It was probably the biggest accomplishment of my life. For months after I would think back to that moment and replay it for hours in my mind. It was the highlight of my high jump career. Yet this one lingering thought seemed to pull me from my triumph.
Friday, March 11th, 2016; 1:30 PM, the high jump event was supposed to begin an hour ago. I was seated on metal bleachers on the sideline of the most impressive indoor track building I had ever been in. It was called the Armory and was located in New York City. If that isn’t impressive enough, the Armory’s track is not only banked, which means the turns are propped up to help runners turn quicker, but also three stories above the hustle and bustle of the city. No other track I have ever been to has been off the ground level before. It was, in my opinion, the perfect place to host the New Balance Indoor National Meet.
The track wasn’t the only impressive part of the Armory, however. In the center was a gigantic display screen, similar to those in basketball arenas. Beneath the screens were speakers blaring music from movie sound tracks to pop hits. All around the track the floors were wooden and not an inch of the floor was not scarred by track spikes. Nike signs hung from every wall space available, displaying messages such as, “Will you be the hunter or the hunted?” It was inspirational stuff.
The atmosphere was buzzing with coaches, athletes and spectators alike. I felt like I was suspended and about to fall as I waited with my mother, my eyes glued to the center of the track, where I knew I would be jumping soon. My knees would not stop jittering as I tentatively nibbled on a sandwich my mother insisted I eat. Finally, after the hour or so delay, I saw the officials begin to set up the high jump pit. Slowly, high jumpers creeped out from the sidelines. You could tell by looking at their lean frames they were there to high jump. I left my mother and began the pilgrimage to the center of the track, careful to avoid getting in anyone’s way.
When I reached the cluster of high jumpers ready to mark out their spot, I looked around and felt my heart drop. Everyone was taller, stronger, more flexible than me. I seemed out of place. I was used to being the top dog at my hometown meets, but here everyone was just as good if not better than me, and that shook me a bit. Everyone was a stranger, an unknown variable. I didn’t know what they usually jumped, and that uncertainty put me on edge. I took deep breathes and just pushed all the negative thoughts out of my head. After all, that’s all I could do.
Something went terribly right that meet. I don’t know how or why, but I won the emerging elite high jump. I didn’t expect to win. And looking at everyone else’s statistics, I definitely shouldn’t have won. Speaking truthfully, if that meet had been conducted 10 times, a different winner would’ve emerged each time. That’s how closely matched everyone was. I must have just gotten lucky. Not only did I win, but I also set my personal record.
When I made the winning jump, I was in utter disbelief. I remember my mother and coach cheering loudly. She knew I broke my record. I remember this random pole vaulter high-fiving me. But after the jump, it was a blur as I watched everyone else attempt the height I just made. One by one, they all missed, once, twice, three times. When the last high jumper missed the third time, that’s when it hit me that I had won. I shook hands with the official who asked me if I was jumping in college. I proudly told him that I would be continuing my jumping career at Grand Valley State University in the fall. He didn’t know where that was, so he just grunted. Next I heard my name announced over the speakers as the emerging elite high jump champion. It had a nice ring to it. I picked up my medal and finally made it back to my mother. We hugged, as she told me how proud she was. I swear I could see tears forming in the corners of the eyes.
Later that night, as I lied in bed a reoccurring thought brought me back down from my high.
What would my birth mother think of me now?
That question has weaved in and out of my mind ever since I fully understood what being adopted meant. I was adopted from China when I was only 10 months old. I’m told my birth mother left me at the gate of an orphanage, rang the bell at the gate, and left without even a note. Not knowing who gave birth to me gnaws at me every time I think about it. I grew up watching other kids compare themselves to their parents. Anna’s got her mother’s hair. Sylvia’s smart because her dad is a genius. Jack has his father’s eyes. What did I have in common with either of my parents? We were all humans, and that was about it. I couldn’t help but feel like an outsider even at my family gathering. My younger brother, who was adopted from Vietnam, and I were the only nonwhite people present ever. It was clear we were unlike everyone else, and while no one ever mentioned it, I still felt isolated. Every time I entered a doctor’s office I was reminded of my unknown parentage when they asked for my family health history.
“I never knew my birth parents,” I would always mutter.
I wished for nothing more than to know them, though. I’ve pictured thousands of different scenarios of where my mother might be now, and why she left me. Part of me is holding on to this false hope that one day I will meet her, but the rational side of me knows I never will. I like to believe she gave me up so I could live a better life, but a part of me always wonders, did she just not want me? Would she want me now? If she could see everything I’m doing, would she want me? Would she be proud of me? Would she love me?
All those thoughts flowed through me in rapid succession. It might sound odd because I have never meet my birth mother, but at that moment, all I wanted was for her to know what I’ve done and to be proud of the person I am. I wanted for her to know that I am alive and doing well and that I loved her. I loved this woman I never met and will never know. But then at the same time part of me also hated this women, who left me in a world full of strangers. I hated her for never giving me the option to know her. I wanted her to know everything I had accomplished so she would feel guilty for leaving me. I wanted to know that her leaving me hurt her just as much as it still pains me. Those conflicting feeling of both extreme love and extreme hatred left me confused.
I know that my life is better because I was adopted. I understand all the opportunities I’ve been given; all the time give and sacrifices made by my adopted parents. I’m grateful for to have parents, because I know some people aren’t that lucky. My parents have loved me as if they had given birth to me, if not more, and I love them just as much, but just knowing I’ll never know who brought me into this world eats at me sometimes.
While I try not to linger on a question that will forever be unanswered, sometimes I can’t help but wonder, would you be proud of me now?