwards, I try to do something that makes me happy. Usually, that means eating. Sometimes I write or read, sometimes I get out my DS, but most of the time, food does the trick.

Sometimes it takes hours, sometimes it takes days, but after constantly reminding myself in the mirror that I’m okay and will be okay, I manage to readjust. I can face my problems like an adult, and dissect them using both logic and emotion. I’m able to talk about why I feel certain things, and actually modulate my emotions. I will begin to text others normally again, and be able to listen and empathize with my significant other when he talks about the annoying kid in his class. Slowly, I emerge as my former-self, but I like to think of myself as stronger. I don’t know if that’s actually true.

Relationships are hard, but the one I struggle with the most is the one with myself. But hey, that’s okay, I’ll keep moving forward and growing.

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Current favorite post-crying snack: donuts and hot chocolate with a dash of cinnamon

 

A letter to the right person at the wrong time

To Whom it May Concern,

It’s nice to meet you (maybe again), my name is Lily. We passed each other on Shaw Lane near the Planetarium, or held the door open to Case Hall for one another. We were in an IAH recitation together and partnered up because we happened to sit next to each other.

We went to the same high school, but didn’t realize it until years later when we looked back at our high school yearbooks. We had Physics class together, and ended up as lab partners in Chemistry. We worked together for a summer at the local frozen yogurt shop, but went our separate ways because your private school started at a different time than the public ones.

Throughout high school, and into college, I dreamt about “the one.” As much as I joke that I’m not a relationship person, I most certainly am indeed a relationship person. I blame it on my adoption and loss issues, but I also think I might just be needy. I’ve come to realize that “the one” may just be a myth, or maybe there are many “the one(s).”

The one who was our first love, who we were for sure going to marry – but realized that life goes on past high school. The one who we were their first loves; they taught us the guilt of breaking someone’s heart, and that the guilt of hurting someone else’s feelings is no reason to stay in a relationship.

There was the one we shared our first kiss with, all giggly and flushed. The one we shared our first sexual experience, still blushing but now trying to act much more mature. The one we spent late nights with in the summer and early mornings once school started again. The one who taught us to differentiate between platonic and romantic love, and the one who seemed to walk into (and leave) our lives at the perfect moment.

Maybe, possibly, there will be more “the one(s),” or maybe not. However, to every single “the one,” thank you. Thank you for teaching lessons of heartbreaks and bad decisions; for nights of staring at the stars, and afternoons filled with forehead kisses and whispered secrets. Thank you for your patience and empathy, and your temper and coldness – as they have all taught me more about the people in the world around me.

I have shaped myself a lot into who I am today, but it wouldn’t have been possible without you; and for that, I am eternally grateful.

Yours truly,

Lily

Circles of Friends

The following anecdote is from a year ago (yes, that’s how good I am at procrastinating – I’ve been meaning to write this post for over a YEAR):

I recently had lunch with a friend who I haven’t seen in about a year. I thought it was two years, but she was positive that we saw each other at some point when we were sophomores. The only thing I really remember is me storming out of her dorm room freshman year after some stupid argument I can’t even remember now.

During our surprisingly non-awkward breakfast, she looked at me and said, “You abandoned me when I needed you the most. That’s why I was so angry at you.”

I was shocked. I thought that she had been upset about the small dispute we had at the end of freshman year, but looking back, I did remember her calling and texting me. I remember looking at the phone and thinking “I’ll get back to her later.” Which is awful. She was my best friend throughout high school (and middle school) and I completely left her as soon as we stepped into the world of college.

To be honest, I left a lot of people when I started college. I left some of my closest friends from high school behind in such a manner that I haven’t spoken to them in almost three years. But that’s a story for a different time.

As we were parting ways, my friend turned to look at me and said, “Well, I guess I’ll see you next year.” I was so startled that I blurted out, “No, wait, I want to be friends again.”

