In the Valley Below.
Ever since I was little, family was a huge chunk of my life and me as a person. My parents weren’t very close their own family so it was basically my daddy, mommy, and me. We were the three musketeers. Yes, there were tumultuous times between us, full of misunderstandings, hurtful words, and blunt conversations, but we always managed to move past it and become even closer. And growing up, I slowly realized how blessed I was to have parents like them. I was the luckiest girl in the world. My mom became the best friend and dad was very supportive, silently of course. I could never fathom a possibility of a wedge coming between us. Ever. They just seemed so proud of me growing up, and becoming more wiser during my time in another country, out on my own.
Then came the worst of times. These past few years, with me out of the house, I could no longer serve as a buffer between my parents. They’ve had their share of troubles for much of my life. During college, I would come home many weekends, and my mom and I would grab a glass of red wine and sit at the kitchen table – it was a couple of hours before my dad would come home from work, so complete, uninterrupted girl time. After telling her about my classes, friends, guys, roommates, she would then proceed to unload her frustrations and anger, which usually derived directly from my father. It was often excruciating to listen because I knew deep down, that I could do nothing for her, I couldn’t relieve her pain in any way. The only thing I could possibly do was to listen wholeheartedly, and sit there for however long she needed. And make some jokes in-between – I loved making her laugh, it’s like she almost forgot how to. God. Look, I love my dad, I mean I always considered myself a daddy’s girl. But, he was the cause of so much emotional baggage for my mother. She was often a wreck. She tried to hide her feelings the best she could, but we women know when something isn’t right. This wasn’t a marriage. I started wondering if they even loved each other. How horrible is that. To question if your parents even know what love is, while struggling to push the answer away.
This year, my mom was hit with an extreme case of menopause. She was physically sick, and struggling through to make it though each day while being exhausted and emotionally drained. Dad would tell me over the phone how she had to completely change her diet, and how he had to be careful not to fill her with too much rage. I couldn’t believe how much menopause affected her. After my contract ended in February, I went to Thailand, then went to DC to visit them. I had to see how they were doing for myself. She seemed better. That first night, she and I stood in the kitchen drinking tea. My dad already went to bed since he needed to work the next day. She asked me about Korea, my life. I knew she would get to her own stories when she was ready. After describing the kindy graduation and the sheer stress (but heartwarming results) of it all, I spilled to her about getting my heart broken, and believing that this guy could have been the one. “Honestly, ask yourself M, did you love him?” I really thought I did. But how can that love be true if he turns out to be a completely different person in the end. My parents actually met the guy – she said he was in no way ready for me, or deserving for that matter. I wiped away my hot tears, drew a deep breath, and fell silent. It was her turn. She said he was trying. They talk more rather than fight nowadays, and he is trying to get closer to God, which in turn brings her and him closer together too. I was relieved to hear that. But she was exhausted of it all. She had too much pain in her heart. She wanted to run away, move somewhere else. The thought of Korea was deeply rooted in her soul. There, she would find herself again and find out what she’s meant to do in this life. But she couldn’t bring herself to leave him just yet. “Do you really think he could survive on his own? He doesn’t even know where his own shit is.” She told me that he was given an ultimatum – if he didn’t get another assignment to another city or country very soon, she was going to move without him. She didn’t say it out loud, but she was leaning towards divorce. I almost lost my shit. How could it ever get to this? She said I was old enough now. “You wouldn’t be affected by that right, you’re old enough to understand the reasons?” Of course I would be affected! But yes, it’s time that she did what was right for her well-being. “Would you still visit your dad? You wouldn’t abandon him right?” Oh God. This was unreal. We finished our tea, and went to sleep. For the remainder of the trip, I kept watching my mom and dad. It didn’t seem like anything was drastically different. They still smiled, still had petty arguments, still joked around. But it was a bit obvious of how detached they were from each other. My heart sank.
Then came the month of July. My mom had enough, she said she made up her mind to pack up her belongings into a couple of suitcases and fly on over to Korea. “I NEED to get out of here. He is impossible! I NEED some pancakes!” She sounded so distraught on the phone. I was unsure how we would handle living together in the small, square box that was my apartment with no window, but I figured we would manage somehow. “I should call my mother now right?” Yeah. That’s another story entirely. Her and her mom aren’t the closest of allies, but there is still a strong urge for my mom to get close to her, since it is her own damn mother. “Yeah, mom. You should call her and at least tell her that you’re coming real soon.” A few weeks passed by, and the day came that I would pick my mother up from the airport. I was all giddy inside. I was half excited, half horrified of how this trip would turn out for her. Would coming to Korea really solve all of her problems? I then received a message from my dad. “Did she arrive yet? Are you guys okay?” Yeah, dad, sure.
