Somehow this feeling of less than-ness is more pervasive here than others pause to realize. I didn’t realize I wasn’t the only one, until I came here. The stories sound terrible. Unbelievably so, but I know they aren’t fiction. I have been there. I have been covered over and pushed under so no one would see my broken self as a reflection of her.
You would think that after nearly a decade of not knowing her daughter. After years of scattered phone calls and a handful of visits that a summer would be built on bonding. But what I recall is my differentness, my “American” characteristics were brusque and garish. She compared me to my father and not in a good way. I was all the bad traits of a man who I could never compare myself to. Only others could compare us. And somehow I was just as terrible to her as he had been. This white child of a white man who only took and caused pain.
Then I realized how not whole I truly was.
I remember when I first saw her basement, thinking it wasn’t a basement at all. It was more a warehouse. I ran across it smiling. I ran and thought, my mom has a basement. MY mom. I can’t recall wanting anything as much as I wanted to be her daughter. So many hateful women surrounding me, and this one, this one gave me life. This one loved me. My mom has a basement.
It’s where she kept the kimchi fridge. All my Korean friends know about the importance of the kimchi fridge. It’s also where she exercised because health and beauty are important. More than important. We ran, and exercised there everyday. I wanted to stop and she made me keep going. Yelling at me about lazy Americans. I was always too white to her. Not enough Korean in this motherless Korean girl.
Eventually, the basement became the place where she kept me. Hidden away, told to be quiet and wait. No one knows about you. They don’t need to know about you.
Fuck. Those words cut me still.
I feel them deeply. I feel them through that tiny body, entering into that frail little chest, stabbing my breaking heart right in the center of everything. This woman, this “mother,” she only wanted me when no one else could see. Who could love me if she can’t? Hide me away in the basement quietly. Even the dogs get to be seen. Even the dogs get to be loved in the open. But not me. Because I chose to be less than. I chose to be half. I chose to be created in a world that only accepts whole people. I chose to be a half of something on either side.
Our stories hurt. They aren’t always easy to share, but God, how I wish I had known these stories years ago. How I wish I had known it wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t just me. How I had begged to be accepted by both my halves and never thought it possible.
So yes, I don’t speak a lot of Korean. But, what I do speak, I learned the hard way.