It’s been less than two weeks since I was in Korea. It feels like an entire lifetime and also, like yesterday. This may partly be due to my exceptionally unusual sleeping schedule. I will never be an international jet-setter. My body would like me to choose a side of the international date line and stay put. I think I’m finally able to wake up in the morning time and recognize what day of the week it is. Today’s Monday, right?
I still get easily exhausted by doing things. Basically, any day I have more than three things to do, it makes me need to curl into a ball or fall haphazardly into my bed. I’ve been sorting a lot of papers, my papers, my mother’s papers, strewn-about boxes of paper my father left with scraps imprinted with his lengthy, messy scrawl. I especially like the box of cotton balls and bottle of nail polish remover he packed with the label “Ginger’s Crap and plastic thing.” I’ve been answering a lot of questions and trying to remember what life is like in Meeguk (America). What I’ve surmised is that Meeguk is a place where I have to fake it a lot of the time; mostly, I have to pretend I have a lot of answers to questions I barely hear, or pretend “I’m okay,” because that seems to be the only acceptable answer to the many questions I’m pretending to hear.
I was forewarned by others that while my grief remains fresh and my father will forever be dead, not all of the people in my life will accept that I may not be willing or able to “hit the ground running.” Some people have good intentions that are misplaced as tough love. Other people have ignorant coldness which I have ignored for many years and cannot endure at this time (and may not wish to resume enduring). But what has been pervasively overwhelming, is that I have an amazing tribe. I have busy mom friends who answer my calls in the middle of the night and distract me with stories of toddling tots. I have couple friends who interrupted their anniversary getaway to make time for a sad friend. I have single friends who entertain me with tales of dating woes and triumphs and who let me complain or cry. I have lawyer friends who have taken time out of burgeoning careers to remind me how to be a lawyer. And I have people who know me inside and out, people who know how to normalize even the most abnormal circumstances, and have huge things happening in their own lives. I love my friends who have made no demands except to ask me to take care of myself and to remind me they are omnipresent, even at a distance. I love more that those friends have stopped asking “How are you doing?”
I am reminded everyday that I am loved, beloved, valuable (though potential employers have yet to discover how much they really love me – job searches are not fun.) Slowly, I am developing some kind of guide to recreating a life…something I was sort of trying to postpone by renewing my contract in Korea. But here I am – thrown back in and doing my best to build something new. I think the thing I like to remind myself is that there is no roadmap or plan to chart personal loss – people grieve separately, differently – and there is no formulaic answer that solves or heals or resolves or improves for every single person – even as they suffer the loss of the same person.
SO, the short answers are: NO, we are not yet “okay.” Some days are better than others, and none of them feel “normal.” NO, we are not attending family bereavement counseling and NO, at this time, I do not believe it is necessary. NO, there is nothing you can say to make it better. YES, there are times you say or do the wrong thing. NO, I will not be able to answer all phone calls and NO, I do not know the best time to call. Just try and if I can answer, I will. If I can’t, I won’t. YES, I’m looking for work, and NO, I don’t know where I want to land, and NO, right now, I don’t think it’s a good time to reevaluate my life plan. YES, there are things you ca probably do, but you should probably be more specific about what you are willing or able to do, because right now – we’re kind of in survival mode and we aren’t 100% sure of what we need until we need it.
But here’s the shortest answer: I love you all too. Thank you for those who try, who put aside personal inconvenience and replace it with generosity, who have gone out of their way to try to make things seem less uncomfortable. My appreciation is unending, and I will probably not remember all of the tiny kindnesses that have been gifted to my family… but I hope I will…
The past week in Korea has been a blur of goodbyes. I’ve managed to visit all of the most important places and say farewell to the most important people. I’ve had lots of meals, lots of visits, and lots of train trips. I swear, I keep Korail in business some weekends. I think Korail will miss me most.
People often ask me if religion brings me back to the orphanage in Gimcheon, but really, *I* bring myself back to the orphanage because I committed to volunteering at children’s crisis nurseries, group homes, shelters, and orphanages when I was 18. I cooked my first solo Thanksgiving dinner at a crisis shelter in Flagstaff when I was 19, which featured only breasts a lot of turkey and limited side dishes, since people donated only birds. I went twice a week to a small shelter in my 20s and my office partner and I decided one year to sponsor their entire Christmas. We bought “appropriate” gifts and took too many illegal pictures, but we both said it was the best thing we did that year. (Of course, she also reunited with her ex-BF/future husband on Christmas Eve Mass…) Anyhow, I have always felt compelled to spend time with displaced kids, and it has nothing to do with my religion or my orphan status. It’s just me (and probably hugely contributed to my parents who did foster care when I was a teen).
So, I went to hold babies and braid the hair of little girls and feed everyone kimbap. I watched the babies dance along to a video and play with balloons and my two favorite babies told me everyone’s names and sat on my lap. Only one peed on me. The babies did take me down, literally, before I left, after a giant baby bit me on the ankle and then the mob of babies attacked me for some last-minute lap time. The Baby Bang (room) is still King of the Hill lap war. My Baby Badass always wins =) I can’t explain the sense of melancholy I felt when leaving the babies for the last time. I will never see them grow up. I will never see the smiles of the girls at Grace Jeep (house) when they recognize me and notice that I, yet again, have changed my hair. I won’t fold laundry with the house uhmma again or let her feed me Asian pears on a tiny fork. The last time to say goodbye in Korea has been harder than I thought it would be. And again, I am reminded how fortunate I am to own the life that was gifted to me by happenstance.
