YOU KNOW YOU'RE ADOPTED WHEN
standalone chapter excerpted from What Are You?
YOUR PARENTS CAN'T TELL YOU HOW BIG YOU WERE AT BIRTH. OR WHAT TIME OF DAY YOU WERE BORN.
I am very sorry that I cannot raise you. I thought it would be better for you to grow up in a good environment with nice parents. I hoped you could be raised in Korea because then you could grow up without knowing about your adoption.
You marry your cousin and have six children. One day you wake from a dream in which Isaiah called: "Bring my sons from afar, and my daughters from the ends of the earth." It is decided. You and Bertha will adopt eight Korean war orphans.
YOU CAN PRETEND YOU DON'T KNOW YOUR ADOPTIVE PARENTS WHEN OUT IN PUBLIC TOGETHER.
You and hundreds of other Americans visit the Holt farm in Oregon each week, begging for a child. The others mostly just want to "see what the children look like," but your heart is pure. You want a baby to love, but the United States won't give you one.
A 32-year-old Creswell man committed suicide Monday night at his residence at 82632 Howe Lane, a Lane County sheriff's dispatcher said.
You work for the U.S. Children's Bureau and you have devoted yourself to putting the Holts out of business. You are not alone. The Child Welfare League of America and the International Social Service agree that the Holts are dangerous, that their placements threaten child welfare by substituting religious zeal for professional skill and supervision.
My loving daughter, when I first felt you within me I dreamt of many things. I dreamt that after your birth I would buy a pair of red shoes for your feet and a pretty ribbon with lace to put in your hair. However, now I cannot hug you or buy you the red shoes or even buy you a ribbon, and I am very sad. At first I couldn't accept this reality, but then I realized you will have good adoptive parents. They will buy you the red shoes and ribbon, because you are like an angel given by God!
Joseph Tae Holt died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the dispatcher said.
I can't stop crying while writing this letter because the image of your body haunts my mind. I miss you so much. How I wished to be your mother! That you, my flesh and blood, might be standing right next to me and I wouldn't even recognize you—how can I cope with such a fate?
He was the adopted son of Bertha Holt, founder of the Holt International Children's Services adoption agency.
In Congress, Oregon Senator Richard Neuberger calls you and Bertha incarnations of "the Biblical Good Samaritan."
Every day when you answer the phone—you no longer allow Bertha or the kids to answer—you are accused of bringing home "slant-eyed monsters." You don't need this right now. Some of the Korean mothers have been causing trouble. They say they are still waiting for their babies' American fathers to return. They will not release their children.
The sheriff's office received a call shortly before 8 p.m. from a resident at the Bertha Holt home who said Joseph Holt had threatened to commit suicide.
Of course Harry collects the children from mothers! How else is he supposed to get them?
PEOPLE ASK IF YOU WOULD RATHER HAVE BEEN THROWN IN A DUMPSTER.
In your memoir, you write that in 1954 Harry, with the help of a Korean liason, "hunted" for Amerasian children and "talked to mothers," sometimes showing photos of children in the United States, while passing out religious pamphlets.
The caller said he then heard a gunshot from another room.
You write that one mother was almost hysterical when taking her child off her back. She misunderstood Harry's intention, believing that she would be able to stay in touch with her child. The mother didn't realize that adoption was "a clean break and forever."
When I first saw you after your birth, it was as if I had loved you for a long time. I will think about you when I look to the sky because you also look to the sky. I hope you will grow up full of life like a pine tree. . . . P.S. Dear adoptive parents, I would really like to meet my baby someday.
YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE INTERESTED IN HISTORY CLASS, BUT ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO SHOW INTEREST IN YOUR OWN HISTORY.
"We ask all of you who are Christians to pray to God that He will give us the wisdom and the strength and the power to deliver his little children from the cold and misery and darkness of Korea into the warmth and love of your homes."
My dear princess. I thought about raising you by myself, but it would be hard in Korea where the Confucian ideas are deeply rooted in society. Wherever you end up, I hope you will grow up to be a happy, healthy, kind, and beautiful woman. I will not ask you to forgive me.
