On memory, inherited trauma, and my grandmother.
When I was almost two years old, my grandmother flew from Hongcheon, South Korea, to Flushing, Queens, to take care of me. For a few years, while my parents worked, I spent my hours with Halmuni. I do not remember how we colored our days, but I press my thumb onto the photographs of that time. I smudge their borders and try to return to a forgotten past.
In one glossy, blurry photograph, I am paper-crowned with a waxy yellow Burger King wrapper laid out before me, a rounded bun raised to my open mouth. Halmuni does not eat; instead, the camera catches her watching me. A tender, unsmiling gaze. When I examine this picture, I am convinced I remember. That crown, I think. Yes. I remember the thick gold paper with the Burger King logo, the jewels on the rounded arches. But the crown in the photograph is blue, and that unexpected color unbalances me. My confidence slips. Perhaps I am remembering a different day. Perhaps I am remembering the last time I looked at this photograph. Memory warps and stretches and shifts to fit the strictures of your life.
As my mother and I share a bottle of wine, she recalls my first years. She tells me that I had no understanding of mother-daughter love when I was young, that my world revolved around Halmuni. I wanted to sleep in her room. I wanted my mother to return “our” chopsticks when she used them in the kitchen. The edges of my mind seem to prickle with recognition. A white linoleum floor, my hand on Halmuni’s knee as I demand my mother leave us alone. Read More