Monthly Archives: March 2015

16. Journey Backwards-Booboo’s

 

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Sis and I were never taken to the Doctor for any illness’s…chronic or otherwise.  I suppose we had received all our vaccination shots right after being adopted from Korea.  We got the standard immunizations before starting grade school.  If we got sick or injured, we were pretty much on our own.

From about the age of 8, I started to get bloody noses frequently.  I could always feel it coming on with a warmth deep in my nose and the trickle soon turned into heavy bleeding until a huge clot would come out and it would stop right after the clot let loose.  One day it happened during lunch time in the school cafeteria.  I was eating a roll and my nose started to bleed and all the other kids would yell “Oooh! gross!”  I’d hold my nose and if I couldn’t get a tissue right away, the clot would fall out into my hand and through my finger tips.  This always grossed the other kids out more.  It got really bad over the next several years where my nose would bleed on a daily basis.  I guess it never occurred to Mom that this might have been abnormal and that it should get looked at.  She would take me into the bathroom and have me bend over the sink and whack the back of my neck with a karate chop.  This must have been some weird old Japanese wives tales or something because it never worked.  Maybe she just got pleasure out of whacking me on the head.  Now I had a bloody nose AND a headache.

One summer while my parents were on a trip to Europe, my sister and I stayed with our neighbors across the street.  Aunt “C” was a radiology technician and had some medical background so by the third day when my nose had bled up to 4 times a day, she finally took me to her family Doctor and I was sent to an ENT specialist.  The weak vessel in my nose was cauterized and I was given antibiotics for the bad infection that had been brewing deep into my sinuses.

I was terrified of telling my Mom that I had gone to the Dr. and had received treatment for it.  I was sure she would yell at me.  Surprisingly, all she said was that I was a “trouble maker” for causing such an inconvenience to Aunt C.  To this day, I’m not sure if Aunt C had given the medical bill to my parents.  I suspect the bill was paid by Aunt C.  I only think this because if my parents got the bill, I would have gotten into a lot more trouble.

One weekend, sis and I were playing outside and as my sis was monkeying around, she stepped onto an old heart shaped plastic chocolate box and cut her big toe real bad.  I remember her being in pain and ran to the window and told Mom that she had cut her foot.  Mom responded with, “What do you want ME to do about it?!”  I helped sis as much as an 8 year old could.  We wrapped it up with some old rag swatches that we found in the tool shed.  Her toe really needed stitches but that was not going to happen.  Luckily, sis was a quick healer and we just “sucked it up”.  All our injuries were nursed by ourselves.

Another time was when I got hurt badly when I was walking along a rock wall trying to chase the neighbor’s little chihuahua.  I fell off the 6 foot wall and scraped my left shin down to the bone and my right thigh had the skin taken off from mid thigh down to the top of my knee.  I lay there on the ground holding my leg and rocking back and forth until the pain subsided.  I don’t think it even dawned on me to tell my Mom about it.  I went into the shower and washed all the gravel out of the wound and held a washcloth between my teeth while I tried to hold back the screaming from the pain. I cleaned it as much as it could with soap and water.   The wound wasn’t closed with stitches, it healed open and left a big scar to this day.

I think because of the lack of “healing kisses to help the booboo’s” growing up, sis and I learned how to be loving towards our children and kissed every hurt/injury they received.  

If anything, the negative experiences that I have had growing up has shown me how “not to be” towards my children.  

…continued

15. Journey Backwards-Healing

 

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For many years, my sis and I lived in different states.  Although we kept in contact all those years, there didn’t seem to be too many discussions about our messed up childhoods.  We raised children of our own (both single Moms for a long time) and only after they were grown and gone and circumstances brought sis and I back to the same state for awhile, did we discuss many incidences of the past.  There were so many of them.  Many of which I will continue to write about. 

