In my earliest memory, a perfect stranger, henceforth my mother, lifts me by my armpits and positions me over a public toilet in a McDonald’s somewhere between the Detroit Metro Airport and Lorain, Ohio. Her mother, thus my grandmother, gathers my corduroy dress and, with her free hand, pulls down my underpants. I am supposed to pee. According to the Korean adoption agency I am potty-trained, so they wonder what the problem is. The three of us, cramped in that bathroom stall, wait for the tinkle against porcelain that never comes.
My mother chalks it up to malnutrition: that I must be dehydrated, that maybe they should buy me a chocolate milk, while my grandmother blames the uncleanliness of the public facility. They unroll yards and yards of toilet paper from the dispenser, placing layers upon layers of it on the seat. One of them sets me down, and each takes a small step backward to flash identical toothy grins. My mother gives me a thumbs-up. My grandmother says she can’t imagine that Koreans have any understanding of American hand gestures and that maybe the agency was wrong? Maybe I’d never seen a real toilet before? That maybe one of them should demonstrate?
If the agency is to be trusted, I am a sweet child, understand a little English and get along well with others. I am not fussy when it comes to food and have a hearty appetite. I regard large men with suspicion and have a tendency to chew my hair. Also, I love to color and will sit quietly for hours in front of the television. Apparently I am a peacemaker among children my age, and I have no problem scolding or caring for those younger than myself. I like to use a scissors and glue to make paper gifts for those I am fond of, and I am somewhat ambidextrous—when it comes to my lower body I favor my left side. I walk left foot first. It is this foot that I use for balance, and it is with this foot that I kick. I have a tendency to kick a lot—I like to kick large men from behind when they aren’t looking. My upper body, however, favors my right side. I hold crayons and pencils with my right hand, and I often rest my chin in it. I have better reflexes with my right hand, and with this hand I like to punch large men from behind. When I am not kicking or punching large men, I frequently sigh contentedly and can usually be found staring into the sky when I am not otherwise occupied with picture-books or playing games with other children.
My mother and grandmother give up, remove me from the toilet and make me presentable for the men in my new family. My father and grandfather receive a kick and a punch respectively, as soon as they get within kicking and punching distance of me. The four of them, my American family, have changed my name from Jung Sun Hee to Molly Mei-Lin Gaudry. Later, I will learn that it is not uncommon for adoptive parents to also legally change their child’s date of birth from his or her actual birthday to the date of arrival in the home. Because my actual birthday, June 25, is so close to the date of my arrival, June 23, my parents decide to let it go. I often wonder if they would have changed it, if only the two dates hadn’t been so close. I think how tragic for all the others, whose voyages from one country to another will either grant to or steal from them up to six months either way.
In any case, this memory of painfully being pinched under the armpits, of awkwardly being poised over that toilet in McDonald’s without a clue as to who or what or where I was supposed to be, has lingered for the past twenty-five years, and I have had problems—problems using public restrooms—ever since.
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