Seungyong is my husband’s name and when he first spoke it to me, I recognized it as mine. His voice resonated through dark, virgin, canals- shaking each fuzzy follicle and penetrating to the deeply planted pit of me. It rouged me- seed to flesh. He asks me why I am beautiful. I open my yellow eyes and sleepy petals awaken to take-in the light of his smile.
We traveled through the mist and haze, up North where his father lay. Grey-green shades of tree and rock peaked and prodded through the smoky fog. I leaned to get a closer look and I felt the final stand of the bitter cold leaking through the blistered, black sealant lining the bus window. The unstirred, silver lake below- a mirror of the frozen village nestled underneath the regal peaks of the lush mountainside.
From the closest stop, we walked the rest of the way to the top of the hill. There were no lights, only a glimmering blanket of musk lingering just below the stars. We took the largest of the narrow, sticky pathways to the small cluster of homes and on through to a house overcome by its garden. Each plant was carefully covered by an individual black trash bag- protection from the unrelenting sky. This was the home of his grandmother, his “Halmeoni.” We walked in. She had been expecting us.
“…Annie, my fiancé,” I heard, as he introduced me to his family. I did my best to keep up, using all the broken Korean I could remember. “Manaso pan-gup soomnida,” …as I bowed from the waist. (“It’s nice to meet you.”) They watched us eat our late dinner at the low table in the center of the living room. I complimented her turtle-pattern silverware. Seungyong said she’d had it since before he was born.
We sat together, my soon-to-be grandmother and me. She was pleased. We were safe and fed and full. The mat we shared was large, like an area rug. It was the same color as the wood floor, but cushiony and heated. While methodically eating fruit from the community platter, each of us with our own dainty fork, I felt comfortable and warm.
Warmth came from all over that house. It came from her soft, caramel-colored skin; and it came from her glossy, black, undiscriminating eyes. Warmth pulsed through my veins as I sipped the slowly cooked stew, deeply red and almost thick: kimchi jjigae. I saw the warmth emitting from her grandson, my husband. His smile was sure; and sincere was the pride in his surety.
As the house soundly slept, the two of us crept to the roof to take in the mountain air. The rain came down softly and didn’t dwell. It washed the ashy dirt down and around the large clay pots of kimchi that Halmeoni made- each at a different stage of fermentation, from mild to robust. The seals around the lid were airtight. I delicately ran my hand over the molding, grinning as my fingertips dipped in and out of the worn ridges. The blacked out moon let silence play its part.
We woke at dawn and walked. I trailed behind, passing tobacco farms and rice patties- as familiar to him as his own reflection. A worn, wooden ladder rested against an old Hackberry tree. He sat near the top and I leaned in carefully to capture the picture of contentment. The pink and white cherry blossoms smelled like sugar plums. A black chicken ran by, muddying her indigo feet.
I kissed his grandmother goodbye. She allowed me to hug her and I kissed her above her hairline- her long, silver-streaked black hair pulled back from her face. She smiled in amusement of my foreignness. We rode through the mountains and back to our home near the sea. Our silence carried long after the rain subsided. It was late April and change was due. As soon as Seungyong fell asleep, I carefully reached below my seat to touch the backpack full of young kimchi. I drew my hand back and kissed my fingertips.