My Name is Treasure
Tonight, I think of his left hand with its pulled taffy scar gripping the steering wheel and his powdery right hand in my hands as I touch myself. I picture the two of us driving down the neon-lit streets of Arcadia in my grandma’s Lexus, his profile outlined in Christmas reds, greens, and whites. It is 2002, and I am eighteen again.
“You make me feel human,” he says as he grips my hand harder. Feeling shy, I turn back and see Lucky drool down the open
window, the wind flipping her big ears inside out. I laugh, my voice bright with teenage oblivion, wondering how a German Shepherd could look so stupid. She chokes on the cold December air with her tail wagging, and this time, he laughs. I don’t even feel the cold.
It is unfortunate I have just two hands because I must grab my right breast, move the stray hairs off my face, greedily squeeze
my left thigh, and put my index finger in my mouth all at once to emulate what I remember as the feel of his hands moving with mine on my body. But if I attempt to do all this, I will be hyper-aware that it is not his hands moving in tandem with my own but mine alone and mistime my climax.
This is also the reason I do not use toys. I cannot afford even the slightest interruption because it takes an immense amount of
concentration to convince myself that I am in two places at once: the first place, always his bedroom, recalled with my fingers, and the second, a memorable scene of my choice, playing before my closed eyes. It is hard work relating a non-sexual experience to a sexual one. Suppose I break concentration for even a millisecond. In that case, the two experiences begin to untangle, and it is as if I am watching a movie with the audio lagging behind by the smallest margin. But the work is worth it because, if I do it right, the resulting climax is incomparable.
Tonight, I had planned to climax right as he finishes typing the passcode to his phone: my birthday. It is taking me longer than
usual because it is hard to convince myself I am in the cold of December when sweat is collecting in the divot inside my folded knees and running down my leg because of the July heat. But still, I am almost there.
He wiggles his right hand out of mine, his eyes still looking straight ahead and his left hand slack on top of the steering wheel.
He reaches for his Motorola, and I see the wind from the open window raise goosebumps on his neck and then his cheek. The wind smells like cumin powder and lamb skewers in this part of town. The phone lights his face from under, emphasizing the strong line of his brow bone. He glances down, types in 1 - 2 - 0 - 9, and I choke on my breath, letting the throbbing between my clamped legs pull me back into the present. I stay in this fetal position with my hands trapped between my legs until the throbbing leaves, along with my images of him. I dread opening my eyes because I know I will be embarrassed first by the infinite quiet and second by my self-satisfaction of having timed everything perfectly. And so I keep my eyes shut and time my breaths with my slowing pulse, trying to fall asleep as fast as I can.
I wake up to find my hair a matted mess. I feel the blood rush to first my ears and then my face picturing how much I had moved around, alone, on my bed last night. I look away from the mirror and down at my fingernails to avoid looking at my reddened face, only to see that they are widening with age. My back turned to the mirror, I force my hair into a bun and then into a hairnet. I wonder how much hair I will lose today, and wonder when my head will resemble those of the kitchen ahjummas working at my store. Their dyed hair so sparse I can see the sweat collecting on their snow-white scalps.
The two girls and their mom come in at 4:00 again like clockwork. Today, the older of the two girls has her bobbed hair pinned out
of her face with a felt cherry hairpin, and the younger one is holding a bag of Haribo gummy bears. Both are always in their school uniforms: blue button-ups tucked into pleated knee-length navy skirts. Their cheeks are pink from the early-summer heat, and the bright sun makes their thick, black hair look blacker. The mom’s belly looks bigger than it did last week, and her thin hair looks even thinner plastered to her forehead with sweat.
As usual, they take the small table next to the window, forever-tinted a dull yellow from years of barbeque grease and smoke. It is
the only table in my store without a grill and the first out of fifteen tables I put up when I built Oxcart from the ground up almost ten years ago now. Too young and too hopeful, I had sat at that table dreaming of the luxury bags and the imported car I would have in a few years’ time. I had timed my opening perfectly: Koreatown was beginning to get big, and people from all over wanted a taste of Korean food, specifically Korean barbeque. Problem was, countless others had also gotten their timing perfectly. And now, there are Korean barbeque spots on every block, each one promising better prices than the last. We were all just unlucky enough to have chased after a dream we all knew was too good to be true. Unlucky, not stupid, because how could we have known? The only thing we have left is our bitterness.