YOUR FAMILY MEDICAL HISTORY ALL SAYS UNKNOWN.
Holt, who lived at the Bertha Holt home, was dead when police and ambulance personnel arrived at the scene, the sheriff's dispatcher said.
Harry is dead. They want you to shut down the Holt Agency but you tell them, "This work was always God's work. If He wants it to continue, it will."
Why did I give birth to you and then have to place you with others? I hated myself. And I hated the person who showed you to me only that one time. My sweetheart! Good-bye. My darling baby! Be happy. Be healthy. I hope you won't have to suffer the kind of pain I have suffered. I can endure anything if it is for your happiness, my dear. I can endure anything if it is for your good future.
People begin to call you Grandma. Grandma Holt. The Holt Agency becomes Holt International. Becomes Holt International Children's Services serving Bangladesh Belarus Bolivia Brazil Cambodia China Colombia Costa Rica Ecuador El Salvador Guatemala Honduras Hong Kong India Korea Mexico Nicaragua Peru Philippines Romania Russia Taiwan Thailand Ukraine United States Vietnam. You say to the world, "All children are beautiful when they're loved."
Bertha Holt founded the Holt adoption agency when she and her late husband, Harry Holt, adopted eight Korean orphans in 1955.
You are born on the 31st anniversary of the Korean War. Two years later, you are on an airplane headed to America. Four years after that, you are on an airplane headed back to Seoul, where Holt International Children's Services will take your photograph for the image on its thank you cards. In the photograph, you wear a traditional Korean hanbok. You are smiling.
STRANGERS TELL YOU TO BE GRATEFUL YOU WERE "TAKEN IN."
What no one can see in the photograph is the welt on your throat, the dried blood from where your mother's nails pierced skin when she pinched you behind the dressing screen and told you to go out there and smile.
You are an American Mother of the Year. You are recognized by heads of state. You are the recipient of national awards. But "Grandma" is the title you love most.
She was at the residence when the suicide occurred, police said.
You did not cry, but you wanted to. You were traumatized by the sight of so many broken bodies, wheelchaired bodies, un-adopted bodies, surrounding you at Holt's Ilsan Center, which you and your mother had toured all morning. You are told you are lucky. If you hadn't been adopted you would be one of those bodies.
You have just graduated from nursing school, and you have been called. It is your mission to go to Korea and help your parents help the war orphans. When you arrive, you have a vision: "This was where the Lord would have me be for the rest of my life."
YOU SEE PEOPLE'S REACTIONS ONCE THEY HEAR YOUR NAME.
Doing the Lord's work, you stay in Korea for the rest of your life. You carry on your mother's legacy: Holt's Ilsan Center for children with special needs, disabled children, unadopted adults.
You are given a grape soda. You break the metal tab and the can can't open. You are a guest in Seoul and you have fucked up. You are a fuckup. You are six years old.
SOMEONE REMINDS YOU WHO YOUR REAL MOTHER IS.
I used to wake in the middle of the night, as if I heard your crying. But it was only a dream. I then cried because I missed you so much. I cannot give up my wish to see you. I will never forget you.
After a new can of soda, you remove your clothes behind a dressing screen, you put on the Korean hanbok, you go out there and smile.
"You Know You're Adopted When" is a mashup / collage of:
bullet points from the description of a Facebook group called You Know You're Adopted When
letters from birth mothers to their unknown children that I have reappropriated from a book called I wish for you a beautiful life
an incident report
a historical retelling in the 2nd person of Christian missionaries Harry, Bertha, and Molly Holt in the aftermath of the Korean War
a blend of other POVs also using the second person (hopeful adoptive parents, social workers, and my own second person narrative embedded within these others)
Molly Gaudry is the author of We Take Me Apart (2010) and Desire: A Haunting (2015). She is a resident faculty member of the Yale Writers' Conference and the creative director at The Lit Pub.