Everyone adopting babies from China is given the same advice. Before you arrive, send something – a stuffed animal is ideal – that you have slept with for at least a week. That way your new daughter will have time to become acquainted with your scent.
My adoptive parents sent a small panda, why they would choose a symbol of my country rather than theirs later mystified me, and one of the first photographs ever taken of me shows a small, ill-fed baby in a wheeled walker holding the panda by its leg and staring into the camera as if to say, "Now what?" We still have that photograph, sent to my adoptives from the orphanage a week before they arrived. On occasion, my adoptive mother will pull that picture out, hold it in front of my face, and say, "Look at you with little Fun Bun."
In point of fact, they have thrown almost nothing of mine away. The clothes I wore when I was turned over to them (a lime green pair of boy's short pants and a "Hello, Kitty" T-shirt,) my blood-red Chinese passport, my medical report prepared in Guangzhou in a language which none of us can read. Every picture I have ever drawn, every school report, every program from every concert in which I stood – the perfect Asian cliché – holding a violin, every Brownie and Girl Scout project, every gymnastics trophy and ballet award, every ribbon for horseback riding, are all stored in large, covered plastic tubs in the attic. My bedroom is a clutter of Chinese-themed children's books, oriental knick-knacks,
jade statuettes, and a flag of China as large as a pillowcase. Every stuffed animal I've ever owned, including Fun Bun (named by my mother, not me,) either sits on my futon, stares down from shelving, or sits in my closet encased in plastic, carefully protected from change.
It isn't that I don't love my adoptives. How could I not? But I long to have a life in which I am no longer held captive by appreciation. I do not need Chinese calligraphy hanging on my walls to remind me who I am. I do not need red dragons, or posters of the Great Wall, or a portrait of Mei Lanfang, master of the Beijing Opera, to show me where I come from.
All I need for any of that is a mirror.
When I picture the perfect room, the room where I would be content to spend the rest of my life, the white walls are blank. There is only a bed, a desk and a wooden chair. There are no closets, no dressers, since all the clothing I own can be hung on a thin wooden bar which hangs from the ceiling. On my desk, a computer along with the few necessary office supplies. On the floor, some books, mostly unread. No telephone, no television, no tele-anything.
My adoptive parents, I hope, would keep everything they once considered mine, including Fun Bun which, after all this time, smells hauntingly like me.
a note on the author and the story:
Tai Dong Huai was born in Taizhou, China. The story "Scent" is from a collection in progress, "I Come From Where I've Never Been". It originally appeared as "Fun Bun" in the magazine Meeting House.
words: Tai Dong Huai, Connecticut
image: Jeff Crouch, Texas (more)