I believe that because we had gone through such a tumultuous childhood, we had very little coping skills in our adult life.  For myself, I drank…heavily.  It didn’t always start off that way.  As a single Mom raising two daughters, I would have that glass and a half of wine every night after dinner.  I only drank a glass and a half for a very long time until I decided I wanted to heal…completely. As far as I was concerned, I was a “functional alcoholic”.  No matter how much I drank, I always went to work the next day and tended to my children, so in my mind, it was perfectly acceptable.  My sister had her issues as a young adult as well but I will not divulge her issues on this blog.  Let’s just say that for sis and I, we were not given tools as children to be able to function as emotionally stable and healthy young adults. 

We continue to talk about the past and recognize it for what it was.  We share with each other how we felt back then and often cry together.  This has brought much healing.

Forgiving someone who has hurt you intentionally is especially hard to do.  I knew for a while now that Mom carried a lot of hurt herself.  She had a very low self image and hated to see my sister and I (especially me) succeed in anything…in fact, it almost seemed like it was her sole mission to make sure that we did not succeed.  This was accomplished by constantly telling us that we were good for nothing, junk, would never amount to anything and that we were hopeless individuals…and it went so very deep that we ended up with men in our lives that perpetuated this self belief. 

As my sister and I continue to heal and help others to heal, we see our Mom in a different light.  When you can look upon any person in your life that has hurt you deeply and only feel compassion…this is when you know you have truly forgiven them. 

…continued

 

14. Journey Backwards-Dishes

 

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Mom was a obsessively neat.  Today we call it “OCD” today. Everything had it’s place; whether these were items in the fridge or even in the waste baskets.  All the waste receptacles  in the house were lined with saved grocery paper bags and the trash thrown in these receptacles  had it’s place.  The kitchen waste basket had a section for Mom’s cigarette butts; another section for food items, another for paper items.  We could not just throw trash away without thinking first which area of the waste basket it had to be thrown into.  I would often not think before I threw stuff away and would just chuck it into the trash only to be scolded later for putting old food items into the cigarette section. “Ha many times I gotta tell you same ting oba and oba again! Use you burain!”

Our kitchen sink and disposal were immaculate.  Mom would scrub the sink daily and even take out the rubber gasket and scrub the inside of the disposal.  A habit she had that always grossed me out was when she would clear her throat of mucous and spit it down the sink.  It seemed peculiar to me that as neat as she needed to be, she would spit her tobacco stained, bacteria ridden mucous down that shiny, clean drain.  It didn’t seem to match the rest of her “neat freak” behavior.

Everything in the refrigerator also had it’s place.  Everything was lined with paper towels.  Sis and I were never allowed to open the fridge and take anything out without asking for permission. Sis and I had no business opening up the fridge. The only time we opened it is if we were asked to take something out for Mom.  Then she would “guide us” to where that particular item was.  “Itsu behind da pitcha by da backu obu da kimu chee containa”  The rule was, when the refrigerator was opened, you had to “know” what you were looking for… and because sis and I never even knew what was in the fridge, we never opened it anyway.  Our pantry was the same way…everything in it’s place.  Our cutlery drawer was the same way. Our closets and dresser drawers were the same way…you get the picture.

We would eat dinner at the kitchen counter and after dinner, sis and I did the dishes while Mom neatly wrapped any leftovers and put them in the fridge.  This was a team chore for sis and I.  I would wash the dishes and hand them to sis to be rinsed and placed on the dish rack. The dishes would often slip out of my hands making a loud clatter noise.  Mom would yell at me when this happened. “Be careful! You so curumzy! You bettah not burake (break) my dishes!” Nervous, nervous! I’m always so nervous!

One evening as sis and I were washing dishes, Mom came over and asked me if I had been washing the back of the dishes.  “Ah you washingu back obu purates? (plates).  “Oh, no” I said…SCHWAK! I got backhanded by her on the side of my face and she walked away without saying anything. My ear began to ring and I felt the whole side of my face stinging for awhile.  I rewashed all the dishes.

At the end of the night before sis and I went to sleep, we would put the dishes away.  Sis had no trouble asking Mom where a particular item belonged if she wasn’t sure. and Mom would just tell her where it belonged.  I on the other hand, dare not ask.  Some how, only I was considered stupid if I didn’t know.  Maybe it was because I was the older sibling and I should know these things automatically.  If I wasn’t sure where something belonged,  I would ask sis.  If she wasn’t sure, she would ask Mom for me.