She stopped and turned back to look at me and told me: “Lily, we’ve been friends. We’re still friends; I’ve always considered you a friend. My therapist told me that we’re still friends even if we only see each other once a year.”

I replied in probably the worst way possible: “Well, like not to invalidate your therapist or anything but that’s bullshit. You can’t be friends with someone if you only see them once a year.”

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#tbt to thinking high school friend groups are 4ever

Update: I’ve seen her at least three times since then. We occasionally text, and she spent the night a few weeks ago.

As I move on post-undergrad graduation, I am finding that this blog post becomes more and more applicable to my life.

What I said a year ago was, first of all, extremely invalidating; but more importantly, it was wrong. As I talked it out with my therapist, she reprimanded me for being judgmental and invalidating, but then took out a white board and started drawing circles within circles.

It kind of looked like she was drawing a diagram of our solar system’s planets, if planets had perfectly circular orbits. However, instead of the sun being in the middle, she wrote my name (which is basically an accurate representation of how I live anyway).

“Now, you are at the center of this, everyone else falls on one of these circles. Those closest to you are your family, your closest friends, those who you will hold near and dear to you forever; they would go in the first circle. As the circles get farther away from you, so does the friendship – all the way out here on the last circle are going to be high school friends, who you sometimes like their social media posts. However, they’re all still your friends.”

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So there you have it. It was a learning lesson for me, and to this day I think about it every once in a while. Just like planets and moons, people can get thrown out of orbit. People can get pulled in closer. However, each “circle of friends” has its own ups and downs: the ones farthest away are fun to comment about how far they’ve come since their emo high school days; and those closest are there for you every step of the way.

No matter who you are, or why you’re in my orbit, I’m happy to call you my friend.

Thanks for everything,

Lily

Missing Memories

I was reading the news a couple of weeks ago and stumbled across BBC Future’s archive page, which claims to “make you smarter every day” (their slogan). These articles focus on psychology, astronomy, and everything in between, from why cannibalism exists to explaining the theory of infinite universes.

The article I read was called “The mystery of why you can’t remember being a baby,” and although the content of the article was fascinating, that isn’t what I was really focusing on.

I was remembering a year ago, when I turned to my boyfriend at the time and told him that I missed my birth mother while expressing my frustration at not being able to remember her facial expressions that morphed from undying love when she first saw me to heartbreak as she left me, her voice from the lullabies she sang to me while I was in her womb, and her mother’s touch that was my safety and comfort for the short time I knew her.

He responded: It is absolutely fine you don’t remember – there’s no way you could remember anything when you were only two weeks old anyway.

Technically, this is true. Even the article with all of its data and scientific studies says so, but that doesn’t matter. I can still miss my mother. I can, and do, miss a life I never knew.

I miss my birth mother and birth father; I miss learning Chinese as a first language and understanding the culture I was born into; I miss being able to attribute my eyes with a spark of mischievousness to my father and my passionate and outgoing personality to my mother.

I miss things that do not exist. They are missing memories in the space between what should have been and what was.

BBC’s article discusses how under the age of about two or three, people cannot form memories in the most conventional sense. However, our senses are developed almost immediately. We can hear, see, smell, taste, and feel things; but we cannot process them to form true memories.

Every year, I have struggled with feelings of abandonment around my birthday. I may not consciously remember my infant life, but my body does. It remembers being held and loved by my birth mother, only to be abandoned in a box in the dead of night. My body remembers feeling completely out of control, and completely alone – no amount of screaming or crying seemed to bring my mother back the night she left me forever.

I’ve now worked through all of the emotions surrounding my adoption, so I thought maybe this year it would be better.

I was wrong. This year has been the same as always. Waking up night after night from the same nightmare over and over. Panicking in the middle of the day at the thought of some bizarre disaster taking away someone I love. Bursting into tears in the evening for no other reason than an overwhelming sense of yearning for a missing mother.

I cannot enter the alternate reality of what could have, should have, and would have been; but I can accept these feelings of loss each year.

