I bent the paper carefully along the perforated edge before tearing it off the printer. The results of my career aptitude test were printed on the dot matrix paper in blocky gray font, the hole punched edges waiting to be torn off and turned into accordion slinkies. The results of the eighth grade career survey sat in my hands and I was excited. As a young child, I had a perfectly prepared answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I wanted to be a doctor to help people, an answer crafted to elicit the most approving responses of the adults who asked. By the time I reached middle school, however, I knew that doctor was not in the cards. Despite the praise I received from family and strangers alike, when I pretended to be sick on the day we were dissecting frogs I knew that I would need another plan.
So, I was eager to see what insights my career test could give me. I scanned the page and found the conclusion. One word: “Writer.” A smile crept to the corners of my mouth but I quickly suppressed it. Internally, I felt like this test burrowed in my heart and found my refuge, my safest place. From the first black and white marble composition book where I wrote about playing with my friend Melissa and eating bologna sandwiches to the cat journal that contained the heartache of a family in crisis, writing became my companion, my closest confidant, and my most true form of communication. On the other hand, I couldn’t actually imagine myself being a writer. Writers were powerful, seen, and heard. I was a tiny Korean girl convinced she could blend into her Jewish Caucasian family if she was quiet enough.
I tucked the paper away into my school things, but never threw it out. An idea that was hidden but never discarded. I continued writing, first in spiral notebooks in high school filled with anger and darkness, the teenage angst spilled forth on the page so I could maintain a perfect exterior, and then into leather bound journals, the packaging a way to give my words respect even if I was not ready to let them free. The thought of being a writer floated up every now and then, but it was always submerged by the weight of self-doubt and an internal push to “succeed.” I became a lawyer instead, fulfilling the dreams of the stereotypical Korean parents I did not have, a stereotype that had become my guiding light because stereotypes were the only access I had to Korean culture.
And then, everything changed when I adopted my son in 2016 from Korea. The full circle experience of reliving my adoption through his adoption sliced me open faster than I felt prepared to handle. With each step of my son’s adoption, the knife cut deeper into buried emotions, doubts about my parents’ actions and my own, and the deep shame that comes with realizing so much of your life had been spent in denial of your full self. Faced with new parenthood, an adopted toddler son, and a spotlight brighter than I had ever experienced turned inward on myself, writing walked me through it. After publishing on the excellent We The Lees blog as a guest blogger in 2016, I propelled myself forward, trying to fill in the now cavernous space inside of me that had spilled out the previous few years. A new house, a new car, a dog, another adopted son, and a biological daughter. I crammed each year with something new, moving forward at an impossible rate, even through a pandemic, trying to fit as much living as possible into a life that had been stripped open.
I knew I had to slow down and reassess so I entered therapy and met a dear friend and fellow adoptee who also found her voice in writing. She told me about this writing class for adoptees called Adoptee Voices and I felt called to sign up. Being a part of this group of writers rescued my dream of being a writer. It gave me time each week for writing, inspiration from the words of the other writers, and confidence that my words should be heard. I am brimming with ideas that I cannot wait to write. Sometimes I worry that I’ll never finish writing the ideas I have as I steal moments to write in the quiet that exists only while my kids are asleep, but then I think back to eighth grade. I think back to that career test. I think back to that piece of paper that said writer. And I know, it will happen eventually because it has always been.