"Abandonment Issues"

Listening to the experiences of overseas adoptee women: Snapshots: A Continuum(1)

Kim Thompson | 기사입력 2022/07/27 [19:41]

"Abandonment Issues"

Listening to the experiences of overseas adoptee women: Snapshots: A Continuum(1)

Kim Thompson | 입력 : 2022/07/27 [19:41]

Introduction: Kim Thompson is a queer Korean-American adoptee interdisciplinary artist who is residing in the U.S. in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She was born in Seoul in 1975 and sold/exported by Holt in 1976 to her white, conservative, evangelical, fundamentalist adoptive family in the States in 1976. She is the recipient of several state and national grants in the U.S. for performance, literature, and theatre. kim lived full-time in Seoul from Oct. 2009-Jan. 2017, after having spent 5 months there on the Jerome Foundation’s Travel Grant for Literature in late 2008 and early 2009. kim was adopted to Michigan, raised in south Florida, lived in Eastern and Western Europe for 8 years, followed by 7 years in Minneapolis, and then her 8 years in Seoul. She is currently in the very early planning/brainstorming stages of scheming a graphic novel that encapsulates these experiences.


▲ ©Kim Thompson - Oct 2018 Mpls, MN.


"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you."


"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."


"... once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always.”


-Margery Williams Bianco The Velveteen Rabbit.


▲ We are on our 3rd or 4th or 5th place of the night and are sitting on the little wooden platform outside the izakaya that is literally a 15-second walk from our half-basement flat. Photo by Jeanne M. Modderman 2011 Seoul, S. Korea



It is summer. It is well after one or two in the morning and at least 90 degrees Fahrenheit with 90+% humidity. We are on our 3rd or 4th or 5th place of the night and are sitting on the little wooden platform outside the izakaya that is literally a 15-second walk from our half-basement flat. We are on our 6th or 7th or 8th bottle of soju, and have moved onto sake that's been poured into a glass carafe that has a deep indent in it for ice to keep it chilled. I am pressing the once-frozen, now-perspiring, heavy-weighted glass mug of Cass or Max Hite against my cheeks as one of the izakaya workers brings us our order of skewers of beoseot, tomatoes wrapped in thin strips of bacon, unhaeng, yeon-eo, and kaji all grilled over the charcoal fire inside. We clink our shot glasses merrily shouting "Jjang!" and everyone lights their dambae.


Like the Korean that I am, I am overcome with warm sentiment and emotion and proclaim how it is times like these that make "the fuckin'-shit of living here worthwhile." We all jjang again and I drunkenly keep asking my then-partner if she thinks our hedgehog--Mapo--misses us.


Ahjushis on scooters and drunk art academy students, tattoo artists, musicians, closeted dykes, and young straight couples on their way to love motels all happily weave and stumble past. The halmuni gangpae are presiding over everything from their pyeong sang (a low wooden platform used as a sort of bench/table), a thing that none of us, no matter how many bottles of soju we have consumed in the night, would ever dare perch upon.


It is in moments like this in which I feel that everything I lost has been returned to me. For all that I lack in my language abilities, I definitely eat, drink, laugh, love, emote, and swear like a Korean.


I am currently writing of this sitting at a borrowed desk in my bedroom in Minneapolis--my beloved adoptive grandpa's typewriter beside me. I have been back now for a year-and-a-half after eight years of living in Seoul.


"I keep forgetting it hasn't been that long. I realized it again the other day. It reminded me to be gentler with myself. ... I... I... ... I guess I really have done so much... come so far since returning..." I told my somatic therapist just days ago. "YES. YOU HAVE." she responded knowingly. (Embracing various forms of therapy both in Seoul and Minneapolis as a very positive tool in which to "deal with my shit before it deals with me" is one of the very few ways in which I am very unapologetically Western.)


Moving back to the States has been... the words "hard" and "difficult" do not even begin to describe... but it has also been more rewarding than I ever could have imagined. 


There is not a day that goes by here where I do not miss Seoul or what it is to be a part of a people and a land in ways I did not know I needed--it is the heaviness of nostalgia and homesickness I carry deep within... it is a thing that, though now quite infrequent, can jolt me awake me in the middle of the night. It is a thing that perhaps on the oddly positive side quells how much I will consume on a night off because I am deeply aware that if I imbibe as I could in Seoul, the anguish and anger I carry will spill out in a way that... well... there is only one friend here really who can understand just why sitting on that wooden platform outside that izakaya means so much to me... and that can be the loneliest feeling in the world. The life I once fit into no longer fits me.


▲ well... there is only one friend here really who can understand just why sitting on that wooden platform outside that izakaya means so much to me... and that can be the loneliest feeling in the world. ⓒ Illustration by kim thompson 2018 - medium: pencil and ink on paper



I am standing at the crosswalk at Sinchon Rotary waiting to cross with hundreds of others, right where the bus island runs between the eight lanes of traffic, or ten if you count all the bus and taxi drop-off lanes. Buses to and from ICN (Incheon Airport) and all parts of this city of 25 million inhabitants both roar past and creak to a stop like monolithic dinosaurs stampeding and queuing up, as we shift the weight of our bodies on our feet waiting for the traffic signals to change. I imagine an aerial camera shot that zooms out and up into the heavens so that my face... my fucking face that has always stood out in the West, just disappears into this swarming sea of faces like my own. I stand at this spot almost every single day and night for a total of eight-plus years. It is the place where even more than the pulsating criss-crossing intersection that runs in front of Hongdae University Gate, the top art academy in Korea and where every time I pass by I imagine the "what-ifs" of a life I'll never know, that I feel so relieved to be living here. The weight of always standing out in the West, especially in Minneapolis, which is one of the whitest cities in the U.S., is not a burden I realized I carried until returning to Korea for the first time in December of 2007 for three weeks, because I suddenly realized how much lighter I felt. It is a thing I didn't know I had been seeking in all my wanderings and explorations of four of the world's seven continents. It is a thing I didn't know I'd been trying to find for most of my life. It is a thing that will eventually make being back in the States feel insufferable at times.


