When I see the fog settle over the San Fernando Valley in a misty blend of grays and purples, I imagine that I can see the Korea of my childhood. Three mountain peaks shrouded in mist, crisscrossed by dark power lines and cables. The scene is as dingy and ambiguous as my memory but somehow I’m able to smell the coming rain; feel the perspiring air against my face. I vaguely remember driving by these mountains, sorrow threatening to swallow me up as I sit in the backseat of a car or a bus.
I wonder if this is a real memory or something fuzzy my imagination cooked-up to help me cope with the lack of information I have about my childhood. The first seven scenes in the movie of my life have been redacted yet I’m supposed to have a strong sense of who I am and where I’m going.
Not everything from my past draws a blank. Sometimes a taste of something new becomes something familiar and I know without a doubt it’s my past trying to resurface. I had dinner in Koreatown one night when the flavor of one of the side dishes made my heart leap. I told my friend excitedly that I was sure I’d had it before. She looked underwhelmed as she explained that it was a common dish- sweet red kidney beans simmered in soy sauce and sugar. With each bite I willed the memories to come. Where was I when I tasted this? How old? Is this something I’d eaten at my mother’s kitchen table or a dish I’d had at the orphanage she’d ensured would be a part of my past by her lack of involvement in my future? Even as I write this I can almost taste the sweet kidney beans, feel the mealy texture on my tongue and against my teeth. Still- nothing.
I grasp continually for impressions that are as elusive as the mist that triggers them in the first place.