One morning at about 1:00am, Mom came into my bedroom and woke me up by pulling on my ear.  “Where did you put my chawan?” (“teacup” in Japanese) “Baba (her older sister’s pet name) gave me dat chawan fo me.”  I told her where I had put it so she went and took a look and never came back.  She found it.  I had gotten off easy on that one…but there were so many other times where I had not…

…continued

13. Journey Backwards-Wasabi and mangos.

 

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My sister and I never needed alarm clocks for getting up in the morning.  I usually heard my Dad already up in the kitchen.  I would hear him setting down his coffee cup onto it’s saucer.  Our morning routine was to get out of bed, brush our teeth, go eat cereal, then make our beds and get dressed…in this order.  We were told not to make our beds right away because the beds were still warm from our body heat so we had to let the beds cool down before making it.  Our cereal was usually a different kind than that of our Dad’s cereal.  Sis and I got the cheaper cereal.  I really like Frosted Flakes but we ate Corn Flakes instead and added a little sugar.  I guess Corn Flakes were cheaper than Frosted Flakes back then.  Dad would put honey in his cereal sometimes but sis and I were told that the honey was only for our Dad.  I figured the honey must have been real expensive so we weren’t allowed to have any.

One morning sis and I poured milk in our cereal and it came out clumpy like cottage cheese and had a funny smell.  We asked each other if we should tell Mom that the milk was “funny” and had clumps in it but that meant we would have to wake her up.  (Dad was off Island on one of his business trips).  I quietly went into Mom’s room and stood on her bedside and whispered, “Mommy…the milk is funny and has clumps in it”.  “What!” she said.  “I just bought that milk a few days ago! it’s still good! Why you wake me up fo stupid thing!”  Ok, so I guess if she said it was good, we’d have to eat it.  Sis and I dare not throw the cereal down the disposal because you see, Mom’s eyes  and ears were everywhere and she would somehow know that we had thrown it out.  We were too scared to NOT eat it.  We ate the cereal with the curdled, spoiled milk while holding our noses.  I guess it wasn’t too bad while holding our noses and eating.

Sis and I were one grade apart from each other and during school the day we drank the spoiled milk,  I would see her frequently in the bathroom down the hall when I was there.  We now had the runs from the milk.

Another time, Mom was making a Japanese dish that required wasabi.  I didn’t know what wasabi was at the time and it reminded me of creme de mint ice cream.  I asked my Mom what it was and she said it was wasabi and said, “here, try some”.  She scooped a heaping amount on a teaspoon and held it to my mouth so I could eat it.  I had swallowed it pretty quick in shock I think.  My breath got knocked out of me and my eyes felt like they were going to pop out of their sockets.  My nasal passages burned like mad and I started jumping up and down making some weird kind of noises.  I thought I was dying or something.  Mom was laughing so hard…almost cackling and my sis just watched this whole bizarre episode not knowing what to make of the whole thing.  I guess my reaction was pretty funny but at the time, I didn’t think it was funny at all.  I ran to the bathroom and tried to rinse my mouth out.  I decided then that I didn’t like wasabi.  I returned to the kitchen as if nothing had happened and Mom was still laughing, then she continued with what she was doing.

Sis and I loved mangos.  We would often drive down one of the residential streets where the mangos would just fall onto the street so Mom would sit in the car and sis and I would go grab as many mangos as the paper bags could hold.  Once at home, we would tear into the mangos with our teeth and clean off the seeds until there was nothing left.  We didn’t mind eating the mangos this way because we could clean off the mango from it’s seed.  Mom would watch us as we ate and would criticize me for being such a messy eater.  “You so messy eat da mango”. Well, yes…even though both sis and I were eating the same way and getting mango drippings all over our hands, I was the messier one.  She didn’t seem too irritated though.  I think in this case, sis and I were the source of her entertainment.

There were times when there wasn’t a real harshness or anger in Mom’s criticisms towards me and these were the times when I thought that perhaps Mom DID like me after all.  Those moments were infrequent however.  Usually there was always a contempt for me and everything I did.

