I have so much to share with you all, nothing earth shattering but things I want to write about anyway. I had an interesting evening with Toktogul Wednesday night. After our long translated discussion on Tuesday evening, we realized that Tokie may or may not understand that he was born with his cleft lip and palate, that it was a birth defect. During the conversation he alluded to being hurt in the face a long time ago, but then kind of backtracked and affirmed that he knew he was born that way. In light of this possible confusion, and because I realized we hadn't done it yet and should have immediately upon getting him in Bishkek, we decided to sit down with him and show him his baby pictures. I am SO THANKFUL to have these from Tami, the woman who knew him over there while he was younger. They are priceless and really proved to be very interesting to Tokie.
He was sitting on my lap at our kitchen table, laptop in front of us, and anxiously taking in each and every photograph, spotting himself and pointing to his lip. We have a couple of him when he was very, very young, and then a few at various ages as he was growing up. He asked to see a few of them over again, and then wanted to see the pictures of other kids that had been originally sent to us as we were considering Kyrgyzstan. He talked about each child that he recognized, he pointed out things in the backgrounds and caretakers, he identified whether it was at Sokolok or Belovodskoe.
As we sat there, I wondered what this must feel like for him, seeing himself as he looked when he was a baby, knowing he had probably never even see baby photos of himself before. It was like an awakening for him, a first chance to see the child he was. I never remember a time in my life when I wasn't able to recall certain moments captured on film, studio portraits of my brother and I, sports photos, my childhood ready to be relived anytime I wanted...etched in Kodachrome and Super 8 films. Fading yellow first day of school pictures snapped in front of the oleandar bushes...year after year...parading in front of me. These photos jog my memory 30 years later, taking me back to a time I remember so happily.
What will Toktogul think when he sees these pictures 30 years from now? What memories will these photos dredge up? Will they be fond rememberances of friends tinged with curiosity of what ever happened to them, wondering if they ever found their families, what their lives turned out like...especially since his took a left turn that was certainly unexpected by him. And I wonder if he will look in the mirror eventually and compare the handsome young man who stares back with the raw, open-wound-like lip on the child who is in these photos. I wonder if he does that even that evening as he stares intently at the screen in front of him.
Then, as this very thought runs through my mind, he points at his lip in one picture and makes a disgusted face and sound and using the thumbs up and thumbs down gestures we have come to rely on to decide on everything from favored foods to rotten rejects, he gives a definite "thumbs down" to himself. It hit my gut, this beautiful little boy who felt he was not attractive when he was young due to his birth defect. He wanted to quickly move on but I stopped him dead in his tracks, and forced him to look in my eyes as I told him I thought he was handsome...I kissed my fingertips and gently pressed them against the offending lip shown on screen saying "I love you!". I pointed at both his photo and his lip now, and gave both a big thumbs up, hoping that somehow he was getting the idea that I loved him regardless of what he looks like now, then or in the future. From the look of his wide, now familiar smile, I hoped he did.
I noticed that in many of the older photos his buddy Turat, who also had a cleft lip, was also featured. When meeting him at Sokolok I knew I had a couple of pictures with him in them, but I hadn't realized how many he was featured in. Toktogul began to talk about Turat, giving him a huge thumbs up, saying things in Russian about his best friend. And then, unexpectedly, he turned to me and pointed at the photo hopefully, then me and questioningly asked "Mama...Turat?" indicating that he was asking if I could be Turat's mommy.
Tell me, how in the world do you respond to that one?
And again, the ones left behind haunt you.