It’d be so much easier if you were here. You would remember names, places, stories and details I was too young to remember and mom was not present to experience. Your encouragement, practical insistence, on me returning to India before you died was the only reason I have ever been back to India in my life. It is no coincidence that I haven’t returned since then and since you have died.
It really pisses me off sometimes that you died. I mean, what the fuck? Especially when we were still young. I feel like I never got to know you as a person outside of my father.
I know you would’ve wanted me to return, connect and explore my connection to India. Even just that expectation from you would be enough pressure to move me forward, I hated letting you down, especially when you were sick. I remember when we left for India both us kids crying because we didn’t want to leave you, not know if we’d see you again. You were right, I needed to go, but I also needed you to be there to make me do it. I need you again, I need you to make me do this. You knew I wanted to but didn’t know how and here I am again in a similar situation. You quite literally brought me across that ocean once before and helped me find my way back the first time, I need help again and you are no longer here.
It hurts so bad to do this without you here. Without your support and guidance. I don’t know what I’m doing and sometimes just want to be able to ask for your help. Its so strange that it has been almost exactly 10 years since we last spoke. As I sit here writing about how badly I wish you were here to tell me what to do, I know I would probably just ignore it anyway staying true to my obstinate form as an adolescent.
I miss you dad, trying to channel your inner calmness and acceptance of the world, challenges and all, to help move me in this direction I want to go but don’t quite know how to go.
Thanks for listening.
I am the type of person who flounders without structure. I completely wilt and avoid doing anything productive without some external (or at least perceived as external) force holding me accountable. One crucial piece of motivation I need is a deadline, or deadlines, even self-imposed to spur me into action.
As I begin this searching process and am trying to take it more seriously in the past I find myself avoiding doing anything related to the search. I make up excuses like I am too tired or should respond to emails instead or watch a show…etc. Somehow it is never important enough to take time away from other things in my life. I am sure part of my avoidance has to do with my fear that the search will ultimately lead to some type of rejection. I go through painstaking work each day to avoid even the smallest instances of rejection which cannot be healthy.
On a more practical level the complexity of the task irritates me because I want there to be a straight forward process that I can follow or a template that someone has created that I can fill in with all my little details and then follow along. As I pointed out in my previous post it is unclear to me what step 1 in this process is and that it is impossible to know which avenue is the most effective at the beginning. I should just shut up and start somewhere, right?
Related to the difficulty I am having getting myself to actually start anything is the fact that I feel like I don’t have specific deadlines. In some ways I feel like given the vast uncertainty of the state of any of my biological relatives I should be working as fast as possible to find someone. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard stories of the adoptee who waits and waits and when they finally decide to search and do find someone that someone is dead. Its heartbreaking in ways I’ve never felt before (and would prefer to avoid if at all possible). In this line of thinking I fee like I am simultaneously already too late so what’s the point of rushing and should be moving as quickly as possible. It frustrates me.
As you may be thinking and possibly even wanting to say to me, “Kumar, shut up. Yes, this process is complicated but you will never know anything by not doing anything. Sitting around trying to hide from rejection isn’t cute so cut it out.” You are right, thanks for that pep talk.
Back to the deadlines thing, I am going to create some arbitrary deadlines that I hope will spur me into action, heck you can even scold me if I don’t keep myself to them if you’d like.
The first two will be simple:
- Say What You Know – November 25th I will share with you, dear of interweb spam bots and occasional people, what I “know” about my personal history in India
- What Do I Want? – December 6th I will articulate what I am trying to get out of this whole searching process, besides the obvious (finding someone(s))
Ha! Take that unstructured life! I think these first two deadlines will help me think about the search from more than just a “logistical” point of view and more of a reflective stance which I hope will help guide me as I keep making up arbitrary deadlines to trick my silly brain into doing something.
I like to plan things, create routines, prioritize and then move forward. Given this proclivity I like to layout a plan for how things will go and determine the best and most efficient way to get from point Here to point Over There Somewhere. In this mindset it is always good to determine both the starting point and the end point. In this case, the search for biological relatives of mine, the end point is finding a someone(s) or searching forever! Ok, hopefully searching forever is not what happens but who knows, it is hard to believe that once I dig in I will be able to walk away without some answers.
