She would print out from her computer,
the one that I was only allowed to use
from 3:30 to 4 PM, pictures of world maps
and multiplication tables and place them
around the house. She gave a few pages and
a ten-dollar bill to an old man at church and
the next day she switched my rubber ducks
to laminated world maps and multiplication
tables; “Study this!” she said as she had me
sit in the bathtub with water only ankle-deep
and scrubbed my back away with green sandpaper.
When my hair reached past my shoulders, she
would find the kitchen scissors I forgot to put
back after finishing my History Day poster. She
had me sit on the kitchen counter top with my
legs dangling and snipped away large, jagged,
chunks. She had wrapped a towel around my
shoulders to catch the falling strands. The towels
were always the ones that we would get for free
from church weddings. We always stayed until
the end, long after the bride and groom both left,
so that she could ask for the leftovers.
For lunch she would pack me kimbap – rice with egg
and kimchi and carrots and ham all neatly packaged
in seaweed – and I would turn as red as the kimchi
when my desk partner complained about the smell.
That afternoon I complained to my mom about this
imaginary smell, and the next day she forgot to pack me lunch.
My mom would whisper out loud at night, when she
thought I was sleeping, that I was a winner. She would
wait until 12 or 4 AM, I’m not exactly sure which, to
sneak out of her empty bed and tiptoe down the hallway,
careful to avoid that one creaking floorboard, and kneel
beside my bed, as if to say a prayer. Sometimes she would
hold my hand, and even though my eyes were closed
(not so tightly that she would know I was pretending)
I could feel her tired eyes fighting to get one last look
at her precious daughter. The next morning, she would
use a rolled up Gazette paper to get me out of bed.
Jean-Young Kim is a senior at Poolesville High School. She placed first in the B’nai Brith International Diverse Minds Youth Writing Challenge and is a writer for Tip of the Tongue Syndrome.