In this installment of Matt Salesses’s “Love, Recorded:” loneliness, recorded.
We spend Thanksgiving with the Koreans, because we think it will be better for the baby than Thanksgiving with a group of grad students. I miss our last Thanksgiving, spent with a fellow adoptee and her family. I miss Thanksgiving when it was passive, the most passive thing in the world: fed and taken care of, with nowhere to go, with nothing to do but eat.
“Does it taste American?” our host asks me at one point. I don’t know what to say. It tastes good. I eat until I feel sick, until I am immobile, to make it feel like Thanksgiving.
Afterward, I putter around the house after Grace, who races in circles, taunting. She has this lilting song she sings, in baby talk, and then she laughs like crazy, takes off and trusts you to chase her.
Our host puts a flower on his head and says something to her in Korean. A joke I don’t get.
The next day, my wife lies dizzy and headached. She can’t get out of bed all morning, though she wants to do Black Friday. I remember Black Friday with the baby wide awake, past midnight, slung on my wife’s chest. Cathreen acts like she did when she was pregnant, bladder-burdened, blurry. She keeps asking me to feel for a fever, and when my hand comes away damp and cold, I worry she ate or drank something wrong.
By late afternoon, she’s clearer-headed, and we go out, after all. We try to budget our Christmas gifts carefully. The first shop we enter, Grace says she wants a toy. We have to give her the iPad to distract her.
In the morning, I am sick, too. We lie around showing the baby how to play on the mattress. Her bed is next to ours. As I lie with my head drowning, I read the entire Walking Dead series, one after another. I lie beside my family and feel sick. I read until I feel as if zombies wait outside our door. I am sick with dread. I am sick with decisions. I am sick with the anticipation that this week off will end and I will have to return to class. I am sick with fear that I am screwing things up. I am sick, suddenly, with myself.
While Cathreen and I argue, I can’t figure out what is going on. My wife is concerned with my imbalances. I am concerned with my imbalances–somewhere along the way, I must have gotten to the point where I fear my future in Houston. I was in Atlanta recently and was talking with an Asian American woman about how my studies are going, and I got started on how often class discussions turn uncomfortably racial, and how I feel like I am the only one who always has to speak out, not because I want to, but because if I didn’t, would I even exist?–and I think, I am fucking lonely here. They say holidays are when people feel most lonely.
But I want to talk about loneliness for real.
The other day, my wife and I were Facetiming my brother in Korea. We were giving him advice–what if he married his Korean girlfriend? Would he stay in Seoul, or ask her to move to America? Cathreen made it clear that he should stay in Korea, that his girlfriend would resent him if she had to leave. “What are you saying?” I asked. Cathreen said to my brother, “I’m going to be honest with you because I’m your sister.”
Later I found myself Googling adoptee groups in Houston. It felt like someone was pulling and pushing my fingers. It felt like someone was squeezing me, hard and fast, and then letting go and disappearing completely.
I go to school and work and this Korean group. It is hard to feel like myself. I made an appointment with the free therapists at my school, and am waiting for more than: it sounds like you are depressed.
I am not going to write about coming out of this. I am not going to make that narrative arc. I am not going to make this an essay, really, but neither a plea, neither commentary, neither a complaint, only a statement of how I am.
I stuff my face at Korean Thanksgiving, chase my daughter to avoid conversations, or to keep her from watching TV with the other kids, some movie with robot violence, and then we go home and crash. And then my wife gets sick, and then I get sick, and then Grace gets sick. My head is a balloon I have to keep checking is tethered. Medicine doesn’t work. I am sick without a story that resolves.
I want with a haunting, disastrous want to give my family a better life. That is why I am in school again, is what I tell myself. But what if I wasn’t thinking of them? Maybe I should have stayed in Korea, all those years ago. Maybe I shouldn’t have chased a dream. I wonder what we learn when our racing off leaves us lonely. When we sing and run for our lives, and then we look back and the people we love are watching us get farther and further away.