I finally saw her and came up from behind, which of course scared her half to death. She seemed fine. Tired, but fine. We then proceeded to find a suitable taxi that would take us to my apartment. While in the cab, we talked about her plane ride, and her bucket list. She had a lot of things she wanted to do – mainly all these fucking crazy hiking trips. Okay, mom. I’m down. You wanna climb a mountain for twelve hours? Sure. After settling her shit down in my apartment, and laughing at the size of the place, we then went to get her a cell phone. And then we would get dinner. And beer. And soju. While at the cell phone store, she finally noticed my wrist tattoo. I thought she would flip a lid. And then kill me. But actually she did none of the above. She just calmly asked if I had any more somewhere. “You know that’s a beast mark right?” Then she quietly prayed for God to forgive me. During our dinner, we talked some more. Cried a bit. Then came home and crashed.
The next few days went pretty well. We laughed, we hung out, we tried to get all her paperwork etc in order to get her settled in. Then, came the first weekend of her being here. I had a pool party to go to on Saturday, then I would go out with my friends, like I do every weekend. I told her that I wouldn’t be back until very late. She was skeptical but tried not to say much before I left. Except, “Is that really what you’re wearing in public? You look terrible.” Coming back the next morning was brutal. I half stumbled in the door from sleep deprivation, said hi, showered, and went to sleep. After waking up, my mom said she was very disappointed in me. Apparently, she even cried. “I did not raise you like this. Coming in a 6 a.m.? Unacceptable. You can’t do that anymore.” What. “You have to come in before midnight.” Again, what. I told her how transportation was a bit rough going to and from Seoul, especially the fact that it stops at midnight and doesn’t resume until 5 a.m. She didn’t give two shits. “Then don’t go out anymore.” Mom. I’m 24 years old. I’ve handled my own ordeals for the past year on my own. “You know you could do none of this by yourself right? You would be nowhere without our help.” Where the fuck was this conversation heading. I sat there, quietly, letting her finish her brutal words. I get it, she has a lot on her own plate. It was mostly her venting her own frustrations. We put that episode behind us.
Fast-forward a few days. She wanted to move into her mom’s apartment. My pad was way too small for the both of us. Anyway, it was amazing how well they were suddenly getting along this time. It’s time you know, 50 years of fighting is a bit too long. The curve-ball? She wanted me to move in too. At first, I was like uhhhh no. The commute from my job to her house would be about an hour one-way. I wouldn’t get home until after 11 pm. But then, I knew I had to be there just in case some shit goes down between her and her mother. A couple days before moving, her and I get into another huge fight about calling a moving company. She sat on the floor and kept asking me loudly if I really wanted to move. “Don’t do me any favors.” She then packed up a small backpack and told me to think about it while she sat far away, at a coffee shop near town. After an hour of finishing up my laundry, I slowly walked to where she was. Her table was overloaded with a huge plate of honey bread and green tea lattes. Sugar binge. Oh no. “Mom, I’ll move with you okay. It’s the right thing to do.” She then found a number of a one-man moving company outside of my apartment, who somehow got all my shit and hers onto a small pickup truck. Onto Songtan we go. I had a sliver of doubt lodged into my stomach about how this would turn out. But, it seemed for the best. Grandma was so excited about our crashing at her place. She was already cooking and cleaning, with her man lingering uncomfortably in the background. It was really nice seeing the two women begin mending their broken bond. There was real laughter and conversation, sans screaming or tantrums. I then thought to myself that maybe this could work. I left early in the morning, came back for lunch, and then returned after 11 p.m. Man, all that commuting was exhausting – I hoped that I would just get used to it. On the weekends, Grandma’s dood would be gone for tennis all day, so we would just have girl time. Window-shopping, taking walks, watching TV, painting our nails, it was awesome. My time with my friends was suffering though. I still had to be home before midnight, which meant leaving right after my friends would arrive (we usually get a late start, after 10:30…) and not getting to spend enough time with them as usual. But I tried to not complain. Sarah would be the one to vent for me. “Whaddayameeeeean you have to be home before midnight! You’re an adult Michelle! That’s not her decision!” She knows me better than anyone else, especially since we both have Korean mommies. I just didn’t want to fight with my mother – she was already dealing with enough. So I tried to meet up with my friends sooner in the day. But it was tough not staying out. On the flip side, it was nice waking up at a normal time on Sundays, not hungover.
