Scene 1: Take 1
It was September and it was hot. The sun melted the sky
into waxy rounds. He looked up and thought he could
peel it back to reveal black space freckled with Formica stars.
instead, he let his limbs hang in the viscous water. She paddled
around him; he watched droplets flick from her pointed toes,
perfect, even with the web that fanned between her left foot’s
hallux and second toe. He was happy treading water near her
untamable limbs, watching her tongue (that spoke less than
no English) push salt water away from her throat. Her smile
carried him softly.
She had a Korean name that he couldn’t quite pronounce.
When she said it, the vowels and consonants reflected
her coffee-bright eyes, her swishing black hair, her strong
white teeth. He wanted to taste her name so he licked her
lips—”Hah-Null-kuh-yawn”—and she fed her name back
to him—”Ha-nyuhl-Kwayn”—forgiving his butchered
intonation because he was a smiling, blonde, nineteen-year-
old soldier abroad for the first time. The waves ran into the
shore with a startled hiss and ran back to meet them like
hundreds of feet hopping across hot coals. They batted the
mist away, laughing.
I’ve got it all wrong. It couldn’t have been that easy,
their first rendezvous. I’m forgetting Cold War politics and
North Korea/South Korea angst. Remember? It would have
been late 1983, right in the middle of the “traumatic chain
of crises,” as scholar Chae-Jin Lee writes, that led up to the
National Assembly elections. Remember.
Scene 1: Take 2
October 1 in Seoul, a month after Korean Air Lines
Flight 007 tumbled, burning, out of the sky. October 1, a
month after 268 passengers and crew plus U.S. Congressman
Lawrence McDonald departed from Kennedy Airport. After
their plane cut too far across the Kamchatka Peninsula,
violated too much Soviet airspace, and forced Soviet jet
interceptors to shoot the plane down. No one survived.
October 1, eight days before a bomb exploded in
Rangoon. Twenty-one people were killed including Korean
foreign minister Lee Bum Suk, deputy prime minister Suh
Suk Joo, and minister of commerce and industry Kim
Dong Whie. President Chun Doo Whan, the bomb’s target,
survived because his car got caught in traffic. His survival
meant avoiding Korean War 11.
What does this mean for my closed-adoption (thus
unknown) biological parents? A million scenes that vary
from overblown romance to sad, scary, and sadder. When
1 lie awake at night thinking cliched existential thoughts, I
laugh. To do otherwise is not an option. To do otherwise is to
entertain masochistic thoughts like: “She needed the money,”
and “She didn’t know any better,” or, “He was young, scared, and
drunk,” and “He didn’t mean to do it.” Or, “He meant to do it,”
and “She couldn’t stop him.”
Frankly, with all the ethnic incongruities of my face, I
don’t even know if she was Korean or if he was. It doesn’t
really matter. In my most optimistic moments, I think that
both of them were. 1 think, “They were young college
students; they loved each other, got pregnant, and had to
make a decision . .” She told her grandmother—her mother
would have freaked out—who told her to think. She thought.
She decided not to abort, which meant nine months and
birthing a child into a schizophrenic Cold War. 1 was born.
Her grandmother bundled me up and together they walked
me to the local orphanage.
Scene 1: Take 3
Some thousands of miles away in Dayton, Ohio, after
three years of trying for a third child, Larry and Ann Scott
hear the phone ring. They pick up: good news.
Three months later I arrive at LAX where Ann’s mother
holds me in her arms for the first time and cries. “1 am so happy
to see you,” she says, rocking me back and forth. “So happy.”
We get onto another plane and fly into Cincinnati Airport
where my grandmother passes me to her daughter’s arms and
1 look up for the first time into my mother’s face.
I wave my arms—of course-1 start crying.