The starting point is a bit more tricky to pin point and so I have laid out a few of my possible step 1s below. As a planner at heart it is very frustrating to not know where to start as any setback will make me second guess my initial approach which breeds all sorts of nasty self-deprecating thoughts and blame which is no fun for anyone!
Step 1 – Approach the search like I imagine a personal investigator would and go looking for all the “facts” with a magnifying glass and a device with a 4G data connection and the all knowing Google. This approach would probably require that I buy a leather brief case, a trench coat and a deerstalker hat. Since I don’t have any of the appropriate wardrobe nor an investigative spirit this seems like an unlikely starting point.
Step 1 – Somewhat more seriously I could go the route that many adoptees in the U.S. go which is sending swabs of my DNA to a bunch of laboratories to see if I have a strong genetic match with anyone else who has submitted their DNA. This is a relatively attractive, accessible and seemingly low-risk option that I have heard is all the rage these days. I have also heard that it is a much more effectively tool in populations that have a relatively high level of participation, in the U.S. that participation is driven by predominately Caucasians. I, am not caucasian (surprise!), and it seems doubtful that my biological parents were and equally doubtful that they participated in one of these DNA banks, especially one connected to these ones in the U.S. All that to say it is pretty darn unlikely that it would prove useful for me to do one or more of these kinds of tests at all. Plus I do find it fucking weird that I would send my DNA to anyone for any purpose. If you are thinking, well, why not? I agree except it is kind of expensive to do a lot of them and I am not convinced it is the best use of my monies, at this time.
Step 1 – I am also a bit OCD and seeing Step 1 written three times is a row is really frustrating, alas, I will march valiantly on. I do have some connections in India, and notably ay the orphanage where I lived for some amount of time before I was adopted. I could reach out to the contacts I have there and try to determine how I arrived at the orphanage and then trace those connections backwards until the very second I was born thus finding out my true identity (sorry, it is late and I’m becoming snarky and rather flippant, apparently). This seems like a very strenuous way to go about searching because it involves relying on other people who live far away, speak different languages, are in different time zones and probably don’t have nearly as much as I do about what I am trying to accomplish and may have an direct interest against my searching, if I am being cynical which I almost always am. It most likely would also warrant a visit or multiple to India. This is not a bad thing, but in talking about resource allocation towards this search it is certainly an expensive option.
Step 1 – To the courts! I could trace back the legal documents that were issued to me when I was a baby in India by the courts and see where they get me. I have two somewhat to very official documents issued by the Indian government: one, which I have written about previously, is my affidavit of abandonment in lieu of birth certificate or as I like to call it my AALBC second, I have an Indian passport which verifies that I was, indeed, at one point an Indian Citizen so back off all you damn birthers trying to say I was born in the U.S. and am eligible to run for president, get over it, Kumar is never going to be the POTUS. This option, given what I have heard from a few others with some marginal experience in searching and inquiring about legal birth records in India seems like a closed door with limited if no avenues for openings given the cultural views of orphaned children and the social havoc they can wreck on a family, in many cases. I try not to dwell on this too much or else I worry I may ruin someone’s life by showing up and claiming to be there long lost son, cousin, uncle, brother or secret keeper.
Step 1 – What about the agency? Its true, there was at least one adoption agency involved in facilitating me being adopted and my mother has hinted that the woman in charge of the agency may still have some information on how I came to be at the orphanage in Trichy as a wee little one. This is probably really easy to do as long as I can track down the agency. I mean it would probably just be a phone call or an email if I am feeling hesitant or even a fax if I am feeling adventurous. Maybe I could con my mom in to doing it for me?
Step 1 – Hire a personal investigator. Its probably not going to be the first thing I do but mostly because I don’t have the cash money for it. I think it would be good for me maybe to consult someone who is trained at looking for people, wow just writing that sounds creepy and awful. Nonetheless people look for people and find people and so I bet some people who have done that would talk to me if I paid them.
Ok, step 1 is getting a little overwhelming. It is likely that given the options I have provided above and the many I have not included because I want to go to sleep that just starting is more important than where I start. I’m not going to figure it out on the first try and it is likely going to be an expensive, taxing and long journey. The one thing I certainly do not have on my side is time. I do feel a strong sense of urgency and already a feeling of regret that I hadn’t started sooner.
