A note from the author: Trigger warning. Descriptions and memories of sexual assault.
She remembers how green it was. She remembers the complicated silence haunting still mountain peaks, the quiet rustling of branches and leaves cautiously breaking that silence. She remembers how dark the night grew. The moon was my lamp, my best friend when I felt loneliest. She remembers the street she lived on. And which house. Brown, thick-walled, sliding doors with paper grids.
She remembers what year it is. She remembers the season. She remembers the child she carried after you, before your younger brother--she would’ve been sixteen now--but she does not remember the name she planned to give her: Anna. She does not remember why she died. She only remembers sadness.
She does not remember why her head hurts. She remembers to take her daily morning walks, but she does not remember which trail is her favorite, so she wanders aimlessly through the valleys of the nearby park, with me following closely--watchfully--behind. She remembers the horizon back home. She remembers how it felt to feel she could live forever.
She remembers the name of her grade school in Korea. Yeosu Secondary School. She remembers how it was right around the bend, just down the street from her house. She remembers how the closeness of everything around her made the world feel like home. Conquerable. She remembers being young and pretty. She remembers her collection of hair clips. A different one in my hair each day. My favorite was shaped like a cherry. She does not remember the name of who gave it to her, but she remembers he was a boy.
She remembers that her brother didn’t like her playing with boys. She remembers that her mother didn’t, either. She remembers how boys would be shooed away with a big, red silk slipper, fire in the hands of her mother, a goddess: glorious or terrible, benevolent or filled with wrath. She remembers making kimchi with her mother and three sisters. She remembers the joy of pushing thick cabbage leaves through pickled peppers, the thrill of its smell. She remembers the drool-worthy waft from the ferment when she opened days-old jars of the stuff. She remembers watching her mother expertly placing the leaves on pillows of rice. That was our dinner. She remembers not minding. She remembers how familiar the taste felt, how the spices pricked her tongue.
She remembers eating it at school. She remembers paper lunch bags tucked in her brown satchel. She remembers hours of studying. She remembers sneaking kimchi in her mouth when the teacher wasn’t looking. And she remembers coming home to quiet. She does not remember that her brother played soccer, that her older sisters were at school flirting with boys because they knew how to work around their parents. She doesn’t remember her undying obedience. She doesn’t remember her father’s name.
She remembers her favorite American musicians. Celine Dion, Janet Jackson, Adina Howard, Aaliyah, Yanni, Enya, Iron & Wine. She remembers how my dad’s hair flipped when he let the car windows down on their first date. She remembers him blasting music so loud her ears hurt. But in the best way. She remembers how free my father made her feel. She remembers his name.
She does not remember much of March 1, 1990: the day before her birthday. But she remembers that she was seventeen. She does not remember entering the classroom alone. She does not remember the problem she sought to ask her teacher about. She remembers feeling sick; she does not remember his touch. She does not remember at what point he lifted her skirt, and she does not remember why she remained still, silent. Instead, she remembers brown wooden desks: rows of them. A sea. She remembers that it felt like a jungle. She remembers the door. How it opened. You turn the knob left and push. She remembers it was made of gray metal. She remembers the tiny, gridded window, blocked off by a piece of paper. I wanted the paper to slip off somehow. I wanted someone to save me. She does not remember telling herself it was impossible. She only remembers her hope.
She remembers pulling her skirt back down. She remembers being told, Don’t tell anyone. It’s your fault. She remembers leaving the classroom, her sadness heavy like full rice sacks. She remembers how empty her house was when she arrived home that day. She remembers taking comfort in the loneliness. She remembers taking comfort in familiar objects, in the things that don't change. She remembers that the emptiness of her home--like a desert in its oceanic, endless glare--was terrible but also exactly what she needed. She remembers that there was something to be said for the rawness and vacancy of it all. She remembers tucking herself into bed, lulling her mind to sleep, going away to sea on a ship—out in a foreign brightness where there were no paths, only stars and sky. She remembers wanting to be still and alone and asleep forever.
She does not remember why my father left her. Only the tears. A flood came every morning, every night, every afternoon, every dream of him. She remembers clinging to the memories. She does not remember when she started hating the Other Woman so much. No one will seem as beautiful as the girl he cheated on you with.
She remembers spending whole afternoons sitting by the phone, waiting through long summer hours. For a call. A confession. She does not remember how her parents reacted when she said she had been raped. She does not remember how full her suitcase was, or what she brought when she decided to leave. She remembers only shame. She remembers bringing kimchi. She remembers learning English. She does not remember the day she flew to the Golden Mountain. It took weeks for me to pronounce the “r” in America correctly.
She can’t remember whether it was her intuition or past trauma that spoke to her, but she remembers giving up on men in the last years of her life. She remembers the distrust. She remembers the depression, but even depression wasn’t the word. She doesn’t remember the phrase for the feeling in Korean, but this was a plunge encompassing sorrow and revulsion far beyond the personal: a sick, drenching nausea at all humanity and human endeavor from the dawn of time. The writhing loathsomeness of the biological order. No escape for anyone. Even the beautiful ones were like soft fruit about to spoil. But she remembers her peach pit. She remembers her strength. She remembers sitting by the fire and drinking warm cups of coffee with me and my younger brother. You both gave me fuel. She remembers the kimchi, her life’s constant. She remembers the happiness she found in her children, not her men. She remembers the pride she took in having a boy of her own. A boy to raise on her own terms.
She cannot remember my name anymore, but she remembers my face. She does not remember that she has cancer, only that her body now--small limbs, thin, blue veins--does not match her soul. She does not remember how green it was back home. She does not remember the mountain peaks, the branches, the leaves. She remembers hardship and she remembers pain. She remembers kimchi. She remembers what love felt like. She remembers that I love you. She remembers how bright the morning can be. She remembers how good it might feel to fall asleep forever.