The sisters and their pregnant mom are usually my first customers every Friday before 6:00. Nobody comes to a Korean
barbeque place when the sun is still up. After 6:00, the place begins to look like the depths of hell with pillars of smoke rising from every table. In summer, I often get heat rashes on my neck from the combination of running around serving tables, the hot air outside, and the heat from the smoking grills. I wipe the sweat collecting on my upper lip; my fingers still smell of salt from last night.
“Ahgassi, can we have the menu? And two iced waters and one hot water,” says the mom. I wonder why she asks for the menu
every time if their order is always the same. One bowl of galbitang, beef short rib soup, with the scallions on the side. I wonder why she continues to call me ahgassi—young lady—even though nobody would consider me so.
“Yes, coming right up,” I reply. The older of the two girls is reading a book again. The rock in the pit of my stomach trembles, and
for a second, I hate the girl for dreaming, for chasing, the same way I once did. I hate myself for wanting to remember what she is reading every week.
“Yerin-ah, read after you eat. You’re getting in the ahgassi’s way,” the mom scolds for me to hear. I glance up while setting the side
dishes and see her eyes shine despite the tone of her voice. I want to stab her eyes out with her steel chopstick and turn it down so it comes out of her nostril. “Just one bowl of galbitang with the scallions on the side and two bowls of rice, please. And an extra soup bowl,” she says after a while of flipping through the menu book.
“Mom, aren’t you going to eat?” the younger girl asks. This again.
“I already ate at home,” she replies as usual. My mom used to do the same thing when my dad cut her allowance of $50 a week
to $20 after realizing that he wanted a younger, prettier woman. Just enough for groceries on sale for a family of four.
Still, at least once a month, she took Bo-suk and me to the food court in Koreatown Plaza after school, where they sold the
biggest donkatsu in town for the cheapest. She would cut the 8-inch slab of deep-fried goodness into bite-sized pieces for us and then pick at the side dishes. “Let’s share. It’s too much for us, right Bo-mul?” Bo-suk would say. “Just watching you eat makes me full,” Mom would say back like a mantra as she finished the side dishes of powdered corn soup, pickled radishes, and macaroni salad, which Bo-suk and I pretended not to like. Both of us often came home with indigestion after these meals. “Was it that good? Next time, eat slower, and don’t force yourself to finish everything. No one’s going to steal the food from you,” Mom would say. We knew that she knew that we knew, so we never slowed down.
The two girls stare as their mom splits the soup and ribs evenly. The younger one, maybe ten years old, doesn’t eat scallions.
Galbitang comes with three short ribs, but in the past four months since they’ve been my regulars, I’ve made sure to put in one more for them. Both drink the hot broth with sorry looks in their eyes, and the rock in my stomach drops further down until I think I feel it poking out of my anus. I know they will finish their soup and rice down to the last drop and kernel not because they are hungry, but because they know it will make their mom happy.
I hope they keep coming back. I hope I never see them again. I hope that next week, the mom won’t wear her knockoff Gucci
cardigan with its busted seams, and I hope that she will also eat. I hope that next week, the girls will giggle and fight over meaningless nothings and order soda. I hope that next week, all three of them will wear the expressions of the more fortunate who are taught to live to live, not to live to not die. I want to bash all their faces into the dirty floor and tell them to leave if they cannot help but look like rats caught in the dark, with flinty eyes and tense shoulders. I want to hold the small bodies of the two girls and tell them they can cry.
“Do people actually pay you for this? You missed the spot under my left shoulder blade again. I bet even Mi could scrub harder,” I say over the persistent rush of running water.
“Tweh tweh,” Bo-suk spits. “Hurry up and do the same, Bo-mul. Don’t even say that as a joke. Mi will never need to do the things I
did. Hurry and do it!”
“Okay, okay, tweh tweh. I’ll never put the name of your precious daughter in my dirty mouth ever again,” I laugh. It’s always
comfortable talking to Bo-suk. I know our broken mix of Korean and English is incomprehensible to anyone else. “She’s going to college soon, right? What is she, sixteen?”
