1. Unpacking your belongings in your new dormitory room. A fresh new start. A beautiful new beginning.
2. Setting your alarm for five a.m. and actually being able to wake up at that time. A long, hot shower, wrapped in the warm glow of your own free-associating thoughts. Dressing carefully in your uniform for the first time in months and walking with a light step to school. The morning air is clean and cold, and it is sweet.
3. Actually managing to control yourself to eat half your usual portion and some horrendously slimy salad for breakfast! HAHAHAH. I just hope this keeps up for this whole semester…which is highly unlikely.
4. Having friends who will run eagerly up to you first and throwing their arms around you, saying with utmost sincerity, “I’ve missed you.”
5. Having three cynical and very platonic boy friends tell you you’ve actually gotten much prettier over vacation. WIN. I love you guys:)
6. When two friends you’re really fond of celebrate their 100th-day anniversary of surviving a romantic relationship in a school that bans dating.
7. The last class with your favorite teacher ever – sad but heartwarming. Especially when she mentions you in that last class, saying, “Esther’s writing is beautiful,” and recommending other students to take a look at it for an example of excellent essay writing. <3 I’m going to miss my English teacher so much.
8. Throwing away all the textbooks in your locker from last semester. Stupid statistics. Stupid biology. Into the bin, every one of you! There are few sounds as satisfying as listening to the heavy thump of your torturers crashing into nonexistence.
9. A good friend giving me an unexpectedly lovely gift of a small writing book from a Cambodian night market – so thoughtful of her.
10. An adorable text from a younger sister. A kind word of encouragement from my mother. Thank you.
this year will not be splintered through with ungrateful complaints or uncontrollable depression.
this year will be one shining with gratitude, and intense joy, and smiles that break forth in spite of the tears.
hoping and praying that I will never forget to find happiness in these small, daily shards of beauty in life!
These are the people I love:
The small, round, but compact woman, no longer young but with large, undimmed eyes sparkling with wisdom, who sits organizing her books and tirelessly cleaning the cramped church for the fiftieth time today. Her knees tremble beneath her as she leans over her chair, searching through her bags overflowing with pretty books like flowers in a pot of earth, but when she looks up she is smiling. “I had a hard day today,” she says, but her voice is calm and happy, and I know that she has gone through many hard days with that calm, cheerful look. For me.
The yawning girl with light brown hair yelling at me to stop clacking away at the keyboard and join her for a breath of fresh air. Laughing as she rummages through my clothes, looking for something as pretty as herself. Joking recklessly. “Mamma, I do love you so much,” she calls to the aforementioned woman. “Why did you invite those disgusting guests for the party today? Those brutes who don’t even know the value of your cooking?” Mamma laughs. My sister flips her hair and mumbles, “I wonder if I should buy perfume or an mp3 for my birthday. An mp3…well, I can just use my laptop to listen to music. And as long as I take a shower daily I won’t stink like a warthog. Oh, well. I guess I don’t have much to buy for my birthday.”
The small, thin brown girl dizzy with twirling and whirling wildly at her ballet class as I write. Flushed with sitting next to the heater for too long, she came up to me before she left, saying cheerfully, “See ya soon, Esther!” Her laughter lights up the air, the scent of her sparkle expanding my lungs even as I inhale from miles away.
How precious their smiles, their laughter, their very breath is to me, even as I pretend to ignore what they are saying as I quietly type down a confession of love to them on my keyboard!
I will always remember summer nights as when my little sister Goosie and I would open the windows and listen to the silvery crik-crik-crik of the crickets and the rustling trees. One evening Goosie was unusually reflective, and at length she said,
“Teacher An was married today!”
I nodded. “You were at the wedding, weren’t you?”
“Yes. But…Teacher was crying!”
I shrugged. “Sad to leave her family?”
Goosie mused over this. Then a new thought struck her:
“Oh, Big Sister! Then do I have to leave you when I marry, too?”
I was thunderstruck, but quite splendidly I replied:
“We shall whisper secrets through the windows at night, and the trees and crickets will deliver our words to each other, so we will never be apart.”
“Ohh,” Goosie said, reassured, and snuggled back into her pillow. “You’re so wise.”
I wanted to be a botanist, while Goosie loved crickets. I couldn’t understand the way she stroked the shiny black insects as if they were newborn puppies, but I loved them for her sake.
“The sound of crickets and sighing trees will be our bond. As long as they live, we’ll never be completely apart.”
We both laughed then, and held on to each other as we fell asleep.
Soon after, Goosie fell in love with a boy named Giwon, a red-cheeked boy of few words. In a very short time they became the most famous couple in elementary school. Kids would squeal after them:
Who likes who?
Giwon likes Goosie,
Look at those two!
I felt amused and jealous at the bond I couldn’t share. Premature hormones, I sniffed. What do these kiddos know about love? Yet when we transferred to another school, and Goosie cried bitterly, I felt some real pain in their parting. That night, she whispered, “Will I ever meet Giwon again?”
“Don’t worry,” I said robustly. Having never had any boyfriends or even any memorable girl friends, I had no regrets about a fresh new start. “You’ll meet him again, I’m sure.”
And to my surprise, I was right. Three years later, when Goosie had advanced to sixth grade, we were visiting our grandparents for Korean New Year when we ran into someone very familiar.