…continued

12. Journey Backwards-Class parties

 

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I was now in the 4th grade in grade school and I really liked school; I especially liked Mr. T’s class.  He was one of those teachers that leave an impression on you that you carry into your adulthood.  He encouraged and cared for each of his students and for me, this made me feel special.  I don’t know why…he didn’t treat me any different than the other students and maybe that is exactly why.  I didn’t stand out as the stupid, junk girl who couldn’t do anything right.  I think my sister and I were always trying extra hard in anything we did because of the scrutiny at home, so when it came to school work, we did well.  Mr. T would always recognize any student who did exceptionally well in class.  Many times my name was recognized.  This made me feel good inside.

Occasionally, the individual classrooms would have little picnics or parties to celebrate certain occasions and a sign up sheet would go around the class so the students could volunteer to bring certain items.  I always dreaded when the sign up sheet came to me because I didn’t want to have to ask my Mom if I could bring something.  The answer was always no and I would feel so bad during the party knowing that I had not contributed.  ( I do remember however on one occasion that my Mom actually made Okinawan donuts for my sister to take to her class party.)  It became pretty clear to me that Mom would never allow me to take anything for these class gatherings so I finally decided that I would just take anything I thought Mom wouldn’t miss.  It had to be something from the freezer and I had to cleverly rearrange the frozens around so she would not miss the item.  This was nerve wracking but she never did find out.  One time one of the other teachers who attended our class party laughed when they saw that someone had brought uncooked hotdogs.  I kept my mouth shut…I told myself it was ok that it wasn’t cooked and we couldn’t eat it…at least I had brought something…

In grade school, there were “junior police officers” and “junior girl police” which consisted of kids from 4th, 5th and 6th grade who helped direct cars coming on and off campus before and after school.  In order for a student to be able to be a “JPO” or “JGP”, your name had to have been recommended and submitted to the school principle for consideration.  The selection was always made at the beginning of the school year.  When Mr. T. told me that my name had been selected and chosen, I was so excited!  I had been selected amongst many other children and picked for Captain!  When I got home, I could hardly wait to tell my parents.  My little child dream was soon crushed when my parents said no.  I dared not ask why but I was crying inside.  Maybe it was because being a JGP meant we had to stay late after school and that would cut into our home chores.  I had to go to school and tell my teacher that I wasn’t allowed to do it.  He didn’t ask me for a reason and just said “Oh, that’s too bad”.  I cried to myself most of that day.

I would really get nervous around parent/teacher conference.  I knew I had done well in school but somehow my Mom would always find a reason to belittle me.  One time it was how messy the inside of my desk was.  “You rike pig.” She would tell me later.  Or when Mr. T. told my parents that I was “very sociable”…Well, that meant I talked too much in class.  “You betta not talk in kurasu (class).  Just keep you mouth shut and listen to teacher!  I don’t rike to hea from you teacha dat you talk too much! Stop acting rike you know ebery ting! (everything) You don’t know anyting so don’t act so big!”

It didn’t matter how good my grades were, or what I accomplished.  There were always so many negative things about me that Mom would bring to my attention.

…continued

 

 

11. Journey Backwards-Nervousness and bodily functions

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Now at age 7 or 8, I am nervous all the time but at that age, I didn’t know what I was feeling.  All I knew was that I could not do anything right.  I was stupid, Korean and junk.

Every moment with being in my Mom’s presence was a constant state of fear.  What stupid thing was I going to do next? What stupid thing was I going to say next?  Even at this young age, a child knows whether they are liked or not.  It was clear to me that my Mom did not like me and I thought it was because I was stupid, Korean and junk.

