My folks went to Korea and came back to their apartment. And the first thing my mother said to me is that she misses her home in New Jersey. They had moved from NJ to Brooklyn this year–it was a major upheaval, a change that hopefully will make their lives a bit easier, what with no more roof-climbing, guttering-unstuffing, snow-shoveling, garage-flood-sweeping (how does one exactly describe the action of removing water from a flooded garage?) with their new apartment a twenty-minute walk from me. We held two garage sales in New Jersey, where my husband proved his devotion to the Lee clan; we sold the house in the worst, slowest, market for sellers; we recruited friends and family to paint the new apartment walls a lovely, butter color, and they were all moved in.
There was nothing about the NJ house that my mother loved. She always bemoaned the fact that after years of struggle all they had was this small house in constant need of repair. It was a bitter reminder of how little she felt she achieved in this country after so many years of struggling to make ends meet. The garage flooded every time it sprinkled, the house was located on a busy road and so was always filled with the sound of traffic. Every time Bergen Catholic Boys High School had a football game, you could not move b/c cars lined up and parked on every available inch…but now that it’s gone, Mom is like “I miss my house. I miss the trees.”
The other thing she says once in a while is how out of place she feels here, even after 30 years, and yet when she returns to Korea, she no longer belongs to that country. (I’ve talked about this before, so sorry if this sounds familiar). The language, the clothes, the culture must all seem so different when she goes back, I imagine (though I can’t possibly know, not really). And I, perpetually trying to be tough-daughter-not-falling-for-that-immigrant-melancholy-bit, get impatient and try to rationalize the situation. Well, if you’re not happy in one place and it’s not like you’re starving, you’re not going to be happy in the next one. I’m like, come on seriously, couldn’t you start to adjust after 30 years in a new country?
But then, I soften. Like I miss that house in New Jersey too. I grew up in it and fell in love in it for the first time, and I had a Schwinn ten-speed I always wiped out on that collected dust in the garage (inevitably, I flipped over the handle bars every time I got on), and then there were the nights in high school when we all used to sneak out past curfew to drink tea at Alex’s or the times in junior high school where we were so bored I’d invite my friend Jen over to make marshmellow cake icing (b/c that was the only ingredient in my house that could remotely be used in a Joy of Cooking recipe). You know, I think about that idea, that feeling of being displaced and never feeling quite at ease somewhere, at home, and then, I feel terrible for my mom. Even though I do firmly believe we end up in situations of our choosing and we can, if not control, at least influence, how we feel (sometimes with a great deal of work; being chipper is not easy), I feel sorry for her, because among the things I really want, like any good child, is for my mom to be happy.