Of all the comments in response to my Washington Post op-ed, there is one that has stuck with me: “You are a brave, brave woman, Ms. Landesberg. I salute you.” At the time, it felt undeserved and overdramatic. Bravery implies acting in the face of a known, serious risk, but when I wrote this piece, I did not perceive any risks. In fact, I felt more of a risk in not writing it.
The day after the leaked Dobbs opinion in May, our family had a contractor come to our house to install a new door. He was Korean and, as embarrassed as I am to admit it, I avoided him, unable to face questions about my Koreanness that day.
One of my sons found me in another room and with one big exhale, flopped on the couch and said, “I think that guy is speaking Korean.”
“You’re right,” I replied, putting my hand on his back. “How can you tell?”
“I think I used to know that language when I was little.”
I hugged him close and we sat in hiding for awhile, listening to a language we could no longer understand, feeling the loss inherent in our adoption, unable to make it through the most mundane of events without dealing with loss. I knew I had to write the truth about adoption, for myself and for my sons.
While bravery had nothing to do with writing and publishing that piece, I realized I might need some afterall when I found out the op-ed would be published in the print paper which my parents read daily. My parents and I have never talked about race or adoption and they had no idea I wrote about those topics. I have kept the fairytale of my adoption in place for my parents’ sake all these years, playing the role of the perfect adoptee. It was the silent deal we struck when I was a child. My sister would be the wild, rebellious adoptee and I would be the perfect one. I would be the proof that her behavior was not my parent’s fault, the proof that they did actually save us, the glue that would hold us together. My op-ed broke that contract.
When I submitted to the Washington Post, I hid behind the belief that my piece would never be published to avoid thinking about my parents reading my article. Now, I think there was a subconscious part of me that wanted them to read it, that wanted to be free from the charade. But once I knew they really were going to see it, I spent the night before terrified. That comment about bravery now sounded like it was being delivered by a villain in a scary movie. “You are a brave, brave woman, Ms. Landesberg,” a sly smile curled on the commenter’s face as my parents emerged from the darkness with my article in their hands. I knew what was coming.
I had forewarned my parents that I had written an op-ed about abortion and adoption, but did not tell them exactly what it said. Mid-morning of the day it appeared in the paper, they both texted me. My father was emotional, regretful, and hurt. My mother was curt and stoic. The days that followed were painful, awkward, and raw, and it felt like the once solid foundation of our family had splintered. And, of course, it felt like it was my fault.
Now, weeks later, my parents and I have landed again, standing awkwardly on fractured terra, pretending we don’t notice all that has changed. We are all raw from having been so exposed and so honest, but no one talks about it. The weather and sports seem to be safe subjects. Anything about race and adoption has been buried away again, the earth packed down firmly, and we all watch as time sweeps away any evidence that the ground had ever been upset.
No amount of silence or time can make me forget what happened though. The childhood fear of being abandoned by my parents (again) makes me question every word I type. I wonder how my words could hurt them or embarrass them. I think about how I might lose them. I dream about being free from them. I am so preoccupied with them that I find it hard to write at all. But then I remember that day hiding from the Korean contractor with my son and I think about hiding like that for the rest of my parents’ lives. I cannot do that to myself or my kids. So, I summon that stranger’s comment once more. “You are a brave, brave woman, Ms. Landesberg,” she says gently, with a hand on my shoulder and an encouraging smile, leading me to sit down and write. I know the risks now. I write anyway. Slowly. Gently. Bravely.