I also went back to my very favorite place in Korea: Haeundae Beach. I took a cab, to a train, to the subway and then met my host, Sohee, who is quite pregnant. We had a lovely goodbye lunch and again, I felt so overwhelmed realizing I would never hold her baby, and likely would never see her again. I watched the waves roll gently into the sand and collected a bunch of broken seashell shards. I tanned my legs and dug my toes into the cool sand. I missed my dad. I then took the subway to the lightrail to the bus to Inje campus, where I had a nice kimchi jjigae dinner with Jihye, Eun Hye and Professor Cho. We said “See you later!” but we all knew: it might be goodbye forever. I also will never hold Jihye’s baby, due in December. Strange that my world is so completely divided… that ocean really gets in the way of my relationships.
And my students… in such a short time, it seems so strange that I have become attached to people with whom I was designed to have a transient relationship. They are meant to flow in and then leave my life, and I was placed here to leave theirs. I’m not sure I’ve left any concrete lasting impression upon them, but I know they have taught me so much about the boundaries of my own patience and about how the future can change in dramatic ways. I think I learned Korean culture through Korean students, both at Inje and at Hannam… maybe my perspective is flawed… but I hope this generation of young people choose to change the social climate in Korea. I hope I taught them that they can be empowered to create change, even if it might require more force than their polite manners permit.
Anyhow, no goodbye is complete without a lot of nore at the norebang (singing at the song room = private room karaoke). AND soju. Lots of soju. I’ve decided whenever I land somewhere, I’ll need to create my own norebang in my home. And I’ll need to find Korean students who are required to sing for their elder sister. =P My students will always belong to me, in my memory, and I hope they will not forget me too soon.
Tomorrow, I leave Daejeon for good. I leave this disgusting tiny apartment where I can hear students breaking up and getting drunk and the chicken delivery scooter show up at the same time every night. I’ll leave in this room conversations where I fell in love over the phone, where I listened to my dad’s voicemails over and over, where I learned how to create curriculum via google search.
Maybe, in this room, I leave Ginger in Korea…
Or maybe, she comes home with me… a new Ginger… in a new world… in Meeguk.
It seems hollow to say my life has changed when nothing about my life in Korea has changed. Except, this huge thing has happened: My Dad DIED. And I’ve had to tell the story to far too many strangers. Far too many times. Too much, too soon, too many.
My life in Korea is easy, and if it were only me alone suffering through something, I’d probably stay and pretend that everything else is normal. I can talk workplace politics. I can feed students. I can hold babies on weekends and sleep in late everyday. I can let the routine and calm and nothingness and mundane simplicity of Korea be home. It would be easy, especially since most days, my classroom is just a stage for the Ginger Show anyhow. In Korea, I can pretend to be someone else with a different life. Actually, I just AM someone else with a different life.
But, someday, I’d have to go home. Since Korea has never been, nor was it intended to be, a permanent plan, someday, I would have to be just regular Ginger again. Someday, I’d have to come back to a life I left at home. When I get there, no one will have washed and waxed Henri Le Celica or made sure my tires have air. No one will call to report how many times Wagger-Grace, Border Collie Extraordinaire, has sniffed the interior of the car looking for me. There won’t have been anyone moving around my boxes or repacking things already packed or printing random new articles about Korea. Because, when I get home, whenever that would be, my dad will never be there again. Even if in Korea I can pretend that he MIGHT be…
So, I can delay the inevitable basket drop feeling of resuming a life where I return to being half-orphan, or I go home now. I’ve spent the past few years delaying a lot of realities, but this one isn’t something I can change with an insane delusion or a lot of hope or strategic planning. There is no use in stretching out a grieving process that never ends, only transitions into another kind of thing. At Christmas, my dad and I were talking about our birthdays and his parents, who had died many years ago. He said, still – there were times he thought of things he wanted to tell his parents, or his twin brother, and there were times he thought “I’m gonna call…” only to remember: There was no one to answer. I think that’s how it is already, except I’m still in some sort of half-denial phase.
If I don’t go home to feel my feelings, I probably will just be delusional forever about my grief. I’ll let grief get caught up in the nasty web of Korean culture clash and bad communication. I’ll let grief catch in my throat instead of be released. I’ll let grief capture me and make me freeze to a moment in time and a place in life. I’ll be trapped – in more ways than one.
And since I’m a girl that really really loves her freedom, that is not acceptable. So, as much as going home sounds super not fun at all, and looking for a new career in a new city, in a world without a dad seems extremely unappealing, that’s what I’m doing, because that’s what a girl does when she doesn’t want to belong to grief forever.
So, someday soon (like next week) this blog ends because there won’ be a Ginger and Korea anymore. But stay tuned, Readers… I’m sure to pop up somewhere else.