Three Jars of Kimchi

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

This almost took me a week to finish. It was almost too personal to me, to the point where I couldn’t tell which parts were fiction and which were not anymore. This story remains very close to my heart as I wished it would raise awareness for the complicated relationships between abusive parents and their children.

The kitchen almost buzzed with tension as sisters Sadie and Shawn seated themselves across the dining table where their mother was stacking kimchi on top of each other. Sadie tried shooting frantic glances at her sister, but Shawn paid her no attention, her eyes fixed on the plate.

Their mother closed the lid over the rest of the kimchi. Clack. The sound rang across the room. As she sat down, Sadie squirmed in her seat, and Sadie took a sharp breath, both of them bracing themselves for what was about to come.

“I did this just yesterday,” she said, beaming at her kids, who did not return her smile. “It’s more than usual, obviously because it’s Sadie’s big day tomorrow.” Sadie averted her gaze. “Right, Sadie? How does it feel to finally become an elite?”

Sadie fought to fill in the silence that soon followed. “I’ve actually been thinking about it, and…”

“And?”

The smile disappeared from her mother’s face as Sadie continued. “Since last year, I haven’t really been feeling it. About gymnastics, you know. I train for so many hours just for one goal, and… and I just don’t know if I want that anymore. I know I’m letting you down and all, but…”

“Stop talking.”

Her mother dropped her chopsticks, which clanged loudly against the glass surface. Sadie closed her mouth. Shawn looked up from her bowl of rice.

“How dare you?”

The first words out of their mother’s mouth were a scream, reduced to almost a whisper. “I gave up so much for you, ever since your dad —“ She hesitated, then swatted at the air like she would at a mosquito. Both sisters flinched. “If you’re willing to act like this, then you deserve what’s going to happen to you. Your albums — Busted, were they?” Sadie looked down at her single slice of kimchi. “I bought each and every one of them. I give you what you want. I feed you. I pay for your education. But now you have the nerve to sit here and tell me that you’re not going to do one thing for me? I’m going to break your albums with a fucking hammer if you don’t go back to gymnastics.”

“But that’s not fair,” Sadie blurted out.

“Well, it’s not my fault you decided to be a lazy bitch.”

“That’s enough.”

Shawn rose from the table. Sadie looked at her, then hesitantly copied her sister. With Shawn in the lead, the sisters pushed past their mother while she stood still, her back to them, arms crossed and a smirk on her face as if to say, Neither of you is going to win this fight.

Shawn slammed the door in her face.

“What are we going to do now?” Sadie said, panic evident in her voice.

“We’re going to leave this sorry excuse of a house.”

Now? But what is she going to do to us?”

”I’m not going to let anything happen to you. We’re going to crash at a friend’s place. I know someone who could help us. Maya, a few stops away from here. Do you know her?”

Sadie shook her head.

“She’ll take us in. She knows what our mom is like.”

For the next several minutes, the two packed their bags in silence.

“You don’t think she’s waiting outside the door?” Sadie said after a while.

Shawn shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t think I give much of a fuck.”

But she opened the door anyway, and checking that their mother wasn’t there, she gestured at Sadie. While Shawn slung her backpack over her shoulder, Sadie looked around for the last time. Then they sneaked out to the front door. Shawn stopped to listen. The house was silent, more than it should have been. As soon as she opened the door, it beeped away to an automated tune. The sisters let it continue as they ran down the stairs.

Neither of them said a word to each other as they left the apartment building and walked down the street. The red and grey bricks glowed under the orange light. A dog barked in the distance, and was soon joined by another. Sadie looked up. There wasn’t much to see. The buildings towered over each other, effectively blocking the night sky. They were the exact same height and width, all of them, twelve floors and seven windows apart. Sadie lost count of them after passing a dozen or so. A light turned off on the fifth floor across the street. Sleeping With the Light On mindlessly played in her head, over and over again.

She stopped in her tracks. Sleeping With the Light On was the eighth track on Busted. And that exact album happened to be on top of the CD player in the corner of her room.

Shawn was still walking, now way ahead. Sadie ran to catch up with her.

“My album. I forgot my album.”

Shawn sighed. “Which one?”

Busted. It came out last year.”

“You know what will happen if you go back.”

“I’ll… fight my way out,” Sadie said.

“Like that’s going to happen. You know she’s like a fucking gorilla.”

“I’ll be quick.”

Shawn narrowed her eyes. “Seriously? We’re runaways, and that’s what’s on your mind right now?”

Sadie ignored her, running back the way she came. She counted properly this time. Her apartment building was the fifteenth. She frantically pressed each number of the password and yanked the door open.