It was about this time that I started urinating frequently.  I mean that I would have to pee every 20 minutes or so.  I’d empty my bladder and shortly thereafter, I’d have to go again.  After going to the bathroom the second time in half an hour,  she yelled at me saying that I was she sheeing (local slang for urinating) too much.  “Stop shee sheeing! What’s wrong with you stupid!  How come you gotta go she she all the time!” All the yelling didn’t help me at all.  It made me more nervous and I had to go even more.  By the 5th trip to the toilet in an hour, she stormed into the bathroom and yelled, “that’s enough! You wasting water you know!”  Ok, so the next time I had to go in the next half hour and after holding it for as long as I could, I knew I couldn’t pee in the bathroom.  Think, think!  My bladder was getting so full and I dare not do the dance that little girls do when they really have to go.  If I did, she’d know.  I held it for as long as my little bladder could hold it and then I snuck into the living room in the corner of the front door, pulled my pajama panties off and peed.  Of course I felt immediate relief and this area of the house was where no one walked to unless someone rang the front door bell so I felt pretty safe not being discovered.  If it was discovered that I peed in the corner, I’d have to deal with it then, but for now, I had to go. Everyone else was getting seated at the kitchen counter to have dinner so I took my place and we all had dinner.  I didn’t have anymore “she she” issues for the rest of the night.

On another occasion, we all got in the car and about a mile down the street from our house, my bladder started to fill up again.  I thought oh no; when were we going to reach our destination so I could pee and how long would it take to get there?  We hadn’t gotten very far, maybe four miles and I had to go so bad so I told my parents that I had to go “she she”.  “What! how come you don’t go before we leave the house!”  I did go but it was one of those days again where I was nervous and my bladder would fill up soon after it emptied.  My Dad drove to the nearby gas station while my Mom was yelling the whole time that I was causing such an inconvenience.  As he pulled up to the side of the gas station, I ran to the door and tried to go in but it was locked.  Oh my gosh! Now what?  It didn’t occur to me that I had to go into the little convenience store to ask for a key.  My mind was racing to try and figure out what to do next and I pounded on the bathroom door as if this would get it to open.  I thought to myself, please, please open! Well, that didn’t help so I ran around to the back of the building, squatted and peed.  I ran back to the car as fast as I could and my Mom didn’t notice that I hadn’t come out of the bathroom but from the back of the building. She was still too busy ranting about the inconvenience of it all.  It was not a pleasant ride.  As Mom glared at me in the back seat with those black, slanted eyes and with her deep scary voice said, “someting long wid you you know! I nevah see someone do she she so ohfun! (often) Dad usually said something very quietly to my Mom,  In this case it was “it’s ok, that didn’t take too much time.” For the rest of the ride, I kept praying that I wouldn’t have to pee again anytime soon.

We parked at the marina on the outskirts of the nearby shopping center and had lunch there.  I peed two more times while in that restaurant but somehow it wasn’t an issue when Mom was eating.  The food was enough of a distraction for her at that moment.  My sister and I ordered the cheapest thing on the menu.  We could never order juices or soda pop.  We always stuck with the water that we were given.  It didn’t occur to me until years later when I had children of my own that when we went out, I always asked them what they wanted to drink.  I realized then that my sis and I were never given the option.

After lunch we decided to walk to the mall about a quarter mile away.  My bladder was still holding up but my lower belly started gurgling something fierce.  I was getting a stomach ache.  I think it was something bad I ate at the restaurant.  We had walked a little further and the fishy smell from the marina was beginning to make me feel nauseous.  Nauseous with a stomach ache.  Please, please let my stomach hold up until I could get to the bathroom in the mall.  We were almost there.  The stomach ache was intense now.  All I could think of was keeping it together and not letting on that I had to go to the bathroom…again. Besides, we were in the middle spot between the marina and the mall with no bathrooms in between.  Ohhhh…the cramping…and the fear of not being able to hold it and having to mention it anyway…but I didn’t.  We were finally at the mall and a quick dash to the bathroom and it was all better.  Phew! I didn’t have to say anything and spared myself the agony of hearing how stupid I was again.  I was sure I was stupid though…and now I was a stupid, junk Korean girl with she she and do do problems.

…continued

10. Journey Backwards-Farmhands

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAside from wiping the floors every weekend, we dusted, vacuumed and pulled weeds outside.  These were our regular chores but Dad was always working outside so there were always other projects we helped him with.

