Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Marijane was adopted by an American military family at four months old. She grew up in a middle-class neighborhood in the deep South where hers was the only Asian face among a majority of white.
Raised to believe she was Vietnamese and Japanese, she never doubted her ethnicity, until one day, she found her lost adoption papers. This discovery unloosed secrets that had been buried for decades, causing her to question her identity. With brave determination, Marijane set out on a quest to reconstruct her past and resurrect a birth heritage that had long been forsaken. Her journey took her halfway across the world to reunite with her birth family and a culture she realized she had longed for her entire life.
Beyond Two Worlds is a poignant telling of one woman’s search for identity and belonging despite insurmountable odds, and is an inspiring true story for those seeking to connect to their original families.
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Some beautiful paths can't be discovered without getting lost.
~ Erol Ozan
Imagine your whole life believing that you are one thing and then learning in mid-life that you are not what you have always believed you were. Let me explain. When I was four months old, I was adopted in Taipei, Taiwan by a white American military family. My dad, Wendell Buck, was a lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force, and he and my mom, Gloria, were stationed in Okinawa. Both of my parents were in their early forties at the time of my adoption in December of 1966. They shared very little about my adoption, and I knew even less about my birth family and heritage. I did not come to know or understand the terms, "birth family," "biological family," "birth culture," until much later in my life. Growing up, I told others that I was Japanese and Vietnamese. That is what my adoptive parents told me, that is what I believed. I had no reason to question what I had been told. Why would I? After my mother passed away in 2008, however, I made a discovery about my adoption and origins that changed the course of my life forever.
Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease some years after Dad passed away from a massive heart attack in January, 1993. To observe Mom deteriorate slowly over the years into a phantom of the woman she was during her most vibrant years was most cruel. She suffered from Alzheimer's for nearly twelve years before finally succumbing on February 29, 2008, Leap Day. As a young woman, Mom was slender and of average height. She was quite fashionable and wore her shoulder length brown hair set in waves, as was the style in the 1930's and forties. Mom was a Registered Nurse and worked full-time as the Director of Nursing at multiple skilled nursing homes across the years. She typically came home from work exhausted, but no matter how tired she was, there was a home-cooked meal on the table at six o'clock every evening.
Dad was a meat and potatoes kind of guy, so dinner was typically something like meat loaf, or fried chicken with potatoes, green beans fried in bacon grease, and always an ice-burg salad. Mom baked a mouth-watering homemade apple and pecan pie and used Crisco like it was going out of style. But, Mom's pièce de résistance was her fried rice. Oh, how we loved Mom's fried rice! To this day, I cannot replicate her recipe, hard as I try. There was something about just the right shake of Kikkoman and pinch of ginger that made Mom's fried rice special. Fridays, we went out to dinner, and Pancho's Mexican Buffet was one of our favorite restaurants. Hungry diners were offered the typical Mexican-American faire served buffet-style. Servers slopped soft enchiladas oozing with green or red sauce and refried beans and rice onto warm, stainless steel platters. My favorite was always the Sopapillas. I drenched the puffy, fried pastries with butter and honey, the sticky goodness dripping off my fingers.
