Note from writer:
Bravery is indeed a discipline. A discipline that I obviously suck at. It’s so easy to go into a new project with so much flair and gusto. . . only to realize that you actually have to put your heart on the table — every time. Words don’t reveal themselves on paper or screen on their own.
On a typical evening, I somehow thought it’d be great to give my dad the illustration I’d drawn of his parents. I knew he missed grandpa(who passed away) and I wasn’t sure how he’d react. If you’ve ever wondered what it looks like to see a Korean dad look at an illustration of his far away & deceased parents: it can be quite moving… and awkward. Because he’ll genuinely want to know about your project.
I had a hard time coming back to it after this. This is part excuse and part confession. Whatever the case — here it goes again.
“We sold the apartment…” he said, choking up.
“You must feel relieved that it’s all taken care of though…right?” I replied meekly.
“No… I don’t feel any relief at all… None at all.”
If the emotion of sadness was a concrete and touchable matter, I would say that I could actually feel his sadness seeping through the phone into my membrane. The very notion that the apartment was something that belonged to all of us seemed to vanish into nothing.
The home he had grown up in was no longer the same… and neither was he.
Apartment 202. It’s all I ever thought of as home in Korea, albeit temporary.
Summers in second floor apartment were often damp, humid, and stuffy. Most everything inside of it seemed ancient. The same sofa, the same radio, the same displayed volcanic rocks on the shelves. The same curtains. The same refrigerator. The same clock. The same creepy glass turtle hanging on the entryway wall. The only things that were replaced were the television or computer. The faster Korea’s technology developed, the stranger and more out of place the apartment appeared to me. We’d fly over every couple years and witnessed Seoul’s rapid advance each time.
I wondered if they kept everything the same in an attempt to feel a sense of stability in the face of Seoul’s mind blurring pace. The apartment itself was next to the Hangang River and ridiculously priced because of it.
Pockets of Memories:
- I used to spend my afternoons either playing at the local playground, riding my cousin’s bike near Hangang, or wondering why the cicadas outside were so damn loud.
- Every summer that I’d visit, the humidity was ridiculous. Grandpa never let us grandkids turn on the air conditioning. He was the stingiest man I’d ever met. He told us over and over again that it was broken, it doesn’t work. One night, we all waited until he went to sleep. We rushed over and pushed the large on button. Gloriously cool air came flowing out of the machine. We sat with our mouths open in front of the fans during the day and secretly basked in icy cool breezes at night.
- Grandpa always listened to the radio. Grandma always watched television. My Aunt seemed to always be cooking. My Uncle was either smoking secretly in the bathroom or asking me if I wanted ice cream. My cousins were always busy studying. I sort of just rolled around in the living room until my mom or dad would take me out.
- One day, while watching a comedy show on the television, I burst out laughing at a line. All of a sudden, my grandma rushed out of her room frantically. She looked at me laughing and said, “Oh. Good. I thought something happened.” Between laughs, I asked her what she meant. And so seriously she asked, “Why are you laughing?” For the serious family, I guess it just didn’t make sense why I would be laughing… while watching a comedy show.
- Near the end of his life, my grandpa’s hearing deteriorated significantly. Without hearing aids, he seemed nearly deaf at times. All of us had to yell and use our body language to describe anything to him. One of my uncles, a doctor, came to the apartment one day to give my grandpa a pair of hearing aids. Grandpa resisted. My uncle tweaked and adjusted the dials and asked Harabujee if he could hear us. “Nope. I can’t hear you.” Confused, my uncle left the hearing aids with us. Hours later, grandpa got up to make himself another cup of coffee. Grandma came from around the corner and began scolding him and yelling. Over and over he replied, “I can’t hear anything!” She walked away huffing and puffing. Exasperated I talked to him from behind in almost a whisper — “Grandpa…” Swiftly, he turned around and answered, “Hm?” He could hear!!! Instantly realizing his mistake, he grabbed his coffee and wobbled into his room. I was speechless. 20, 50, 60, or 80 — Husbands will do anything to escape their wife’s rants.
- Other memories: Grandma insisting that I sleep on the floor. My aunt being a hardcore Catholic. Everyone in the family is addicted to coffee. My uncle’s weird map collection.
After grandpa passed away, the family decided it was time to move somewhere new. A place that wasn’t so ancient, rundown, and inviting to grandpa’s ghost. A change of environment so that they could start anew like everyone else.
I sketched halmuni and harabujee from a home video of a Thanksgiving meal we once all shared. Grandma was trying to communicate with my grandpa. She yelled a little louder, ‘DO YOU WANT SOME MORE SOUP?’ He silently tapped his stomach and shook his head.
Watching the video, I wondered why she always yelled, repeated questions, and explained things to him even though he couldn’t hear her without his hearing aids. It’s only many years later now that I realize she must’ve missed having a conversation with him and hearing the sound of his voice. With grandpa gone and the apartment gone . . . I now see why dad was so upset that they’d sold apartment 202.
It was the last remnant and artifact of home he could still recognize.
Coming Up: Story 5