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Onionskin Letter
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I remember that day. I was taken to an office building and brought to a window. I saw my mother downstairs in the driveway with the baby in her arms. She called to me in a terrible wrath. I tried to run out the door, but hands held me back. My mother was yelling, I was screaming. I watched from the window as she was pushed into the car and driven away. The last time I saw her, a desolate anniversary to remember.

The terror of that day lasted a lifetime. This scene played over and over in my mind like a silent black and white movie. I tried to fill in the holes in my soul with ambition, education and success. Then came drugs, sex and alcohol. I couldn’t eradicate the idea that it was my fault. I had done something wrong. Now to see it in writing was validation. It was real, it really happened. The onionskin letter in my adoption file continued:

“That night we had another emergency . . . The foster mother saw a woman with a baby on her back walking up and down outside her foreign home. The woman finally . . . called into the house, Soon Ok-Yi’s name. The child did not hear her. Within the hour we had the child moved to another home. The police in the area wanted to know all about it. Miss Peh had gone to get more police. . . The next morning Miss Peh was in the office …very meek and mild. She apologized for causing us so much trouble the day before . . . she paid the taxi man 18 dollars for following us around . . .”

The bittersweet sorrow was overwhelming. I needed a drink badly. All those years believing she didn’t want me, her kamdung darkie child. The onionskin letter crinkled in my hand. Eighteen dollars were food for many months and she spent it on cabs to find me! Dead spaces in my heart came alive and overflowed to fill some
of the holes. The letter describing my mother continued:

“Always the mothers fear that we will use their children somehow to obtain money . . . when she actually found the foreign house, and saw her child’s shoes outside the door, she knew . . . she was getting western training as we said . . .”

New images embossed into my brain. Little rubber shoes in the vestibule. My mother taking cabs to find me. Her pacing up and down the sidewalk with my baby brother on her back. I took deep breaths and stared at the play of sunlight on dusts motes. My tears caused the motes to sparkle. I didn’t hear her calling me in my foster home. All those years of pain and longing. I never knew she came for me. I was taken out of Korea soon after.

The lady gripped my hand tightly at the airport. I looked frantically for my mother. They told me she would be there. I believed the hope often seeded within empty promises. A cardboard suitcase in my other hand contained the last Korean dress from my mother. The prettiest yellow and pink silk hanbok ever. I vomited on the plane most of the way to America.

In spite of all the good in my new American life, fears eroded me. A spiritual emptiness told me I wasn’t good enough. I had family support, dear friends, good colleges and a career, but I couldn’t stop drinking and doing drugs. After I buried my aunt, father and stepmother, all within three years of each other, life became so tiresome that by age 36, I was homeless, living life from a bus stop in a drunken stupor.

My mother’s love emanated from the onionskin pages in my hand. I felt her indomitable spirit within me. I too, have paced back and forth on sidewalks waiting for courage. I too, am a survivor of war. An alcoholic war. My roommate Lily, from rehab, overdosed and died within a year, but four years later, I was still fighting to live sober. The revelations of the onionskin letter imbued hope into a traumatic memory of an anniversary. Things I needed to know at this juncture in my sobriety. There was a deep stillness as I adjusted to a fundamental shift in the paradigm for my life. I found the courage to go look for my mother.


Ida! Beautiful. I’m so intrigued.

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