"Nine years ago today, in a far away land, to someone whom I have never met, my little girl was born."
Over and over this thought reverberates through my head. I cannot eat. I cannot laugh. I match the smile on my birthday girl's face because I do not want her to worry. I do not want her to misunderstand.
I am thinking.
I am remembering.
She is living. She is growing. She is dancing because she is turning nine today.
I search back. I look into the past. I didn't always love this child. I didn't always laugh when she laughed. I didn't watch the sun glint off her hair and laughter shimmer in her eyes. It wasn't always this way. I find it hard to recall a time without her yet it has only been ten months since the day I first saw her.
I looked into the eyes of the child standing before me. I saw fear. I saw distrust. She stiffened when I touched her arm but I wasn't sure what else to do with my hands. I shifted uncomfortably under the realization that I wasn't qualified for this. I wasn't prepared. I could say nothing to her- for she did not speak my language and I did not speak hers. Hadn't I made a vow to learn enough Chinese to greet her? Where had the time gone? Why hadn't I just done it? All questions, all crying out for my attention as I searched the eyes of the child before me.
The night before I had not slept because of the heavy weight of what awaited in this foreign place. I had traveled over half the globe, lost twelve hours and rested very little. I felt groggy and disoriented. Yet, this was the moment I had been waiting for. Hours of work, miles of travel and multitudes of prayers had gone into making this moment happen. That realization snapped me out of my hazy state. I wanted to remember every second. Every detail.
I wanted to remember what she looked like as she came out of the orphanage gate. The face of the person whose hand she held tightly as she trembled at the unknown.
I wanted to remember it all.
It was a nice day. The rays of the sun spun pictures through the trees as I waited. I was supposed to go in. I was supposed to be given a seat and see the place where my daughter had lived much of her life.It wasn't supposed to be this way. Yet, when my vehicle had pulled through the wrought iron gate, a guard rushed out. He motioned quickly and spoke in a manner of urgency to the driver and guide. At that, the driver backed out of the same gate he had just entered and park beside the curb.
The sunshine that danced through the trees warmed the van to stifling as I waited and watched- intently staring at the iron gate that I had been through twice. It held the key. The reason that I was in this foreign land. "Is this how it is done? Is this how everyone is treated?" I thought to myself but aloud I said nothing. I was surrounded by people whose language differed so greatly from my own.
They wouldn't understand.
The wait could have been hours. It could have been minutes. I didn't keep track as time slipped silently away. I was trying to remember if I had brought everything. Had I forgotten the markers that I had picked especially for her when I read that she enjoyed drawing? I fumbled with my bag that lay in my lap. It became my focus, if only for a second. My eyes darted back to the gate, then down to my bag. My hand fell onto the markers and paper. I had brought them.
"Whew..." I breathed.
I was relieved. I held them and flipped nervously through the blank pages of the tablet. I wondered what she liked to draw. I wondered if she was any good. I wondered if she would grow up to a famous artist.Those weren't my real questions...
Why wasn't she out to the side of that hot, dusty curb yet? Was there a problem? Could they have seen how nervous and unprepared I felt and changed their minds?
I turned to get a better look when I saw a flash of black from the corner of my eye. I knew the time had finally arrived.
She was coming.
"Her limp is worse than I thought," I said softly, almost reverently. Yet, I knew that no one was listening. I did not expect them to.
She did hold the hand of a woman. A small Asian women with sharp features, graying hair and simple attire. The woman smiled and talked to her as they walked slowly toward us. She was wearing a little black and white dress. It fluttered in the slight breeze that blew. On her back was strapped the little pink backpack I had sent her for Christmas. She wore little black sandals. There was nothing else. She carried no other bags. No toys.
I had known that she would come with nothing but I wasn't prepared for the stab of pain that shot through my heart.
She stood before me now clutching the hand of the other woman. I wanted to reach out. I wanted to place her little hand into mine but I did not have the courage so I simply looked into her eyes. I saw fear. I saw distrust. She flinched when I reached out and touched her arm but only for a second.
She removed her hand from the other woman's and placed it into mine. It felt warm against my skin. I smiled down at her. It was there, on the dusty curbside of that foreign land that we - she and I - began our journey to a thousand tomorrows.