The time had come to take our little boy home from the orphanage. He took our hands and walked with us to the cab, and then turned to wave at the staff. He flashed that enigmatic smile we’d already come to love and they clapped for him. He bowed and stood for a moment, and gave the orphanage a final scan; he knew it was his last time.
We arrived at that momentous occasion after years of trying, praying and crying, then years of tests, doctors and dashed hopes; somewhere along the way reality crept in and took hold. The quest for our own flesh ended. After we grieved, we began the process of adoption.
We hoped to adopt a newborn, not wanting to miss any part of being parents. As we looked through the websites of children from China, we tried to ignore photos of older children; some who waited for years.
Then, we saw him.
I don’t know what caused us to lean in for a closer look. Something in his eyes. There was strength and wisdom in them for one so young and he bore a lopsided grin that revealed an imp. We stared, awestruck, and then realized that we’d been on that page for some time. I shook my head, trying to expel the feeling that I’d been rendered wooly by a black and white picture. His name was Zhao Feng. We saved the page and shut down the computer; neither of us said a word.
In the middle of the night – sweating, heart pounding - I’d dreamt of the boy. I was carrying him in some kind of prison, and we were running for our lives; dogs bit at our heels as we raced toward a large gate that was about to close. Just as we broke through, I woke up. Shaken, I reached for Cheryl, but she wasn’t there. She sat in the breakfast nook with her knees tight to her chest, staring out the bay window at our five acre property and the swing set we’d purchased before our baby hopes were dashed.
I quietly approached, but she heard me and turned. Tears ran in torrents down her cheeks,
“That boy…,” she choked out. “I dreamt about that boy on our swing set. He was sitting on my lap with his arms and legs wrapped around me and we were flying through the air. We were laughing so hard and he kept saying, ‘Higher Mommy! Higher!’”
We couldn’t wait to talk to the agency that handled adoptions. Over the next few months, endless red tape threatened to derail us, but we forged ahead. Trickles of information came to us about Zhao Feng. He’d been born to a poor couple in the Altun Shan Mountain range. When he was two, they’d been arrested when a peaceful protest against China’s actions in Tibet turned into a riot. He and his parents had been imprisoned. His father died almost immediately from injuries he received in the arrest. Zhao’s mother died from a broken heart and malnutrition. Zhao was placed in an orphanage.
Now, we’d finished all of the legalities in country as our quiet but pleasant little guy watched everything. Then, a long flight across the ocean and we were almost home. We thanked God for how well he was adapting.
My parents and a caravan of people from church met us at baggage claim with balloons and banners. Zhao received a hero’s welcome. Mom and Dad drove us home, through the streets of Greenville, and to the large front entrance of our gated community.
As Mom punched in the code, Zhao sat up in his booster seat and stared forward with his teeth clenched so tightly I could hear them scrape. After we passed through, he desperately clawed at his seatbelt, straining to see the large gate as it began to close behind us.
What came out of his mouth next was a sound I will never forget. Like the howling of a wounded animal caught in a snare, little Zhao screamed a guttural, feral scream that pierced my soul. The fear in his eyes made my hair stand on end. I looked back at the gate as it closed and remembered my dream about the prison. Little Zhao was remembering too - but for him it was no dream.
The next week, we put our house up for sale and moved to the country. The swing set went with us.
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