My Appa, opening the black metal garden gate, escorted me into the pathways that stretched East to West across the Mississauga hearty evergreen groves. The trees held the woodland creatures hostage during the heavy winters and fostered them during the pollen-sprung spring. And summer was coming: that meant it was soon time for the sun’s rays to stretch out, touching the tips of the flora. For me, summer meant my time in Canada was coming to an close. And walking towards the gate and searching for my Appa’s eyes, I felt scared. He looked away with words lingering in the back of his throat refusing to come out.
My father is the most caring and thoughtful person that I know. The way he carefully crafts his words and phrases in order that the listener will be at peace yet still deliver his thoughts clearly is an artisanal craft that I know he has been passed down to me — a life lesson and treasure that I am thankful for. Still, his mouth did not have enough courage to utter the few necessary words his 12 year old daughter needed to hear.
“Your Umma and I know that you’re going to miss home a lot, and we are so certain that you’re going to love it in Korea,” he finally muttered.
I stopped my feet.
Breathe it all in, Lily. This is it.
I am writing this in Salem, Massachusetts, and I still feel like I left a big part of myself in Canada almost ten years ago. Turning 20 in two weeks, I remember those words and then the subsequent tears I shed on my new blue pillow cases in Seoul that summer of 2010.
Change is not easy. Change is frustrating and heart-wrenching. Despite the countless goodbyes I have muttered throughout the last two decades of my life, traveling in myriad cities and schools, anticipated farewells overwhelm me each time with regret and the great fear of missing out.
Here I am in the midst of what every high school senior dreads and loves: “senior spring”. Academically, my senior spring does not exist. I have a full schedule with a bear minimum of a 45 minute segment that is tied to my lunch on Thursdays. On top of that, I have classes and commitments on Saturdays. So, my wheels are still up and running — there is no coasting in my car. Emotionally, I am ready to leave. Again, I’m almost 20. Visiting my fellow comrads on college campuses and witnessing how the freedom beyond my prep school gates lets me stand up straight when I walk and allows myself to be more driven to reach out gets me excited.
That being said, I also don’t know what college I’ll be in this coming Fall. Waitlists exist, and the inevitable hope that lurks above my head and tickles my heart with giddy joy make me anxious. I could be in Georgia; I could be in New York; or I could be in Philadelphia — all riveting, but very different environments.
My sister is getting married this Fall as well. It’s just me and her. After she graduated from high school, she went to college in the States, and I moved back to Korea. And here I am, going to college this time, but she’s moving on to the next milestone of her life. I feel like we play hide and seek. The brief moment I catch a glimpse of her, she is off laughing in the distance and prancing away.
Only this time, when I find her, she won’t be there by herself. She will soon start her own family — become a mom. I can’t crash her college dorm room anymore or go grab bubble tea with her suitemates at 4am.
This past weekend, I visited my old friend — scratch that — someone who is so dear to my heart that I cannot utter in words how this person has enabled me to gain the courage to breathe even a little in an environment that suffocates me. Phew.
We were in his dorm room, laughing at the gauche silence and our inaptitude to be comfortable with it. We were scurrying to fill in the pockets of quiet by rummaging through our instagrams or old texts. We shook our heads at the old cringe-worthy voice memos we sent each other. When the sun set and the moon was bouncing to the beat, we too jumped up and down, rocking to Playboy Carti, with me stealing glances at him and thinking to myself: “how were we ever together?”
The night was soon over, and dawn was creeping in. We sat there at the blank walls of his dorm room once more, both realizing how our journeys were so different, and they had once converged and again diverged into different angular trajectories.
I called my Appa and Umma.
I called my sister.
And I called him — all in different times of need.
They say that family is eternal, but that’s only partly true. My parents and I developed a new relationship when I left the nest 6 years ago. I’m not a little kid anymore calling to complain about work or asking for money, but I’m calling because I don’t know how to fill out certain paperwork or arranging travel plans for Christmas family reunions.
My sister and I am slowly growing a new relationship as well. We’re women who are walking through different phases of life, but we’re going through it together. Where she is at right now makes me keep in mind how long life is and how much more awaits me. Then again, it scares me.
I am losing my sister.
I also am losing him.
He’s in California. He has new job. A new house. A new car. And a new identity. He used to be my best friend who I tell my everything to despite our two hours away from each other.
When we met this weekend, I had to keep asking him, “shit, did I already tell you that? When?” because I apparently update him on my everyday subconsciously. We’re not lovers, we’re not tied by a loose bond, but we’re accountability partners.
But, I’m losing him as well.
God, if you’re hearing this, I want you to know that I’m the same girl who cried in her bedroom 10 years ago. Only now, I’m not under my parents’ roof nor do I have a sister that comes home three or more times a year. And nor do I have my best friend who is only one call away — I am starting everything from a blank sheet of paper that I don’t have the ownership to.
So, if you could just update your sharing preferences on what you want, that’d be nice. Oh, and also can you send me a list of the collaborating owners of this document? That would make my transition so much smoother.