Timebender

Let’s listen to this Laura Klunder story. When a Timebender gets cancer, you may stop breathing. Your chest will tighten as her cells multiply. Your body will weaken as hers deteriorates. This is her magic, too. She is here and gone without warning. She ages you too quickly and bends you backward to meet in her youth. In the first seconds of reunion, she is truly extraordinary. While her strength may seem unprecedented in search, it is the threat of passing that reveals her reach. Wherever you run, her determination in both birth and death will chase you. My birth mother is a Timebender. When I learned that she has cancer, I felt betrayed by time.

I am one of two hundred thousand exiled Spacebenders, born into a world at war against Timebenders. In solidarity with each of us who has been relegated to the margins of society, I have learned to deconstruct and reshape space to hold intersecting, divergent, and shifting locations of home and family. In childhood, I sensed my magic due to the uncanny ability to adapt to the smallest places.

Nevertheless, I was isolated by violence and felt abandoned. I was disgusted by my outstanding qualities and wished to run away rather than just fit into the narrow minds that restricted me. By adolescence, I wearied of the game of hide and shrink and desired spaces that expanded with my growth. And so, I set forth on an adventure into the unknown territories of self and cultural landscape, while holding the loved ones that had shaped me thus far. On this quest, I encountered a Timebender, who happened to be my birth mother.

In South Korea, Timebenders are social outcasts due to fear and hatred of their strength. Some people may suggest they are ahead of their time, creating a life outside of social conventions that are entrenched in past traditions. No Timebender is the same, therefore it is unfair to simply define them. However, most Timebenders survive individual circumstances and societal structures that threaten their livelihood on a daily basis. Despite the magic of their resilience, Timebenders are only human and may rise and fall with the sickness of society. When I met my mother, I learned that Timebenders are truly remarkable beings, even if not always innocent.

I, like many other Spacebenders, struggle with my Timebender mother. She speaks to me in sounds and metaphors that I cannot comprehend. Her behavior has meanings that I do not share, nor do I care to accept. What is worse, she immobilizes me according to her timing with no accountability to mine. I wait for her and she never shows up. We sit together on the floor of her bedroom, but still cannot meet despite our shared location.

I suspect my mother never had the privilege to subvert power to create space around her. This is my magic, not hers. Therefore, she prays for our salvation, while I struggle to hold her incongruence with my hopes. In isolation with my birth mother, there is no magic that creates time that is gone or disappears in the distance that exists between us. In such moments of despair, I accept that life is indeed divisible by adoption, not only by death.

My birth mother has cancer, and I wonder what magic can alleviate the symptoms of this nonsense. On September 23, 2014, just three years after reuniting with my first mother, I received a text message written in Korean. Within the indecipherable code, there was one English word: cancer. My questions, unable to reach my mother in her language that was denied me, are multiplying, spreading, and sickening my adopted body. My stomach hurts. Sleeping is labored. The physical dissonance of her influence and absence is relentless. In fiction, my mother is fascinating, brilliant, and heroic. In reality, she is agitating.

In this emerging adoption paradox, where connection and departure meet in the same space, at an unknown time, I accept that losing my birth mother in reunion is an inescapable reality of my adopted life. I am reminded that my strength is not to hold time and that she will move forward according to her will. Beyond the temptation of this bitterness, I am comforted by the truth of my experiences. I am most alive in love and loss. I am not alone, nor am I exceptional.