My parents married on October 6, 1962, in Omaha, Nebraska where Dad was stationed at Offut Air Force Base. On February 25, 1963, just four short months after their wedding, Dad suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, which nearly took his life. Mom said he was at home using his exercise bike and began complaining of a horrible headache when he suddenly became incapacitated. Dad told me his younger sister, Dorothy, died of the same condition at a much younger age. Mom accompanied Dad via emergency air evacuation on a T-29 military aircraft to San Antonio, Texas where he underwent immediate surgery. He was not expected to survive. I imagine Mom was sick with worry. One day, I found the original Western Union telegram that was wired to Dad's mother, who lived in California, describing his fragile condition. Dad was a bit of a pack rat, and the telegram lay at the bottom of an old cigar box beneath old pens and other miscellaneous junk. It read,
1963 FEB 26 PM 7 01
I WISH TO OFFICIALLY INFORM YOU THAT YOUR SON MAJOR WENDELL R BUCK, 37033A, WAS PLACED ON THE SERIOUSLY ILL LIST AT THE 865 USAF HOSPITAL, OFFUTT, AFB, NEBRASKA, AT 1200 HOURS ON 26 FEBRUARY 1963, AS A RESULT OF A CEREBRAL HEMORRHAGE. HIS RECOVERY IS QUESTIONABLE. HE IS BEING EVACUATED BY AIRCRAFT TO THE USAF HOSPITAL LACKLAND AFB, SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS, IMMEDIATELY. THE ATTENDING PHYSICAN RECOMMENDS YOUR IMMEDIATE PRESENCE AT HIS BEDSIDE. IN THE EVENT YOU ARE UNABLE TO VISIT HIM AT LACKLAND AFB, THE HOSPITAL COMMANDER WILL FURNISH YOU A REPORT ON HIS CONDITION EVERY FIVE DAYS, UNLESS A SIGNIFICANT CHANGE OCCURS IN WHICH CASE THEY WILL ADVISE YOU IMMEDIATELY. PLEASE ACCEPT MY SINCERE SYMPATHY IN THIS TIME OF ANXIETY=
ELKINS READ JR COLONEL USAF COMMANDER==
I do not know if Dad's mother was able to visit him at Lackland AFB in Texas, or if Mom communicated with her very often after they were married. We visited Dad's mother when I was a very young girl once, but I do not remember much of that visit, except that we drove out to California to see her. It was dark as we traveled to her home, and when I looked out the car window, I could see the moonlight reflected off the black waves of the ocean. In one of Mom's old diaries, I found an entry that followed Dad's surgery. Mom wrote faithfully, year after year, in her diaries entrusting some of her most intimate concerns to those pages. She wrote:
"Wendy operated on. Subarachnoid brain hemorrhage. God spared his life. Thank you dear Lord."
I could hear the depth of relief in Mom's words, though brief, as though she had just received the best news of her life. Dad spent months in rehabilitation to strengthen and regain the use of his left side. He was left partially paralyzed and experienced excruciating headaches following his surgery. Dad learned to walk again and complete the activities of daily living, like tying his shoelaces, things he once took for granted. Mom did not write further about Dad's recovery in her diary, but Dad told me the sound of her pantyhose as she walked across his hospital room was tormenting.
Two months following this harrowing event in my parent's lives, Mom began practical nursing training at the Omaha Public School, Vocational Education Department in Practical Nursing. She graduated in April, 1964, and successfully passed her state boards. Years later, Mom, at the age of forty-seven, returned to school to become a Registered Nurse. Classes were held at a satellite campus of Northwestern University on the campus of Louisiana State University in Shreveport, Louisiana. Occasionally, Mom took me to class with her during the summer months, no doubt when she was unable to find a babysitter. I would sit quietly in the back of class, half bored out of my little mind.
For two long years, Mom struggled through nursing school, juggling the demands of a full-time nursing job and studying late nights. I never saw Mom studying, but in her diary, I learned that she often studied biology, anatomy, chemistry, and psychology after my niece, Katy, and I were in bed for the night. She was anguished by the difficulty of her biology labs and severely disappointed after failing some of her tests. Mom never gave up though and eventually graduated in August, 1974. The image of Mom wearing her stark white nursing uniform, white stockings and shoes, and a nursing cap upon her coiffed short brown hair reminds me of what a tenacious woman she was and her deep passion for nursing.
Once her career as an RN was established, Mom worked tirelessly. She sometimes took me to work with her. On one occasion, there was an Easter egg hunt at the nursing home. Residents shuffled into the lobby with their canes and walkers and were partnered with nursing aides, most of them African American. The linoleum white floors were dull, and the smell of urine clung to the air. At Mom's urging, I reluctantly grabbed hold of the hand of a heavy-set African American woman, her affect was as flat as stone, her other hand held tight to a colorful straw basket. She limped along as I held her hand. I looked up at her stony face, but she stared straight ahead, never once speaking to me. We searched the yard together, silently looking for eggs. I felt awkward holding onto this woman's hand, unsure what to say or what to do. Nevertheless, it made Mom happy that I was there participating with the residents and staff she so dearly loved.