She could hear loud music coming from her mother’s room. She sighed in relief. She tiptoed across the house nevertheless, opening her door ever so slightly so as to not catch attention.

There it was. She snatched it and stuffed it inside her bag with immense effort. She struggled with the zipper for a bit, then managed to get it all the way across. Her stomach hurt. She was hungry. Maybe she could get a Mars bar or two from the kitchen. She made a detour back to the refrigerator. Her hands ran over a photo of her family, taken over a year ago. A complete family that included the man that had it all. May 3rd, 2002. Back when she loved gymnastics. Back when things were too positive. It was the kind of dream that you wake up from and immediately regret doing so.

She opened both doors. On the bottom lay a single Mars bar. On top of it sat three jars of kimchi. Sadie remembered her mother smiling today, boasting about how much kimchi she made for her. For Sadie. She rarely smiled these days. Maybe she should’ve smiled back. Just for the sake of it. Just to pretend that everything was just like it was before. Back then, Sadie couldn’t wait for dinner, because the kimchi was that good. Now, the kimchi was the only thing preventing her and Shawn from leaving the dining table each time.

Sadie hated her mother. She was afraid of her. So she couldn’t understand why she was reaching for the kimchi and taking one jar, then two, then three. She just needed them. All three of them. She could not, and would not leave a single one behind. A handful of Kleenex would have been useful as she wiped the tears that streamed down her face with her sleeve.

The jars were too big to fit inside her bag. She hugged them close to her chest and walked back to the front door, the jars threatening to slip off once or twice. Then she heard footsteps behind her. She turned around. The jars swayed in her hands.

It was her mother. But then who else could it have been? She cracked a smile, and Sadie managed to smile back this time. Then her mother started to laugh, the kind of laughter that was not normal, the kind that you would only hear from someone drunk. She just didn’t stop laughing, and Sadie started to feel scared — not only of but for her mother, and she pushed the door open and ran outside as fast as she could.

She didn’t stop.

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Earthquake

Photo by Yves Moret on Unsplash

you know what they say during drills.
get under the desk, it’s safe. 
well, I’m the desk,
stuck in the corner as the first wave hits,
the dishes and pots hit the ground, 
my legs threaten to give way but not quite, 

then silence. 
“it’s over,” says the child, 
crawling out from under me. 
I laugh, I work, I study, I write. 
but smile no more,
because a bigger wave is about to come.

I’m not prepared,
not for the breaking, the shaking,
the dramatic screams that call for danger,
I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.
except I’m not, 
except my legs crumble under the pressure,

then silence again. 
the mother attempts to glue me back together,
and I stand somehow 
with my wobbly legs and flustered face. 

see, that’s the thing about earthquakes,
they come unexpected,
causing so much destruction in their wake,
then gone like nothing ever happened. 

Social Anxiety

Photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash

This poem was inspired by Sabrina Benaim’s “Explaining My Depression to My Mother.”

all I had to do
was to leave the car,

but my hands froze,
and my heart beat faster and faster
until terror rose above me
like a boat facing a threatening wave
until the wave capsized the boat,
and my breath stuck in my chest

and I said,

Mom, why can’t you understand
that socialization
is like entering a battlefield with a plastic sword,
knowing that I will lose
but charging anyway,
because I have no choice,
because people are everywhere

Mom, why can’t you understand
that this war doesn’t kill me,
but drives me further and further into a corner
where I accept the swords
with welcoming arms and a fake smile

Mom, why can’t you understand
that you are one of the soldiers

Mom, I am scared,
scared of the classroom,
scared of eye contact,
scared of the gym,
scared of my dorm room,
scared of my friends,
scared of my family

Mom, I am scared,
scared of people.

Mom, I want this nightmare to end.
except it is real,
except it only ends when I close my eyes.

Mom, I can’t.
I can’t get out of this car.

Mental Illness

Photo by Artem Kim on Unsplash

the monster is awake.
it is a bad day.
it reaches inside my cage,
it starts clawing me,
I tell it to stop.
it replies back, you deserve it.
you are nothing,
you are pathetic,
you are despicable.
I open my mouth to scream,
but all that comes out is, I agree.

I make my way to the monster,
because I deserve it.
I deserve the monster.
but the monster goes slack.

I turn around, and tied to a bar
is a balloon. it is a good day.
I say, the balloon isn’t real.
it’s too good to be true.
I am afraid of it,
afraid it would pop,
afraid it would float away.

so again, I make my way to the monster,
because I would rather feel something
than nothing at all.
the monster lifts its head.
our eyes meet, and I am not sure
if I am the monster, or the monster is me.

it is a bad day.
it is a good day.
it is neither.
I am not sure, not anymore.