Roanoke 

On your direct flight from Portland to Roanoke the pilot comes on and announces we are flying over Toronto, then over to buffalo and Rochester. You think about going to see U2 at the stadium in Toronto in 1997. The same place the expos played. It was you, Colleen, and her boyfriend and two other people you can’t remember. Colleen broke up with that boyfriend and married someone else. 

Colleen died in April 2013 after seven years battling breast cancer. 

After Colleen died You flew to Syracuse and drove to Buffalo to stay with your friend John who used to be Joan and her girlfriend Denise. 

In Toronto it snowed the night the five of you took the subway to the stadium the expos played in. You sat in nose bleed seats even tho you paid $50 for your ticket. A ton of money in 1997 for you to shell out for a concert. 

***

You’re not talking to john right now. After he kept calling you late last summer drunk and leaving slurring messages on your voicemail. He talked shit about you behind your back. He read your blog and found something written about him and said you wrote nicer things about men you dated for 2 weeks than you did about him, your friend who you had known for 17 years. 

Sober yourself the slurring was too much and you never called back. A few months ago you got into an angry text exchange. It’s disappeared because of a phone upgrade. You don’t remember the words but you remember the anger. Your own anger. His anger.  

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Tuesday night after jazzercise, leftover Thai food and a make shift sherbet/strawberry/plain yogurt/orange juice concoction you’re in bed. Make that two jazzercise classes. Today you did the noon and 4:45. Yer tired. 

In the morning you’ll get up and pack at 5 am for your flight to Roanoke. You should do it tonight but meh. That’s what you think. It can wait til morning. 

Yer tired from the last day and a half of finding out your grandmother, your last remaining grandparent had two heart attacks and is now in hospice. 

You have mixed feelings. 

You feel sad you never got to know her as a teenager and adult.  She was ripped away after the abuse disclosure. Part of it was her choice. 

She didn’t believe you. 

She didn’t believe that your grandfather, her husband, molested you while she was away at work late nights. 

Or maybe she did but would never admit it. 

The last time you saw her you were 17.  You went on a walk in the central Oregon woods. She told you you made up the story. Your mother coached you at the trial. 

Traumatized. Again. You ran away. Back to the cabin where family members were playing scrabble or eating chips. You don’t remember what was happening. Everything was fuzzy and you had to get away from her. 

****

Tonight she’s in hospice at her house. The same house where the sexual abuse took place. She’s probably in a hospital bed. 

You’re in your own bed. Safe. 

She’s probably surrounded by relatives. You prefer the quiet of being alone. 

****

Yesterday you went to target and bought a get well card. You two-dayed it to her house in eastern Oregon. The same house where the sexual abuse took place. You wrote out the street address for the first time probably in your adult life. The first ever card or letter sent past age 22. 

You didn’t know if she would be alive to get it. The self-sending package machine thing inside the post office said it would get there Wednesday by 3 pm. 

Again.  Even tho the office was closed you prefer the machine to people. 

***

At the last jazzercise class of the day you check your phone during a water break.  There’s a text from dad: “THey are bringing Mom home for hospice care tonite. She is alert and talkative.”

You are glad she will be alert enough to get the card.  

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Reading 

  
Tonight at the new Vault reading series!  Reading about bikes, London, and Princess Diana

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Portland’s cheap tin house apartments 

Saturday afternoon it’s 95 degrees and I’m sitting outside of barista town yuppy coffee place on Hawthorne drinking an iced latte at 1:40 pm. Living dangerously with caffeine at late in the day. There’s a Portland Mercuryweekalt thing on the table and two hot baristas inside that I eyed as I bought my iced latte. It’s the little things when there’s no one to fuck on the horizon. Inside the ac is on but I choose to sit outside at a picnic table and read the PortlandMercuryweekalt and bask in the breeze and no work on the weekend. My shoulders don’t feel all hunched up like they’ve been for weeks despite a 90 minute massage with the lady on 38/Belmont. The one that always basically says: “wow your body is a hot mess of tangled up muscles.” Every goddamn time you come see her. 

Every time. 

Sometimes it bugs you.

***

In ten days you’ll get on a flight to Roanoke with your sister, niece and brother in law to see family and eat crabs from Chesapeake bay and drive around to rural areas and meet relatives you don’t know. 