In our generation growing up, many of the youngsters were taught responsibility and were given chores to do…at least that’s what my sister and I were told except we never seemed to hear or see any of our friends actually doing chores.  Other than keeping their rooms clean and doing the daily dinner dishes, our friends seemed to have a lot less chores than we did.

It was also made very clear to my sister and I from a very early age that we had been adopted to help take care of things around the house and to take care of our parents when they got older.  It seemed that the multitude of chores sis and I had were not just for teaching us discipline and responsibility but that maybe we were extra “farm hands” to help around the house.  The thing was, we didn’t live on a farm.  We were an upper middle class family living in the suburbs.  My parents owned 2 cars, had a single family home with 3 bedrooms which later was extended to add a romper room, (not for playing) and the other family room was extended out further.    Dad had a good civil service job and Mom didn’t work.  We went out to eat once a week and went on family vacations once a year either to visit relative in Minnesota or Japan.  To the outsider, we were the perfect family…

In the earlier years, Dad really didn’t know half of the crazy things Mom was doing to us.  She would always be upset with something that we did.  (Mom got upset with me a lot more than with my sister).  When Dad got home, Mom would tell him what we had done to cause her to get upset.   In the beginning, Dad just listened to her rantings.  He never scolded us after Mom would fill him in on the day.  As far as I was concerned, I thought if Dad wasn’t scolding me or talking to me about what Mom was upset about that day, it must have not been that bad.  Dad was an easy going kind of guy who didn’t get riled up.  One day though, while helping Dad with projects outside, my sis and I had gathered as many centipedes as we could find and stuffed them all in an empty “Planters” peanut can.  When Dad saw what we were doing, he came over and firmly told us that this was dangerous.  “The centipedes could bite you and they’re poisonous girls; also, they carry a lot of bacteria!”  It was not said in anger but with firmness and authority…enough to let us know he meant business, but there was a caring behind it all in the tone of his voice.

As I try and recall many of these childhood incidents, it’s sometimes difficult to remember the sequence of events and maybe that’s not too important.  I think what’s more important are the messages that we received from both our Parents.  The many experiences that my sister and I had growing up that helped shaped our personalities, fears, perceptions about life etc.  This is what I am trying to convey.  I know you the reader, do not know what the sequence of events should be so rather than try to remember the correct order of events, I will just tell my story and express each of the events in the best way possible to paint a picture for you.

Dad could fix most things that broke around the house.  I would watch him tinker with the lawn mower, or hedge trimmer and he taught us the name of all the tools.  He was truly, the “jack of all trades”.  We would often hand him tools as he needed them.  I thought it was neat that I knew the difference between an allen wrench and a monkey wrench at the age of 8 or 9.  As I watched him work, I would always try to anticipate what he might need next.  Sometimes I even got it right.  I remember often Dad would explain to us what he was doing and why he was doing it.  Which tools worked and which ones didn’t.

On the weekends, we were always helping Dad outside and Mom would make lunch and we’d eat it outside.  Occasionally Dad would eat his lunch in the house but sis and I were never allowed to eat our lunch in doors because we had gotten too dirty plus we were already wearing our “outside clothes”. One day after eating lunch on the patio, all of a sudden my stomach started churning and without warning, the contents of my stomach came projectiling out of my mouth.  Oh my gosh! It came spewing out of my nose and all.  Dad jumped back to avoid the splatters and Mom yelled at me.  “Oh you stupid girl! You cannot feel when you gotta tro up!? At reast you can go batroom and do! Now I gotta kureen (clean) up mess!”  I tell ya, if I could have avoided throwing up, I would have.  For the next 20 minutes while my Mom was spraying down the patio, she complained the whole time and kept calling me stupid.  I felt so bad.  I didn’t MEAN to do it.  She was acting as if my throwing up was an act against her somehow.  Vomiting is never a fun experience…it happens to the best of us but my Mom’s response to my throwing up now made me feel like my body functions were abnormal.  Soon after this, my bladder started acting up.

