The following story is about a Korean girl who was adopted by a White American couple in the late 1950’s. The mother hailed from North Carolina and the father from Maryland. They cleared land and feared God on a homestead in Alaska.
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Mama used to tell me that I was bucktoothed. Real bucktoothed. She even took Polaroid pictures of my profile, one per week for two and-one-half years. Her proof of my kinship to the beaver family who lived in the valley below our cabin. Yep. If she kept them, Mama has 130 Polaroid photographs of my face, in profile, in all of their out-of-focus, hopefully fading condition.
From what Mama told me just about 5-100 times a week (but who’s counting when you are 12 years-old), I was part of the Mongoloid tribe and wore the face to prove it. The face in question, my face, was round, fat, and sallow complected. This face, my face, according to Mama, sported a broad nose like a ‘nigger’ (Mama didn’t use high falutin’ words to disguise her ignorant ways), slanted squinty untrustworthy eyes, and the aforementioned buckteeth, all framed in a coarse black hair. Even being a kid did not keep me from catching on that the Mongoloid tribe was nothing that any decent person would want to lay claim to.
Orthodontic braces toned down my overbite but nothing could be done for all of my remaining facial transgressions. I was stuck with them in all their obvious glory. For life. That is, until I found the magic elixir to cure this malady. I simply lost my face. I pretended so hard that it was not there any more that after a while, my face no longer existed. I became the adopted Korean girl with no face. Mind you, it was not easy to remain faceless. But, it was a necessity if I wanted to survive in my world where no one else looked like my tribe or what’s more, liked my tribe.
But just like the proverb where one solution begets a new problem, life offered up something new to deal with. If you don’t believe me, try being without your face for a day. Okay, too tough a challenge? Try being without your face for even an hour. Go ahead. Walk around. Go shopping. Introduce yourself to a stranger. Look in the mirror. You cannot. You are now invisible. Life suddenly shrinks. Now, you are getting a glimmer of the truth contained in that proverb.
Up until I was in my 20’s, I did not have a clue as to what was missing, what I had lost. I had lived for so many years without my face, that being without it felt normal. But it was not.
And so it was that in my 20’s, I began a long journey in search of my lost face. I spent indescribable energy and effort in following a suggestion made by a therapist. I cannot recall this therapist’s name but I have benefited from her suggestion, which was to look at myself, my entire face, in the mirror for one minute each day, until I gradually built up to five minutes. This assignment took me over a year to accomplish. Over 365 days of hard work and countless drops of sweat.
Thus, began my dialogue with the unknown woman in the mirror; telling this foreign face about my day. The high point of this mirror therapy happened the day I drove home like a mad woman and flew straightaway to the mirror to tell my mirror friend that I had been promoted at work. At that moment I thought “Oh, she’s so pretty when she’s excited.” Immediately, I recognized that the she was me. I walked quickly away but not before I reclaimed a part of my lost face.
I am now 45 years-of-age. This mirror work continues today. When I look into a mirror, I must still urge myself to really see my face. And still sometimes I look away or to the side and see only the hair that needs combing, the teeth that need brushing, the cheek in need of lotion, or the ear that the earring is to adorn. Still sometimes, I refuse to view my face in its entirety. Sometimes.
Just the other day, I asked a friend if I looked like a woman sitting across from us at a restaurant. My friend looked over at the woman and then back to me laughing and said, “No, you don’t look anything like her.” I asked if she was sure and she said “Yes, I’m sure,” still laughing. I told her that I do not know what I look like or whom I look like. I told her the truth.
That is how losses go. We spend inordinate amounts of time and energy looking to re-place or re-fill a hole that is left inside of us from something that used to be there. I suspect that the woman in my mirror will continue to experience triumphs, tears, happiness, and passion in her life time. At least that is my hope for her and for me.
@junemoon 2002 (published previously under the name of Jung Leehi)