“Good going. She’s eighteen. Born 2004, the year of the monkey. You don’t even know how old your only niece is.” Still lying on
my stomach, I raise my head as far back as I can and look at Bo-suk as she replaces the now-lukewarm bucket of water with water hot enough to cook eggs in. She fits too perfectly into the backdrop of moldy tiles, steam, and the smell of chlorine and bar soap. Her pale stomach hangs over her high-waisted polyester panties, and her wireless bra is worn down enough that I can see the shadow of her blackened nipples. She looks as though she’s at least in her late forties, not thirty-five. No one would believe me if I told them she was my younger sister.
“You look like a real ahjumma, Bo-suk. Why did you perm your hair into that short afro already? And take care of your skin. You
remember the sauna ladies when we were young? How the hot water made their skin crepey?” I say as I poke her stomach. I laugh, but I want to cry. Her body is evolving into an invisible one. A body that looks the same no matter what you wear, a body that seems to exist everywhere I go without me noticing. I should have protected her.
“It’s only natural that an ahjumma will look like an ahjumma. Turn around,” she slaps my back with the wet scrubbing glove. My
naked body effortlessly slides over the soapy vinyl-wrapped massage table. “I don’t have the time to take care of my skin anymore, and I’d rather put meat on the dinner table one more time than spend money on something that’s already gone,” she sighs while scrubbing hard at the soft skin inside my right thigh. “Maybe you can get me a facial to congratulate me for getting Mi into college,” she says. She knows I make barely enough to live day to day. “Unni, my life is only going to look up once Mi goes to college. It’s my one wish. She deserves to go.”
“Ah, ah, too hard,” I say. I look down to see a patch of bright red. “Mi will hate you if you don’t start living like a human. You know
that better than anyone else.” Her silence makes me nervous, but I can’t help but go on. “At least act like you still care about yourself if you don’t want Mi to spiral out.”
Bo-suk stops scrubbing my left knee and squints.
“Why?” I tense up, expecting her to lash out. But I look closer and see that she is staring between my legs.
“Unni, what’s wrong with your jjamji?”
“I’m just getting old. Skin sags everywhere, not just on your face, you know. Stop staring,” I say.
Bo-suk laughs so hard that the women in the hot tub turn to look at us. Her husky voice echoes, bouncing off the wet floor, the
wet bodies, the mold growing on the ceiling, and it’s almost like I can see it moving in the steam in the air.
In between laughs, she says, “You shouldn’t be telling me to take care of myself.” Seeing my ears burn red, she continues,
“There’s a skin tightening device I’ve been seeing the scrubbing unnis using on their necks these days. They say it works better than anything else. You want me to ask where they got it from?”
It’s my turn to slap Bo-suk on her back, but my arm won’t move because I’m busy holding my aching stomach.
We laugh until we cry.
What Up, G?
I park as close to the streetlamp on the sidewalk as I can and wait for Daniel to reappear. My heart dropped when he ran out of the car and down Pico Street, chasing a stray dog. Everyone knows to stay at home after the sun sets here. If not at home, then at least in a moving car. I think about the newspaper articles my grandma clicks her teeth at every other morning. “Nick, Nick, come here and read this. This is why I tell you to stay home at night. When is your uncle going to move us to Orange County? He’s been saying next year, next year every year since you were in middle school! And look, it’s almost 2003!”
The titles are always the same and outlined in the same ugly red: GIRL FOUND DEAD ON ALVARADO! TWO MEN FOUND
UNCONSCIOUS WITH KNIFE WOUNDS IN MACARTHUR PARK! I had laughed at my grandma for caring, had thought that things like that happen only in movies, but now, I cannot stop seeing those bolded words and black-and-white photos.
Olympic Blvd is empty save for my grandma’s old Honda and a few straggler cars. The drivers swerve around us like they’re used
to this. Just two blocks over, on 8th St., is the Bloods’ nightclub. Tommy and Ed are pushed up against the right side of the car, their foreheads leaving light streaks of oil on the closed window. We don’t say a word. Despite the November chill, I wipe the sweat running into my eyes.
My hands are cold. It’s been over five minutes. I had already been on edge driving us over to Jae-hyun’s house in the most
dangerous part of the city, but now this. I can almost see our faces on the front cover of tomorrow’s morning paper. FOUR BOYS FOUND DEAD ON OLYMPIC AND HOOVER: RECLAIM PICO FROM THE BLOODS.