I feel like for the first time I have really allowed myself to start thinking about this as if it is happening and an inevitability which is heartening and terrifying at the same time. I am glad I’m doing this but sacred shitless of the outcome, any outcome.
The idea of searching has begun to trickle its way from my brain into other parts of my body, headed for the heart no doubt.
P.S. sorry I did not proof read this post in advance!
Originally posted on Angela Tucker:
I am very excited to launch The Adopted Life Episodes campaign!
I plan to host a series where I speak one-on-one with transracially adopted youth posing developmentally appropriate questions in a conversational and journalistic approach. Each episode will feature between 10 transracially adopted youth and will be edited to an estimated run-time of ten to fifteen minutes. My husband, filmmaker Bryan Tucker, will film each episode and we will co-edit them together. I am purposefully launching this campaign during National Adoption Month, in an effort to provide a platform to the lesser heard voices; adoptees and foster youth. Head on over to Kickstarter to learn more about this venture.
I’m going to begin searching for more information related to my personal and familial history in India. Specifically, hoping to find information, traces, clues and people in India who either knew people I am biologically related to or that I share biology with.
I just had to say this, you know, out loud to make it feel real and make myself see that I am beginning this journey (or maybe continuing it depending on how you look at it). I plan on posting as things move forward or sideways or backwards because I am surely going to be looking for support, guidance and words of wisdom as I continue.
This piece was originally written in 2012 as a part of a short series I wrote about exploring my adoption file. I believe this was supposed to be the final piece in the four part series. I have edited it and thought it should be included.
Perhaps looking through the folder I was searching for something that helped explain me, or where I came from. Most of my life I have felt in-genuine, like I wasn’t truly who I am. I felt like I’ve been acting. I was looking through this folder to find me. I wanted to know who I was and the only way I knew how to do it was by trying to find my origin. Who my biological relatives were, where I was born, why I was given up and how I came to be where I am. This folder, the files from SOC SEAD, would surely clear up my true identity.
I felt that something was missing – my origin. Without it I felt I couldn’t properly be myself or understand who I was. This folder would hold these answers and set me free of my journey and allow my true self to take over – to be revealed. Something great, naturally. After years of looking over that blue folder, finding more scraps of paper and files tucked away in other files and most recently my almost entire adoption application packed away in a plastic Tupperware in our basement I must stop my search. “Discovering” who my biological relatives are, why I was given up….etc will provide no more insight into who I am than I already know. Yes, it would provide some certainty and perhaps relief, but change who I am it would not.
Up until this point in my life I had always felt like my life began when my father landed in India and met me to pick me up and take me back to the United States. Being birthed was not an experience I felt I had been a part of, for there were no stories of it and no recollections on my part.
That illusive indeterminable true identity stares me in the face every time I shave or check myself out in a mirror or puddle.
This isn’t a strategic plan or a novel or a marketing plan. There is no narrative arch to why I am who I am. This is my life. No predetermined purpose, just what has happened to me and how I have reacted.
I’m not quite sure what I was hoping to find when I opened that blue folder, but when I closed it and put back in the Tupperware I felt disappointed and betrayed. Disappointed it had held so little of what I had hoped for. Betrayed by my self for allowing me to believe that answers about my past could be so easily accessed as opening a folder. I spent much of my childhood not allowing myself to think about my life before coming to the U.S. I got my hopes up and got burned the way I had told myself I would and it hurt like hell.
I opened that folder thinking it could tell me who I am. I wasn’t just looking for information about my life in India I was looking for clues to who I am. It was foolish, yet hopeful. Hopeful that there was still an easy way to resolve my insecurities and the uncertainty that fills my past. There isn’t an easy way, there is no silver bullet. I know this, but exploring the contents of that blue folder was the first time I actually believed it.
It took almost a month for Luciano, my exchange program coordinator, to find a school that would let me in. The public schools in Rio Gallegos no longer accepted exchange students because they were lazy and disruptive. I would be attending one of the private schools in Rio Gallegos and based on the reaction Andres, my younger host brother, had when I told him I would be going to IPEI it was the richest of the city’s private schools, a dynamic I would learn more about as the year continued.
Maribel, my host mother, scheduled a time for us to visit IPEI, Instituto Privado de Educación Integral, my new school.
