“Oh, so this your fake mom?”
When you’re in second grade, hearing a comment like that tends to throw you off guard. But not me. Of course I was startled by my friend’s audacity, but I wasn’t surprised. In fact, I kind of expected it. And, that’s the saddest part all.
Fifteen years ago I was abandoned in a cardboard box in front of a ticket stand in MaoMing, China. It happened at midnight, since it was illegal to leave a baby in a world of strangers and never return. Later that morning, I was found by a policeman. When he couldn’t figure out where I had come from, I was taken to an orphanage where I would stay for just over a year.
Eleven years later, I returned to where my story began. I visited the orphanage where I had first been nurtured, but that’s a different story. This tale is rather odd. I know you never asked to be told my origin story, but if anything, this if more for me than for you.
After visiting the place where I took my first steps and spoke my first words, I was a bit in shock. The last thing I thought I could handle after that was to see the place where I had been abandoned. But eventually, curiosity outweighed my uneasiness.
I can’t say I was impressed with what I saw. It was, in fact, a ticket office. Obviously, over the years it had been refurbished. The walls were glass, giving the office a very exposed feeling. The outside was concrete, with pieces of rubble that had fallen off over the years. After I took a picture with my sister, we entered the newly renovated ticket stand.
Behind the desk were two women who looked quite confused about why two “Westerners,” an Asian woman, and an Asian girl were entering with such indescribable expressions.
Thankfully, our translator explained the situation to them as my mom, sister, and I awkwardly sat on the couches in the corner of the room. I thought that this would be it. I would see the ticket office, imagine the night my life changed forever, and leave. That was not the case.
“Molly, would you join me for a second?” Judging from the sound of my translator’s voice, something strange was about to ensue.
“So, I told these women why you are here today, and it happens that they’re familiar with your story. One of their colleagues abandoned her baby girl here around the same time as you were found. She was born in January. When were you born, again?”
November. I was born in November. Of course the stars didn’t align perfectly, but when you hear of a woman who had abandoned a baby just two months after you were supposedly born, it seems far from a coincidence. My translator and the two women behind the desk thought so too. And, thus began the weirdest situation I had ever experienced.
The women behind the desk were confident that I was their co-worker’s long lost baby girl. But they weren’t sure their co-worker would be convinced. After all, it had been 15 years since she last saw her baby. They asked my mom to print some photos of me. That way, when their colleague came to work later that afternoon, she could judge for herself if I was her child.
By sheer luck, there was a photography store just down the street. The two women went with us to choose the pictures that most resembled me. They were constantly sneaking glances at me, awkwardly slouching near the door. I didn’t know how to comprehend the situation. How was I supposed to? My mom told me to stand up straight when they looked at me, as if they could get a better feel for who I was purely based on my posture. I did not enjoy being stared at like some fragile piece of glass.
When the pictures were ready, we gave them to the two women, who promised to show them to my potential birth-mother. Either she would be astonished by my resemblance to her kin or she would pronounce me a stranger. Whatever the case, my family and I promised to return a few hours later to learn the outcome.
My story sounds like a plot from some made-for-TV drama. The only difference is that movies tend to have happy endings. And, while the end of this story isn’t necessarily bad, it’s not particularly happy either.
Once the sun began to set, my mom knew it was time to return to the ticket office and learn our fate. Or, rather, my fate. Walking in, for a split second, I felt a strange sensation, as if I remembered the night I was left at the door. It couldn’t have been true, but it felt like a flashback, as if I were actually in a movie.
“She doesn’t think you look like her,” the women said.
Silence. All eyes were on me. I was stunned.
I don’t know what I expected, but I certainly didn’t think our proposal would be shut down immediately. I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up. In an instant, I had to accept that my birthmother would remain a mystery. At least for now.
We thanked the women for their time and left for the airport. Strangely, I found myself smiling. Somewhere inside of me I yearned to meet someone who knew me from the beginning. I had finally seen the place where my story began. After 15 years of hearing this tall tale of my past, I had seen it for myself. To see what was true, and what had been made up.
And, with that, I left MaoMing with a grin on my face, grasping a piece of the rubble from the place where it all began.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.