l a k s h m i a d o p t i o n s
S U S A N M . S C H U L T Z
As the months & years passed, I still missed Cambodia. They took her name away, substituted another. She remembers
her birthfamily, remembers not being in the orphanage. The forms say otherwise, say “origin unknown.” The nanny
from whom she was taken was her mother. I may not have had a fancy house in Cambodia, but I had a home. The
defendant’s $1.4 million Hanalei house will be sold to pay restitution. She put money in an off-shore company named after
the Hindu god of wealth. Boasted of driving her Mercedes to impress the ministers. We did not have much money, but we all
helped each other. The older children left with memories intact. She forgot to take those away.
In the first photo he appears emaciated, ancient baby held by a smiling woman at a doctor’s office. His father died and
his mother couldn’t care for him and his older siblings. He comes from a province in the south. The province is
extremely poor. His nanny cried as we left. We stopped at a store in the city; I sat in back with the boy. Through the
window I could see them coming, the men without arms or legs, smiling. Let him cast the first stone.
“If anything, I feel worse about my second son; we tried so hard to avoid the problems of our first adoption, but we still do
not know anything about our younger son’s birthfamily.” It’s the reverse of forgetting, this not-knowing, this not-knowing
how to know. The private investigators found nothing. Somewhere a woman is missing a child. Not feeling like we had
another choice, but not feeling comfortable with our decision either, we took our daughter with us.
Because her daughter was older, she spoke a language. When she learned a second, she translated her memories in the present.
Her grief was intense and my guilt was almost too much to bear. She is like other girls. They were told they would
get payments from the USA. They were told they would hear from their children. Her greed has caused Jenaye to lose her
identity forever. Everything hinges on a name. He was Seyla until we named him Sangha. Seyla means “stone,” and Sangha
“handsome.” The lama called him Dorje. This is no place to call identity into question, though I wonder which. My
friend is a different person when he plays softball with the local guys. That’s a different version of a different story.
The impact of her actions will unfold over the course of all of our lives. While the court received letters recording
her humanitarian and charitable deeds, the judge says these testimonies do not mitigate the harm she has done. She suffers
post-traumatic stress syndrome, “saves” children to relieve her anxiety. Who is to separate the saint from the sinner when
they come limbs wrapped around each other, inseparable? The court does not require that Cambodian children now in the US be
sent back to Cambodia, adding loss onto loss. We would send her back, if she wanted that.
Somewhere a woman is missing her child. He holds my hand on the way to school. He has a buzz-cut, like his friends. He
likes to play with guns, only sometimes gives them away because they hurt people. It’s just pretend, he’ll say,
making krrrrrrrr krrrrrrr sounds again, afternoons. He loves books about oceans and rainforests. He pulls pop-ups
from the book and says, “transformer!” He loves most of all to eat. He has learned to pet the cat without tormenting him.
He looks at Saturn through a telescope with his dad. He looks at the moon (much closer), its craters, its bright and its dark
spots. He watches George Shrinks every morning. He plays with older boys. He knows very little of the above.
We rehearse our speeches, then let them go. We tell them to the bathroom tiles, the dense air of automobiles. We tell them
to the rain that creases against mountains, then makes waterfalls to last the day. We say our speeches to one another, mother
to father, father to mother. We are happy we confronted this early, and still we do not know what to say. We say your
parents could not care for you, so we adopted you. We read the books that say we chose you or that say we do
not look like you, but we love you all the same or that say happy adoption day! We remember the flooded earth,
the water up to the orphanage walls.
(Language taken or adapted from United States of America v. Lauryn Galindo, Government’s Sentencing Memorandum, November,
2004, and from Cambodia Adopt email list)
Note: I am a strong advocate for adoption, international and otherwise. But I do not condone those who act unethically;
hence this piece.