The bandaged girl
In my senior year of high school like most other eighteen year olds, I was on the cusp of adulthood. University acceptances were announced over winter and everyone had made decisions as to where they’d go. The spring and early summer were for making memories and enjoying the last days of youth.
Most days were spent hanging out at Kelly’s house. She lived in the thick of it, close enough to Main Street to grab some pho from Phobang, but also close enough to the Botanical Gardens so I could easily walk home. We did all sorts: played mah jong, creeped on Lillian and Andy from the window when we thought they just went on a date (they did), and ate bagel bites. One day we were sitting in Kelly’s dining room. Her mom was a popular Avon lady so there’d be boxes upon boxes of cosmetics and lotions everywhere. The sun was bright and warm. We sat in these purple office chairs that would swivel, we sat and talked and ate because that’s what teenagers with no money do.
Later that afternoon, my dad called me. We agreed the week before that we’d use this day to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles aka Satan’s Living Room in order for me to get a Learner’s Permit and start taking driving lessons. The DMV, located in Whitestone near a Toys”R”Us and an Office Depot, is an awful place. There are all these stations, you have to go to 1, then 2, wait for a number to be called, and then 3. This was also pre-smart phone, there was nothing to keep be busy. I had a Samsung flip phone whose most attractive point was that it was in color. Everyone just looks so unhappy inside the DMV, just waiting to hear their number be called.
I took the written test and waited for the results with my dad. We sat together on a wooden bench. We talked about our day and just random shit. I think that’s why we get along. I’m a little strange, but my dad is a little strange too. That’s where I get it from.
After a lull in conversation, my dad says, “I have two women on layaway.” I turned to him and said, “What? What are you talking about?” Of course, he’s going to use some weird analogy like that…I don’t remember what he said back or how the conversation progressed in terms of words. I know how they progressed in actions though. I started crying and I remember asking him how long. He said, “Twelve years.” I remember the anger I felt and how up to that point in my seventeen years of living, I had lived mostly a lie. Twelve out of seventeen is 70.60% and that’s how much of my life became bullshit.
My number started blinking on the giant scoreboard. Great, time for the picture. I remember wheezing and my eyes being puffy. New York state keeps the same picture for your driver’s license until it expires 7 years later. I sometimes look at my license and remember that day. My expression is grim, I’m not smiling and my eyes look dead. If the staff had any compassion, they would have allowed me to retake the photo, but this is the DMV, remember. No one wants to be here, not even the people who get paid.
I remember that ride back to Kelly’s house. My dad and I were silent. He had told me earlier that the guilt was too much for him. I don’t remember if he asked me to keep his secret for him. Ringing the doorbell to Kelly’s house, I was greeted again by my happy friends. By this time, my tears had dried and my eyes were not red. I just sat in the dining room again listening to everyone talk. I had nothing to say, so I stayed quiet, hoping the sun’s warmth or their stupid jokes could reach me.
The next couple of years were a blur. I started university and working part time. My mom found out the secret, I don’t really remember how, but that began the years of awkward silences, using sleeping pills, and unsuccessful tries of reconciliation. That trip to the DMV was the end of many things for me: the end of family trips, dinners together, and knowing what was real and what was not. I spent the next five years in this weird limbo, where I had a family, but I didn’t really. I had a home as in I had a rectangular shaped building made of bricks, but not the intangible kind. After I turned 22, I escaped to Sapporo. It was easy for me to do, they’d pay me, there’d be somewhere to live and so many things to experience. The last four years, I’ve spent ignoring the awkwardness. I made my own home in Sapporo, I made myself into a different person who could create sunshine and unleash packets of energy.
I told an extremely abridged version of this story to a boy on the street car. He had told me that his parents just got divorced and wanted to trade stories. His story was not as dramatic as mine, his parents called a family meeting and announced it. Mine was practically a Korean drama - lots of crying, passive aggressiveness, and anger.
Nearly ten years later, it’s still hard for me to talk about, but I use less bandages now.