This past year was made of tooth and nail, of grime and grit. But it was also scented with fresh white bouquets of orange accent and baby’s breath. It was a year of curious stare, slight grin, and relinquished human touch; a year full of embracing change, releasing the past, accepting the good and appreciating the bad- of counting the minutes and of wondering where the uncounted time goes. This was a year of fateful hellos, crushing goodbyes, and unabated solitude- of bottomless depths and boundless heights. This year, I lived.
The difficulty with writing has always been that the things worth writing about are those I’m most afraid to lose. The most valuable are the most terrifyingly fragile. There is an instinct to hold them close where they can’t be harmed. But beauty protected is only beautiful to the keeper of the gate. Expression gives lightness to love and lets it fly. So in tune, I will continue my story despite my fears and give wings to my song.
I woke up in my husband’s arms.
The Korean army had given him a seven-day leave to have a “proper” ceremony with me, to affirm our marriage. We decided to throw a party for our closest friends in Korea. The Wednesday before, he was released and able to help me with preparations and last minute decisions. It was an all-you-can-drink private party, early seventies-themed. I bought beautiful flowers to adorn the large booths and my husband bought live fish to decorate the neon waist-high podiums between the booths and bar. We each had our hand in the décor and the feel of the ceremony. I said my vows in English; he said his in Korean. It was small and lovely.
The Thursday before the wedding party, wrapped in his arms, I opened my eyes and could still see the fading image of an ultrasound as I blinked-in the sunlight. I remembered the black and gray silhouette of a moving baby in my dreams, and I woke up peaceful and calm. I asked Seungyong to buy a test from the pharmacy on the corner while I took a shower. Before we left for lunch on my way to work, I double-checked the white stick lying on the bathroom counter. It was positive. So were the other two I later took at work.
The next day, we went to a clinic near the motel where I was living on Haeundae Beach. It was small and cheap and my insurance wouldn’t be established until the following week. We were newly married, but more than that, the process of getting my F-2 marriage visa- while he was in the army- was 5 months in the making. I would receive my ID card in the mail, and shortly thereafter, I would be added to his insurance automatically.
The cost didn’t really matter. Twenty at-home pregnancy tests wouldn’t satisfy my need for a concrete answer. We went in and answered the obligatory questions: when was my last period; am I experiencing cramping; have I ever been pregnant before… All of which I would not have been able to answer if Seungyong hadn’t been there, because of the language barrier. The timing was good.
We walked in to see the gynecologist, or 선생님 “seon-saeng-nim” (instructor). He was sitting behind a desk in a small room that we quickly walked past to get to the table just on the other side of the median. The nurse asked me to take off everything from the waist-down. After helping me into the small rubber slippers, she guided me to the only chair and I opened my harshly bent legs to fit the metal stirrups she had locked and ready. She faced the space heater more toward me, pulled the half-circle curtain around my torso, and pulled me down by the hips a few inches, leaving my lower half exposed for the approaching doctor. I didn’t even get his name when we walked in. My husband had no idea what to expect. He stood there helpless. Without warning, a cold machine was pushed into my vagina. It turned and twisted, searching for the baby I so willed to be there.
After a minute of his explanation, I started to get antsy. “What is he saying, baby?” No response. “Baby! What is he saying?” “I am trying to listen,” he said. It seemed like ten minutes passed and as the curtain opened, my husband said, “There is nothing.” “He saw nothing.” I walked back to the changing table.
My pulse was hurting my skin. Why would the tests at home be positive? Could I have an ectopic pregnancy? What could be wrong? I had so many questions, but in that moment, all I could do was sit there looking at my bare legs and watching the tears hang off my naked lashes. It was all too early to tell. And my husband was leaving in five days- back to the army. I cried all the way to work.
The following Monday, before he went back, we tried a different clinic. There, they gave me a urine test first. They handed me a cup already on the front desk counter and pointed me to the two-stall bathroom, down the hallway, in the back, to the right. As I entered, a big-bellied lady was leaving the working stall, buttoning her pants and sizing me up. I half-filled the cup, and as in Korean clinic-situations before, I carefully walked my cup of urine, like a trophy, out to the lobby and handed it to the gloveless nurse. About two minutes later, we heard the elderly staff yelling “Positive.” “Positive!” They came to the waiting area and cleared the regulars from the spot on the couch where the heater was most powerful. I would’ve declined, but in Korea, you accept the gifts that are given to you.
The nurses were old and kind-eyed, but seon-saeng-nim: he had to be in his eighties. His slow thin frame entered. As he got closer, I saw a light blue tint of cataract in his eyes; and his teeth were hardly there. He laid me down in the dark room full of examining tables. I pulled my shirt up and jeans down a bit and he didn’t flinch at the sight of my other-worldly tattoos. He squirted the cold gel generously and searched away: nothing, still. He saw nothing, but not for lack of trying. He dug deeply into my abdomen. I saw on Seungyong’s face, he thought it was hurting me. The doctor even made me go pee again to clear the line of view, but still nothing. “Too early.” We left and the caring old ajjhumas led us to the door repeating, “Kon-gura-too-lay-shone.” The urine test was definitely enough for them.
Tuesday, December 20, we went back to the first clinic one last time to see if the invasive method might show something new. My husband was leaving in a few hours. I have been without him since June, and am doing just fine, but I needed to see something while he was with me. I needed some sort of grounding before I put my armor back on. I repeated the same steps just as before. But this time, I was ready. The unseen machinery entered my body again and I took a deep breath for strength. Immediately, the pink curtain opened from my right and I saw the screen. A little black dot- that is all it was, all I was waiting for. As I smiled and looked up at the blurred white ceiling, my warm tears rolled into my unwashed hair and flooded my fluttering ears. I was pregnant. We were pregnant.
He went back to the army base, far into the mountains, and I sat alone, as I do every night after work: content, warm, in love, and full of hope for this life inside of me.
I am now eight weeks pregnant and I know there is still the chance that I will lose this baby. Nature is fickle, and sometimes there is no reason or rhyme to its makings. When I cross the street, I cringe at the thought of misjudging the speed of the oncoming traffic. When I go to the bathroom, I hope there will be no spots of blood on the tissue. And when I go to sleep at night, I tell the baby love stories and ask it to please stay with me.
No amount of imagining or preparing could ready me for what is around the bend. I can see it in my heart like the wondrous view of a periscope from hidden base. I am happy. And even if it lasts for this moment, it is real. And it is mine.
This year, I lived. I lived hard and raw and clean and true. And now I will soften and smile and accept this fragile moment as the best of my life.