FINDING SEOUL 5
When sister Theresa says I was an orphan at White Lily for two and a half years, I feel like I'm being told that I was an excess of living, breathing inventory that had to be sedated slightly for a time to make being shelved and being covered in mothballs tolerable.
No wonder my memories of that time are fuzzy.
During our walk through the building where I ate and slept and played, I squeeze everything I see with my eyes.
“What did we do while we were here?” I want to know, gazing around the first floor of the building. “Was I in school?”
In the states, kids my age would have been in pre-school; consuming letters, exploring tactile functions--challenged to learn and explore their expanding world.
Sister Theresa looks toward the space where she says I had spent most of my time. “No school,” she says quietly. “Most of you were babies so we didn’t have…and we kept the three of you together as much as we could.”
In the gap, I hear the words, we didn’t have the resources. You were older than everyone else. We weren’t prepared. We didn’t think about educating you…
A tiny seed of resentment sprouts. I see my awkward grade-school self, my insecure teenage self; nothing I did ever good enough, done fast enough.
It's so unfair! All of those unused synaptic connections! Those untapped neurons during those critical years!
All of those times I felt like I was blindly grabbing for something that was already at my fingertips. Could this be the reason why? I simply hadn’t been in the room when they were giving out those particular tools and resources to all the other children.
Who might have I become if those cognitive years would have been harnessed? Would I have had to work as hard to stay in my AP courses? To get A’s? I hung with the smartest kids in school from fifth grade onward but felt false and inferior as I scrambled to grasp what seemed to come so easily to them.
An on-time education coupled with my natural ambition and drive...! What if at this point in my life I could have achieved more, been more if I'd had the start I longed for?
I feel abandoned all over again.
I have always thought my baby brother the luckiest in regard to education. He was a toddler when we were lifted out of the orphanage; when his brain was activated. He was read to every night by a mother who made books breathe with her special voices and dramatics. The world of make-believe and numbers and science came alive for him much closer to the time it makes a difference in development. I have always admired the fact that he got into trouble at school because he was bored. I never got into trouble. I was too busy avoiding being called on for answers I was still locating in my textbooks, scribbling notes like I was taking a dictation course rather than a class in AP European History.
I file my feelings away. I know I’ll have to pitch a proper tantrum later, yell my bitter words at God, shake my fist in his face until I’m ready to be reasonable, until I’ve given Him the poison to replace with the truth. I know I wouldn’t be who I was today if not for where God had placed me. A parting punch from my soul: yeah, a place that’s behind everyone else.
I follow Sister Theresa mutely as we walk past a nearly empty classroom. A little boy is still waiting for his parents to arrive. He has no idea how lucky he is to be getting a Montessori education at his age.
I feel sister Theresa studying me. Her glances my way feel like hugs. I wonder how expert she’s become at riding the waves of conflicting emotions washing over people.
As the late afternoon sunlight seeps into the wood floors and wall paneling, I think how cheerful the space is bathed in light, covered with the colorful creations of little hands. I know this space. But in my memory, it’s always raining; the light a cold, greenish-grey.
Watching snails climb the wall of wet concrete right outside…the smell of rain…the glaze of rain on everything. A kid I don’t like much telling me I don’t belong to my sister and brother because I look different than them.
Feeling like I want to be alone, inhaling the scent of the rain, dreaming of my Apa coming to fetch me.