This OpEd focuses on Vivian’s decision to give Deming up for adoption, by exploring the points of view of two characters from Lisa Ko’s the Leavers, Vivian and Michael. After Polly’s disappearance, Vivian is left to care for two kids, her son, Michael, and Polly’s son, Deming. For a while, Vivian tries to take care of Deming. However, eventually, she faces the hard decision of giving Deming up for adoption or living on the streets. This OpEd shows the impact of her decision on both her and her son Michael.
It started with Polly, then Leon. Everyone was slowly leaving. We still don’t know where Polly went, maybe Florida? She isn’t responding to any calls or texts. As for Leon, he went back to China. Now, It’s just me, mom and Deming. Our family was supposed to be unbreakable , but at least we had each other. We’ve lived in the same ratty apartment in the Bronx, with the same ugly couch and only enough money to scrape by for as long as I can remember. But we found a way to stay afloat and endure the hard times together as a perfectly dysfunctional family. I thought it’d always be like that.
Mom and Deming had been out for more than half an hour, and I was starting to get slightly concerned. It’s scary being in a big city; the streets may be full of noise and bustling people, yet it’s hard not to feel utterly alone. I kept telling myself it wouldn’t last, they’d be back, and Polly and Leon too; we’d be a complete family again. Deming and I would grow up together, get good jobs, and become rich. Mom, Polly, and Leon would never again have to worry about having enough money for dinner.
I heard steps coming up the stairs, leading to the door. I ran to greet them. The door opened, and there was Mom… alone. Where was Deming? I looked around and behind her, but he wasn’t there. I looked up to her face, so many questions running through my head. Then I saw the tears that ran down her face. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘I had to. I can’t support both of you. He’ll be better off now.’ I didn’t understand. Of course, I didn’t; my world had been shattered. Where was my brother? She hugged me and cried into my shoulder. I just stood there, my mind blank. I couldn’t think. Whereas the apartment buzzed with life before, all that remained now was an eerie stillness. My family, once five, was now down to only two: Mom and me.
Mom would later tell me that she gave Deming to the adoption agency to be taken in to be raised by a wealthy white family, or at least a family that could ‘properly support him.’ I remember yelling at her, ‘How could you abandon him? What if he was your son, would you abandon me?’ I blamed her for everything that was happening to us, all of it falling from under our feet. It took a while, but I finally came to understand why Mom did what she did. Yet, I’ve always thought of what would have happened if Polly hadn’t disappeared first. Maybe I’d be watching TV with Deming, or laughing with Leon right now.
I knew it would eventually end like this. I knew somehow everything would break apart. I just wish it wasn’t so soon. I took away Michael’s friend, his brother, I know that it’s horrible, but I didn’t know what else to do. All three of us worked, but still, our salaries barely covered the expenses. Polly, Leon and I took turns cooking, doing the laundry, taking care of the kids, and taking them to school. Together we could tackle anything. But then Polly disappeared, and Leon went back to China. Left all by myself, I couldn’t afford to support two kids. I know Deming will be better off; he’ll have a happy childhood with a rich family. It’ll be better than whatever I could give him. That’s what I tell myself.
I cried the second I left the adoption building. I broke down on a bench in the park, the tears choking me. I couldn’t breathe. I put my head in my hands in an attempt to pull my hair down and cover my face from any onlooking passerby. I saw a couple of people look at me curiously, but they all quickly walked away when they saw my red eyes. I stayed crouched over for a good 10 minutes, slightly shaking, tears making a tiny puddle at my feet. Finally, I wiped my cheeks and nose with my sleeve and sat up, slowly leaning my head on back on the grimy bench gazing upwards at the sky. The clouds lazily passed me by, pushed by the light breeze. I saw pigeons flying from one building to the next, softly cooing, and flapping their wings to keep their balance. I heard a child crying a block over. I thought about that mother trying to console her kid. I knew I had to tell Michael what happened.
My feet dragged, and I kept my head down. I felt dissociated from the world around me. Walking up the stairs to my front door, I couldn’t shake the feeling of guilt that washed over me. By the time the door opened and Michael saw me, I was in tears once again. I tried to tell him I was sorry. It ripped me apart to have to give up Deming for adoption. Michael felt like Deming was his brother, and I felt like he was my son. All I wanted was to give both Deming and Michael their best chance to get out of this vicious cycle of poverty.
I tried to get that point across, but I knew Michael was in no mood to listen. I wish he could understand how much I love him and Deming, but he’s young. The only thing he’s thinking right now is that I took Deming away from him. I’m the one that broke apart this family. That’s what he believes, and it just makes this situation so much more unbearable. It’s hard not to hold someone responsible right away and think of the purpose behind their decision. I hope Michael will come around. I don’t want to lose another son.
This was not how I wanted my life to go when I came to America. I wanted to succeed and provide for my family. Then Polly left, and Leon quickly followed suit, moving back to China where he hoped to make a better living. I couldn’t support two kids on my own. I couldn’t pay the rent and buy food and pay the water and electricity bills and take care of Michael and work all at once. It felt like an impossible mission. And yet, I hate myself for going through with the adoption. All I want is for Michael to have a better life than me. I love that boy.
This OpEd is written by Chloe Wallace (Buckingham Browne & Nichols ‘22) who is working as a Curriculum Development Intern for United 4 Social Change during the Summer of 2019. Chloe is particularly passionate about ensuring equitable and accessible educational opportunities for kids.