(Come, it says. Come and share your life with me.)
In four days, I will be boarding a plane to Inchon International Airport, the reverse itinerary of a trip I made twenty-four years, one month, and twenty-four days ago, to the date. I don’t remember much about that day, which is now known in my family as my arrival day–no, I was only three months old, old enough for bewilderment but not nearly enough for something like memory. And to be frank, that’s a pretty good description of how I feel right now: bewildered, and not nearly ready enough for this trip. I have no idea of what to expect: even when I make a concerted effort to imagine myself there, my mind simply cannot bring itself to design that particular landscape for me, disbelieving, I think, that there is even a there awaiting me, awaiting my arrival. Instead, what comes to me are variations on a theme of radical, impossible hospitality, the type that welcomes you in without any intimation of your imminent departure, the type that invites you–you, a perfect stranger!–to become kin, and in doing so, to never be the same. From somewhere in its actual, concrete, completely extant geography, Korea asks again for my arrival.
(Come, they said. Come and share your life with us.)
Who were these strangers, these perfect strangers who welcomed me into their home, ready to take on this little alien baby as their own? And–prepare yourself–I did truly look like an alien:
That’s me on the lap, mind you; the baby with the shaved head, turned out feet, and the sign bearing my Korean name, Choi, Kyeong Mee. I presume that the woman holding me worked in the foster home, and that her serene face must grace many other adoptees’ photographs as she sat there, on that remarkable red bench, on that particular day. This, and one other photo (a headshot), were the only pictures my adoptive parents had of me during the lengthy adoption process: as my mom recounts, when I was walked off the plane that first June day, I had grown so much she wasn’t sure it was me; it was only when she saw my feet that she knew, for sure, that this was the baby she and my dad had loved for so long. (Loved, I’ll say again, with an impossible openness and hospitality.)
Yet I have no such evidence of such an existence, no particular fact or photograph that has the potential to grant such a miraculous, reassuring recognition. And what’s most terrifying to me about this trip, I think, is the potential that I won’t be granted this experience, the sense that this is it, the rush of connection between this and it that places me where I am and ought to be. And so, with increasing urgency, I repeat and extend my impossible invitation to Korea to share its life with me, trying to keep myself precariously open to any forms of kinship this trip might offer me (hospitable or hostile as the case may be), and to the spectrum of possible change that might result. And I’m so grateful–yes–so terrified and so goddamn grateful to be able to do so, to be able to say something like come–as I step off the plane into a new and very real vista–come and share your life with me, whatever this life may be.