The first of these is the NAIL FILE, the very one Grandmother Virginia took across the ocean with her from Puerto Rico to New York, to her aunt in the candy shop with striped windows. Virginia wouldn’t finish high school until she was in her fifties, but she knew how to raise the file two inches out of her pocket at the men who smiled at her in the street. They left her alone eventually, and when she met Grandfather he mistook love in the woman who refused to be like his own mother. Because Virginia didn’t pretend to have red hair or origins in Spain, and she actually danced to Latin jazz and sang did you ever know that you’re my hero? you’re everything i wish to be. Later, Grandfather would tell his sons he was drafted into the Korean War, and his wife would tell them nonsense, he volunteered. Because of his mother. He couldn’t stand to be in that house anymore. Isn’t that funny? But she wouldn’t laugh.
The next is the POSTCARD, from haraboji, aftermath of the Vietnam War. When haraboji was off in Vietnam, his daughter, wife and son in Korea never spent a day without a letter. The postman joked to my halmoni that he had never delivered so much mail to one house before. Mom could barely walk, and her chubby fingers were just beginning to trace the characters of her own language, but she discovered later most postcards had a message addressed to her too: be good to your mother and brother. Don’t cry too much without me. I’ll be home soon.
A LETTER FROM THE US GOVERNMENT, aftermath of the Korean War. When Grandfather came back, my dad was advised in letter form to lock his sisters in their rooms, fill the icebox with cold beer, and to get those civies out of mothballs. Because in a relatively short about of time, his dad would learn to speak English again, even if now he could not be trusted with any kind of WOMEN, even if he took his shoes off before entering the house, even if he answered the phone with yobolsayo instead of hello. Because everything from a war you didn’t win is alien, and when you read the word “Koreanitis” like culture is a disease, it gives hate a point of origin and a seat at the dinner table.
SERMON AND GUITAR from John Lee, the family friend who suffered a heart attack surfing in Japan, and even as his body is dragged from the water his students know he won’t live long enough for help. In the will, dad gets his guitar— the very same John taught him to first play Latin jazz on, the very same he remembers his mother dancing to. Years later, a sermon is discovered in John Lee’s email outbox. It talks about his father during the occupation of Korea by the Japanese, how he was forced to abandon his mother tongue and speak the language of an enemy. It talks about how, when John felt that he was called by God to preach Christianity in Japan, his father bought him the textbooks to learn its language. Even without a Christian connotation, this event was 90% miracle, 100% comedy the way the Ancient Greeks teach us: we overcome.
HILLTOP UNDER THE SUPERMOON is the panorama where dad proposed, 30% brighter and 14% larger than life, after ten years of traveling worldwide with a woman who’d sang hymns with him in Chinese alleyways, and stargazed at airplanes, and posed – cuvy as Lombard – in San Fran. That night, even though humans are separate planets and my mother will always be Made Of Stone, their orbits would feel 90% closer, and their fingers almost touch.
THE TAYLOR GUITAR is similar to the comedic SERMON, and even though mom is a Nasty Girl for agreeing to marry a man so glaringly unKorean, her parents still ask him what he wants for a wedding present. The Tragic Answer, the Correct Korean Answer, is money.
He asks for a guitar.
Ollie Dupuy is a junior at Orange County School of the Arts in Southern California, where she studies Creative Writing and is an editor for Inkblot Literary Magazine. She enjoys history (America’s, the world’s, yours) and opportunities to overdress. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, gravel. mag, and Cleaver Literary Magazine.