A few days later Maribel and I hopped into her red camioneta and drove to IPEI, located a block off of the main drag which would eventually be renamed after the late Argentine president Néstor Kirchner who was from Rio Gallegos. The entire 15 minute drive from our house to el centro my stomach was filled with butterflies. I had come to dread meeting new people, let alone new adults who I was surely meant to impress. I was still reluctant to talk to Maribel so the thought of speaking with the principal and staff at IPEI positively mortified me. I was excited to start school, but mortified of revealing how incompetent I still was in Spanish.
Minutes later we arrived in front of a four story cement building, skinny and tall with a courtyard on one side and a glasses small shop on the other. Maribel parked her hulking red Nissan and we both jumped out and I followed her towards the door. A short dark haired man, who would later befriend me, looked up at us as we approached the door. He smiled at Maribel and buzzed us in. He greeted us and I shot back some combination of buen dia como anda/esta, unsure what level of formality was appropriate to use with the door man. He escorted us up two flights of stairs where a tall blonde haired man in a grey suit and facial hair that made him look rather chipmunk like greeted us.
His name was Raúl and from what I could tell he was the principal. We followed him into an office where a short woman in a bright colored pants suit waited for us. The office was small with a few plexiglass windows facing the hallway we had just walked through to get here. I could see students of all ages, decked out in maroon uniforms, the boys wearing grey slacks and the girls mostly in skirts with panty hose. These uniforms looked much more serious than the long white lab coat looking “uniform” that Andres wore to class. I cringed at the thought of having to wear that everyday.
Raúl shut the door behind us and Maribel and I introduced ourselves the pants suit lady. She wore thick red lipstick that smeared over her front teeth when she smiled, which was often. I found it incredibly distracting. Maribel spoke with Raúl and this other woman and I tried to follow along as best as I could. Occasionally, they would all look at me and Maribel would, very slowly, ask me, “¿Tomás, entendes?” Thomas, do you understand? I would, regardless if I understood or not, slowly nod my head, make eye contact with each person and say “Si, si, si, lo entiendo” Yes, I understand. I’m not sure they really believed me, but they acted like it and went back to talking about who knows what.
As terrified as I was of taking ten classes entirely in Spanish, I was consoled by the fact that for at least one hour a day I would have English and would be able to understand there. About ten minutes into the conversation I realized they had begun talking about the classes I was going to have to take. I heard a couple words I could understand filosofía & matemática and the rest was incomprehensible. Then, to my horror, Raúl turns to me and begins to ask me questions. Terrified, I look to Maribel for help who dutifully swooped in and explained, in painfully slow Spanish, that I am not allowed to take English. She went on to explain that since I am already fluent in English I have to take a new language. I can choose between French and Italian, but there is no beginners class for Italian so I will have to take French.
Dumbfounded that these two school officials, who could obviously see I had the barest knowledge of Spanish were going to 1) deprive me of the luxury of comprehension and understanding for one hour a day and 2) make me learn a new language, as if my entire life wasn’t already focused on that task. It seemed like I must’ve misunderstood something so I held my tongue, although its not like I could’ve articulated much of a refusal anyway. I waited until Maribel and I had left to ask her what had happened.
After thanking Raúl and his lipstick smeared colleague we walked through the halls, empty now, down the flight of stairs, thanked the doorman and climbed back into la camioneta. She revved the diesel engine and we lurched forward. I looked over and asked her what had just happened. She confirmed my fear, instead of taking English I would be required to take French, which started an hour earlier, at 6:30 am, than all the other classes. Incredulous, I looked out the window and just laughed, “I’m fucked, I thought to myself” as we sped through town back towards home.
Once I started taking French my desk partner would often laugh at my, as much out of pity as incredulity at how hopeless I was, as I would sit in class with my French-Spanish dictionary next to my Spanish-English dictionary trying to understand what our French teacher was saying in Spanish, let alone French. It was a painful for all parties involved.
I ran a lot in my first months in Argentina. Not enough to lose weight or whittle down my feeble mile time but enough to call it a routine. I ran on the treadmills once I joined El Boxing Club, a hulking concrete and metal building at the entrance to the city. Once I learned the lay of the land, it was grid to some degree, I felt comfortable roaming about and running towards the outskirts of town in different directions. The city was about 100,000 people but pretty hard to get lost as long as you knew which way was north. There were no other towns within hundreds of miles of us so it was also pretty clear when you had run too far. Outside the city limits the desolate rock and shrubbery terrain stretched for as far as the eye could see without human interruption.
