This post isn't about politics or literature. I'm burrowing through layers of censorship to write of a secret I've kept, however poorly. It is posted here only as proof of what happened.
The boy in this picture is named Tim Huang, or Huang Haozhe. I was told that I should keep this photo a secret from everyone but my parents. I have chosen not to for reasons I will discuss a bit later, but first I want to give some context as not all of you are familiar with this.
The one moment I'll always remember is the night I received an unexpected phone call shortly after I'd visited Tim on his second birthday. The call was from Tim's mother, but all I could hear was wailing. When the mother at last spoke, she told me that Tim had been crying out my name for almost an hour and she hoped that I could calm him down. I spoke to the boy, and he immediately fell silent. He'd missed his friend and wanted to know that I was there. I sang to him a bit and he fell asleep. Even in the short time I'd spent with him, we had bonded - this much I could feel on that dismal night.
I started getting regular calls after that, video calls mostly. The mother wanted me to sing for Tim, or read to him. He would often ask for me, and I was more than happy to answer any call he sent me. This became a ritual of sorts - I'd hear from them at least once a week, often two or three times. I didn't delude myself that I'd ever be with the mother, though I still loved her. All I cared about was Tim. It was a strange relationship, but as an adoptee myself I'm no stranger to close emotional relationships to non-blood relatives. What did I care who his biological father was? He felt like my son. I loved him like he was my son.
And then the calls stopped, the messages no longer returned - and the lies came out.
Tim is the son of one Huang Ye - known to me as Audrey - and her ex-husband. The ex was a terribly abusive man who has harassed her to this day. Huang Ye is also an ex of mine, having left me shortly after I proposed marriage under circumstances I've discussed at length elsewhere. When she reached out to me in early 2015, she'd been dragged along to the United States, promptly served with divorce papers, repeatedly lied to as part of a particularly nasty plot on the part of her husband to, essentially, steal the boy. I've spoken about this at length, including my involvement in getting the two of them untangled.
Working with Audrey was very painful for me, but what surprised me was what I felt toward Tim. I never thought I wanted kids, and yet I relished the time I spent with him. The first time, I was left to babysit while Audrey made a critical appointment - he cried at first, but then fell asleep nestled against my chest. That was when I decided that I was going to be part of his life. I offered to move to Arizona to be closer to them, but Audrey told me not to. I would be in the way, she said, and besides she didn't have time for a boyfriend. In lieu of that, I decided that I would travel to Arizona for the boy's birthday every year. This was not cheap, but it was important for me. I wanted to have that bond.
That's when the calls started to change. I no longer heard from Tim every week - it was once a month if I was lucky, and they were very terse calls. I would call Audrey, but she would simply ignore me, always telling me that she was too busy. In the meantime, I had to live by her rules regarding what I was allowed to reveal. During her divorce, I was never to post pictures of her or of Tim under my name - fair enough, that might be a risk. But this didn't stop once she was a free woman again. She told me that I was never to show the above picture to anyone but my parents, and I was never to put it here. I didn't understand why, but she was insistent. I was always to remain silent and off-camera when she recorded Tim so - I assumed - she wouldn't have to explain my presence to her parents.
All of this hurt me, not the least of which because I didn't understand it. Yes, her parents didn't like me - didn't like Americans much at all - but surely I'd earned some credit after everything I'd done for their daughter and grandson? But I shrugged it off as one of those cultural elements that I'd never truly understand. The lack of calls was worse, but I believed her when she said she didn't have time.
Since arriving in Hefei, I have continued to try and call her and been rebuffed every time. She does send an occasional message, trying to be friendly - very cursory, never saying anything about Tim. But the last message stung me deep, not for what she said but for the profile picture next to it. It was Audrey with a man I believe to be her boyfriend - the one she doesn't have time for. That she's seeing someone is not my concern. That she lied about it hurts a lot more. But the bad part is that this other man is holding Tim.
In a picture posted to the internet, breaking the rules that Audrey had set for me - the man she once credited with saving her son.
I've long since given up any hope of understanding Audrey's behavior towards me or fathoming what I can only imagine is her shame regarding me. I'd ask, but she'll only lie. Instead, I've opted to cut her off entirely. She'll find a way to contact me again, if not now then in a year or two when she's suffering from another of her bad decisions and has decided to run home. I don't care about that. I do care that, by all appearances, I became Tim's surrogate father - the positive male figure that he needed - and after all my efforts and sacrifice, Audrey has chosen to replace me with another. Tim will never remember my name or my face, or know any of the things I did for him and his mother.
But that relationship was real, even if Audrey has decided to pretend like it never happened. That's why I'm posting this picture over her stated wishes. It's not to hurt her. If I wished to do that, I could have written about those lies I told on her behalf, or spoken about the nature and extent of our physical relationship, or revealed certain disturbing things that she said during the divorce. I will not do this. I post this merely as proof that this relationship existed, even if no one remembers it but me. It is a weeping wound that still throbs every day, a reminder of what I could have had but for fate. I don't know how long it will take me to get over this. Maybe I never will.