Like My Father
When you told me I acted just like my father, I thought it meant I sported veins deflated by tar, scavenged for some twenties to fuel hunger, prayed to the toilet every night just to collapse on ceramic tiles.
When you told me you took care of me like my father, I thought you would have to scrape me off the floor of a gas station bathroom behind the Indianapolis Zoo, listen to the fading oscillations of heartbeat monitors, and bite your nails until four in the morning as the doctors fumbled through the halls.
When you told me I looked just like my father, I didn’t know I collected abscesses injected with abyssopelagic ecstasy, studied the mazes of flushed skin for the next needle, and balanced upon thinning marrows.
When you told me I lied just like my father, I didn’t know I sold the family ring for another hit, sifted through the crowds of junkies at the corner street, or told myself “just one more.”
If you tell me I will be just like my father, my veins will siphon until the ends tie shut and the pallor in my forearms begins to frost the skin like the sleet coating the chrysanthemums behind the Indianapolis Zoo.
When it’s Monday morning, you will walk out the house and invent new features that you do not dare show at home: gentle hands, a painted smile, anything to abandon your true self. You will think about our walks on the Santa Barbara coast. The way the grains seep through your boned toes or how the waves beat at your ankles because you cannot stand on your own. You will clutch that flask in one hand, the one rinsed by war, the one trapping your wife’s pleas. In the other, expired meds you were supposed to take. You will try to keep the flask closed ‘cause you know Mother’s cries fill dead space. But when the day grows old, you will take a swig, the sleight of hand will chip away your soul and the ferments will bloom from your mouth. You will not recognize his sunken eyes and the red florid off skin, his weighted gait or legato’d words. When he fades, you will think about how Mother abandoned you. Perhaps you will wonder why you chose her like how a farmer picks their favorite hog or how a soldier aims at free will. Maybe, you will even think about the waves on the beach, glazing her wounds as she walks away.
- Visit the market past the bamboo stalks where azaleas cling to thin air and swindlers grift the crowd.
- Among the distant chatters and leaking floors, pick out the Napa from the vendor with calloused hands.
- When you reach home, wash the Napa with water, careful not to let any leaves drift to the mud.
- In the kitchen, fan out the leaves so they resemble the crescent moon the day Appa fled the village on his tricycle.
- Flick the salt in the veins like how the dirt spiraled in the air as his rubber tires carved the road.
- When the skin around your nails begins to shrivel, imagine they are Ginseng roots: Health, Luck, Prosperity.
- Mix the shards of Gochugaru from the hills of Jeolla-do with the ingredients from Halmeoni’s garden, where the back gate lay open: ginger, garlic, fish sauce, shrimp paste
- Knead the ingredients into each leaf so they turn crimson like the hibiscus fields that Eomma fled from.
- Fold each leaf into the clay pot behind the Mugunghwa trees.
- Bury the pot in the ground and sit by the window, watching the swallows flit by and the firs flutter while you wait and wait and wait.
Eric Pak is a 17-year-old Korean-American living in Thailand. He has lived in diverse countries around the world and aims to share his experiences through his writing. His works have previously been published in K’in Literary Journal, The Paper Crane Journal, and The Cathartic Literary Magazine.
Visual Art by Nahyun Sung