The fatherless 1st grader

I remember being dressed up in yellow like a duck. I was on a retreat with my 1st grade class to a zoo/park. It was a clear, sunny day, but for some reason, the teachers made us wear those goofy raincoats and miniature safari hats. We were casually strolling, but all of the sudden, a large ravine appeared with a thin, flimsy log as the bridge. In hindsight, the gap was probably 5 feet wide and 1 foot deep, but hey, I was a wee child. Unlike my brave classmates, I got down on all fours, hugged the shit out of that log, and proceeded to crawl like a caterpillar. 1/3 way through, my right leg got stuck in a splintered gap. I eventually fell into the ravine as fantastically as my trek across the bridge. This was my first memory of fear…or what I thought was fear.

I happily ran to the front door to greet my drunk/high father as he came home from work. As I was pulling the sliding lock, my father yanked the door open, repeatedly. I belted that my finger was caught in the lock, and eventually, my finger was free. My mother wiped away the blood, dabbed some brown medicine from a bottle, and wrapped my finger with tissue paper and tape. No big deal. I can finally get back to reading that book titled “Why Do We Exist?” (can’t remember the exact Korean title, but it basically said that nobody knows). Few minutes later, I’m dangling outside the balcony of a highrise apartment with my father’s right arm as the only safety net from death. Being held by the same leg that failed me, I did nothing but scream and cry. After my mother’s pleading for what felt like hours, he lifted me up and flung me onto the living room couch. I hastily retreated to my room and barred my door with the bookcase full of the Einstein series (boy, were these popular). I drowned out the yelling between my parents and did some fruitless self-reflection to understand exactly why I deserved such a treatment: There was no sound conclusion. As it’s the norm in Korea (at least back in those days), I’d been hit with all sorts of objects before but never almost killed. As the noise died down, I could hear my parents approaching. They apologized for their actions and told me that it was because they loved me so much that it angered them when I didn’t succeed. The spark that ignited the fuel? I got a 9/10 on my test.

The next few months is a blur to me. I, however, do remember a night of sirens. I rushed home from school to sneak in 30 minutes of Sonic on my Sega console, since I knew my mother wouldn’t be home for another hour and my grandmother fell asleep easily. As I approached the apartment, there were police cars everywhere, and the apartment guard looked at me with a sad grin. When I got home, my mother was already home (damn, no Sonic), but she wasn’t alone. I was immediately surrounded by the police officers who interrogated me on the whereabouts of my father. My mother shooed the rude men and told me, “필립아, your uncle will be here to pick you up soon. Go and pack your Pluto suitcase with all of your essentials.” When I asked why, she told me that she had to take care of a few things and reminded me that I would get to stay with my cousins. Elated by being able to spend time with some of my favorite people, I promptly went to work without question even though I felt that something was wrong. I never saw my father again.

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