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Manoa 14.2 (2002-2003) 171-185
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Caroline Jeong-Mee Kim
[A Dark Balance]
A week after my sixteenth birthday, I woke up to the sound of my father shouting. At first I thought he was angry, but soon I realized he was just looking for his hat. We were going to McKinney State Park in Maine, the whole parish of the Korean Catholic Church of Lexington. I thought with embarrassment of the two bright-orange school buses the church had rented for the occasion.
I got up anyway, dragging my feet into the kitchen, where my mother was putting rows of gim bap into Tupperware containers. For breakfast, she gave us the uneven ends. I told her I didn't want to go.
She was unconcerned. "Why not?" she asked. My mother was a slightly chubby woman with a round, bright face. She could look cheerful even when she wasn't.
"I don't feel like it," I said. "I'm too old for it."
I sat down across from her. I had spoken in Korean, which I could still do if I didn't think about it. My parents were that way with English. They still had a terrible time pronouncing the place where we lived. Lawrence. Massachusetts. My father sounded like he was caught in a fit of sneezing when he pronounced Massachusetts. So we ended up speaking a third language, a strangled jumble of Korean and English that seemed to work.
"That's too bad," she said. "Everybody's going to be there."
"Somebody said there'll be volleyball."
"I hate volleyball."
"And there's a beach."
"Of course! We're going to the ocean, aren't we?"
I thought of what I looked like in my bathing suit: a skinny stick figure with a too-large head. When my parents were playful, they called me Olive Oyl; when my brother felt mean, he called me Refugee Victim. Still, I loved swimming: the feeling of being held up by nothing but salt and water. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. "Well, maybe I'll just check out the beach."
"Good idea," she said, as though I'd suggested something brilliant. "Now eat something or go get dressed."
My mother never liked to see me idle. Sometimes she said I was like my father, who could go off to a place in his head and live without eating. There were whole days when a curious, detached look replaced his usual worried expression and he seemed to forget who we were. This kind of dreaming she called blindness. For my mother, reality was a point of honor; her hands were always busy. She wanted me to be like her.
"Go, go," my mother said, eating and chewing behind her hand. "Hurry or we'll be late." [End Page 171]
In the living room, I passed my father sitting on the floor with his hat on. He had a Korean newspaper spread out in front of him. The hat, made of brown corduroy and turned up on all sides, was too small for his head. It sat atop his bushy hair, looking temporary and precarious. A quick turn of the head could make it fall.
Roger Ballard was the boy I thought about while I changed into my blue bathing suit and looked at my flat-chested self in the mirror. Roger Ballard was the boy I dreamed of when I let myself. Roger Ballard was a boy who didn't know I was alive. He was dark-haired and lean and had blue eyes that seemed to take in everything without judgement, and when he laughed, the sound traveled down my body, landing with a rumble in my stomach. When I touched my stomach now, I could still feel his laugh. The night before, I'd seen him at a party, stood so close to him I could smell Irish Spring soap and his father's Old Spice, watched him so carefully I saw the hand he slid along Camilla's back and over the rise of...