My friends come over and we open a bottle of wine, but barely, among the three of us, make it through. I perch on the coffee table to sit close enough to them, both on the small couch by the window, to whisper when need be. There is no one else in the house, at the beginning, but there are some things that we discuss that require a level of discretion.
The work, our jobs. We always talk about them first, taking up, as they do, so much of our time. T. speaks of people I don’t know and occasionally, I will interrupt and say: “Now who is Laura?” or “Joe does what there?” and she will tell me who they are and what they do – little thumbnail sketches of the roles they play in the grand workplace drama.
T. is quiet, says it’s been a busy start to the year. “Big shifts,” she says, running her hand through her hair. “Like lots of big things are changing.” I nod, yes, I feel that too.
I have the tendency to want to track my state of mind at intervals that are too close together to be meaningful. I liken it to weighing myself every couple hours to see whether I have lost a pound: The constant “How are you, really?” that we ask each other. Wanting more than the cheerful “Fine, good. And you?” that our public days require, we have perhaps gone too far in the other direction, wanting more, asking too much, too frequently so that one finds oneself caught up in a loop of compulsive self-concern. How am I really? Am I fine? And what about now? And now?
I assemble the documents and the photos that I have, prepare to send them to the faceless social worker who is on the other side of the world, waiting. Or at least, I like to think of her as waiting. Sitting in front of her glowing screen, refreshing it periodically to see what has arrived. And what then will she see from me? A few photos of a chubby toddler in too-short dresses. A copy of the profile that her own agency sent with me that bore the name they gave me. (“The child’s name was given by the Oprhans Home as Mi Jin KIM, which means: Mi-beautiful, Jin-true. KIM-a most common family name.”)
And the page of unfulfilled desires.
It turns out to be more difficult to introduce myself in my two-inch textbox than to explain what I want them to do. I can guess what they are looking for in the terse “Briefly introduce yourself,” and I oblige by providing the simplest data points: I am married with two children. I run an agency that gives grants in the humanities. I graduated from college, then graduate school. My parents are deceased.
This is as it should be, I am sure, but I admit that I consider another kind of introduction altogether: There are mornings that I wake from anxious sleep with my jaw aching. At stop lights, I find myself tearful for reasons I cannot explain. I am restless, melancholy. I long for things that I cannot name.
The other night, we watch a movie about a man who has nothing to lose. His character is conveyed primarily through his stony silence and the way in which, when the need arises, he kills man after man with steely-eyed unflinching determination. His jacket still wet with blood, he turns to his love interest – wide-eyed, waif-like – and tells her he will protect her. We have watched their love develop through a series of slow-motion scenes in which they sit silently in a car, driving; then silently near a stream while her son gathers sticks; then silently as he carries her son to his bed. Their love is all big eyes and wordless gazes. Despite this thinness of character development and motivation, I – for my part – am utterly taken in. This fantasy of two people knowing each other without speaking is just too delicious not to indulge and I imagine that after the son is put to bed, the two of them make wordless love, throwing themselves together again and again as night shadows give way to early light.
I am looking for a way to understand the fantasy. The imagined life I could have had, the imagined people my parents are. On the form, I say: I would like to meet them, if they are willing. I would like to sit across a table from them, share a meal. I would like to touch their faces. I would like to hold their hands in my own.
My friend asks: How do you picture your mother? What if she is sick or poor? Or crazy?
I admit this gives me pause. In my fantasy, she is well and beautiful. A sadness about her, perhaps, a weariness. “Or what if she has this whole other family that doesn’t know about you?”
On the form, I write this and it is only as I am writing it that I realize it is true: I am not asking for anything of them. I know they may have families of their own. I don’t want to disrupt their lives.
The fantasy is this: that we will see each other and know each other instantly. That without words, without language, we will recognize something deep in each other - something true and transcendent. That the love will be there, instantly - vibrant, thrilling, alive. That she will say: My whole life, I have waited for you, for this. You are beautiful. You are perfect. You will never be alone again. You will never know longing because I am with you. You belong to me.
But that is as far as the fantasy ever gets. Cue sunset. Cue credits. End scene.
I am standing as I often am, in front of the sink. The endless loading and unloading of the dishwasher. The stacking of plates. The washing of pans, of countertops. M. is at the coffee maker. My daughter at her desk. My son at the kitchen table, drawing scene after scene of his imaginary worlds. Once the coffee is started, M. comes over with a towel. Dries the pans in the dish rack. He puts them away, asks: Do you want some music?
“What do you want?”
He pulls out an old record from the little collection we’re amassing and as it starts up, the low hum of it, I think about what this might look like to my mother, my father. How if they could peer through the window at this moment, could they take comfort in what they see? The love, visible - even when we ourselves don’t see it.
In the washing and drying of dishes, there is love. In the quiet burble of the coffee brewing, there is love. In the small hands of our son, moving his markers across the wide white pages, there is love. And I wonder how it is that I have spent my whole life longing for what has been here, what has always been here, when I stand still long enough to see it.
I would like you to tell them this:
That I am happy. That I have a life that is full and beautiful.
That I think of them every day.
That I hope they are well, that they are happy. That I want them to be happy.
That I am so grateful for everything they did and for everything they tried to do, to give me the life that I have.
That I love them.
That even if we never meet, I will always, always love them.
That they are with me, in my heart, and I will hold them there - for the rest of my life.