From where I write, it’s the day after Mother’s Day.
In Korea, I don’t try to blend in. I’m wearing engineer boots and I take big steps. My friends and I stomp around the city and gather footage like scientists. Each specimen carefully slotted on glass.
This year, on the holiday I’ve come to slightly dread, I’m in the Motherland. We’ve been working intensely, so I feel nestled into the city, even when we’re lost. I’ve only had small thoughts about my mothers.
Five years after the death of my mother, small things will move me. If someone mentions Phoenix, I bristle inside — it’s where she died. When I hear a friend talking to his mom about his day, I smile. When I think of my beautiful friends and their beautiful families, there’s relief. When I think of C jr and how I can make her laugh until she almost pees, I feel very, very satisfied.
The beds in the hotel are comfortable, and after each day, the three of us go through our ablutions and pitch in, asleep almost before our heads touch the pillows. And then, like clockwork, we all wake up about six hours later and take turns stumbling into the bathroom and stumbling back to bed.
For the months after my mom died, I saw her everywhere. I saw her while grocery shopping, deliberating over cereals. I saw her ducking into a bookstore. I saw her getting her hair done, sitting under a dryer. Each time, I would stop, suddenly, and my heart would get very loud.
And then, I would see her in other people’s faces. The way they held their bodies. How they walked and moved their hands. I heard her laugh and her snore and saw her hairstyle on a million different heads.
Now I’m in a land where if we’re thronging in a crowded street festival and I turn away from my friends, even for a moment, I lose them. So I look for L’s white shirt, or E’s camera bag, trying not to panic. Here, I’m little better than mute.
I read somewhere that Koreans adore their children, and allow them to run and play and be children, even in public. Yesterday, we passed a halmoni, already stooped with age, with her four-year old granddaughter strapped to her back. They chattered back and forth and giggled, the halmoni patting the little girl’s leg gently.
We walked through a hanok village yesterday, the section of Seoul that still maintains historic homes. Their tiled, pitched roofs curve over the street, and over the high walls waft piano music, a dog barking. But there’s quiet here, too, and from the top of a hill, you can see the city in the hazy distance.
Maybe, before I left Korea for the first time, I saw the city from the same view, from the back of my halmoni.
Happy Mother’s Day, from the Motherland.