a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
I sauntered across the sidewalk of Dalsan Road in Jeongwan, where a stray dog rested peacefully on the bench next to the local supermarket. Rows of pine cones lined the streets, along with letters of cracked road marking paint. The breeze gently caressed my feet as I listened to the faint noises of children screaming and laughing. From a distance, I spotted the persimmon tree in front of my Grandmother’s house.
Scattered oak leaves led me to the gates of the house. I kicked a mound of dried leaves, satisfied with the crisp sounds they made. The gate squeaked as I swung it open and walked along the paths to the front step. I tapped the numbers on the digital lock and placed my shoes on the shoe rack. As I opened the sliding door to the living room, the aroma of old wood and the low noises of the heater greeted my senses. I was visiting my grandma’s house for the first time in two years.
“Halmeoni!” I called out, as my voice echoed through the empty hallway. I felt my toes curl as the autumn breeze from the window struck through me.
There was no reply. I tiptoed to the door of her room, and squinted my eyes through the small open crack. She had her reading glasses on, slumped over a ladderback chair. She noticed me standing in front of the door, and her eyes immediately wrinkled up to a smile.
“You’re finally here! How was the train ride?.” She asked, and I replied with a thumbs-up.
“Let me fix you some lunch, you must be starving!” I followed her into the kitchen, as she dragged a pair of floral patterned slippers. She opened the refrigerator, and there were stacks of glass containers filled to the brim with all of my favourite side dishes. The scent of fresh kimchi overpowered the usual aroma of acacia from the diffuser. However, my mind soon wandered to a small jar laying on the counter top, of what seemed like some sort of pills.
“Halmeoni, what are those for?” I pointed. She glanced at the counter.
“Nothing, I keep it with me just in case.” I sat down at the dinner table, and
She handed me a bowl of miyeok-guk. As I savoured a spoonful of hot soup, I looked around my surroundings. The living room had always been my favourite part of this house. Vintage pots with well cared aloe vera plants, a two seater couch, and hand crocheted stuffed animals busied the emptiness of the white walls. There was one picture frame that particularly grabbed my attention. It was a picture of my grandma’s old tailoring shop in Gwangju, and she was standing in front of it, smiling.
“Your mother and aunt used to visit that shop everyday after school.” Halmeoni spoke up, noticing I had been staring at the picture. I looked at it once more and realised how much my grandmother resembled my own mother.
Halmeoni soon went back into her room, gesturing that she was tired.
“Daughter, wake me up when it’s time for lunch!” She called out.
“I just had lunch, what do you mean?” If only I wasn’t disturbed by the sudden silence that overtook the atmosphere, I would have reminded her that I was not her daughter.
My mother arrived in Busan a few days later, and for the rest of the days, we were alone, watching tv and driving to parks every once in a while. I often stayed home, watching videos on how to make pumpkin porridge for my grandmother. She didn’t seem to have much of an appetite, but gladly accepted my dish everyday. When she wasn’t sleeping, she listened to her favourite classical songs on her record player.
When my grandmother was admitted to a hospital in Daegu, my mother had decided to take me back to Busan to make sure my grandma’s house was cleaned up properly. I was reluctant, and couldn't imagine Halmeoni’s house being empty, especially without her two seater couch, vintage pots, and stuffed animals.
I trudged down Dalsan road once again, to where my grandmother used to live. The children packed balls of snow in their hands and laughed as if they hadn’t seen snow before.
One old lady was carrying bags of groceries, and seemed to recognize me. She tapped my shoulder as I walked by.
“When you meet your Halmeoni, tell her that everyone here misses her.” I just nodded.
When I reached the rusted gates of my grandma’s house, the evening sun projected long shadows on the ground. The only thing that remained on the streets were rotten pieces of persimmon from the fruitless tree. Bicycles were parked away, and the market had closed for the rest of the day. I walked into the front yard as I watched two men loading the back of the moving truck with boxes. When I entered the house holding an empty box, my mother was inside the house sweeping the floors, while my grandmother’s classical music vinyl played in the background. Most of her furniture had been packed away in plastic wrapping, except for one cabinet that still held the remaining belongings. I opened the first drawer, and there was a stack of books, and the first one was about the Korean War. I recalled Halmeoni telling me about the time she had been a history teacher at a middle school. She used to brag about how nice she was to her students, and how many had gifted her flowers on her birthday. Knowing my grandmother’s love for books, I carefully organised them into the box.
There were needles, cloth, and old notebooks in the rest of the drawers. I assumed they had been used for the tailoring shop, and packed them into the box. Just as I was about to tape it shut, I noticed a picture next to me on the floor. I picked it up, it was a photo of my grandmother, in front of a strawberry farm with my mother, aunt, and uncle all as children. Halmeoni looked young - probably around her 30’s, wearing a flowy dress with flowers that gently hung below her knees.
I laughed, remembering how my grandmother had always worn floral patterned clothes. I glanced at my mother, wiping off her sweat as she cleaned the walls of the house. Then, I stared at her in the photo. Her smile was hideous and her hair was pulled up into messy pigtails, yet it was the most genuine smile I had ever seen from her. Instead of putting the picture into the box, my instincts told me to put the photo into the pocket of my padded coat. I studied the house one last time. I reminisced about the first time I visited my grandmother in Busan, and how I had become so fond of the beige bricks I once hated. I looked up, and the sky was pitch black. In the dark, the air smelled of fresh acacia.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.