Spending time with my mother was great. I could see her slightly more happy, and she tried to be independent taking care of herself and finding a possible apartment to move into. But at the same time, something was off. The vibe between us was different than when I was at their house visiting in DC. Finally, one night, all hell broke loose. I came home after work and the gym, it was past 11 p.m. She was already asleep, so I tiptoed around to get ready to go to sleep as well. As I was in the shower, the water suddenly turned freezing. Dafuq? Coming out shivering, I saw that the hot water switch was turned off. “Do you even know how much water you are wasting? You don’t need that much hot water!” Seriously, I thought she was asleep. It was like a tiger, waiting to pounce. Then she mentioned that she didn’t want grandma to pay a lot of money for the water bill, and that I should be more responsible. All valid arguments, just not at midnight. She kept continuing on and on, and finally I lost it. I shouted that she should go back to sleep and that I will help grandma pay for the water bill. Nope. No bueno. That just set her off even more. I suddenly heard myself saying that I was going to move out. “FINE. YOU MOVE THE FUCK OUT.” Here we are shouting out each other in the middle of the night, with me gathering all of my things towards the door. “YOU ARE SO UNGRATEFUL. I DID NOT RAISE YOU LIKE THIS. YOUR LIFE IS A FAILURE. YOU HEAR ME? YOU FAILED. YOU ARE THE WORST PERSON THAT I HAVE EVER MET. IF YOU LEAVE, I WILL NEVER EVER SPEAK TO YOU AGAIN.” It took everything in me to keep myself from bawling. No matter how angry she had gotten in the past, she never spoke to me like that before. It was unreal. And not okay. Unfortunately, grandma and her man came home in the middle of all of this. He was completely silent, watching everything that was going on, and grandma was running frantically back and forth, trying to talk to mom and I. “Michelle, please, don’t leave. If you leave, she and I will start fighting again. And I will have a heart attack and die. Is that what you want?” Apparently, I was a buffer again – this time, for mom and grandma. What person deserves that kind of constant burden? That night, I slept in the extra bedroom. Grandma was stroking my hair. “Give her another day. Don’t leave yet. Try and talk to her again tomorrow.” No, I couldn’t be there any longer. This was it for me. “I’m sorry Grandma. I can’t. Her and I are done.” I messaged my dad, letting him know what was going on. “Honey, if you need to make this move, do it. I know how she gets.” The next day, mom stayed in her room until I left for work. I told grandma that I would come back later to pick up my stuff. “No, you’re not leaving.” The hell I’m not. Fortunately, with my teaching job, I got leased a car to drive to Samsung for teaching classes – but it would come in handy to move my shit back into the old apartment. After my morning classes, I drove to grandma’s apartment (beyond uncanny experience on Korean roads…) and began the move out. When I entered the apartment, all the crap that I put near the door was moved back into the bedroom. The hell. These people really don’t get it. I moved all the stuff back towards the door again, and began filling up the car. After finishing up, I received a call from grandma, “Are you home? She is coming to talk to you. Talk with her Michelle.” I said okay. I wait about 20 minutes, and heard the door open up. Mom came shuffling in, and asked if and how I moved my stuff out. She then said again that if I move out, she wouldn’t talk to me ever again. I told her that that’s not what I wanted, but I was going to move no matter what. She said fine, then went outside again. After a few minutes of sitting on the couch, I called grandma and let her know that I was going to leave soon, and that I’ll come back and visit again. Then, it was time to get into the car and drive off with no looking back. A couple days later, grandma told me that mom moved her stuff into a hotel room on Osan AB while she was at work, and didn’t even say goodbye. She just packed up her shit and left. Apparently, she messaged dad and said that she needed him and missed him, so she would be heading back to DC. Dad advised me to try and reach her before she left, otherwise I would probably regret it. I sent her a message, only to get no reply. This was it. This was the end. My best friend was no more.
It’s now been almost six months, and I have heard nothing from her. Grandma and I even tried calling her on Christmas, but she didn’t answer. Dad and I have been sending a few messages back and forth. However, he is also less than pleased with me. I can only imagine what she has told him – my mother has the divine gift of exaggeration. It’s suddenly like becoming an orphan, or realizing that your parents really didn’t give two fucks about you. Honestly. It feels like they only “loved” me because I tried to do everything that they wanted. With striving to please them and saying the right things for so long, I had lost who I was. Now, looking at my life, everything that seemed concrete has came crumbling down. There’s just this big, gaping hole in my heart that I can’t seem to fill.
But. Maybe this is some kind of opportunity. Yes, it has to be. Silver linings, baby.