I'm fine. Really.
| So I'm reading a book for class, and while I'm doing it, I can't help but admire the author's craftsmanship. I mean, adverbs, semantics, sentence structure, the vacillation between proper grammar and not. When is he using she said, he said, why is there space around that line? The lack of chapters, first person point of view. Comma, period, adjective.
I mean, wow.
What I'm really looking at – avoiding actually – is topic the guy's actually trying to write about. Like really? Ethnic literature?
I'm not saying anyone can write stuff like that. No, actually I'm saying it's uncomfortable. Immigrant parents? God, that cultural barrier, that everything that exists between them and you, that nothingness when you look too hard.
In the book, I admire how the main character actually knows his father's language. You can actually speak to your parent without having to pause after every word, wondering if he'd understood or not? What a life. But then I read about the father's past, how he had experienced the My Lai massacre, and I'm suddenly lucky again.
My parents never went through a massacre. My parents are not tragic characters.
And even if they were, I would never write about it. Fuck, it's hard enough to get one conversation out of them, just imagine the headache involved in trying to sludge through an interview.
I had to do that for a class once, anthropology of course because my mom is so cultural. We did it over the phone like true inhabitants of the 21th century. She talked about her life on a farm, how she experienced a scarcity of shoes, how eggs were a precious commodity when she was a child. How she would walk ten miles to get to school and steal rice from her family's farm and go fishing in the nearby river.
I wonder, is it tragic to remember things so fondly like that?
Why does “ethnic” literature have to be so “tragic” anyway? In that book, I read about how the father laughed drunkenly after explaining how his mother used her body to shield him from bullets. But it's not like every immigrant ends up going out like Lily Potter.
I remember my mother joking about something over my uncle's comatose body. I was there in that gray, stuffy room, and I looked at her. I felt so conspicuous. I wanted to communicate to her, somehow, that no one was laughing, that this was a hospital, that laughing was not allowed. She just smiled. Isn't that blasphemous? But I hope to god someone else in that room smiled with her.
I did feel like laughing at the funeral, but I don't remember why.
Anyway, I would never write about stuff like that. Family deaths, stupid decisions, shouting arguments, that's all someone else's story. I don't have stories like those.
In the book, the father was abusive. My dad was never like that. At least, to our family. With his previous wife, he was going through a bad time, and he never really did learn how to be a good, respectable adult anyway. Like, come on, his brother just died.
It's kind of funny. With my mom he would never have dared to pull that kind of shit. She would have divorced him in a heartbeat.
I can hear your words right now. Does that mean my mom did something right and my sister's mom did something wrong? No. Maybe.
How else am I supposed to think about it?
Something similar happened in the author's story too. The mom leaves the house when the main character does, as a mark of solidity with her son, and what I see as rebellion against the father. This convinces everyone to come back home, and start living as a family again. Women are strong. Just like this, we record evidence in our books, because it never seems true enough in reality.
The narrator was an only child, so he didn't know arguments like my family did. All my childhood, it was my sister against the world. She knows more Korean than I do, so they could communicate, after a fashion. But it was always the same conversation.
Mom: You think I'm stupid, right?
Sister: No, you're not listening to me!
Mom: Right. I get it. You don't have to say anything else.
Sister: Just listen to me!
My brother went through a phase like this, where he would try to argue with Mom. Not me. I knew from the beginning. When it comes to our family, you can't ever say what you want to. It's better to lie than to tell the truth, always.
And it's fine, really.
Why delve into the ugly past like this author is doing here? Dad's off working in the Midwest, Mom's probably going to join him after a few years, my sister's living it up on the west coast, my brother's busy becoming an adult, and my grandma's going to die soon. Everyone is so far away. I can say I love them now, without having to deal with what that means.
Everything will be fine.