Lately I’ve been going on lots about the different kinds of stories I’ve entertained about the “truth” of my adoption. As adoptees, I suspect it is particularly common, perhaps even inevitable, to on the one hand adopt a skeptical attitude about what stories we are told and/or to project the stories we’d “prefer” (even if the story we prefer is more or less a kind of lesser of two evils set of circumstances).
So, somewhat in a spirit of perversity, I am calling these stories we posit for ourselves about our origins as “fantasies”–some of the fantasies might be grim, but at a minimum we can at least own them as ours, as opposed to someone else telling us an alternative story that is wrong, unsatisfying, dubious, etc.
What, then, is your adoption fantasy? Moreover, while this is obviously to some extent a fantasy you have chosen (that we have some degree of control over), how is it problematic? What way, if any, does it play into reproducing the problem of adoption as a social phenomenon?
Very interesting question, and one that I imagine runs deep for all of us, since this fantasy changes, expands, morphs with time, and it may or may not match up with what we end up finding out should we find ourselves in reunion. Personally, my adoption fantasy started squarely on the “mythology” end of the spectrum; I remember writing (bad) poetry using imagery of the child-laden basket among the rushes, for example. It never really moved into the realm of imagining whom I was of; I don’t think as a child I allowed myself much other than the path of least resistance, which was basically a kind of familial and societal survival, erasing myself as much as I could so as to be not noticed as much as possible: a complete self-abnegation.
After returning to Lebanon, the obvious fact that I was of someone here, and the social structure which implied that at any given time I was speaking to someone who might very well be five, seven, ten, (or two) steps removed from my family here gave me great pause, and I spent an inordinate amount of time examining facial features, shapes of hands, physical characteristics, etc. to an obsessive degree. My fantasy was grounded in this reality, but at the same time, it became clear that many of us were trafficked from the nether classes of the region, and so this started to affect my perception of self in very particular ways, and I shaped my interactions with people based on this sense of “whom” I was from.
What has been distressing has been my gut instinct, actively fighting my acculturation, and weaving from the faded threads of what I can glean of adoption in this country a narrative that at any given time I simultaneously believe and also give no credence to as a kind of self-protective measure. By this I mean to say that I reach endless plateaus of narrative stasis which I am comfortable with, all the while allowing myself no putting down of stakes, since these can be ripped up at any time, and compared with the ripping up of my American stakes and jumping off the cliff to come here, I still see myself in freefall, and like Alice down the rabbit hole, can grab at what is around me, but can’t consider myself “settled” until the Great Landing of true reunion, however that might manifest itself.
But my gut instinct has been proving incredibly accurate, to such a degree that I actively ask questions of friends and acquaintances with the hope that they tell me I’m wrong. I have narrowed down the possibility of my origins to a tiny corner of northern Beirut that I have to go explore when I get back to Lebanon next month. A quick attempt at photographic research of that neighborhood before I returned Stateside brought up a news story about Syrian migrant workers, and there was a photo of a young man interviewed there, who could have been my brother or cousin when I was 20 years old. This opposite of my previous mode of “self-effacement” is the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced, especially because the doors just keep on opening; the dead ends keep giving way. The end of searching seems somehow imminent, and the “fantasy” seems to be settling into something that, I have to say, I have kind of been imagining all along. Yet I’m still petrified to look in that mirror.
As a kind of afterword, the references to Biblical Moses (pbuh) above have also come full circle, since the Qur’anic version of the Moses narrative speaks of him as coming into his own only when returned to his rightful family. Not sure what to make of that, but there you go.
I’ve been enamored with this question for quite some time but doubt my abilities to dig deep from so long ago!
When attempting to think back, the most striking thing to me is that I don’t really exist in my adoption fantasies. They are always about the people around me instead. I never “saw” (imagined) images of myself growing up and I literally never looked at myself, so I didn’t “see” myself even in fantasies, though I looked at the scenarios through my own eyes. I didn’t entertain any stories of origin. I couldn’t fathom where I came from. My parents did not give me a story, either. None. The only story I was given (that turned out to be wrong) was their assumption I was cared for by a loving foster mother, due to my robust health. I fully accepted that I had no history and was an alien creature in every way.
Instead, my fantasies were about other orphan scenarios. Strangers are buying matchsticks from me in the streets of London. Or I am surrounded by waifs that sing and a rich man is choosing a girl with red hair and not black. Or policemen are finding me curled up with a long dead old prostitute hag who cares for children of conspicuously absent moms who never come back. Soldiers are ogling me as I sing show-tunes while wearing Mandarin cheongsam cut at micro-mini lengths. Geishas are giggling around me as I walk on a man’s bare back…In these stories I was never Korean, because I didn’t know what that was.
In none of these scenarios was my situation in any way improved: I was just living, in my mind, a more authentic story: authentic in that these were the stories the public and media romanticized and allowed orphans, whereas my scenario seemed false. I guess all the things that created internal conflict in me and which were not romantic seemed false in comparison. I felt the need to romanticize orphanhood so that I could at least have a story; a story worthy of the pity or the gratitude which was bestowed upon me or the sorrow and confusion of which I felt.
I think it was really unhealthy, in retrospect, this not having any history. Filling in the blanks with dramatizations made me want to complete some story, any story, as a romantic, tragic figure. I see it all as an attempt to find meaning out of nothing, and this toying with tragedy gave me a purpose. Clearly I was doomed for failure and that that, at least, would be a fitting end to the story I found myself in.
So were these fantasies really mine? Or was I, yet again, trying to fulfill the role expected of me? I think there’s a lot of evidence to the latter, and that society has no idea the box they put us into. It’s taking all my life to get out of that box.