I take my son to the playground on another unseasonably warm afternoon and as we cross the parking lot, he takes my hand, pulls at me, says, “Let’s run.” When we are at the sidewalk, I tell him, “Go ahead, you run,” and he takes off. I follow him – his red coat – for only a moment or two and then he is lost to the swirl of jackets and hats and sweatshirts clustered and clamoring – around the rock wall, the steps to the slide, the tall rope structure with the coveted high platform that one child at a time can sit atop and from there, gaze down on all the goings on below.
When I find him, he is standing still, waiting for his turn on the covered slide. I walk around the other side of it so I can watch him come down. I catch a glimpse of the top of his head before it disappears into the plastic tube, and then he pops out the bottom, his cheeks flushed, his coat hanging open.
He is fascinated by the rope web. Slowly, he climbs up onto it and makes his way across to the center, where several older boys are circling the ropes leading up to the platform. He freezes in position whenever someone moves past him, which causes the web to shake. When it is still again, he creeps along on all fours until he arrives at the farthest point from where he began. Then, he lowers himself one leg at a time so that he is clutching the rope at his chest, legs dangling, his shirt rising up so that a narrow band of his round belly is visible. He holds this position for as long as he can, then drops to the ground. He scans for me. I am sitting up against the wooden fence in full view. He runs over. “Did you see what I did Mama?” he asks grinning, breathlessly. I pull him into my arms, squeeze him. “I sure did. You were amazing.”
L. comes over for dinner and we catch up on her on-again, off-again, not-quite-available boyfriend. “He’s calling it a relationship,” she says, her voice dropping as she leans in closer across the table. I don’t ask about the status of his divorce. She says, “I think it’s ok – I mean, it’s good.”
I ask whether they’ve seen each other since the weekend at the hotel. She says no, but they’ve spoken on the phone a few times. “I thought the connection was just physical,” she says, “but it turns out we have a lot to talk about.” We laugh.
She tells me about the man she lived with for a while, who wanted his own bedroom and only told her he loved her when he was traveling and they were far apart. “And how long did this go on?” I ask. “About a year,” she says, “and almost all of it was terrible.”
She’s talking about the boyfriend again now, says he’s trying so hard to get his life together, not drinking so much. She shows me a photo. It’s dark and there are shadows falling across him. He’s wearing a knit hat pulled down. It’s not easy to see his face. “He’s sad, though,” she says. “He seems so sad and alone.”
“And that is what they do,” I say as I get up to clear the plates from the table. “That is how they pull us in.”
She gathers her things to leave. Inexplicably, she’s meeting up with the man she once lived with. “Well, he called and asked if I wanted to have a drink,” she explains, as she puts on her coat. “I’m trying to make it clear that I am not interested in starting anything up again.”
“No better way to communicate disinterest than to meet up for drinks,” I say. We laugh, but she does not respond. We hug and I walk her to the door. “Your house is so cold,” she calls as she walks down the front steps. She’s waving her hand in the air, but doesn’t turn around. “Don’t you feel the cold?”
There’s a note from Shinhye, my social worker in Korea. She reminds me that I had written to them in 2001. Says there is no information about my family, but that I can appear on a television show if I’d like, tell my story. Many people have been reunited with their families this way, she says. “Let me know if you are interested in the television show.”
I follow the link she’s embedded to the show, which is called “I Miss That Person.” There is a video still – presumably from the show – on a bright, garish set. Two hosts holding microphones lean in toward a video screen showing a man’s face. On the other side of the screen, another man holds his hands behind his back, his eyes cast down. The scene makes my stomach ache.
I tell M. about it, show him the site. “I don’t think I can do it,” I tell him, as I scroll down to the description of the various ways in which they attempt to reunite people. There is a program dedicated specifically to Korean adoptees called “Mom, I Miss You.” The description reads:
This service is for the 200,000 Korean adoptees worldwide wishing to find their Korean roots. Raised as foreigners, the only Korean they can typically say is “Mom, I miss you.” In the past, they had to visit Korea but now, through UCC and video calls, they can participate in the show airing in Korea real-time.
“You should totally do it,” he says.
“But I can’t say ‘Mom I miss you’ in Korean,” I tell him.
“Why wouldn’t you want to do it?”
I close my laptop. Put it down on the rug. I let him embrace me, pull me close. I mumble my answer into his chest: “I guess I just don’t want to seem like I want it that much.”
This morning, I wake to snow. Big, fat flakes that seem to melt on contact with the pavement. I stand at the stove, stirring oatmeal. My son comes into the kitchen with his feet bare. My daughter, from the doorway, asks to borrow a sweater. “The perfect soundtrack for snow,” M. says at the record player and I listen for the first few strains of what he has chosen. Familiar, melancholy, haunting. “Yes,” I tell him. Yes it is.