Just when I reach for my keys to turn off the engine, Daniel reappears. Even from over 50 feet away, I can see him smile with all
top and bottom teeth the way he does, his white teeth tinted red and blue from the LED store signs. I want to feel mad enough to punch his face in, but my body goes limp with relief. He waves with his right arm, the stray dog under his left arm. Its four feet frantically paw the air in a futile effort to escape.
“That retard,” Tommy mumbles in Korean. Under the light of the streetlamp coming through the windows, his tan face looks red
“What?” Ed asks. Half white and half Korean, he has a face that’s not quite either.
Tommy screams, this time in English, “I said that retard! That retard!”
“Oh, sorry. I remember you taught me. No need to scream. You scared me,” Ed says. “You retard,” he whispers in Korean.
Tommy begins to chuckle, then laughs. Ed laughs too, and I can’t stop myself from laughing with them.
We are still laughing when Daniel brings in the stray and the cold with him. His nose and ears are pink, and I remember that he is
seventeen. I forget he’s still a teenager because he’s taller than all of us at 6’2” and lean from all that basketball. Looking at his big feet and spiky hair, I know that we will all gloss over his reckless behavior again. Including Jae-hyun, he is the youngest of us five.
“What up, G? What you doing on the streets this late?” Daniel holds the stray firm on his lap. Its eyes are open so wide there’s
more white than black. “A Shih Tzu. Expensive. Look, Nick, it looks like you with its nose all pushed in.” He guards the back of his head when he sees me reach over to smack him. He whines, “I told you it hurts when you do that.”
“Then don’t say anything that’ll make me want to hit you,” I reply in Korean.
“What should we name it?” Ed asks. His long eyelashes make shadows on his smooth cheeks under the streetlamp. “Tommy,
what do you think? Must be a birthday present from the universe. It’s your birthday in…” his eyebrows come together as he checks his Casio that’s bigger than his wrist. “Forty-seven minutes.”
“Wait, we're keeping it? No way. I’m allergic,” Tommy says. “Look, my eyes are already watering and I can feel the bumps coming
up on my face.”
“Those are pimples. And who says I’m giving it to you?” Daniel scrunches his nose.
“You? Did you just call your hyung-ah you? Then are you keeping it?” Tommy asks.
“No, I already have Stella so I can’t. My mom’s going to kill me if I bring another dog home,” Daniel replies. “Edison has two cats,
so no. Nick, you live with your grandma, so no. Let’s ask Jae-hyun. He basically lives alone anyways.”
“Then check if it’s a girl or a boy. You know Jae-hyun only likes girls, animal or human,” Ed says.
“Why are you guys so late? And what’s that?” Jae-hyun’s one-bedroom apartment smells like melted plastic and pizza. He is microwaving bagel bites when we collapse onto the carpeted ground. The low ceiling has brown marks on it, and the floor smells more like dust than usual.
“Jae-hyun, do you only eat real food when Rachel is here?” Daniel says still lying down. His three-piece couch, the only piece of
furniture in the small living room, is missing the pillows and sheets that had been there for months. “Where is she? Go back to your parents?” Daniel continues.
“Yeah, I drove her back to Orange County yesterday. My dad didn’t look at me even once.” He pours a cup of milk into a Mickey
Mouse cup. “And why do you care where she is? I told you, don’t even think about it. Ain’t no way my sister is ending up with a guy like you. And you still didn’t answer what that is.” Jae-hyun points at the stray cradled in Daniel’s arms as he closes the fridge with his foot.
“She is Chanel. Your new dog. We found her on the way here,” Daniel says.
“Look at the way her eyes go in different directions. She’s butt-ugly. I think we should take her back to where we found her. Or the
pound,” Tommy says.
Jae-hyun squints his eyes at Chanel as he shoves an entire steaming bagel bite into his mouth. He continues staring as he fans
his open mouth. “I think she’s cute,” he says after a swig of milk.
“So? Is that a yes?” Ed asks.
“Okay,” Jae-hyun shrugs. “Hi, Chanel. My name is Jae-hyun but you can call me oppa.” He runs his hand through his thick hair
and crouches low, holding it out for her to sniff.
