Resilience

My mother grew up during the war.  She was 13 when Chinese communists and Korean dis-loyalists colluded a hostile takeover of her homeland.

Korean War People

After war (AP archives)

After having to leave the north where she was born, she never saw her home again.  She never really talked about it, but I don’t think she knew what happened to her parents.  And many of her siblings perished and were lost from her.

mom & me

I remember mama

I didn’t grow up in war directly, but I was privy to the damage that it caused my mother as the pain and anger weeped out of her.

As a Korean child of Korean immigrants, I have conflicted feelings  towards the Chinese and Japanese (along with the despot Kims of the North).  And I have trust issues with white Americans, too.  These conniving powers hell bent on destroying a small nation that just wanted to be left alone.

But what a phoenix Korea turned out to be:  from the ashes born a creature of resilience and determination.   Yes, we are.

War, illness and famine will make you their favorite grandchild.

You’ll be like a blind person watching a silent movie.

You’ll chop onions and pieces of your heart

into the same hot skillet.

Your children will sleep in a suitcase tied with a rope.

Your husband will kiss your breasts every night

as if they were two gravestones.

––excperted from “What the Gypsies Told My Grandmother While She Was Still a Young Girl” by Charles Simic

 

 

 

 

 

You’ve Been Gone

My mother, M.I.A all my life.

bobby socks

Where did you go?

My mother was diagnosed with “early onset” dementia by doctors in Montefiore Hospital in 2012, and I have been lost ever since.

She was straddling two worlds––past and present––for most of my childhood and never found footing in either.  As a child of war, she has been living in trauma for most of her life, haunted by its aftermath ever more.  She married my father, another child of the same war, and they muddled through together by the skin of their teeth.

My mother was damaged.  Did she know she was damaged?  I don’t have the answer to that, but I know I am.  Because I lived through a war too.  The constant fighting between my parents put me in daily emotional and physical peril.

In many ways I am also straddling two worlds because my childhood is merely a part of the continuum that is my life: No matter how old I am, I am still the child I once was.

IMG_1973

December 24, 2014

Occurred to me the other day
You’ve been gone now a couple years
Well, I guess it takes while
For someone to really disappear…

–Patty Griffin, “Goodbye”