This story is by Ariane Smith Stallard and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Slowdown” mother said in a low tone to father.
He signaled left, not taking his eyes off the road, “I am going three miles over the speed limit.” The car was quiet except for the faint sound of the radio and the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of the wiper blades across the window.
“Can you turn up the volume?” I interrupted. The request was not met with a response. Instead, mom shifted uncomfortably in the passenger seat as dad sped the car up and cursed underneath his breath at a driver who did not let him smoothly merge into highway traffic.
I asked again, this time louder. My mother did not move. Sitting diagonally from her in the back seat, I can see the side her face. Her short, shiny bob pulled back in the same way she wears when she goes to work in the mornings. This was not her weekend hair. Wrinkles drew up in the corners of her eyes. Were they recent? The edges of her eyelashes were wet. From the rearview mirror, I could see that her blue eyes had turned grey, a sign she had been crying. My dark brown eyes have lightened as I have gotten older. When my parents first saw me in the orphanage, my Dad said that my eyes were as dark as coal. This was 14 years ago.
My sister hands me the left earbud to her iPod, the right fitted snugly in her ear. She smiled at me with eager, hopeful eyes. I tried to return her smile, but it ended up more like a sneer. I have been so mean to her lately. Much more than she deserves. I am two years older than she, and since the day she was born, she has looked up to me like. My parents never thought they could conceive. They decided early in their marriage to adopt. When my parents flew to South Korea to take me home, they believed adopting was a safe option. For many families who considered it at the time, it was safe. The Adoption Agency was reputable, and my parents knew people who had had success with the same organization. My sister was a surprise who came two years after they adopted me.
Did I eat breakfast? I remember pouring the cereal into a bowl, but I do not recall eating it. My stomach feels tight and queasy like the time I had the flu. Mom stayed by my bedside for three days. I mostly fought a fever and slept. The feeling in my stomach subsided.
On the radio, I could hear the start of the B52s song, Love Shack. I began singing, louder than I intended, with the hopes that at least one member of my family would join. When no one did, I tapered off. Was it last summer when we sang this song on repeat for an hour during our journey across the country? All four of us sang and laughed at top volume for an hour until we finally had to stop to get gas. There will be no singing in the car today.
Four days ago, Mom and Dad pulled me into their bedroom to tell me that my birth Mom had been looking for me and would like to meet. I protested. They both said to me that it was important for me to meet her and that she be a part of my life. What does that mean? Will she want me to move back to Korea with her? Does she speak English? Why is this happening to me now? It is all too much. My parents decided to be open about my adoption. When I was young, both Mom and Dad tried to find ways to expose me to my culture. I was not interested. They would take me to plays, museums to celebrate my history. One year, they even dressed me as a Geisha for Halloween that effort may not have been thoroughly thought through.
When I was little, I was invited to my first sleepover. I remember going to Target to pick out my first sleeping bag. I scoured through each until I picked out one with the Power Puff Girls on it. I remember being excited about the night and my new purchase. One of the girls who was invited did not come. My parents told me later that she did not want to sleep next to a girl of another race. Now that I am a little older, I like that I am different from my best friends, Sasha and Courtney, who are white. Both are very pale skin, and my skin is the color of sand. Although I have always had long hair, it is thicker and wavier than both of them. I think it looks better when I style it, too. I also think teachers and boys see the differences in me and it sets me apart. I want to learn more about my history, and where I come from when I am older, for now, I just want to be fourteen.
I cannot believe my parents are making me spend time with a woman I do not know. Do they still love me? Mom won’t even look at me. We are driving two hours to meet this stranger who says she is my real Mom. She doesn’t know that I am allergic to peaches, and I hate frigid temperatures, or that I made the basketball team last year. The only parents I have ever know are my Mom and My Dad. Do you think she is going to kidnap me?
My parents told me that she is all alone. She divorced her husband in South Korea when she began looking for me. She left him and moved to America. I guess she wanted me more than she wanted to be married. In America, she owns her own store or something. Mom says she lives about three hours away from us. She had been working to find me for 14 years.
I overheard Mom and Dad talking last night. Dad said I was taken from my birth Mom at the hospital shortly after she gave birth. There is an investigation with the Adoption Agency. My birth Mother had to prove that she, in fact, did want me and that I was indeed her child. The Agency may not even have known that I was illegally taken from my real mother. Drama! I am not ready for all of this. I have a basketball game next week.
The car slammed to a stop. My father banged the steering wheel with his hand. He said another curse word underneath his breath. I have only seen him get angry only once in my entire life. My mother rose a slow hand to his arm never taking her gaze off the road. My sister hummed along to the song in her iPod. I sat back in my seat.
My parents agreed to meet my real mother in the parking lot of a McDonald’s off the highway. I guess the location is close to her, or maybe halfway, I am not sure. The traffic crept along, but as we got closer to the exit, my stomach tightened again. Maybe I convince them to turn around. I can ask that I do this on my own when I turn 18. We drove off the highway, and my father signaled to turn into the McDonald’s. A large van being emptied of a baseball team of boys still in their dirty uniforms, crossed in front us. We drove to the back lot and pulled up across a car with its engine running. I looked out of my window. A woman approximately 5”4’ got out of her car. She had her hair tied back in a bun with khaki Capri pants and floral blouse.
“Ready?” Mom said snapping me from my gaze and making eye contact with me for the first time in two days. I do not remember how I got out of the car, but I do remember my mother pulling me into a strong hug. Another vehicle was also in the back parking lot with us, I just notice them. Were they from the Adoption Agency? My parents made their way to the other car.
As I approached the small Asian woman who would be my mother, I noticed her stance. Though it wasn’t similar to mine, it was familiar. Looking into her eyes was like looking into my own. Big with large coffee brown pupils that tapered at the ends like almonds. Her mouth rested in the same pout. She broke into a slow smile that quickly rose into a grin. We hugged tentatively at first and then very tight. Tears fell from my face.
“My name is Ji-Yoo, and I am your mother.”
“Hello, my name is Joy.”