I stood in my mother’s office, staring curiously at the line of books resting on a gray shelf that I couldn’t reach. Target in sight, I climbed on the counter that protruded from the wall. A risky choice, but one soon met with success as my eyes scanned the hills of knowledge.
In my search to look through something that wasn’t the red dictionary, I spotted something unbeknownst to me. The cover of this book looked like denim and held a smooth firmness to it. Innocent curiosity and wonder took hold and beckoned me to give in to temptation. My hands took hold of the book and brought it down with me onto the office chair. The cover lacked a title nor insight into what lay inside its blue-jean-colored walls. So, naturally, I opened the book.
Bewilderment struck me almost immediately when I happened upon a word I didn’t expect to lay eyes on. My name. Such a simple word, but one that only goaded me further. By the time I reached the end of one page, I immediately turned to the next page, the next page, and the next page after that. All the backgrounds popped up with pastel colors, polka dots, and stripes. I looked at a picture with faint interest at these people who wore colorful outfits that looked like strange dresses. Another image had different kinds of food, yet all the dishes were unrecognizable. Another depicted what looked like a flag. It had a red and blue circle in its center with black lines in its corners. Moving along, I saw other pictures and words that I didn’t fully understand. A tall building, a baby photo, a foreign land, that same baby with their foster family . . .
The page that coincided with the aforementioned picture told the story of a baby born in a place outside of Seoul. It spoke of the mother’s job working at a textile factory and her parents with their farming livelihoods. Strangely, little information about the father lined the pages. The mother and father got together and wed. The mother had a baby. She gave birth not in a hospital, but in their home. Not too long after giving birth, the mother passed away.
That baby, now alone, was taken in by a different family. More pictures lay alongside more words. One showed a picture of the baby in a room sitting next to a piano. Another showed the baby with the new family standing in front of a fountain. It looked like the middle of summer, with not a cloud in sight. Another showed a man with a big smile on his face, giving the baby a piggyback ride, large hands connected to miniscule ones. He looked very happy.
The more I read, the more I became unable to comprehend the subject or matter of the content. Still, I kept digging, kept turning pages, until eventually, my eyes landed on a blank page. Above it, words rested:
“Since we don’t have any pictures of your birth mother or birth father, why don’t you use your imagination and draw a picture of them?”
I didn’t think too much of it, though its presence confused me like almost everything else in this book. My eyes gazed into emptiness for an indefinite amount of time, seemingly waiting for it to gaze back. But nothing happened, so I turned the page. I didn’t imagine anything because I couldn’t think of anything. I didn’t draw anything because I didn’t know what to make. Soundlessly, I finished, closed, and returned the book to its original spot. The sense of curiosity I previously experienced had now morphed into a numbness tinged with doubt and the palpable feeling of utter scrutiny.
Silence enveloped my young ears. I sat on that chair for some time, staring, my mind in and out of thought. As I left that office, my mind filled with more questions than answers.