This despite reading an article about some nitwit in New Jersey pointing lazers at landing planes. Your shoulders start bunching up around your ears just thinking about it. 

***

Yesterday at tin house writing conference you paid $15 to listen to Charles D’Ambrosio give a talk on personal essay writing. You sat in Vollum with a bunch of pretentious assholes from the east coast while they dug in their Strand Bookstore bags for their pens and black moleskin tablets. You tried your damnedest not to judge. You tried so hard but the bitch behind you who wouldn’t stop flipping her hair was driving you crazy. 

Charles talked about persona and developing masks as writers to basically create an alter ego. It wasn’t a stretch for most of the people in the room, including yourself. You’re an asshole or at least you play one on portlandia, the TV show that’s created a mockery of Portland. The Portland yer seeing being destroyed by east coasters and Californians coming in and living in cheap housing that’s being slapped up everywhere: on division, Williams and Hawthorne. 

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Tin House

At the tin house writing conference at reed college I sit in the amphitheater in the back and silently judge.  The amphitheater looks out over a murky green stream in the middle of campus. 

Dorothy Allison walks by and talks to someone, probably her daughter, sitting in the next row down. She talks about how she read in 2006 and ducks were fucking and sqwacking the entire time she read around and how she expected the same this year. 

A jogger runs by on the trail in all pink. 

I’m waiting for my friends Daniella and Justine who are running late.  The conference is full of young people from across the country.  I’ve never applied because I would probably sit in the back and judge the entire time. 

You have to apply and be accepted in order to attend. It’s like summer camp for grown ups with some of the best US authors.  

***

This morning at my computer I drank coffee and worked on my fourth writing submission in a month.  I’ve been on a roll submitting again after a long hiatus. I’m hoping to overcome my two year rejection slump. 

Being at Tin House makes me miss my conference time at Fishtrap two years ago.  Writing conferences are amazing and immersive and great places to network. I have so many friends from fishtrap that I still keep in contact with. 

****

At tin house Daniella and Justine arrive late and I think about applying to Tin House next year. Fuck my inner judge-y biotch. She needs to take a nap. 

I’ll mark it on my calendar for March 2016 to get my application ready. 

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Jecheon – (Chay-chon) Pt. 2

We climb out of the Sonata and The Orphanage Director tells us we can put our purses in her apartment and then we’ll go to the children’s home and have lunch. We walk up some 1980’s stairs and into The Orphanage Directors 1500 square foot apartment she shares with Sue, a Korean woman in her 70’s, that helped The Orphanage Director start the orphanage in the 1960’s. She’s retired and now her daughter Bobai is the director of the orphanage.

All three of us walk to the orphanage twenty feet away in a separate building. The room is hardwood floors, some wood paneling and white paint. There are ten kids ages 2 to 6 in the room playing with toys and two workers. The kids all stop what they are doing and look at us as we walk through the room to an adjoining room that has cafeteria style tables. Walking through the room I realize that I’m really, really, really at the orphanage – not just thinking or talking about it.

“We’ll come back through and visit with the kids after lunch,” she tells us.

“Ok,” My Sister and I say in unison.

There’s a round table in a corner where two women sit: Sue and Bobai. There’s beef bulgogi, rice, Kimchi, sugary pickled cucumber, dried octopus, spinach with chili paste, and other side dishes on the table. Being around My Sister and her Korean husband I’ve had most everything on the table before at family gatherings or Korean restaurants in the states.

The table’s set and The Orphanage Director tells My Sister and I to go first. We dig in and everything’s on a round lazy Susan type thing so instead of passing the dishes around we just push the food to the left for the next person to help themselves.

“Have you had this before?” The Orphanage Director focuses on My Sister. Sue and Bobai are quiet and polite.

“Oh yeah, my mother in law is Korean and she made most of these items for my two year old, Khloe’s Dol,” My Sister picks up her silver chop sticks and starts eating some rice. A Dol is a celebration for a Korean baby’s first 100 days of life and includes a party and lots of food.

“What about you?” The Orphanage Director asks me.

“Oh yeah, I love beef bulgogi. It’s one of my favorites. This is delicious,” I shove some into my mouth. I’m finally able to quell the rumbling in my stomach.