When in doubt I would run towards la ria, the river-front park where all the teenagers went to dar vueltas, cruise, along El Rio Gallegos showing off their cute little cars with souped up sound systems, manual transmissions and tinted windows. A charade eerily similar to cruising around my hometown in Ohio. Rolling through the C&O parking lot bumping the newest jams, rolling down the window to exchange a greeting, bump a fist, dap someone up or just offer a nod of acknowledgement. Those under 16 cursing us for having the power to drive, the power of possibility and the power of power over others.
Running was nice, it was fun, and made me feel like I belonged, in some ways, in Rio Gallegos. Even though no one else just went out for a run it somehow made me feel normal. It gave me an identity that I felt I could uphold. I didn’t have to talk to anyone or try to understand what they were saying I could just smile at them as I passed them by. Running gave me a presence, made me feel like I was in Rio Gallegos, being seen by other people, not just in my room on my computer or watching TV. It made me a somebody, even if I never knew who that somebody was to others.
I liked putting on my blue Saucony running sneakers, my black hoody and sweat pants. I’d queue up Atmosphere on my mp3 player, tie my house key to my shoelaces, slam the white gate to our yard behind me and kick off. I would get a lot of looks. Some of them inquisitive others acknowledging and some resentful looks. I liked the looks, even the resentful ones. I liked that people cared enough to look at me and speculate what I was doing out running. Again, being in a place where I felt so much like none it was nice to know others were thinking of you, acknowledging you even if you never know what those thoughts were.
More than anything running allowed me to go places that my friends, host family and the exchange program coordinator wouldn’t have taken me. My host family was making the jump from a lower middle class life style into the upper echelons in the Rio Gallegos so steered clear of the “bad neighborhoods”, my friends, all of whom attended the ritzy private school I had been placed into, were the children of the wealthiest in the city and my exchange coordinator was quite protective. I liked being able to see the homes where the kids I played soccer with in the plazas lived, the poorer areas of the city and the dirtier outskirts of the city. I quickly became comfortable in many parts of the city than many of my classmates which helped me develop the sense of independence I had felt stripped away by my inability to speak Spanish.
My running, as helpful as it proved to be, came to an end as the cold weather moved in, winds picked up and we all hid indoors. I eventually injured my hip, or re-injured it, and had to give up all physical activity for months. Fortunately enough for me, my Spanish had begun to catch hold and by the time I injured myself I no longer needed running as an escape from my inability to communicate.
Before arriving in Argentina I developed some very robust fantasies. I spent a fair amount of time thinking about how this experience would unlock my true potential and people would fully recognize how truly special I was. My fantasies ranged from becoming a break-out soccer star, learning Spanish lighting quick and getting with all the cute Argentinian ladies. I think the bigger the fantasy, the farther away from reality, the deeper the insecurity that fantasy was developed to cover up. My experience in Argentina validated, on a personal level, this hypothesis.
The actual reality of my experience, I’m sure to no one’s surprise, differed greatly from my initial fantasies. My first days and weeks in Argentina would be better described as lonely, insecure and at times utterly depressing. Before I was enrolled in school I slept 12-14 hours a day, stalked friends at home on the good ‘ole book of faces, which I later deleted, over ate, spent weeks at a time being physically ill and watched tons of American TV. This cycle, painstakingly documented in my journal, lifted gradually as my Spanish improved, I cut off contact with friends from home and began to feel independent again.
It is funny, now, how before I began to skim through my journal I had about a dozen or so strong stories from my time in Argentina that I have gotten really used to telling people about my time there. These stories have come to dominate my memory. These stories are almost like the fantasy version of my past. People don’t want to hear about how depressed you were or how incredibly difficult you found it to be alone, they want to hear that you had an incredible life changing experience, ate exotic food, saw beautiful sights and made a fool of yourself, all of this punctuated by a moment of triumph where you overcome the adversity of adapting to a new place, feel comfortable and conquer. I, get it, I mean I think that it wasn’t just the external pressure from friends and family that pushed me to retell the same glamorous stories but my own desire to have my experience life up to my initial fantasies.
