In this installment of “Love, Recorded,” Matt’s brother visits with a Korean girlfriend, and Matt thinks about how we listen to ourselves and to each other when what we want to say is something we can’t directly express.
My brother visits from Korea with his girlfriend, S. If they marry, I will not be the only adoptee in the family to return to Korea and marry a Korean woman. This is S’s first time in America. My wife spent 7 years in Australia, before I met her in Korea, and that experience helps as a frame of reference for us. When I met Cathreen, she had the most amazing accent: half-Australian, half-Korean. She still uses some Australian vernacular, but now her vowels have flattened out and Americanized. Though sometimes I feel as if she has become more Korean, both in accent and in mind. We agree that this is something that happens when you get older. She says she, too, is searching for her roots. Maybe, I think, this has something to do with being around a husband who is so constantly searching for his roots. Maybe, like with me, it has something to do with being a root for our daughter.
My brother quickly becomes my daughter’s favorite person. He is her samchon, her uncle, and also her godfather. Grace has started qualifying things with: so much. As in, “I like samchon so much.” It is the cutest thing, among other cutest things.
My brother and his girlfriend bring gifts of tea, persimmons, a Pororo doll for Grace. For a few days, Pororo—a penguin who is extremely popular among Korean toddlers—becomes her voice. She has reached a stage where she playacts her feelings through her toys. It is the ability to express herself without being accountable or beholden to that expression.
Or maybe I am reading too much into her play. I know what it is like to be voiceless, and to feel voiceless, and—of course—I know what it is like to give my voice to fiction.
I, when I went to Korea the first time, went as if on a whim. I, when I married my wife, and still now, did not think through what it means as an adoptee to marry a woman from one’s birth land, to have a child fully of that country’s blood. I wonder whether my brother thinks about this, or whether we play a game we need to play in order to break through to the truth.
I write because writing is the kind of hoping I most believe in.
— Matthew Salesses (@salesses) February 16, 2014
Make-believe, is what I remember calling what my daughter does
My brother and his girlfriend like to eat and cook; in Seoul, they run cooking classes. My brother went to Johnson and Wales. We take them wherever we can find good food–Houston, I think, is the best eating they will do during their two weeks in the States. Two days before they leave, we make the 3-hour drive to Austin to have some of the barbecue we keep hearing about.
The most famous place is sold out when we get there, two hours after it opened, so we drive around in a hungry, angry haze. I have heard of a place called Lockhart, so I try to yelp this restaurant and we end up in some cul-de-sac 15 minutes away. Later, I will find out from Twitter that Lockhart is another city. We go from place to sold-out place, biting at each other. Grace cries, having been in her carseat too long. Finally, a locally-based writer tweets us to available food. We order four things on the menu and overeat, asking each other, was it worth it? We are skeptical, but once we have eaten the brisket, we are convinced, we are happy, we are friendly toward each other again. My brother and his girlfriend take pictures of everything for their food blog. Grace is finally satisfied. I thank God for Twitter, for the ability to connect even through the isolation of hunger, the ability to reach out with our little, limited voices and find sustenance.
That may be too much, but that is how hungry I was.
After we eat, we drive up to the top of some hill from which you can see over the length of the river and much of Austin. A few rich people have built their houses on top of this mountain, ruining the farther reaches. Grace gets out her Pororo and Minnie and corners my brother. They talk through the dolls as I look over the river and remember other points in my life when I have looked over rivers and thought about the ways we flow and stop ourselves. There is something about looking over moving water from a high place. Water has always seemed to speak to me. Maybe it has something to do with flying over it to a new life.
I leave my wife and my brother’s girlfriend talking, the stuffed animals talking, and climb down to a more abandoned spot where I pretend that I am alone. I have a lot to thank nature for and a lot to accuse it of. Behind me, the mansions glitter and condemn and isolate themselves, wanting to take over and make the beauty of the mountain a blunt tool. We can fool ourselves so easily.
When I get back to the main area, everyone is still happily talking. Soon, we will go down and spend the rest of the afternoon in the park around the capitol building, where a year ago I watched a woman stand up for reproductive rights, among a crowd of real live people, while the major news networks ignored her. Soon, my wife will have to take our daughter aside and convince her that she will still be able to play with her samchon if we descend. Soon, I will itch with a desire to move again, to fill up with new sights. But for the moment, I stand over the water and listen to my family, in English and Korean, and stuffed animal, and I am happy to stay quiet while they keep on, defining and expressing themselves.
—photo Flickr/Khalid Albaih