the piece that won gold key in Scholastic Art & Writing Awards (2020) 

*딸: daughter

*엄마: mom

 

Dear 딸,

Last week, you told me about what you did at school. I looked away and pretended not to listen, but I promise I was listening. I don’t know why, but I do that sometimes.

I’m sorry. 

 

딸,

I got married to your dad young. He is now four years from fifty and has allowed cigarette smoke to stain his golden tan into a sickly yellow, and his doe eyes into hardened slits. I pretend to see past the smoke, but promise me that you won’t. 

 

He was my first everything. 

We got married in a church in Vegas. Even then, he was a gambler. I should have left him when he refused to eat and sleep in turn to gamble.

 

딸,

I had fleeting thoughts seeing his eyes turn from black to red, but I couldn't; I couldn’t leave him. I think I was scared. Maybe something else. 

But I chose to trust him                                                                        n o

to tell myself that I was being stupid––that 

                                            it’s “just this time”

                                                                 ––and now you are here. 

Sometimes, I wish I never had you. 

 

Dear 엄마,

You’re a coward.

I see you in me and it scares me.

I see the way I daydream, I see the way I lie, the way I hide, and I hate it. Maybe these are just human things, but I choose to believe that blood doesn’t lie.

It makes it easier for me to blame you.

It makes it easier for me to understand why Dad looks at me the way he looks at you.

 

딸,

Do you remember when we went to San Francisco, just you and I? You must have been your brother’s age––9 years old. You met my older sister for the first time; I still remember the look on your small face when you saw her stilted walk and bony frame. I looked at her and cried.
 

I hated her. She was supposed to be my older sister. She was supposed to take care of me. She took you to the nearest CVS and bought you stickers, diaries, and pencils. You were so happy, I wanted to tell her to stop.

 

When I see you ignore your younger siblings, I think of her. I’m sorry.

 

딸, 

You’re a sad excuse for an older sister.  

 

엄마,

I’m not your older sister.

 

딸, 

I can’t understand you when you speak to me in English. 

 

엄마, 

I can’t understand you when you speak to me in Korean.

 

딸, 

I’m jealous of your youth. I look at your pink cheeks and full hair and ask myself, “where has my life gone?” 

I find myself blaming you. If you were not here, would your sister or your brother be here? 

 

When I had you, I found myself cast into the swirling mass of shit that is motherhood. 

But I don’t regret it. I would never.

 

엄마,

I see you in me. I look so much like you when you were 18.

You told me you wrote, read, drew: things I do. At first, I felt like you had stolen something from me. I fought for so long to be someone else––I was so scared to be you. So scared of your sagging breasts, your worn hands, your tendency to run away.

But I see there is love in everything you do.

I choose to believe that blood doesn’t lie, and I can finally breathe.

 

딸,

I want to tell you this: we are lost, you and I.

 

엄마,

I want to tell you this: we are lost, but we are found in each other.

 

딸, 

I am writing to take back my steel words.

 

딸, 

You have my skin.

엄마, 

Between just you and me, I love you.

 

딸,

Please don’t leave.

 

엄마,

My skin is my own.