August 16th

Adoption Day, Airplane Day, Anniversary, and my least favorite, Gotcha Day….the day you came home, the day we became a family and for some, the most celebrated day of the year.  Whatever you call it, it is a day that belongs to, relatively speaking, a small club.  It is the day that my sister A and I remember quietly with a simple phone call for it is a day only the two of us share forever.  As a kid, I loved this day.  It felt like a second birthday, only better, more special probably because my mother made a big deal about it.  To know my mother, it has to be said this was HUGE.  But as we got older, this day became more about my sister and me declaring and affirming each other as family, no party, no celebration.

This year, it was no different.  A phone call, message left.  Done.  Except it wasn’t.

I was away for a spell, visiting family, when the wonders of technology found my phone connected to Korea of all places with a simple text message – “Hellow??”  It was CYJ, a “younger brother” from my orphanage.  He was working late so the time difference didn’t matter.  I was thrilled.

CYJ was a teenager working hard to get through school the year I spent working at OHK (my orphanage).  There was always something special about him and I even tried to bring him back with me.  His older sister/mother hen even gave him her blessing to go to America and get the “opportunity of a lifetime.”  This never happened.  Over the last 17 years, we have stayed in touch.  Every time I went to Korea, I called and tried to meet up.  Upon aging out of the orphanage, CYJ began his solo life working in construction, like every other male of 17 years.  He was lucky, he had a big sister who had aged out already and had a place to live.  No money, just a chance to work.  In time, he stuck with his computer skills and now works in an office for a design company.  I have met one girl friend who had to break up with him once her family found out he was an “orphan” and I have seen photos of his current love.  Too cute.  Every time we meet, he talks about coming to America to visit me and maybe get out of Korea for good.  Every time, I pocket him a little money and give him a big hug to sustain us for our next visit.

CYJ is a kind, soft spoken young man with a quick smile and an open laugh.  But he is a Korean man, quiet and reserved and gives away very little about how hard his life has been.  He lets me know about all the others – where they live, what they are doing, who got married, who has kids, who became a Christian….all of the essentials.  He shows me photos of the group – ski trips, picnics, nights out.  Sadly though, I never get to see the others.  I have lost contact with them.

17 years is a long time to keep in touch with a kid who has not had a home base to speak of.  We have both been guilty of changing addresses, emails, phone numbers so much.  But every time, he finds me someway so this text was a wonderful surprise.  I can’t write in Korean and his English is spotty at best, but in minutes I managed to find out he was anticpating a reunion of sorts.  On August 16th, he was on his way back to OHK with his sister and her daughter to meet up with a bunch of others, extended family of sorts.  Every August 16th, they do this.  They come back and hang out with the kids who remain and catch up on their whereabouts in life.  He rattled off their names and it was quite a list.  Snapshots of their young faces flashed before my eyes.  I probably wouldn’t recognize any of them anymore.  But he promised to let them know he talked to me and will give them my email and phone number.

So, on this day in August as I acknowledge the day I came to this country now home, CYJ is with his “family” in the only place he has called home.  This day means so much more now.  It is bittersweet to think that two very different family moments are happening at the same time at polar opposite ends of the world.

I hope I hear from some of them.  I need to get back to Korea soon.

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