All four of them speak in Korean and I shove some spinach with chili paste in my mouth. I don’t mind not speaking. It’s nice not to be “on.”

The Orphanage Director, My Sister and I go back to speaking in English. The Orphanage Director asks My Sister questions about when she was adopted, what our parents do and why she’s here.

“Korean adoptions are pretty much non-existent anymore,” The Orphanage Director takes a bite of rice. “We house the kids we have here until they are 21.”

“Wow,” I say and can’t even fathom living in an orphanage being raised by strangers. I’m grateful for even my strained family relationship because I have a mom and dad.

My Sister nods her head and chews.

“The military has been really great to us,” The Orphanage Director says. “At Christmas time they give us presents and the kids get gift cards to Wal-mart.”

Until I came to Korea the military presence was only something I heard about on tv and the radio. The strain between the two countries is real. But the graffiti and art work around Seoul that I saw of the two countries being unified or at least wishing to be was also real and something I never heard about in the US. South Korea has been able to turn itself around in sixty years from a poverty stricken country after the Korean war to a powerhouse financially. The Korean work ethic may have something to do with it but as a white person I don’t feel comfortable speaking to that. It smacks of trying to be an expert on an ethnicity that I am not. I’m white. Not Korean.

After lunch we go into the playroom that we came in through and sit on the floor with seven or eight 2 and 3 year olds. The room is sparse and there aren’t any chairs but it’s no matter I’d rather get down on the kids level. Each kid has their own personality: there’s the boy who is domineering and tries to get away with taking toys from other kids, the girl with pale skin who looks like she’s been crying a lot and is standoffish. She’s like me when I was a little and every time she comes near us and then takes a step back I want to adopt her.

My Sister gets her phone out and the kids want to watch videos and see pictures on her phone. They climb on her and she says things in Korean to them. Every once in a while I ask what they are saying or what she’s saying to them.

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Jecheon – (Chay-chon) Pt. 1

This is the first half of an old essay I dusted off and started reworking last night.  I’ll post the second half soon!

On the way to the Jecheon Children’s Home My Sister and I sit in the second row of a bus that’s like a Greyhound, but tinier and cleaner.  It’s hot and October and I don’t think they believe in air conditioning in Korea.  When we arrived at Incheon International Airport outside of Seoul a few days earlier it was so hot sweat was running down my legs standing in Customs.

On the bus there’s a giant flat screen above the driver’s head that could probably fall if we were in an accident and knock our driver out cold.  We watch a pre-programmed message about wearing a safety belt and then Korean reality t.v. comes on.  At least I think its reality tv.  I don’t speak Korean.  My Sister has picked up conversational Korean and swear words through basic intro classes she took at Portland State and her Korean friends. On the tv I can’t hear anything they say anyway because outside the traffic is thick.  Seoul is worse than L.A. traffic wise. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is.

I thought I would cry on the way to the Children’s Home. I cry a lot.  I cried when Princess Diana died in 1997 even though I didn’t know her.  I have to scroll past all my vegan friend’s messages about homeless dogs on Facebook or I’ll cry.  I cried when JFK Jr.’s plane crashed in 1999.  I haven’t been sleeping well: jet lag and being sick have kicked my ass. My sister is here on business and pleasure. My trip is all pleasure but so far it’s been sleeping from 5 pm to 2 am or 8:30 pm to 3:15 am.  In the hotel room with My Sister we share a bed and I stare at the clock while she sleeps.  I think about:

why did My Sister’s mother give her up?

was she poor?

does she regret it now?

did she experience guilt giving her up?

My Sister doesn’t seem concerned about learning why she was put up for adoption. Or maybe she does but she doesn’t tell me. I tell her about my writing, complain about work, and my dating life. My Sister complains about the zit on her chin and talks about the shopping she did with her friend from college, Sunny, who now lives in Seoul and what she bought for my two year old niece.

An hour passes and I read and glance up at the t.v. There’s an elderly woman crying.  The reality t.v. show is now a game show.  I think. I still don’t have any idea what’s going on. The elderly woman lifts her glasses up and wipes her eyes.   All I want to know is why are they subjecting this poor woman to crying over and over and over.  My sister’s asleep next to me on the bus.  I’m awake.  Always awake.  It’s been that way forever.  The t.v. tells the passengers in English and Korean that we are almost to our destination. I nudge My Sister awake and she rubs her eyes.  “Almost there.”

