a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
a space for youth writing on mental health & identity
Let’s say there’s a time-travelling machine that only I can use. I am thirteen again and Grandma has finally passed away. I know she didn’t leave any will. Or an inheritance. It’s the winter of 2005 again, the coldest winter since 1992. It won’t be this cold until 2019. Jindos are tightly leashed inside the homes for the first time, because the dog houses are covered in thick snow. At the burial, father and I are wrapped in geese feathers, under a black umbrella.
In the pulpit, my aunts and uncles are giving eulogies. They speak in a dialect so strong, I can hardly understand it. My city-born father is staring at his feet. Whether of respect for his mother-in-law, or to hide his boredom, I am still not sure. No one is crying, so I don’t cry either.
At the chapel, my cousin says it. “She had it coming, you know, refusing all those medicines.” My cousin has a new face. No one says anything about it. “If I knew I was dying, I would have written a proper will, sold my house, and ridden first class on Korean Air,” she continues. My other cousins are agreeing. I nod my head too, because I am only thirteen.
Grandma wasn’t a grandma, she wasn’t a granny; she was a grandmother, and quite frankly was a highschool principal. My cousins all attended her school. They all hated her. When I came down from Seoul, we all hated her. Grandma was all my cousins’ neighbors. There were no cookies, no pies, not even a crisp ten thousand won during new years. Occasional calls to quiet down were it. Grandma was always old. None of us remember Grandma young. There are no pictures. Not even a painted portrait of her.
On the car ride back to Grandma’s place, I am sitting next to Yerin. She is one of the cooler cousins. She knows it too. Yerin’s already out of her black satin dress. Instead, she’s wearing an orange blouse that shows too much cleavage and a trimmed denim skirt over leggings. “Are you going to stay in those?” she points at my black hanbok. There is an I-pity-you disgusted look on her face. I shake my head, because I am only thirteen.
When we arrive at Grandma’s place, I change into my blue plaid dress. I let the black hanbok hang on the lone hanger. There is nothing left in Grandma’s bathroom. No shampoo, no soap, not even a dryer or hairbrush. Grandma’s favorite rose fragrance is gone too. I smile into the dusty mirror and fix my hair. I turn the lights off and close the door shut behind me.
Taehyun and Yerin are already in Grandma’s room, painting their lips red. “Some rich guy in my class invited me to a party. We should go.” My cousins smell like roses. “You look nice,” Taehyun tells me. She talks in a falsetto now. She whips out a fragrance bottle from her purse and sprays it on to my dress.
“Thanks, we should go now,” I tell her. The whole room smells like roses. My head feels lightheaded and the floral scent suffocates me. It stays with me even when we leave the room.
We take a taxi for the party. I pay for it because I am from Seoul. Because they tell me Seoul girls are rich. Because I am only thirteen.
The party is at a penthouse. On the elevator there, I try to talk to my cousin, but they are too busy practicing making a grand entrance. I stand there, as the rosy scent smothered on our thin clothes fills the elevator. I hold my breath on the way up. Somehow, I still smell it.
The door is unlocked. Loud music integrates around us as we walk in. My cousins try a catwalk. No one notices. Nevertheless, they somehow slip into the eclipse of moths, under a street lamp. I feel so utterly alone. The odor and the dizzying perfume smell fade away, and the room smells like roses. It is almost smoothing, if I didn’t feel like throwing up.
When I stand over the toilet, nothing comes out. I stand up, panting. My light blue dress no longer flows around me. It is stuck to me, my sweat as the glue. The rosy scent returns. Like a plague. Like a ghost.
I leave the bathroom. My cousins are nowhere in sight. They will kill me if I leave without them. For the first time, I do not care as much. As I try to leave the penthouse, a guy stops me.
“Leaving already, sweetheart?” He looks about sixteen years old. I should just pretend I didn’t hear--he looks drunk enough not to follow me anyways. I kick him in the crotch. I close the door behind me, before I can hear him scream whatever swear word is on the top of his head. I’ve never felt so good.
My feet lead the way. Down the elevator. Across the street. Grandma’s house is only a three minute walk. My face is shivering, but my body is alright, wrapped in a loose cardigan I must have taken from someone. I should run back up and find the owner, apologize to the guy and to my cousins, for leaving them. They must have noticed, right? I’m only thirteen. They’ll forgive me. My feet do not listen. They do not go to my grandma’s house either. We walk through the empty streets, step on the empty pavement, jaywalk the car-less roads.
I know exactly where I am when my feet finally come to a halting stop. I stare down at my grandma’s grave. It’s covered in thick snow, and some bird excrement. 정복례: mother, wife, educator.
I no longer smell like roses. Just my sweat, cigarette smoke, and cheap beer. I should really add ‘grandmother’ to the gravestone. I’m no longer thirteen. I lay the roses delicately, by the tufts of weeds, beginning to sprout under the snow.
* = Editors' Choice work
Unless otherwise noted, all pictures used are open-source images in the public domain.