I am at this bar that I would describe as a cowboy bar. As a kid, one of the things I wanted to be was a cowboy living on a ranch in a log cabin with a creek nearby--I still want to live in a log cabin on a ranch that runs along a creek, but my proclivities would dictate that "being a cowboy" is probably not a fashion or lifestyle I'd fit that well into. So, in many regards I'm basically in a place that I used to dream about as a kid. However, instead, real or imagined, I am overcome with this feeling of how much I stand out, how I cannot do as I could in Seoul and just blend in. Suddenly, I just miss being surrounded by a sea of faces like my own to the point of feeling a deep ache in my very mitochondria that makes me want to jump on an airplane, return to Sinchon Rotary, and just stand there as the crosswalk signals blink from red to green and green to red. It is not a thing I know how to articulate in that moment or the days following to my friend, so I just go sit outside, not out of some kind of childish pay-attention-to-me, poor-me moment, but because... for eight years I blended in with the scenery. I could go anywhere, and the things that made me "unique" were connected to my personality and personal aesthetic, but not my race. A year-and-a-half back in the States and I am beginning to doubt that I will ever feel comfortable again in places that I once felt at ease in. I am still learning how to make peace with that.



We are arguing about her leaving me behind as we walked back to our half-basement flat--a thing that for obvious reasons connected to "abandonment issues" that I have never handled well. We are arguing about these things, and she is berating me in a fashion that drudges up how my adoptive mom would shred my sense of self-worth. I begin to shout back in a way that none, not even other exes, in Minneapolis have ever heard me yell. I am hitting the locked door to our bedroom with the legs of a less than one-kilogram, lightweight fold-up chair as this soju-fueled rage comes over me. I am now reversing everything and ripping into her in the way that my adoptive mom ripped into me... I am standing outside of myself seeing what is happening, and for the first time in my life, I cannot control my anger towards another. The only thing I can control of myself in that moment is to not break the door open because I know it will rip the frame off, and the one practical thought I manage to have is that I shouldn't hit it as hard as I can as I don't want to have to buy a new door.


Regardless of what she did to provoke this, regardless of what I know she will never own on her end, regardless of how toxic things are becoming, regardless of all that will go so very wrong, and how she will eventually one night wave a knife at both of us and it will still take me another year or two to extract myself, I feel this shame and self-loathing for doing something I'd spent my entire life preventing myself from showing, in which I acted like my mom in regards to how the shadow side of my strength with words and ability to read into a person's truth and vulnerabilities without their ever indicating or telling me is that I posses a capability like few others to destroy.


As such, the next morning I reach out to G.O.A.'L. (Global Overseas Adoptees' Link) to find out about therapists, and I begin a two-year process of first admitting that I carry a volcano of molten anger deep within. I find out by living in Seoul that Koreans, we have this fire. In English, it's referred to at times as "kimchi temper" and in Korea it's han--a cultural phenomena unique only to Koreans and the Korean Diaspora that even psychologists in the West are studying. My han is both inherited from the land and my genetic ancestors, as well as amplified by being born with a shattered heart that all orphans/adoptees are born with and having been raised in a household where verbal and emotional beatings began to occur almost daily throughout my childhood and adolescence, and even followed me across the Atlantic Ocean to Eastern and Western Europe via the talons of phone calls and air mail and eventually emails, as my mother's physical and mental health deteriorated.


To this day, I carry this deep regret and shame over having lost control of my temper in both physical and verbal expressions with another, and yet at times am surprised that in 42 years (43 by the lunar calendar) to have only lost it once.


If I do not trust or feel close to another, I tend to present as both stoic and quiet. The (rather obvious) truths are that it's more a combination of being genuinely shy and skittish and also immensely self-controlled when it comes to which emotions I will show and how I show them. For those who know me well, it is a well-known "joke" that in reality I'm (stupidly) soft and sensitive, and that I live in a world that consists of feeling every damn thing so deeply/fully and then over-thinking every single one of those feelings. Whilst I am completely comfortable with the fact that I literally experience within what the slow dancing spiral path of a leaf fluttering to the grass or sidewalk below feels like, I find emotions such as "falling for someone" and anger to be sheer inconvenient and illogical annoyances to my day that I would prefer to either eradicate or fit into a shape that I can control.


However, in Seoul I learned the cost of what happens when I try and control or hide my feelings, and through my umma I learned the heavy consequences that come from keeping one's heart secreted away. As such, now back here in Minneapolis, which is NOT the place I where I was raised and grew up, I have spent the past one-point-five years intentionally and fully committing to doing the work of not only breaking patterns and re-patterning, but learning how to proactively and positively harness my han as a source of strength and momentum for living the life I was always meant to be in, but ran towards and from for so long.


In short, I am learning how to let han be my ally versus a dangerous foe whose sheer force I've oft feared and tried to cage.


▲ I look up at the narrow strip of sky that runs between the rooftops, light my dambae watching the smoke dissipate into the blues above, and think how there is beauty in everything. ⓒ kim thompson Seoul, S. Korea Jan. 2017


(to be continued)


Published Nov. 10, 2018

*Korean article: https://ildaro.com/8344

◆ To see more English-language articles from Ilda, visit our English blog(https://ildaro.blogspot.com).

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