This is a teen-written article from our friends at Teenink.com.
As a child in Cambodia, life was difficult. It went from bad to worse when my mother got sick. As usual, my father left us and went someplace else. I hardly ever saw him. I loved my father and maybe I still do. He wasn’t a nice man, though. He used to hit us, especially my mom. I never knew what we did wrong. Maybe the alcohol took over his mind.
One time after he left, I overheard people talking about how he had fallen in love and gotten married all over again. I never saw him after that.
Meanwhile, my poor mother’s heart was slowly melting. She was paralyzed because my dad hit her so much. She couldn’t move half of her body. So, at the age of six, I took care of her and my two brothers and sister. We had no money and lived in a very rural area without electricity and water. I had to cook, clean, beg for rice, and be the mother of the family. I rarely went to school.
I think my mom had seen me suffer enough. I’d had enough too! So, to make things easier, my mom sent my sister and one of my brothers to live with relatives in another village. People in Cambodia often take care of relatives’ children. I missed them but knew they were being cared for. I was the oldest, so I stayed; my mother needed me to take care of her and my baby brother, Long.
For a while it was just Long, my mother, and I. But then my brother, who was less than a year old, was very sick and skinny. One day I came home and Long wasn’t there. My mom said she had given him away to someone who said they could take care of him. He wasn’t coming back.
I was sad and confused but didn’t ask too many questions. I knew it must have been difficult for her, and we had no money for food or doctors to help Long. We didn’t know where he had gone, but my mom trusted the stranger who took him away, and hoped – we both hoped – that he would be safe and healthy.
My mom and I went on with our lives. We loved each other very much, but we suffered silently day after day. We were still struggling with hardly any money or food, and we missed Long terribly but never talked about him.
One afternoon, about a year after Long left, we received some good news. A man from the city came to our village and told us that a family in the United States had adopted my baby brother. He showed us pictures. My brother, now named Shane, was smiling, wearing nice clothes, and looking very healthy. Even though we missed him and life was hard for us, my mom and I were so happy to know that my brother was okay.
My peace did not last long. One night I had a horrible dream that my mom left me. I was crying and I couldn’t stop. I cried for such a long time that I woke my mother. I told her what I had dreamt. She said that she would never leave me.
Weeks passed, and then my nightmare came true. My mother died of a stroke. I blame my dad because of the injuries he gave her. Thinking about it now, I hate him.
I wish I could have done something. But when I saw my mother collapse, time passed so quickly I didn’t know what to do. I was only eight! The day my mother died, I didn’t cry because I didn’t know what death was. I did cry when they buried her. I knew at that moment that I would never see her again.
After my mother died, one of my aunts took me in. She was very poor, just like my mother. She was mean, and I think she was mad that she had to take care of me, but I had nowhere else to go.
One day the man who had brought the pictures of my baby brother came to visit again. It had taken him a long time to find us because I had moved. He was sad to hear that my mother had died. Then he gave me new clothes, a doll, and more pictures of my brother. My aunt asked him if the family who adopted my brother would want to adopt me too. The man turned to me and asked if I wanted to go live with my brother in the United States. Even though I didn’t know what to expect, I said yes. He said he would find out if it was possible. I waited for what seemed like forever. I started to think that maybe the American family did not want me.
But that wasn’t the case.
About a year later, the Americans who had adopted my brother finally came for me. As I now know, there is a lot of paperwork involved with adoption. They had to get permission from my family, the Cambodian government, and the United States government before they could come to get me.
The first time I saw my new parents was in a hotel lobby. I told the translator that they had long noses. I didn’t know I was being rude; I just wasn’t used to seeing Caucasian people. I was really nervous around them. I think they were nervous too. I didn’t smile until we went to the hotel room and my new mom showed me the clothes she had brought me. My face lit up fast! We didn’t talk much because I didn’t know how to speak English, but she made flash cards with pictures to help us communicate.
The day we left Cambodia I was filled with emotions. I was eager, worried, upset, and confused because I didn’t know where we were going and I had never been on a plane before. All I remember about my trip was that I threw up for most of the 21-hour flight. It was like the plane was a gigantic sickening machine. It felt as though the trip would never end.
When we landed in the United States I was so happy. After we waited in a bunch of lines, we walked out of the airport. The air was a lot colder than in Cambodia. In the distance, I saw a strange man waving at us. He looked excited and happy. I also saw a little boy next to him. I knew immediately it was my brother. I didn’t act excited to see him because I was still feeling so sick from the plane, but I was really thrilled.
My new grandpa drove us to my new home. In the car I looked out the window and saw strange yet beautiful houses. I kept peeking at my brother. He was now three years old and looked so clean and healthy compared to the last time I had seen him. At that moment I knew that I was going to be happy again.
And that is where I am now. The nightmares have ended because of two wonderful people who adopted my brother Shane and me. Adjusting to life in the United States wasn’t easy, but getting adopted is the most beautiful feeling. Even though we are not related by blood, I knew from that first day that my dad and mom cared about me very much. They filled up all the holes in my heart.
- Lea S., N. Merrick, NY
This piece has also been published in Teen Ink's monthly print magazine.
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