I’m thinking of them today.
I’m thinking of them as I peel the garlic and the ginger to prepare the paste for the Chinese food I’m learning to make for our daughters in some, undoubtably, woefully and inadequate attempt to fill the craving that still burns deep within each one for the delicious smells and flavors of their homeland, for their people, for their biological mothers.
Their mothers would know how to make the soup they want. They would know how to flavor the rice and stir fry it perfectly until its wonderful redolence filled their home with a familiar incense that is as indelibly imprinted on their minds as the smell of the salty sea is on mine.
They would know how to teach them the names of the spices and the words for the fish they desire.
They would know the meaning of the words my daughters use when they speak to each other in the lovely tonal language of their mother tongue.
They would know.
They would know their real birthdates…and their names.
I can still hear the words take shape and stumble out of Evangeline’s mouth, haltingly, stunted, pained, only months after she had come home. “That wasn’t my real name, Mommy. And my birthday isn’t my real birthday. They took our names away and our birthdays.”
She spoke the word, they, as if it referred to some nameless giant, some gargantuan monster that had come and snatched away their names. Yet she knew the people who chose to keep the secrets, to take away their very identities. Perhaps she even loved them.
Again and again my mind fills with questions. Did that make it harder? Was it more confusing to love and depend on the people who raised you and cared for you in your parent’s stead, and, at the same time, know they had taken away your very identity and replaced it with a name like ‘Dang’, one that forever would identity you as an orphan in your own country? Did she beg the Ayis for answers the way she begs me to call her orphanage, to take her to visit China, or the way she asks me again and again for a cell phone?
I wonder. Did they know? Were there people there who remembered her name? Do they still remember? Were there people who worked in the orphanage who knew her grandmother, who remembered the day she dropped her off when she was five and told her she was coming back and never came?
Their mothers would know the answers to the questions that pass through my mind on days like today, on all the days.
They would know how to teach me how to cook for my daughters.
I wonder how they are. I wonder if they are well, if they are alive?
I wonder if they yearn to hear news of their lost daughters. I wonder if they can still feel the softness of their baby skin the last time they kissed them.
And I wonder if they ever had the chance to kiss them. I wonder if someone brought them hot soup while they laid in bed empty, hollow, bereft of the child they had carried deep inside for nine long months of waiting while a midwife secretly smuggled their babies away to abandon them instead of snuffing them out for a fee.
I wonder if they cried. I wonder if they were hoping for a boy or if they didn’t care at all. I wonder if someone made them feel worthless because they bore girls instead of boys. And I wonder if they knew that their tiny babies had special needs they could not care for. I wonder if they left them on the steps of the orphanage or street corner while they prayed a private prayer to a God their spirits longed for but whom they never knew.
I wonder if their mothers know there is another mother, on the other side of the world with light skin and light hair who loves them now and holds them close and tries to cook soup the way they like it, the way they would prepare it for them if they could.
I wish I could tell their mothers how much I love them and how they bless our lives and how we are richer for their incomprehensible loss.
I wish I could tell them that even though their daughters are loved so very deeply, even though they are among the far too few who have been chosen by a family, even though they have brothers and sisters and a mama and baba, there is a hole deep inside of each one, a dark and hazy place where they know they are missing the mother who bore them, a secret place in their subconscious where they remember, where they will always remember.
And I want to tell them how thankful I am that they gave them life and that I am the light skinned woman on the other side of the world who has the unspeakable gift of being their mother.
I want to tell them it’s a role I treasure.
Their lost daughters are cherished treasures of my own.
I want them to know that their presence is never far from my mind and my prayers.
And I pray that God will hold them close and fill them with a peace that only He can give.