In this installment of “Love, Recorded,” the rice is filled with arsenic and Matt cries in front of his baby, prompting him to answer why it is he writes.
The rice in America, reports the latest news, is soaking up arsenic from the old cotton fields it is grown in. Or at least this is what my wife says. She says we can’t eat rice anymore.
“What kind of Koreans don’t eat rice?” I ask.
I don’t know if this is something I want to look into. I am oversensitive to the differences between America and Korea, and for some reason, this rice issue strikes me as argumentative, that the American version can kill us, but the Korean version is safe. Surely all rice is the same. Surely all the world is as polluted.
“What do Americans eating?” Cathreen asks.
Pasta. Potatoes. Bread. These three items have never seemed so sad to me. Their inability to be rice.
The baby can’t eat rice because her body is too young and impressionable for arsenic. I can’t eat rice, Cathreen says, because Grace needs her daddy. Don’t I want to see her go to university, get married?
I cried in front of the baby this week. I am sitting beside her, holding the book she put in my hands for safekeeping while she reads another, and listening to the latest episode of Radiolab. And then I am crying. The woman interviewed is crying because she thinks the interviewers are ignoring her story, and I am crying because she is right; they are.
Lately, we have been showing more and more unhappy emotions to the baby, as she gets older and we reach our limit on Happyface. We are happy, but the baby is learning, for better or worse, that we are not happy all the time. There is a lot out there to be upset about.
As I cry, Grace climbs onto my lap and strokes my cheek.
“It isn’t you,” I say. I want to explain: that I worry about the world you’ve come into, that I want your story to matter. But she wouldn’t understand. Her story has always mattered most to us.
I hug her close and try to comfort her.
Sometimes, when my daughter is full of unmet demands and won’t stop protest-crying, my wife will put on the Gangnam Style video to calm her. I can hear it from the other room—as I prepare a lesson on arc and stakes and satisfying the reader—and I can picture exactly what is happening.
Grace puts her hands together and bounces up and down, doing the dance.
We used to be more wary of machines. We are letting Grace get more and more into iPads and iPhones, non-interaction, while we worry about the human side. About what humans can do to each other.
At the other end of the world, Grace’s cousin sings and dances along, through Facetime. Babies, Cathreen says, love Gangnam style. Everyone loves this video of a Korean guy doing a horsey dance. Hardly anyone knows about the arsenic in the rice.
The arsenic, Cathreen says, has been covered up for so long. There’s so much power behind what goes said or unsaid. What gets shared or not. How and what we communicate.
After a week, we start running out of food. So much of our diet comes from one grain. Half of our bodies seems made of rice. Grace, too, is going into withdrawal. Her favorite thing to eat, recently, has been rice wrapped in seaweed laver. Now it is hard to get her to eat more than a couple of bites of solid food all day. She’s going back to bottles, to Babydom.
She eats more snacks, she eats pizza, as we search for something she’ll consume. “It’s better than poison,” Cathreen says.
At night, Cathreen tells me other stories from the news. I tell her I saw one recently about a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital who was arrested for buying and owning child porn. She tells me about adopted kids forced to return to Korea after their adoptive parents abandon them. Twice left. One robs a bank. One has nowhere to go but a Catholic shelter—his adoptive parents had a miracle conception just after they adopted him, and his father beat him as the non-biological kid, then left him. Or so I understand the situation.
Now he faces an entire life in a country he doesn’t know or even know how to communicate in.
We are talking about our deepest fears here. The world is full of things to scare us. Things off-limit that nevertheless come to happen. Boundaries kept and passed.
I want to meet this adoptee, the one in the Catholic shelter. I want to hear his story. I would tell it, if he would let me. It is a story that deserves to be heard.
The stories we choose, the stories we privilege. The knowledge we choose to retain, pass on, instill. In class, I teach empathy empathy empathy. I teach stakes. I teach arc. I teach not to put limits on things, not to limit yourself.
I feel so ridiculously proud whenever someone lets their story bleed.
I know they will go home and cover up. I know they will put back on their Happyface. But I hope that they will see, before they disappear behind themselves, that they can teach us something about who we are, or can be. That the potential is there.
We want to be hurt by stories. We want to be healed. I can still feel my daughter’s hand on my wet cheek. I know I can’t give her everything she wants, but she knows this, as well, or she will know soon, for better or worse. I will tell her about this day later, if this is not why I am recording it, our lives, her growing up, here.
When I need it most, a Facebook friend quotes Dean Young: “The highest accomplishment of the human consciousness is the imagination, and the highest accomplishment of the imagination is empathy.” I find a comment on an essay I wrote about racism in which the commenter says halfway through reading, he sent an apology to a friend and swore to be a better advocate for equality.
I am looking for us to look harder at everyday life. I am hoping that we will connect with each other, teach each other, learn from each other. I am writing out of hope that we will choose the stories worth telling. I am writing for the baby, and out of fear of our whole terrifying world, and to try to live better, to live truer. I am writing for the baby, so that she will know what mattered to us and how it is connected to her. That for all the poison in the world, we tried our best.
—photo Flickr/Mykl Roventine