“Giwon!” Goosie cried out, in astonishment.
It was Giwon, indeed. He had grown much taller, but his eyes now had a calmly surprised look, like the black surface of a lake when a bird has flown over it.
“Goosie?” he asked in disbelief.
Being a tactful sister, I said, “I have to help Grandmamma with supper. I’ll pick you up in half an hour, Goose.”
“Okay!” Goosie’s firm, puckered lips lifted, and she beamed with irrepressible joy.
For a half-hour of intense curiosity, I chopped potatoes, imagining a thousand different scenarios. Just as I had finished sliding the potatoes into the soup, I heard a knock. I wiped my hands and threw open the door.
“Why, Goosie—! You’re already back? I said I’d pick you up.”
I was shocked at her reply.
“No need,” was the weary, broken response, extremely different from the joyous laugh with which she had last spoken to me, “no need, no need,” and her little step toiled sadly into her darkened room. She shut the door.
“Goosie, darling? Whatever is the matter?” I stood outside her door.
“Go away, please, Big Sister.” Then the sad voice relented, and Goosie peeked out of the door. “I’ll tell you later: not now, please.”
Night came. Slowly Goosie undressed, slowly and tiredly as if drained of all strength. Her thin shoulders dropped and she dragged her feet. I heard a discreet sniff.
“Oh, Big Sister…it’s so strange!” She stopped. “One moment we were talking, and everything was so nice and comfortable, and then he suddenly leaned forward and…kissed me!”
“But,” I said, puzzled, “you’ve always liked him, haven’t you?”
“I suppose so,” she said, mournfully. “But – it felt – wrong, somehow. He wasn’t kissing me right. When it was over, he gave me this awful smile and…I…felt terrible then. And then – right after he had kissed me, another boy from our school was walking by and he yelled that old song,
Who’s kissing who?
“Then he cried, ‘Hey, Giwon! Why are you kissing that girl? Didn’t you give Yejin chocolates and confess your love to her this morning?”
Goosie turned abruptly to the wall and pinched her pillow with cold fingers, again and again.
“Oh, Goosie!” I said, and hugged her tight.
Goosie was silent for a long time. I thought she had fallen asleep, but then she said, softly, “We won’t have our crickets, shall we?”
“They die so easily…and besides, you aren’t going to plant your trees.”
It was true. I knew our dreams wouldn’t come true. I was in middle school, and I had already given up. But I didn’t say so. I just hugged Goosie even tighter and said, “Don’t reject your crickets just because there aren’t any trees. I wish I hadn’t stopped believing in my trees, either.”
“Then will you still plant your trees?”
“I don’t know. Yes. I will.” But my voice had no conviction in it, and she turned to me, her eyes blazing fiercely in the dark, and said passionately,
“You’d better tell me the truth! Are you going to give up on your trees or not?”
“Goosie, are you crying?”
“Of course not.”
I looked at her. She was.
“No,” I promised her, softly, “I’ll never give up on my trees. Or you.”
Goosie looked up at the ceiling, tears twinkling in her eyes, and gave a great gulp. She pulled her sleeve across her face and sighed. Then she turned to me, and hugged me back at last. In her usual warm, loving voice she said dreamily,
“Then I’ll keep my crickets, and they’ll watch over your trees…”
I smiled tenderly at her and brushed her cheek with my hand.
“Goodnight, little Goosie,” I said. “I love you very, very much.”
Without thinking, I took out two bowls.
Then realization struck in, and feeling sick, I ran my finger slowly around the inside ridge of the white porcelain bowl. The spiny, colorless ridges of faint cracks threading the belly of the dishes. The cool, impenetrable smoothness of its calm white walls. How lonely a single bowl could look in the stainless steel sink.
I dragged my backpack up the stairs, panting for breath. It wasn’t heavy, not really, but I missed having your fingertips graze against mine as you’d jerk anything heavy away from me, saying, “I’ll carry it for you.” I sat down abruptly on the top of the stairs, suddenly weak with pain, and felt tears come into my eyes.
“Eunice?” I called softly, tiptoeing into the bedroom. My youngest sister stopped in the middle of cutting up gold paper and gluing it to her fingernails. She liked doing weird stuff like that, like me. I remember how I’d thread dandelions into rings and necklaces and tickle you under the chin with it, and you’d jerk away, saying with a grin, “You’re crazy.” I’d blow dandelion seeds into your eyes, and you’d pull my hair, telling me what a pain I was.
Who knew that time would make us drift apart as easily as those dandelion seeds floating in the wind?
Who knew that time would pile up like the dishes in the sink, with nobody to wash them?
“You’ve been crying,” said Eunice, getting up on tiptoe and kissing me. “Is it still because of him?”
“He’s not worth it,” Eunice said, her gold-paper-glued fingers slipping into mine.
“You should be sleeping.” I stroked her hair and tucked her in. “It’s already late as it is.”
“I like night,” Eunice said. “It’s hard to give up anything I’ve already started.”
“But if you’re hanging onto anything you haven’t finished at night,” I said, softly, “you won’t be ready for a new morning tomorrow.”
Eunice turned on her fuzzy pink pillow and cupped my chin in her small, brown hands. She smiled, her eyes soft and bright.
“That,” she said, “is what I’ve always wanted to tell you.”