“That’s it? Okay just like that?” I ask.
“I like dogs.” Jae-hyun fills a dish with water and puts it on the ground.
“I just don’t get you,” Tommy sits up and shakes his head.
“Let’s head over. We’re going to be late,” Jae-hyun says.
“… happy birthday to Tommy, happy birthday to you,” the dark room erupts in cheers as the clock hits midnight.
“Hurry, blow out the candle. The wax is melting on the Choco Pies,” Ed says. Since none of us could afford an actual cake, we
grabbed a box of Choco Pies from Jae-hyun’s place and piled them high.
“Don’t forget to make a wish,” Belle, the new girl at Rosen, says. Elizabeth and Belle, who are doumis, had just ended their shifts
and had decided to join us five. Their makeup has worn off over the evening, leaving them looking like high school students. Rosen swears they hire from only twenty-one and up, but I know this is a lie because Bo-suk is sixteen and Bo-mul is seventeen. But there isn’t one karaoke bar in Koreatown that doesn’t have underage girls working for them.
My head hurts from the four shots I downed, and my body aches from flinching whenever the flashing disco lights cut through the
darkness with beams of green, blue, and pink with no discernable pattern. I can feel my organs vibrating in beat with the bass in g.o.d’s “One Candle” which Jae-hyun is singing along to, gripping his chest with one hand and the spray-painted silver mic with the other to my left. The TV, karaoke box, and speaker are so old the lyrics crackle on the screen, and the music manages to both ring in my ears and sound far away all at once. I let the pain and noise swallow me, and I feel that I am floating. I close my eyes and let my body go slack. This is my favorite feeling. When I open my eyes, I catch Ed smiling at me. He smiles even bigger. I smile back.
I had celebrated my 21st birthday earlier this year here at Rosen, too. Then, we had spent all night singing “Oh! Pilseung Korea”
watching Korea climb the ranks of the World Cup. It was funny because none of us were actually born in Korea.
To my right, Tommy pours Daniel a shot of soju. “Hey, hey, don’t give him anything,” I shout over the music. “Just Fanta for you.
You have school tomorrow.”
“I told you, I quit school. I’m going to be a basketball player. And let’s say I do have school tomorrow. You’re the one that brought
me here.” he shouts after he downs the shot.
“You?” Elizabeth laughs as she lifts his wrist with two stubby fingers. “You’re tall, yeah, but look at how skinny you are. I probably
weigh more than you. Korean boys have nothing on real Americans. They look normal-sized on screen, but real basketball players are so tall I heard they have to duck when they go through doors.”
Jae-hyun finishes his song and the disco lights go off, leaving only a soft yellow glow from the wall lamp. Ed takes his place to my
left. I smell sweat and his Axe cologne when he sits down next to me.
He is flipping through the laminated pages of the songbook when I hear the new girl’s, Belle’s, high-pitched voice. “Wahh, you
have such long eyelashes. I wish God gave them to me instead. No use for a guy to have such pretty eyes. What’s your name, pretty oppa?”
I make eye contact with Tommy and Daniel and try not to laugh.
Pouring himself another shot, Tommy says, “His dad named him after Thomas Edison thinking it’ll make him smart, but his name
must have taken all his smartness because he’s as dumb as a rock. Try talking to him for five minutes and you’ll want to punch your head in. It’s like talking to a wall.”
“I don’t mind. I think it’s masculine. And you know, girls like guys that can protect and love with their bodies. If I want to talk, I’ll talk to my girlfriends,” Belle says as she flicks her brassy, bleached hair over her thin shoulder.
“Mhmmmm. Watch out for that one, Ed. She thinks you’re better than us because your hair is brown and your nose bridge is high,” I say.
“Oppa!” she gasps. “That’s not true!”
As Ed starts to sing with Belle tapping his thigh in time with the song, I turn to my right and ask Elizabeth, “Where’s Suki? Her shift ends at 1, no?” To be honest, I couldn’t care less where Bo-suk was. I wanted to know where her older sister, Bo-mul, was, and the two always move as a pair.
“She’s with Bo-mul in the kitchen right now. They’ll come in soon,” she replies with a smirk. My cheeks burn red and I am grateful for the disco lights and darkness.