At the Jecheon Bus Depot I step into the restroom to pee.  It’s noon.  It’s always like this in the morning.  I drink enough coffee for 3 people.  I step into the stall and there’s no toilet paper.  I walk a few steps to the sink and look for paper towels.  There are no paper towels.  I glance over at what I think is the disabled stall and there’s a long, white metal thing indented into the floor.  “Hmm…I wonder if that’s for squatting and peeing?”  I guess we are in the country. Or what used to be the country. Jecheon is 150k and Korea is small. People are packed in like sardines.  I know because I googled it before I left the U.S. I take a few more steps toward the door and there’s a roll of toilet paper close to the door and the air blower for drying hands; except the air dryers in Korea blow cold air.  They don’t really do jack.  I pee, wash my hands and let them air dry.  

My Sister’s outside and car’s drive by fast just like they do in Seoul.  Pedestrians don’t really have the right of way in Korea.  Across the street there’s a small hole in the wall that sells bibimbap: rice with vegetables and chili paste in a steaming stone pot and sometimes a fried egg and/or meat.  I am slowly becoming addicted to bibimbap on this trip.  A few doors down there’s a Kyochon Chicken restaurant that looks closed.  It’s a chain with a few locations in the US.  I went to Kyochon Chicken last fall in New York City.  There was one close to my friend Tom’s apartment in Murrayhill.  

“The Orphanage Director’s on her way,” My Sister looks up from texting.

“OK,” I say and all I can think about is bibimbap. I didn’t eat breakfast and I’m starving. A few minutes later The Orphanage Director pulls up in her 2003 Kia Sonata and we are off to learn more about the children’s home. The Orphanage Director started the children’s home in 1963. She was a 26 year old Christian missionary. She is the longest living foreigner in South Korea. The Orphanage Director is 76 now, strawberry blonde hair mixed with grey and glasses. My Sister climbs in the front seat and I’m in the back next to two umbrellas. We weave our way quietly through the traffic filled streets.

“It used to take 6-8 hours by train to get to Seoul because there was only one train track,” The Orphanage Director tells us.

“Wow!” I say because Seoul is only 75 miles away from Jecheon. Seoul is located on the west coast of Korea 35 miles from the North Korean border.   Jecheon is a mountaineous region in the middle of the country.

“I’ll take you guys to the spot where the orphanage used to be. It’s where your Sister would have lived when she was in the children’s home. It’s been leveled and there are apartments there now,” The Orphanage Director says.

We’re both quiet. I can’t read My Sister’s expression in the front seat. We turn off into an alley and there are brick apartments crowded in close together. This was the third incarnation of the Children’s Home. The Orphanage Director tells us that the current children’s home open in October 1982. My Sister was adopted in January 1982.

“We had one acre here,” The Orphanage Director slows the car down and stops in the middle of the alley. I duck down in the back to take a look at the apartments and to make sure we aren’t blocking other cars. There are a bunch of brick apartments pushed up against each other. “This was all fields.”

“How many kids did you have around the time My Sister was there?”

“Around 25-27. We have fifty three right now,” The Orphanage Director says. “But we are also on three acres at our current location.”

Based on my experience at the Jecheon bus terminal I can only imagine what the toilet situation was like.

The children’s home is two three story brick buildings next to a junk yard. It’s fancy outside by 1982 standards.

“They never talked to me about building this junk yard,” The Orphanage Director says as well pull into her covered parking spot.

Out my window there’s a large covered playground for the kids to play at in all seasons and a small wading pool that looks dirty and rusty for summer time. The sadness that children are separated from their parents and actually live here makes me sad. I wonder if My Sister’s mother: misses her, thinks about her, wonders where she is.

At times I feel guilty that my white parents adopted this Korean baby and took her away from her culture and homeland. It’s a complicated hot mess. I’m grateful that I have a Sister. My parents tried to have another baby when I was two but my mom miscarried and she didn’t want to go through that again so adoption was the next step. Growing up my parents never referred to her as an adopted child. She was my sister. Their child.

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