Today was difficult.
Before going to Audrey’s library class, I realized I had to chip away at about 2 inches of frozen ice on the back and front windshield of the car- and I’d forgotten my gloves. Then I couldn’t find a parking spot on the steep, hilly area where the library is. Finally found something that was close enough to a spot and took a chance.
A mom I don’t know well but who’s in my circle practically exploded when I walked into the storytime room: “So I’m pregnant!” I’ve never gotten the feeling that she knows I just lost my husband. Earlier this year she was asking me what we were up to for the holidays in a very nonchalant way as if “we” included you.
Anyway, I think I started out with, “Oh that’s great” and then finished with “Good for you.”
I zoned out during some of the cheery children’s songs we sing thinking how remarkably similar the feeling of finding out others are pregnant is to finding my name wasn’t on the list after cheerleading tryouts in the eighth grade. A friend told me before I’d had a chance to go see “the list,” just shaking her head silently when I ask her “Did you see my name?”
It’s funny I think how hearing something affirmative for someone else right now means mostly, “No, not you,” to me. “They get it. You don’t.”
The librarian who does the story time reads a book called “Daddy Mountain” all about a child climbing up their daddy. I start to feel sick. I wonder if Audrey is feeling the loss and worry about her. After he finishes a very enthusiastic read of the book, I see him roll his eyes as if he realizes. He actually came to your funeral. You had visited the program a few times with Audrey and he knew you. After class, he tells me, “I read a book…I wasn’t thinking…” “It’s alright,” I tell him.
Two mothers from the class that are in our old play group but I hadn’t gotten the chance to know very well invited me to lunch at a new Korean tofu place. I love soon doo boo chigae so I accepted. Plus it was the lunar New Year and I wanted to do something to celebrate that.
We head back out in the icy street and I feel like I need to just sit in the car and cry for a while, but instead I follow one mom to the restaurant in the next town.
Since neither of the women were Korean, I make suggestions for meal choices and explained what certain things were. I felt a brief excitement that I had discovered a really good find in restaurants and you and I will come back here… only to realize, of course we won’t. You would’ve liked it.
After lunch, where Audrey mostly squirmed all over the booth, it was a no nap afternoon.
I received in the mail photos of happier days from a cousin of yours…our last trip to Chicago in May. We are smiling, standing with your relatives outside a Korean restaurant, holding Audrey in a rainbow summer dress. She is much younger.
Your cousin also included a few photos from years ago when we lived in Park Slope Brooklyn and she and her brother came to visit us. We took them to Dumbo and took some photos there. There’s a nice one of the two of us by the Brooklyn bridge. I’m in that red leather trench coat I got at the Chelsea flea market for thirty bucks, the scarf you brought me back from London, and a little green cap, you’re in the lightweight coat from Siki you always wore and jeans. You’re wearing your brown plastic glasses which I liked very much on you…the ones you had before your previous ones- that now sit on your desk in the corner- next to your wallet.
I decided Audrey and I would dress up in our traditional Korean dresses- hamboks- and she could bow to me three times and I’d give her money in her little money pouch. I think that’s how the Korean tradition goes.
I hadn’t taken out my hambok since I packed it away after wearing it six Februarys ago on our trip to Korea during the lunar New Year. I had worn it a few times there, bowing to all of your relatives- in both Seoul and Daegu.
I took the two boxes down from the closet with our outfits from our wedding and first opened yours by mistake. I thought to myself, “Why am I doing this to myself?” You last wore your hambok on our wedding day. You complained to me about the pink pants.
I put on my dress, tying the long ribbon in a messy bow because I don’t know the proper way to tie it. Audrey seemed impressed telling me “You’re all dressed up mommy!” I recalled like yesterday quickly getting changed from my wedding gown into this dress before we did the traditional tea ceremony at our wedding reception. Just like yesterday- I remember reapplying my lipstick even.
I put on Audrey’s dress and explain to her my caucasian version of the tradition. She happily complied by bowing and receiving her cash. I take a photograph of us in the mirror.
Then we were done and I was relieved to pack up my dress again and store it away in the closet. It was too painful. I grieve the loss of a whole culture that had become partly mine.
Audrey is asleep quickly tonight. I sit here with my tea.
Your cousin wrote a nice note with the photos she sent and says that hopefully the pictures will bring a smile to my face. It’s still too early for that.
Just disbelief and a strong desire to time travel.