One of my favorite taglines is “Recovery is not linear,” and I could not agree more. As I recover from a lost family, language, and culture, some days are harder than others, some days I miss my would-have-been life; but in the end, I am able to come back to the life I am currently living. I am able to remember all of the wonderful experiences and opportunities; the monumental and constant love and support from friends and family; and of course, all of the kittens and cats in the world just waiting to be pet.

May there be many more great memories to come.

Adoption and College; Change and Transition

On the first day of my last semester as an undergraduate student, my small senior seminar class of about 13 students played the Introduction Game. We stated our name, where we were from, and what we had learned from our time in college.

A lot of students reminisced on how time flew by and on all of the good memories, and I couldn’t help but also be grateful for the experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met; however, there was a nagging thought in my mind that reminded me of the tears and anxiety that had also followed me to and throughout college.

College is a time for change: from teen to young adult, from student to potential employee, from dependence to independence; not to mention all of the changes in interests, relationships, and ideologies that many college students experience as well.

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As you can see, my best friend and I changed a lot in four years

As an adoptee, my biggest fear is abandonment, or more specifically, change. I was left in a box somewhere in my village at the age of two weeks. I was taken to an orphanage, given to a foster family for eight months, and then ripped away from them too in order to be taken by some Americans. I’m not resentful of my wonderful, American parents in any way, but by the time I was one year old, I had already changed families three times. So for as long as I can (and can’t) remember, change has been something scary.

The transition from elementary school to middle school was scary, because it meant we would have to change classrooms every hour, and it meant that half of my elementary school friends would be going to a different school. I would have to meet new people, new teachers, and adjust to a new schedule.

I ended up making a lot of friends in middle school who I stuck with in high school, and a couple who I still keep in touch with in college. Middle school started me in a community that I would stick with all the way through senior year of high school: orchestra. Concerts and trips and early morning sectionals were all crucial to my middle and high school experience.

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Senior year of high school, my orchestra had the privilege to play at Lincoln Center in NYC

College, however, was the worst. It was full of change and the unknown. After high school graduation, it seemed all of my friends were going to different universities. Questions like what if I don’t like my roommate? What if no one in my classes like me? Isn’t this when you’re supposed to meet the person you marry? Is this the right major? were the only things I could think about the summer of 2013.

Three and a half years later, this December, I will be graduating from James Madison College – a prestigious, political science college – at Michigan State University – a world-renowned university. I will graduate with a double major in Social Relations and Policy, and Chinese.

I ended up meeting a group of friends who have supported me more than words could ever say. I realized that college isn’t for meeting your one true love – it’s for meeting new people with similar interests and finding out interests of your own. I’ve managed to find a close group of friends who have helped me through transitions, from seasonal breaks to broken hearts. Most of us have found each other by chance, but I’ve never been one to believe in coincidences.

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Sushi is definitely the best way to bond

I changed majors twice, and still managed to complete a double major. The belief that you have to choose what you want to do for the rest of your life when you’re eighteen years old is completely ridiculous. College is a time to change and grow in your interests and passions. It’s okay to switch from pre-med to the liberal arts or from English to Mechanical Engineering. Your interests and passions are valid, no matter how often you change them.

Most importantly, my self-development in college was huge, and filled with changes I couldn’t even begin to imagine going in as a freshman: my beliefs and values; my outlook on life; and most importantly, the way I handle transition and change. I’ve learned that change is necessary in growth, and I am thankful every day that I am not stuck being my angsty, stubborn, high school self.

Just because I’ve learned to accept the necessity of change does not mean that it makes me any less anxious than before because honestly, change is still terrifying. It means something is leaving you behind, but a lot of the time, it’s something that needs to be left behind: a person, a toxic situation, or an experience. Time only moves forward, and we cannot be stuck in the past. Taking a step forward can be hard, but if we root ourselves in fear, we cannot learn to grow and experience life.

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“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom”