The kind of person I am, you know, is to minimize anything big: to never allow myself to get excited over anything, because all one has to look forward to then is big disappointment. And I have known much disappointment in this life. And so I must be, have always been, a don’t-care-bear.
Returning to visit my children and being quite helplessly immobile and far from the few remaining friends I may have makes my visit less my own, yet I am also strangely thankful for it for the above expectation management reason: I don’t need to feel disappointment at things not being the same / relationships not weathering absence as well as I’d hoped. I’m not free to wander the city I’ve lived for two decades, and talk about how this has changed, or that has changed, and how it doesn’t feel the same. I’m not free to drop in on the boy and show him how my loss was his loss. I’m not free to waste one precious minute of this visit on anything but family, and that’s fitting, because people are shitty and they forsake and betray you.
I can concentrate instead on spending time with my children and relaxing with them. And yet, looming over my head is the frustration of this meeting with Kim Sook Ja. Frustrating because there’s been nothing but obstacles to this meeting, the greatest of which is Kim Sook Ja herself, as I haven’t heard from her in 3 days, then 6 days, now 9 days. And with each day that passes that I don’t hear from her, I start to realize how much I really do care. And that really disturbs me, because I feel impending doom on the other end of this hope and expectation. That disappointment is looming. It’s huge.
The day before I left, I was in a bookstore with a friend, picking out a present to give to Kim Sook Ja, and the English-speaking Korean proprietor started asking about Korean-looking me and about my lack of language skills. I explained how I couldn’t take classes due to my location in the country. “Why, you just need to find yourself a boyfriend!” he said. I told him that wasn’t easy in Korea at my age. Asking how old I was, he chuckled and told me I was only a 4th grader, and that there was still a chance for me. And that he was a 5th grader and he knew of 6th graders and 7th graders who spoke of finding new love in their twilight years, and how after the marriages and divorces are finished they hope to begin again. Ah, I told him, but they can at least speak the same language. He discounted that. “It’s like the paeres in Peter Fan,” he said, “You just gotta believe!”
Once upon a time, a long long time ago, on a bitter cold day in winter, two faceless, nameless, ageless little girls – tiny hands, almond eyes, jetblack hair, rosebud mouths – were found together and plucked out of a dirty marketplace, saved from ignorant barbarians and savages, catalogued, erased, cleaned up, and shipped to live separate lives of privilege with beautiful abusive white people. Four decades later, we see the face for the first time, we try to paint what has been erased, we try to remember being together, being brave and holding hands. We try to believe that we existed then and that the faceless, nameless, ageless girl #4709 once felt the reality of faceless, nameless, ageless girl #4708.
And so I wait. I lie on my daughter’s couch in the darkness, illuminated by her laptop, her phone by my side, waiting for Kim Sook Ja to call. And now that I have crossed the threshold of don’t-care-bear into the land of Peter Pan, I can only wait and hope and try to believe: believe that there are full circles and closure and ties that bind and love and goodness and rewards for effort and…
Don’t be afraid of me, Kim Sook Ja! Please don’t reject me. Say my name. Say my name.