The room is lit a soft yellow again when Ed finishes his song. Bo-mul and Bo-suk walk in with their matching minidresses, each
balancing crystal plates of fruit, dried squid, and peanuts. Chris, the counter boy, is carrying a plastic tray full of beer cans behind them. Chris slips into the red, U-shaped, velvet couch, scooting towards me slowly to avoid hitting his knees on the underside of the table.
“Suki! Bo! Why are you so late? Suki, don’t worry, your favorite Daniel is here. He’s outside smoking with Elizabeth. Actually, what’s taking them so long?” Tommy says. “And Chris, I haven’t seen you in forever,” he rolls his r’s in a drunken haze.
“Just say you missed me,” Chris rolls his eyes as he blows Tommy a kiss. “Happy birthday, honey. Congratulations, you’re legal now.”
Tommy grabs at the air, pretending to have caught Chris’s kiss, and brings it to his mouth, pretending to swallow it.
I’m thinking of how to wave Bo-mul over when Elizabeth stumbles into the room and screams, “Help! Daniel—Daniel!” Her hair is mussed and her dress is not pulled all the way down, revealing white thighs and yellow polka-dotted panties. Not able to stand straight, she crumples to the ground. I almost laugh because of how pathetic she looks.
Bo-mul runs to her and pushes her hair out of her face. We all stop breathing as she lightly slaps Elizabeth’s cheek. She’s blinking way too slowly and her mouth hangs open. Bo-mul whispers, “Are you high right now?” She turns to Jae-hyun and says, “What did you give her?”
Jae-hyun replies, “Nothing, I swear. We only had soju.” He asks Elizabeth, “Where’s Daniel?”
“Bath… bathroom,” Elizabeth replies with her hair hanging over her downturned face. “I gave him a little and he was fine while we were… But he suddenly started throwing up and his eyes flipped back into his head.”
Daniel is on the floor of the staff bathroom, now glistening with vomit under the harsh white light. I gag as the smell of urine and vomit hits me at once. He is mumbling, his fingers bent at the joints into hooks. His fly is undone, and his lips are tinted a hot pink from the remnants of Elizabeth’s lipstick. Jae-hyun and Tommy rush in and turn his head to the side.
“I’m calling an ambulance,” Ed says.
“No! The cops’ll come,” Suki says.
“Rosen’s going to go under if the cops find out they’ve been hiring underage. And they’re going to take Daniel,” Chris explains. “He’s conscious, right?”
“Barely, but yeah. Thank god he didn’t choke. Must have thrown up before passing out,” Tommy says.
I crouch and say, “Get him on my back.”
“Happy birthday to me,” Tommy says as he and Jae-hyun pull Daniel onto my back.
I’m drifting in and out of sleep next to Daniel, whom we’ve stripped and wiped down when I hear Bo-mul and Jae-hyun talking in his living room. Bo-suk is lightly snoring on the floor with Chanel curled up next to her head. She had insisted she come to watch over Daniel, but she had knocked out as soon as she made sure Daniel was breathing steadily. And of course, because Bo-suk insisted she come over, Bo-mul had to come along. I move as quietly as I can to the door and listen.
“...what we talked about last time? I asked Sara again about the job, and she said her dad’ll pay you $150 a week,” Jae-hyun
I’ve always known that Jae-hyun and Bo-mul have a strange relationship, but I could never figure out what sort. I haven’t asked
Jae-hyun about it because I don’t want him to know I’m interested in Bo-mul because I know he is, too.
“How about you? Aren’t you a little too old to be playing with us? You done with that song you’ve been working on for the past
year?” Bo-mul says.
“I told you, you need to learn how to look past your pride if you want to make it as a writer. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Us artists, we need to take odd jobs here and there to build a network,” Jae-hyun sighs. “Look, all you have to do is look pretty and write down what he says. Look at yourself. You should be in school, but you’re working at a karaoke bar. You really think you’ll be able to write while working like this?”
“Us artists?” Bo-mul laughs. “Maybe you sit around and write your silly little songs and play with kids like us even when you’re
twenty-five because you know your dad will jump at the first chance to hand you his business if you just have the heart to take it. The rest of us? We have no safety net the way you do. I live in the real world. You want me to stroke this old man’s ego who’s using the excuse of writing a book to get with a young girl? What, you said he can’t type himself because he has carpal tunnel? And you believe this?”