…continued

 

9. Journey Backwards-chores

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWiping the floors on our hands and knees were part of our weekend chores.  During the weekdays, we were dropped off at school about a mile down the street by our Dad on his way to work.  My sister and I liked school I guess but not because we were academia’s or anything.  It was because it was better than being at home.  I liked our friend circle at school:  Elaine was the smart one, Mandy was the blind band geek and Daisy was just boy crazy.  Daisy was adopted from Korea as well and she just so happened to be our next door neighbor.  She had a much older sister who I couldn’t really relate to.  She just seemed so sophisticated and beautiful.  Her older brother Keith who was also adopted was a couple of years older than us and I guess my first crush on the opposite sex was Keith.  He had crooked bucked teeth and always smiled that weird smile of his.  

My sister and I always walked home after school.  Our grade school was slightly farther down the road than our high school was so we walked home after school everyday all through grade school and high school.  I didn’t mind it so much I guess but I always felt like we had to hurry up and rush home as if our Mom was timing us to see if she thought we were taking the right amount of time to walk that distance.  I didn’t want to get into trouble.  It didn’t really matter I guess because I’m sure if we weren’t scolded for taking too long, there would have been something else she would find to be upset about.  

Surprisingly though, Mom would always give us a snack when we got home.  An apple or an orange or cookies or something.  We would change our clothes into “outside” clothes.  These were clothes that we kept outside in the laundry room that we wore all week when we were working outside.  We would take them off outside and jump into the shower that was right next to the laundry room at the end of our chores.  By the end of the week, our clothes were usually pretty stinky.

I wish I could tell you that when my sister and I were outside, we played ball and had a blast with the other kids outside but no, we had more important and constructive things to do…like pull weeds.  I hated it when we would have to pull the weeds from the grass in front of the house because the school bus would come up past our house dropping the other kids off from school and our fellow school mates always saw us pulling weeds.  It was just embarrassing I guess to be seen on our hands and knees digging weeds when all the other kids were playing or riding our bikes.

From as long as I can remember, we were even working outside on the weekends helping our Dad with hauling bricks, mixing and pouring cement.  There was just so much to do.  Trimming the hedges of the mock orange brush, hauling whatever branches were cut from the various trees around our house and dumping it down in the valley back behind our house.  My job was to lift our portable cement mixer and pour the cement on the plastic sheet and my Dad would build moss rock walls or lay a brick foundation.  My sister and I would carry as many bricks as we could from the big pile over to where Dad was laying the brick foundation.  I could carry quite a few bricks at a time.  My Mom would observe and laugh at me saying “you got skinny regs but you strong.” This was about as close as a compliment as I could get.  I guess I was doing something right.  My arms and legs would get so tired from carrying bricks all day long.   All our friends were doing fun stuff like going to the beach, riding their bikes or just hanging out.  Once in a great while, my sister and I would visit our friend Elaine up the street.  Those were good days when we could go to her house and play.  Never on the weekends though; there was always work to be done around the house.  

I remember one day we were chopping trees around our house, hauling the branches and tossing them into the valley.  It was getting dark…around 7:00 pm and I was so tired. I had so many scratches on my arms and legs from hauling tree branches from the front of the house to the back.   I remember thinking to myself that I just wanted it to stop! We had been working all day from 8:00am till dark.  Enough is enough already! So on the next load of branches that I hauled down to the valley, I threw myself down into the hole with all the rubbish and stayed there until my Mom or Dad showed up and told them that I had fallen in.  It was then that my Dad said that we should stop for the day.  

Often in the evenings, my sister and I would have to give massages to both our parents.  These massages usually lasted about an hour or an hour and a half for each parent.  One person would work on the upper body while the other person would work on the lower.  To this day, I do not like giving massages to anyone…not even a light kneading of any kind.

The morning lectures would continue on sometimes for a long time.  About how lucky we were to have been adopted into such a wonderful family.  How if it weren’t for us being adopted, we would still be living in Korea in our horrible existence and for that, we should be eternally grateful.  