I am not certain how my parents first met. They did not divulge much, so I have always wondered. Both of my parents were married previously, and Mom's first husband was also in the U.S. Army Air Corp. Mom and Dad had teenaged children from their first marriages when they finally adopted me, but I have no recollection of them at this early stage in my life. Dad had a long, respected career in the U.S. Air Force. He was a pilot and flew B-29's, B-47's, and B-52's until the hemorrhage interrupted his career. He was a quiet man, yet had a contagious sense of humor and a gentle smile. He often brought home jokes to share with my mom that made us all laugh, except for the ones that were for adults only. He was quite handsome as a young man, about six feet tall with a slender build, and the kind of wavy blond hair that made the ladies swoon.
Dad began his military career at the young age of eighteen years old, drafted by the U.S. Army Air Corp and served in the Second World War. He became a pilot and then served as co-pilot aboard a B-24 Liberator called Rebel Gal. After the war, he flew C-54's with the Allied forces in the Berlin Airlift ferrying provisions from Western Europe to Germany and was stationed at Weisbaden. He never talked about his exploits during the war. I often asked Dad when I was a little girl if he ever got shot. "No," he would say. "Shot at." And that was the end of the conversation.
Unfortunately, Dad was disqualified from ever flying again after he suffered the cerebral hemorrhage due to physical impairment. I am sure this crushed him. The home I was raised in was decorated from wall to wall with his military accolades, telling a story I never knew or much appreciated as a child. Dad was eventually reassigned to Director of Personnel, a position he kept for the remainder of his military career and transfers. I have often wondered if he and Mom would have adopted me had he not suffered the hemorrhage because his career as a pilot in the USAF was so successful.
Dad finally retired at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, Louisiana after twenty-nine years of devoted service. His retirement ceremony on the base was quite a formality. The sound of my feet traipsing up the metal bleachers sounded hollow to my young ears as Mom held tightly to my small hand. What I remember most about that ceremony was the military guard in full regalia carrying the American and military flags round about. Their crisp, navy blue uniforms, colorful medals, and white gloves spoke loudly of honor and service. The guard stopped and gave Dad a full salute as they passed him by, and Dad returned their salute stiffly. I am certain Dad was regretful that his military career had to end. It was a way a life for him and Mom for many years. Dad had difficulty at first seeking work as a civilian. He held many odd jobs and was a gas station attendant for a time, then a real estate agent before going back to college to pursue his B.A. Like Mom, he was in his late forties when he went back to school. After graduating from Louisiana Tech, Dad landed a job with the State of Louisiana inspecting water. He sometimes brought home samples of nasty, polluted-looking water in transparent containers, no doubt in need of testing. Eventually, this led to a higher paying position as a Transportation Inspector inspecting eighteen-wheelers out at what he called "the scales." He woke up at the same time every morning to the sound of his alarm, put on his brown and tan uniform, carefully attaching his gold name badge to his shirt before having a cup or two of joe. The little white building where he worked was situated in Pinewood, Louisiana right at the Louisiana and Texas state borders. Dad worked this job right up until the day he died on January 23rd, 1993.
When my dad retired, we moved off the military base at Barksdale and settled in a little suburb of Bossier City. Bossier City is a rural city located along the east bank of the Red River across from Shreveport in the Northwest region of Louisiana. When the rains came during the winter months, the belly of the Red River swelled, spilling over the hard red-clay banks and flooding lowland communities. We once took a trip in my parent's old aqua Chrysler right under the Jimmy Davis Bridge on the other side of Shreveport to the river banks and collected sand for my plastic, sea turtle sandbox. "Careful," Mom cautioned me as I skipped from one sand bank to the next. We got plenty of sand that day and rushed home where my sandbox waited to be filled.