“Who are you to talk to me like that? You’re just a karaoke whore.”
“See, this is what I’m talking about. You live in your shitty little apartment and believe you’re one of us. You probably smile to
yourself whenever you see a cockroach in your bathroom, tell yourself oh, woe is me. But it’s really all just a skit to you. All a phase you know will pass one day. Deep in your heart, you think you’re different from us. We’re just your playthings, something to keep you entertained while you ‘figure out your life.’ But you don’t understand that this, this phase you’re trying out, is our lives.”
“You know, being able to grab opportunities when they come to you is a skill, too. Forget it. Let’s go to sleep.”
I hear rustling as Jae-hyun lies down on his couch and Bo-mul quietly walks back to the bedroom. I barely make it in time to my
spot next to Daniel when she slowly opens the door and lays down on the floor next to her sister and Chanel. It takes a long time for me to fall asleep because I know Bo-mul is right.
My Name is Jewel
“Scrub harder. Down. More down,” Bo-mul says. She twists her left arm back and taps the skin right under her left shoulder blade.
She looks like a swan, with her long neck and thin limbs. I push my body weight and more into my hands, scrubbing that soft spot
until it turns from pink to red and I hear a satisfied sigh. She uncrosses her legs, the plastic stool squeaking under her wet buttocks. I want to laugh, but looking at her pink skin and thick hair, I remember just how young we are, and it makes me sad.
“Why’d you stop?” she says.
The sadness had taken over my body so quick my arms had gone limp. Bo-mul’s voice bringing me back into the world, I say,
My name is Bo-suk. It means jewel. I had thought about branding myself as Jewel when I first came to work for Rosen, but
Madame thought it sounded too trashy, so I went with Suki. Still trashy, but the cute sort of trashy that people like. My sister’s name is Bo-mul. It means treasure. She went with Bo as her doumi name; I wish I had thought of it first.
When we were little girls, I had wanted her name. I didn’t understand why she had everything while I had nothing. Unlike me, she
was good at school, was good with her hands, and was liked by everyone. The only thing I had was my pretty face. I blamed our names. Treasure is made up of many jewels, but a jewel is just a single jewel. For a long time, I felt that she had taken something from me. But no matter now. None of it matters now.
People are made of memories and encounters. I try not to think about this too much because then I feel a distinct separation
between my body and my soul, and that scares me. I don’t like to be contemplative. It does me no good, doesn’t fill my stomach, doesn’t pay my rent. It only makes me sad. But sometimes, when a man older than my dad is reaching under my minidress with his right hand and holding my face with his left, I can’t help but think. And when I do, I feel something so heavy and hot in my stomach that I feel like I’ll burn a hole straight through to the core of the Earth. I don’t know how Bo-mul lives in her head the way she does and still manages to get out of bed every morning.
“Bo-suk, I miss monsoon season in Korea,” Bo-mul says as she moves my damp hair off my back and onto my right shoulder. I
don’t turn around because I’m afraid of what I’ll see in her eyes. It’s annoying when she gets like this, which, to be fair, is not much. She begins to scrub my back, and I wonder whether I should let her words die with the rolls of dead skin coming off my back.
I give in. “The steam here reminds you of it too?”
“It always does. How hot and humid it was there. I hated it so much. Every night, after I checked that you were asleep, I pestered
Mom asking when we would go back to America. I wonder now whether she would have let us stay with her if I hadn’t complained so much.”
“I was never asleep. I pretended to like Korea so much because I knew she was going to stay there, with us or without us.”
“Then why didn’t you stop me?” Bo-mul asks. She had known I wasn’t asleep, and she knew that I knew she was playing dumb.
It’s just that Bo-mul likes to turn everything into a story, and stories require grays to be whittled down into blacks and whites.
“Because I didn’t like it there either. I just wanted to be with Mom for as long as I could.”
“She must be old now, huh?”
I don’t like when Bo-mul gets like this because it reminds me that she thinks through life. It makes my own lack of thought
painfully clear, and that hurts my ego. When we were still living with Grandma, she used to tell me that I have too much of an ego for a girl. I didn’t understand what she meant then, but I do now.