Sun 17 Aug 2008
we left Korea for good that winter.
the fall beforehand was golden and rushed, one of those queerly vivid transition epochs where the body and mind are open and receptive, future utterly unknown and thus all changes possible answers in masquerade. it is heady, that hurtle towards the break, and for me it was a productive time -i started writing professionally for the first time in years, took up jogging for the first time ever. looking ahead, i tried to lay ground. looking around me, with eyes that knew i was leaving, i tried to store all that i could of the city and culture, the small apartment with its sliding glass doors, the autumn light pouring in, the sweet-sour tang of mokkoli and cheom-chi kimbap, the hectic market across the street, laden with strange fruit that had become familiar.
in casting ourselves upon the fates that fall, we went whole hog. i threw out the birth control pills, had my cystic ovaries checked at Our Lady of Mercy Virgin Mary Obstetrics and Gynecology – the head OB had learned his English at a Catholic college in the United States, he informed me proudly – and one Monday morning in November, watched two clear blue lines materialize on a pregnancy test i’d had to play charades to acquire from the apothecary’s on the corner. there is a lot of vocabulary that a life spent in classrooms and bars does not necessarily teach.
every season of life has its soundtracks. this one was a single CD, a nothing-else-quite-like it literate and intimate collection of folky imagery-laden songs that a friend who lived in another city had brought one weekend in October, that we played all through that fall and early winter as we planned and packed and i threw up. those songs, with their quirky rhythm and their haunting, non-linear stories, were burned on me in those months just as Korea was. i was wax, taking everything in. and all my hopes and anticipation sang in me to those tunes and words, lullabies to the little life inside around whom all the changes centred.
we brought the CD back to Canada, though the light was harsher here. the last time i played it was in the hospital after my water broke too too early, headphones stretched across my belly. i was still hopeful, the laws of inertia internalized to such an extent that continuing to hope was not so hard as it has been ever since. i chose, the first night after my airlift, in the 3 am quiet of the hospital room, to tune in to the baby inside, to spend what time we had left together present to him or her. i sang to him, spoke to her – we had been told girl, then boy, then girl again, that time ’round – played him music. for that three weeks, i was tender and more in-the-moment than i have ever been in my life, connected and maternal in ways i hadn’t imagined i had in me. until he died in my arms. all those months of hoping and planning, all we’d tried to build toward, all the light and song packed into that period, dissipated into ash.
last night, Dave and i were watching back episodes of a tv show on the computer. in the climactic moments, a song started up, a song neither of us had heard. but he recognized the voice…the same singer whom, as if by unspoken, accidental agreement, we have not listened to in over three years. my ears perked up, and just the familiarity of a single word, characteristically pronounced at the end of a line, assured me he was right. the scene unfolded on the screen in front of us. but i didn’t see it anymore.
i saw a small apartment with muted light falling over a sleeping mat, a huge desk rescued from the side of the street one evening. i saw the campus-issue furniture and the pillows brought back as bounty from Thailand, the coffee grinder propped up against the yogurt maker and the funny little packets of bacteria bought at the same apothecary’s as the pregnancy test. i saw ashtrays and ESL books, plastic tables set outside the neighbourhood corner store for drinking at, neon signs advertising singing rooms, internet cafes, chicken. i saw rows and rows of persimmons, ripe to bursting, and crisp pears that look like apples, and packets of salty seaweed for snacking on. i saw, though i had not known i remembered. and i felt it all again, the hope and the shattering that followed, as if the episode we were watching were one from our own lives.
and i wept, because i knew the ending to all that risk and hope and openness. because it was like watching a replay of my own personal train wreck, and i could not shout out a warning, could not do anything but sit and let the brokenheartedness of it all wash over me. and because it was beautiful, too, to have it all come flooding back, to remember what it felt like to be in that skin and that mind, faithful for the last time to the belief that all will ultimately be right.
i like to think i’ve healed. but not once in this pregnancy, or with Oscar, have i stretched headphones over my belly, unselfconscious, and sung to my child. not like that.
i don’t even know if i should try. i don’t know if i can. i wish i could, though. i realized last night that i wish i could.