Welcome to the neighborhood, Hana, Sara, and David! Congratulations, Floyd and Mary! In the picture, three neighbor kids, freckled, blond and Velcro-sneakered, stand beneath the sign they’ve taped to our new mom and dad’s garage door.
Beneath this photo, is one of the three of us; transplants with similar blunt haircuts and coordinating seersucker outfits, sitting in the back of a brown Crown Victoria Station Wagon (later we dubbed her, Miss Vicky). The back seat has been turned down to create a kind of playpen in the rear of the car so that the three of us can sit together. There are toys everywhere. In the photo, I’m pressing a plastic phone the size of my head to my ear, my little brother looks caught, in the lens of the camera and my sister sits, holding a doll in her lap.
Looking at the photo now, I think we look a little stunned, as though we’re suspending our belief, terrified that we could wake-up at any moment to discover that all this–the toys, the smiling, teary adults–are a figment of our imaginations. But when we awake the next morning, the three of us stretched-out on mom and dad’s king-sized bed, it is all still true. (READ the rest of the chapter on my website hanahawley.com
photo by Kelcy Gatson on Unsplash
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.