The sobering realization that the naivety I rested on to create fantasies about my trip, even once shattered, resurfaced after the trip and coated my memories in fantasy yet. It’s like I am terrified of reality, of my own reality that is. I fantasize about the future and create a fantasy world of my past. I think these pieces, which I keep alluding to but haven’t written yet, are sort of my response to my fantasies. They are me trying to tell myself, through the retelling of my very ordinary and mundane experiences in Argentina, every story is worth telling even if only to help you better understand what that story means to you. Fuck the fantasies, fuck what other people want your experiences to be, fuck what you feel you need to do to make other feels comfortable and just say what you’ve got to say. I feel like all this selective story telling bullshit Its has made it hard for me to learn from the valuable experiences I did have while in Argentina. The valuable experiences I had not learning Spanish quickly, not getting with any Argentinian women and utterly sucking at soccer.
These next posts are about those experiences.
We’ve landed. My heart is pounding. The more anxious the passengers immediately stand up and begin to put their belongings away and open the overhead compartments. I slowly gather my things and wait for the passengers in front of me exit the plane. Most of them are Argentinians, few tourists are headed to Argentina in February. I am glad to stand up again after our 8 hour flight from Miami. I was lucky enough to be seated next to the two girls who had also had their flights cancelled due to the blizzard that blanketed most of the Midwest and East coast the day before Valentine’s Day, our scheduled departure date.
One of my new companions was from Vermont and the other Connecticut, both used to blizzards but all of us were nervous about missing the in-country orientation in Buenos Aires. At the beginning of each abroad program all the new exchange students fly into the same location, Buenos Aires in our case, and spend 2-3 days getting to know each other and learning about the host country. The three of us were arriving two days late, completely missing the orientation. Once we landed we were to take a taxi from the international airport to the domestic one to meet the other students before departing for our different cities. At first the cancelled flight seemed like a blessing, a few more days at home with friends, but we soon realized the disadvantage it placed upon us, newcomers in a group of newcomers. New groups of people always form their cliques quickly and are reluctant to give up that exclusivity initially. Everyone rushing to make good impressions and get with the “in crowd”. Being late to this game is like being the new kid at school – initially it is a disadvantage and you have to prove yourself in ways the established group does not.
Our turn arrives and we file out of the plane thanking the flight attendants on our way I try to muster a quick “gracias” and grin at myself as I almost butcher even the most basic words in Spanish. Once out of the plane and walking up the tunnel to the terminal I begin to feel bombarded with Spanish. Words flying around me. Words I don’t recognize. Normally in places where I don’t speak the language I am almost at ease by not knowing the language I feel complete and utter ignorance and no pressure to understand. Not here, I immediately feel small and terrified. I am acutely aware of how little I know. I begin to feel a sense of dread creeping up my body. The same type of dread you get before you walk on stage, ask a question in class or try something for the first time. As I am walking, overwhelmed by my surroundings and feeling completely ill prepared I think to myself, “Kumar, what the fuck where you thinking when you made this decision?”
As we reach the end of the tunnel the airport terminal opens up and I see a stocky gentleman in a blue vest. He has short dark brown hair, smooth light skin, strong cheek bones and is wearing slacks and a white shirt under his vest. He is scanning the group of passengers flooding out of our gate. Our eyes lock, he raises his eyebrows at me and then cuts through the crowd towards me.
“Hola,” I manage to get out as he nears me. His mouth opens and words come flying out. They are fluid, confident and fast as hell. I can’t even make out where one word stops and another starts. I am at a total loss. As he is talking he leans in kisses me once on each cheek before I realize what is happening. He swiftly moves on to the girls as they catch up to me. Afterwards I wonder whether or not I was supposed to kiss him back. Had his lips actually touched me cheek? Did guys and girls alike kiss each other on each others’ cheeks? I had heard Argentina, as a predominately Roman Catholic country, was very homophobic. Amidst my reflection whether or not my response was considered rude or not he motions for us to follow him as he continues to talk to us, all of us looking just as shell shocked as the others.
Eventually, out kind yet totally incomprehensible welcomer, leads us outside to the curb where he flags each of us a cab, hands each cab driver some cash, shouts something at the driver, kisses me again on the cheeks before I even have time to think about whether or not I should kiss him back, slams the door and sends me on my way.
These first hours, really the first full day, in Argentina ended up quite smoothly but shocked me into realizing how difficult that year would actually be for me.