I didn’t dare breathe. The air smelled of fish—dirty, rotten fish, and the slightest of sea salt. In the distance I saw a long boardwalk out to sea. Dark, musty, wooden, it gave off the air of failure.
I shivered, but not with cold.
In front of me was the village I was born in. A poor fishing village hidden in South Korea.
I looked back. My family stood behind me. My sister looked nervously at me. My “family.” My “sister.” They didn’t look like me. The blood that ran through their veins wasn’t anything like mine.
I took a step on the gritty road, gazing at the old, decaying houses. They stood desolately by the ocean. It was Easter, so the town was abandoned. I guess no one wanted to spend their Easter here, in this sad old village.
But here I stood.
Clouds covered the blue sky, the sun refusing to shine. I looked back and saw my family cautiously walking forward.
But they weren’t my family.
This was where my real parents would have lived. My father would have been a fisherman, out to sea for such long periods of time that my mother and I would probably worry. My mother would stay at home, cook, wash, and do other housecleaning duties. I, her daughter, wouldn’t go to school, wouldn’t go out into the world. Instead I would be at home, repeating my mother’s life and her mother’s life.
But here I stood.
My real parents were either dead or they abandoned me. Who knew why or how. This old village, full of people I would have known, was poor. Who knew if I would have ever had enough to eat.
Why was I brought to this world? Who were my parents? Burning questions that would never die out. Their flames will sting me forever.
I felt strangely distant from the woman, man, and their daughter behind me. I had been counted as a family member for so long, but somehow here, now, made me feel separated from them.
They gave me food, clothes, and shelter. They took me with them on their travels around the world.
Their daughter spent countless hours giggling with me, carefree. The man teased, joked, warned me to stay away from boys. He helped to get my homework done. He embarrassed me in front of my friends, and then we laughed about it later.
The woman stayed home with me when I was sick. Wrapped her arms and warm blankets around me. She gave me advice and gave me sympathy.
Gave me love.
If I lived here, I would never have met them. I wouldn’t know who they are. Everyone back home, all my friends, teachers, mentors, coaches… Everything I knew, everyone I know, everywhere I’ve been… All I believe in… Nonexistent.
Suddenly dizziness swept over me. My knees buckled. My hand grabbed for a railing, a pole, something to give me support, to help me stand. Tears rushed to my eyes. I didn’t dare look behind me.
Then I felt warm, sturdy hands help me up. I found myself looking into the eyes of my mother. My adoptive mother. But it didn’t matter. She had been everything a mother should be. She whispered my Korean name in my ear. Jin Ae. Its meaning: truth.
I stood up. I grabbed my mother’s hand. We walked back to my family, turning away from the life I would have had.