Sunday, October 21, 2007
Chapter 5. The School Girl
This is a story that was told to me by one of the girls at The Green Door.
When I was in school, I studied English. Can you believe that I was once a school girl with a white blouse, blue skirt, natural face, and hair cut from a bowl? Well, I was. As I was saying, I studied English. It was my favorite subject. As you might know, American soldiers sometimes volunteer to come to our English classes so that we can hear the correct pronunciation. Well, it happened that this American came to our class, John Blake. Oh, he was so handsome. All the girls immediately fell in love with him. He was tall and thin with blond hair and large blue eyes. I had never seen such eyes before in a person. After class, we girls would talk about him and giggle and be sad in a happy way with longing as though he were a movie star.
After a while, he would stop after class and talk to me and my group of friends. It was a chance to practice English, but it was also a chance to see him, to absorb every word as though each one was more wise and witty than the previous. He could have said anything, and it would have sounded wonderful. As we listened and laughed, we each wished to be his favorite.
But as time went on, he began to favor me, to speak more directly to me when he was speaking to the group, and eventually to speak to me alone without the group. Sometimes, he would take me to lunch or to a tea house. How jealous my friends were.
John was a Christian, and I a Buddhist. At first we never spoke of religion, but as time went on, and we became more involved with each other, the subject arose more and more. John was from a small town in a place called Wisconsin. Perhaps you have heard of that place. He told me about the wooden church painted white where he would go to pray with his family. That was very important to him. All the people in Wisconsin are Christians, and they all go to church on Sunday. You say that is not true? Well, anyway, that is what John said. So, when he asked me to marry him, it seemed obvious that if I were to go with him to Wisconsin as his wife, I must become a Christian.
It was most difficult. You know the U.S. Army discourages soldiers from marrying Korean girls. John was lectured by his sergeant about how "you are from different cultures. It will not work. It is simply a temporary infatuation. Everything will look different when you are back home. Then it will be too late." We both had to see the army chaplain. His lecture was the same. It must have been from some book.
We were married by a Korean Christian minister. You know, many Koreans now are Christian. My Buddhist parents were most unhappy about it and have not spoken to me since then. I did this for John.
We rented an apartment in Yong Dong Po. Those were the happiest months. I became pregnant. But then the time came for John to go back to the States. John was happier than ever. He always spoke of our new life, a home in Wisconsin, raising a family, going to church together. What we had been dreaming of and talking about would finally come true.
But I did something foolish which I regret to this day. America seemed so strange, so far away. The unknown is always so frightening. How could I go to live in a strange country with strange people with strange customs. I had already learned English although not yet as well as now. And also it is not my first language. There are certain feelings and thoughts that I can not say in English and never will, and there are things that Americans say to each other that I will never completely understand. Everything was happening too fast.
I told John this and said that he should go ahead without me. I would stay here to have the baby. We would write. When the baby and I would be ready to travel, we would join him.
John protested. He could not understand. It would be better to have the baby in an American hospital with American doctors. And how would I manage here alone since my family had disowned me?
I answered that I was perfectly capable of managing alone (although in reality the thought petrified me). Also, my older sister and her husband were still friendly to me and took the place of my parents. They are modern people and understand me. As for the hospital and doctors, I said that he was an American chauvinist insulting my country. Korean hospitals and doctors are just as good as American (but I did not actually believe that).
Finally, John relented. There was nothing else he could do. We would send letters twice a week, and he would send money once a week.
And so it happened. John left in the summer. Our baby was born in Autumn. My sister was a great help to me. My parents never saw me or the baby. Children of mixed marriages are not well accepted in Korea.
I sent John pictures of the baby every month, so he could see how he was growing. John wrote about his new job and that he was going to college in the evenings. He was saving money for our new home. He wrote that he missed me and was anxious to see me and the baby. Every letter said to get on the next airplane and go to him right away. And I wrote to him that I also missed him and would come soon, as soon as the baby and I were strong enough to travel.
This went on for one year. After one year, his letters stopped coming. I wrote more frequently and asked why he was not writing. I was worried. Was he sick? Did something bad happen to him?
After three months, I received a letter from John. He said he could not wait forever. He had married another woman, an American woman, a Wisconsin woman, a Christian woman who lived in his town. He did not consider our Korean marriage a real marriage, and so I was not his wife and the baby was not his baby.
I could not believe it. I cried and cried. I started to write a letter about how foolish I had been, and I was now ready to come to him, but I tore it up. What was the use? He was already married, an American marriage.
Later, I went to a lawyer. He said my case had merit, but it would be difficult and take much time. I gave him money and waited. Months passed. I kept giving the lawyer money, but nothing happened. Finally, I decided it was useless and gave up.
Then I realized there is nothing left for me here. There is no place for a perhaps married woman with a half American child. No place for me and no place for my son. What will he become? Maybe a bar tender in a G.I. bar. I no longer have a family. I have even become an embarrassment to my sister who has been so kind to me.
So, I decided we must go to America, my son and I. Not to find John. That is hopeless, and I do not want him anymore. But I hear there is more to the U.S. than John's town in Wisconsin. There is opportunity if one has a good brain and is willing to work. Maybe I will find a different husband there. But to go to America I must first have money. So that is why I am working here. In one or maybe two years, I will have enough money. Then my son and I will be ready for our new life.