I am nearly 30 and have but one regret in my life: Not dreaming bigger sooner.
Not only am I an immigrant to this country, I am a child of immigrants. My dad was an immigrant twice over, once from South Korea and then again from Argentina. I can’t even begin to imagine the uncertainty, anxiety and stress he experienced in starting over without knowing the language, culture, expectations or rules. For our whole lives we were not fulfilling our dreams but my grandparents’ dreams. A dream born out of fear and insecurity in Korea. A dream of education, prosperity and happiness in the United States. I had forgotten to have my own dreams in the midst of trying to be theirs.
A few weeks ago we bought a house. The house has a yard, the house is spacious, and it’s more than anything I had ever hoped to have in my lifetime. As we unpacked and filled the rooms with boxes, I was transported to the time I arrived in the United States. Nothing but a suitcase for the “vacation” we were here for. Initially two families crammed in a 2 bedroom apartment and soon just us, my dad, my brother and me, in a 2 bedroom apartment ourselves with a cardboard box as a table. We ate ramen on the floor watching cartoons with the straggling cable from the previous tenants. Eventually it was just Bob Ross, Between the Lions and Bernstein Bears on good old PBS.
I think about how hard my dad worked, never dreaming his own dreams. Most of the time if I saw him he was sleeping from night shifts early into the morning. But he was so good to me. He would take me fishing in the ocean or to the lake, we would catch crabs and carps. Me holding a large net to try to pull the carp to shore before the line snapped. Or reading on the shore, just silently together. I never had fashionable outfits, latest anything, but my dad made it possible for me to play the violin, have a roof over our heads and always food on the table.
Funny memories to a child become bittersweet when she grows up. I remember my dad doing his own dental work at the kitchen table. Making his own fillings. Or helping him with acupuncture treatments from cupping his back to burning a small herbal mound on his head. He never dated or remarried, but he was so charming. His English wasn’t the best but he had a sharp wit. I regret that he left America without seeing the flowers he planted bloom.
When he left the country, my brother and I hoped for the best. He was returning to a life he knew, but we did not realize that even in a time capsule time moves on. His career needed to start over, nothing had stood still in his absence. He had left Argentina and sold our house, he returned to live in a small rented room. Time in a way, is not linear… but amorphous and mixed. Are our memories real or do they become real from us holding them and inspecting them in the light? I am sending joy and hope to the man alone in that room.
When I finally had the means to go, I no longer recognized him. And I think more frightening still, he did not recognize himself. The early traces of dementia set in without us knowing. We shared some beautiful moments in the end. I brought him back to the US and I finally got to show him the UC Berkeley campus, got to give him lots of yummy foods, took him fishing, got lots of hugs, and even helped him out when incontinence set in (that was a fun memory: standing clothed in the shower laughing together). I finally gave him some of the love he so freely gave me.
I think about him often. Of all the dreams undreamed. Of all the life not lived. We cannot reach beyond the veil and share our blessings with the dead. I hope my life now is even a figment of what he imagined when he packed us up to move to the United States. That even dreams undreamed can be dreams come true.
These are my thoughts in my new house, recently engaged to the love of my life, dreaming of a future that may never happen yet here I plant my seeds. And as the flower of my ancestors (my Korean name 보미 “Bomi” means “beautiful treasure,” but the homonym 봄이 means “the spring”) I know that what we plant will always grow, seeking out the sun.
Gracias por todo, papá. Te quiero mucho.
Image description: Quick watercolor piece of Cobalt (one of my cats) enjoying our new home and scenery from the bedroom window.