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His mouth turns down the way my sister’s does. A nearly perfect semi-circle atop the lower part of his face. That frown is at once familiar and unfamiliar because, until today, I had never known his face, much less his name.

My Apa. My birth father. The man I feel a sudden compulsion to give deference to, despite his absence the last thirty years of my life. The man who is telling me what my life was before his friend took me, my sister and brother to an orphanage in Daegu, South Korea. It was a friend who stepped-in, he says because he didn’t have the strength to take us there himself.

He has been crying intermittently throughout our conversation, making most of his eye contact with the interpreter, who is the son of his best friend. He is staying with the interpreter's family during his few days stateside. He’s known them for decades.

I’m glad our eyes don’t often meet because it’s disconcerting to see a figment of my imagination materialized in a place as un-imaginary as Atlanta, Georgia. He was flying over international waters just a few hours ago. Now he’s casting furtive glances at the children he left when they were just four, and two and not quite one. 

And now my question has made him frown.

My sister’s frown.

I glance at her and she is frowning too.

Two peas in a pod.

Until now, his expression had seeped remorse. Sadness. Uncertainty. Now, as I ask him for answers about my birth mom, his expression becomes something else. Proud. Confident. Authoritative. I think this is the face he wears most often. 

“He says it’s not a good idea,” the interpreter says. 

My Oma’s family is bad news. Her brother had even written to my Apa from jail asking for his help, years ago. “Your Apa is a very important person in Korea,” the interpreter says. 

Apa informs us that she also has another family (with three or more new kids—was it said as if that fact alone should deter me from inquiring further?). And then, “what kind of person leaves her three kids? One, a baby?"

I take a breath. In the past, I would have agreed with him. Now, knowing more of the story, now having lived more myself, I think, someone injured and bruised too many times to count does something like that. Someone who feels unbearably trapped. Someone who hurts and hurts and hurts.

I’ve known my Apa now for under an hour, but I can imagine this voice and this face telling me to be home by nine on a school night, that he forbids me to see that boy, that my grades should be higher, that what I wanted to do with my life did not constitute a “real job”. 

I imagine myself defying that voice as a kid, later a teen, and now as an adult.

He has all the information I need to contact my Oma. All I had to do was insist. Go against his wishes.

The interpreter looks at me, sounding hesitant to relay this last part. “She won’t want to see you.”

My heart squeezes in the place that prompts the lump to slide up in my throat, that pinches the tears out of my eyes. A small, defiant voice in me cries, how do you know?

Instead, I take a breath. Let it go. 

For now, it is enough to have my Apa in my life and without the disappointments that will inevitably accrue upon further aquaintance. 

Photo by Verne Ho on Unsplash 











SEARCHING FOR SEOUL 12 (A chapter from the new book)- BELONGING

SEARCHING FOR SEOUL 12 (A chapter from the new book)- BELONGING