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  • Possess Stone Wall
  • Jeff Wasserboehr (bio)

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Photo by Rick Payette

[End Page 164]


Ten o’clock, my father drives off to the local woods to collect a trunkful of stones. About half past noon he returns to the house with his bounty. One by one he unloads the stones, his wiry frame wobbling precariously through the yard to the edge of the road, where over the past few weeks he’s amassed thousands. Each stone weighs [End Page 165] anywhere from twenty to fifty pounds, and from the grunts he gives off while lugging, it’s clear he’s having a pretty rough go of it all.

But I can’t help him. We are and never have been close, especially in these recent years. Even so, watching his intense struggle—pursed lips, spittle exploding from his mouth with every lift, copious and indiscriminate moaning—I feel a bone-deep urge to impart my recommendations. As in “Maybe there is a better way to hoist that stone so you don’t pop a vertebra in your lower spine, Dad?” Or “This exercise calls for a wheel-barrow, no?”

I watch from inside the little colonial house where I grew up. It’s early July and muggy in that crummy Boston way—air conditioner–less—and I’m back in America after two years spent living in South Korea and backpacking through Asia. The postglobetrotter blues becomes a daily soundtrack for my freshly rediscovered suburban life; it plays on repeat. I have moved my one suitcase of personal belongings back into my childhood bedroom. Above the headboard of the twin bed where I now sleep, Ken Griffey Jr.’s silky home-run swing is frozen in the year 1997 on a life-sized poster, and the room remains wallpapered in footballs and basketballs. I’m reliving the good old days with ten-year-old, baseball-worshiping me, and grad school starts in two months.

Outside, my father continues to struggle. I retreat from the window. I can’t watch; this is his undertaking, his stone wall. I don’t know much about where he is in his mental space these days, but I know that building this stone wall is saving him.


In Korea, I inherit the flip phone from the previous American who taught English at the high school where I now work. His name was Corey. Corey left the phone behind when he left the job and the country. The phone is sealed inside a Ziploc and accompanied by a handwritten sticky note: Use this! Shitty phone, but, you know, meh. Downloaded a dozen ringtones already! Good luck! Implied in the note is that collecting ringtones is cool, or perhaps that they are more useful than they actually are. I delete the ringtones, wipe the phone’s data and try and fail, and try and fail again at getting into the romanticized routine of rising at 6 am with the sun.

I redownload ringtones.

But on this day in fall of 2010, I wake up instead to the sound of air-raid sirens. I toss for a minute, but when reality strikes, I rush from my [End Page 166] bed to my seventh-floor window and squint out to see a bone-chilling sight: vacant streets—people-less, vehicle-less—and an enormous blood-red sun rising over the Nakdong River, casting the whole city scarlet. The sirens seem to leach right into the chilling landscape, ringing down from the mountaintops. Dozens of puzzled apartment tenants, like me, lean out their windows in shock.

I lock eyes with a woman in an adjacent high-rise fifty yards from me. She flails her arms, then cups her hands to her mouth and shouts something in Korean. Across the distance, she must assume I, too, am Korean. Whatever she’s saying has a questioning lilt.

I mime back to her: I literally have no idea what you’re saying.

She mouths harder.

It is 5:45 am: all this siren business must be pretty serious. The lady shouts at me once again, with the same rising intonation of a question in her...


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