My mother never got over the way I left my childhood home in Maryland. I escaped, literally. I told her I was leaving the night before and in the late morning, I was gone.
“I’m moving to California, Mother. I planned this for awhile.”
“Huh? What? California? Where your sister lives?”
“No, not where Sister lives. I already have a place to stay with friends. I’m leaving tomorrow.”
“I’ll talk with your sister, maybe for the summer you can stay there.”
“I have help my from my teacher, just like you did, Mom, when you ran way from Father, from the forced marriage.”
“We’ll talk about this another time. I’m tired. Time for sleep.”
The next morning I washed the breakfast dishes. Mom smiled at me proudly because she liked how my hair looked up in a loose bun. While she went on an errand; I called my friend to pick me up and I left my childhood home. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done.
I left because I couldn’t live with the constant violence, the denial of abuse and the constant boundary-less need of my parents to control every aspect of their children’s lives: who to marry, what career to have, what religion to believe in, excuse for violence and abuse and the impossible goal of filial piety, (complete obedience to parental authority, long after marriage, until death ideally), that was the traditional Korean way of life.
I felt like I was barely held together, like cracked glass ready to shatter. I left for the sake of my sanity.
I didn’t feel strong around my family. I felt powerless to say “No.” my “No” was never acknowledged or allowed. The worst invalidation was when I gave away my natural face, my eyes are forever gone because I wanted to be approved of. I felt guilt ridden, overpowered by the weight of my mother’s heroic survivor’s shadow. I could never be as brilliant or strong as she was and a part of me wanted to destroy myself for not being who she hoped I would be. It’s hard to explain the level of self-hatred I felt and that I still sometimes feel. I never felt good enough. I felt loved by them despite this, but it’s an awful way to live.
She wanted me to have a materially comfortable/status conscious life, not to exploit me, she wanted it for my benefit. But I couldn’t make that sacrifice. I would’ve hated being a lawyer. I hate power suits and ties, can’t tolerate corporations either. I would’ve been miserable, making her and our family happy. My selfishness of wanting the freedom to be an artist not a lawyer divided me from our family, (she actually wanted me to be a teacher, it was my brother that I promised and broke my promise to, of going to law school) but that’s a whole other story.
When my family left me in Korea, that’s when I first learned to blame myself. “They left because I did something wrong,” that’s what I thought as a 1 year old baby. I didn’t see them again until I was almost 4 yrs old. I taught myself to cope and love again with a limited sense of trust. Many of my relationships echo this trauma. Instead of clinging, I distance myself from those who love me.