The neighborhood I grew up in was a mostly white middle-class community where several military families lived. All the streets were named after planets, and ours so happened to be Pluto Drive. The neighbors knew each other, and the kids on the block became my friends, although we did not share the same classes in school. We stayed out late playing red rover, red rover, or red light green light on our grassy lawn until our parents called us into dinner, the magenta skies bidding us farewell until the next evening.
As a child, I felt safe growing up in our home, our neighborhood. Single-family brick homes lined the streets and, the lawns were green and carefully manicured. Some families had pools in their backyard, as did ours. The morning they began building our pool, I was filled with anticipation and peered out my bedroom window excitedly, jumping up and down on my bed. The sound of drills and machinery went on for days until one day we had a brand new sparkling pool waiting to be plunged into. I clung to the walls of that pool for dear life until Mom promptly enrolled me in swim lessons at the local YMCA. During the summer months when torrential rainstorms wreaked havoc, Dad was forced to drain the excess water out of the pool. After the rains, all the kids loved playing in the ditch just behind our home, which I was strictly forbidden to do. The rain filled the ditch till it was brimming with dirty brown water, and we gathered old Tupperware containers to catch tiny minnows or crawdads, scooping them up with glee. One day, Dad caught me walking home from school along the ditch. I thought I had been so careful sneaking behind the ditch and hiding behind overgrown shrubs, but was filled with guilt. When I got home, Dad was waiting, and I was promptly spanked for disobeying.
Mine was a spoiled childhood. I had no want for anything. It would not be until I reached adolescence that this idyllic upbringing would drastically change, and what was once a safe and comfortable childhood would evolve into unrelenting conflict between my parents and I, not unlike what other teens experience. Yet racial teasing coupled with my own deep insecurity caused an identity crisis and such confusion that further complicated the relationship between my parents and I, leaving an indelible mark upon my psyche that would take years to heal.
Mom had entered the last stages of Alzheimer's disease by 2006. It was unbearable to see the drastic changes in her physical appearance. She lay in a hospital bed at home, her eyes stared into nothingness, her mouth gaped open, her body weakened and emaciated. Her arms jerked uncontrollably at times, and she struggled with seizures. When I visited, which was typically only once a year for about a week, I sat beside Mom, holding her hand, staring at her hollowed out face. I was racked with guilt and angry that I was unable to visit more frequently due to our lack of finances.
Before Mom passed, my half sister, Margaret, began rummaging through our parents' attic in an attempt to get rid of junk. Margaret was Mom's primary caregiver with the assistance of hospice. She was tall with freckles and long, bleached blond hair. She had a southern accent as thick as molasses and had always been slender. We had discussed moving Mom to California at an earlier stage of the disease so that I could care for her, but Mom did not want to leave her home where she felt safe and comfortable. Margaret was eleven years older than I and had not always been the best role model. She got pregnant at the age of eighteen and eventually married the father of her first child, Katy, although the marriage ended in divorce. My parents practically raised Katy, and she and I grew up together for some years before she decided to live permanently with her mom and step-father, Rick, Margaret's second husband. Katy was feisty and had a much more colorful personality in comparison to my quiet and introverted character. Margaret and Rick moved in with us when I was in high school. When they moved in, I moved to the smaller bedroom right next to theirs. One day, I found large bags full of a gazillion pills, little pink hearts and white ones with blue speckles, in the bedroom they occupied, which at one time, was my bedroom. I often wondered if Mom and Dad knew about all their shenanigans, but since nothing changed, I guessed they did not. My parents kept out of my sister and Rick's business for the most part.
Excerpted from "Beyond Two Worlds"
Copyright © 2017 Marijane Huang.
Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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Table of Contents
1. Discover, 1,
2. Truth, 15,
3. Search, 23,
4. Translation, 29,
5. Diary, 35,
6. Letter, 43,
7. Wall, 49,
8. Light, 55,
9. Hope, 59,
10. Time & Patience, 65,
11. Opportunity, 73,
12. Miracle, 77,
13. Fate, 83,
14. Bridge, 97,
15. Coincidence, 103,
16. Remember, 109,
17. Sisters, 123,
18. Reunited, 137,
19. Good-bye, 149,