A repetition of longing
In the ocean with my grandmother, who I never met
Do you know what halmoni means? Because I did not. Even as the cold water somehow sealed me in, locking the sun and air away as I sunk. Even as a vague burning began to rise deep within my ribs. Even as I opened my screaming mouth, foam from my lungs mixing with the churned ocean, replacing air with water, eyes straining in their sockets. Her surprisingly strong hand (did I mention how little she was? Even as I was dying, I thought to myself, huh, she is tiny) grabbed my wrist and dragged me to the surface with the determination of a mother leaving a store with a tantrumming child. Suddenly still, I watched the back of her head as her long ponytail trailed her. Dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, the clothing surprising me for some reason more than her appearance at that moment, she did not look back at me but tightened her vice around my wrist as the ocean tossed us around. The brine in my mouth turned to barley, the waves became current, my battered lungs letting out the last of the air in perfect bubbles as we approached the surface. I watched the bubbles wobble in tired disinterest.
Keeping hold of my wrist with one hand, her other hand curled under my chin, delicate and knowing, tilting my head toward the looming sun. As the surface gave way to air, she hooked her finger along the back of my mouth, searching for sea and retirement, and then brought my whole body against hers, her tiny hands patting my back, humming gently as she waited for water to rise from my throat, and I gasped those ragged first breaths of someone who forgot to breathe. As my breath slowed from gasp to rhythm, she let go, her warmth turning into memory on my skin.
Eyes that looked like mine stared through me through time. You are not done, she whispered in my air in a language I did not know. We have not come this far to lose you now.
On the earth with my grandmother, who I have never met
I inherited these three dimples from her that only appear when I purse my lips just so (rarely) or force myself to smile (less often these days). Three dimples, a fading ellipse, trail down the side of my chin, pointing us up or down. I inherited these three dimples and the ability to run full steam into a burning house and gather what is precious to me, forthcoming scars and all.
I was running amid familiar flames, and she grabbed my wrist in her unending way. The now and suddenly familiar ache blooming in my shoulder as I closed my eyes.
“That fire is not for you,” she whispered, her breath skimming only my sweat-soaked ear.
The fire is now sliding its tongue against a charred knife blade as I begin to slow. The heat pushes the moisture from my body, my slick arms a mirror in which the blaze disintegrates and reorganizes. I look at her, maybe for the first time (though I saw her once before and a thousand times before), and see three dimples, a fading constellation on the side of her chin. My breath settles as I trace lines along her forehead, a repetition of longing, and peer into eyes dark like the ends of time.
Everywhere with my grandmother, who I have never met
My grandmother plucked at a lone guitar string and sent it shivering into the cool, dark expanse between then and now. She sent a note that only I could hear, a note that sent my spine straight as I sat at my desk and rain pitter-patted on that Friday morning.
My grandmother speaks to me in a language I cannot understand but feels like home. She wants to tell me about a child left with wolves and a house on fire. She wants to tell me about soft, crying bodies under hard men, something about a space above your body you can go to in order to survive.
Her fingers comb through my unbrushed hair, occasionally touching my shoulder blades where wings used to be, as she gently pulls apart tangles. She tells me about a child that laid in her arms that lit up the sky and a heartbeat free in the wild wind. She begins to braid my hair, a rhythm of closing in and letting go, as she tells me about a land that is warm and curves around her body like a mother’s hand.
We watch a small, brown bird glide overhead as twilight and dawn tangle through our hair, and she tells a story of forever in a language I do not understand yet but am starting to hear. Her words somehow make their way through and stick, building me a house. Mun is door. Ib is mouth. Ttal is daughter. 보 금 자 리is our home.
Eun Jung Decker was born in Korea, adopted to Minnesota, and found home in Southern California. She is one of those people that believes passionately in our shared humanity, even when, you know, everything that happened in that past 6 years happened. She loves to write in different genres, sometimes at the same time, with wildly varying degrees of success.