…continued

 

8. Journey Backwards-Scared

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI remember beginning around age 7 or so being scared all the time.  My sister and I would wake up early on the weekends (usually around 6:30 or 7:00am) because we were told to by our Mom to see Daddy off to work.  She would sleep in till 9:00 or 10:00. In those days, Dad worked a half day on Saturdays.  We would say goodbye to him and ask if we could watch cartoons.  It was always “Yes, but keep down the volume so you don’t wake up Mummy.”  Dad was still sweet back then.  We knew he loved us.  He would give us both hugs and kisses as he went out the door to work.  

So my sister and I would quietly watch cartoons–all the old classics.  Bugs Bunny, Marvin Martian and Road Runner.  Cartoons were not on 24/7 like the present day.  They showed cartoons on Saturday mornings only for about 2 hours.  After the cartoons were over, we would find something to do; either coloring, or playing card games or playing school or something.  I was very aware of keeping the volume of our voices down.  When we heard the toilet flush, our hearts would sink.  It meant Mommy was up.  Oh God! She would come into the kitchen, light a cigarette and pour her coffee and sit at the kitchen counter smoking and drinking with one foot poised up on the chair puffing away. It didn’t take long to see what her mood was going to be for most of the day.  Little things she would say in her thick Japanese accent “Did you blush you hair dis morning? It rooks messy,” or “go blush you teeth, you breath stink.”  It wasn’t just the words she was using, it was the tone as well.   If the morning started off this way, it meant she was on a war path of meanness and criticizing.  

At this age, it was already clear to me that she really didn’t like me much.  Sometimes she didn’t like the both of us but mostly it was me that she had a problem with.  Sometimes the things she would say would come out of no where.  It wasn’t even like we had been talking about a particular topic and the criticism would be in the context of that topic.  Sometimes it would be something out of the blue like: “Do you know how rucky you are?  You are junk, Korean junk butuh becozu  ub you Daddy name, you hab good name now, uduhwise you stiru hab (still have) you Korean name.  Korea people junk you know.  In Korea war, dey bery, bery crool (cruel) to Japanese soljah.  Dey bery mean people you know and Korea woman no curasu (class).  Das why only Korea woman work bar to buy man.”  Usually comments like this were directed at me.  At least this particular one was.  She made it clear that my birth Mother was one of those classless, Korean bar women and not only was I the product of my birth Mother’s low life, it was also made clear to me that my birth Mother had given me up for adoption because she had not really loved or wanted me. Somehow I had been an inconvenience to my birth Mother and her “low life” style but not only that, I was now the cause of such misery for my adoptive Mother as well.  She would say this to me with such contempt.  You could see the hatred in her eyes…her dark black pupils that almost obscured most of the white sclera of her eyes.  The slight oriental slant of her eyes made her look scarier and because of her smoking,  she had kind of a low raspy voice which contained no sweetness to it.  I was scared of her.  She would hiss out those terrible mean words and I would sit there numb; taking in every word she said.  I was “bad, really a bad” girl. 

Naturally at age 7, I absorbed everything my Mom said.  Although I have very foggy recollections of her meanness before age 7,  I already felt “bad” at 7. I was a bad girl.  I was bad for being born…and bad for being born Korean…and bad for being such an inconvenience for my birth Mother and now bad for making my Mommy’s life so miserable.

Once she had it out for me, there was nothing I could do to change it.  She would make us do chores around the house.  Wipe the floors down on our hands and knees, telling us that this was the best way to do it.  This is the way she was taught.  She scrutinized everything we did.  The way we squeezed out the rag, the way we wiped the floor.  How we rinsed out the rag and hung it on the side of the bucket had to be exactly right.  There was an exact order in which the floors had to be wiped as well.  First the kitchen, then the bathroom, then the toilet seat, then under the toilet seat.  The bucket of pine sol water had to be discarded in between and a new bucket filled in an exact sequence.  Sometimes I would forget the order and sometimes she wouldn’t notice.  I couldn’t do anything right most of the time and she was always there to criticize and demean.  Phew!  I got away with it this time but next time I’d better be careful and remember what I was supposed to do otherwise there was a whole new litany of insults she’d find to spew out.  “You so stupid! How come you can not lememba! I neva see anyone so stupid! You brain someting long” (wrong).   I was scared…scared and nervous all the time. 

…continued