As we hit our first bout of turbulence, drifting across the Pacific, you flutter kick within me. My life has become monumental, yet I am ill-equipped to become your mother. Were this plane to crash, how would I protect you? Dada joins us from Korea, walks us down the aisle. Days, I lull you with the drift and flow of waiting tables while Dada looks for work. Nights, you flip and kick, flip and kick while Dada cradles us and worries about finding work. You buy us time to prepare, wait five days past your due date. When you arrive, you do not cry.
Dada cannot find work, so he returns to Korea. We stay in your uncle’s cold, damp basement until we take our second Pacific flight to join Dada before he starts his job on a cargo ship. A stewardess places you on the pilot’s lap while I nap. When we land, Dada wants to leave you with your great grandmother while we go to market, but I do not want to leave you. She is going senile. It is so difficult to walk away, to worry that you will not safe, but Dada gets angry and insists. When we return, Jinju-halmonie has filled your bottle with instant coffee grounds and swaddled you in towels—you are bright red and shriek-shriek-shrieking.
Dada sets sail, and we return to Canada. I find an apartment and two jobs. Apply for university. Days, I scan items, blip, blip, blip. After work, I strap you to my chest and we walk and walk along the river. My mind drifts and I tell you stories about the beautiful life we will have. At night, I cough and cough while heavy metal blares upstairs. I work. I cough. You learn to walk. Dada docks in Portland, so we visit. I cough but pretend I am not sick because I do not want him to worry. You cut your first teeth. On your first birthday, I start university. Dada docks in Vancouver, so we visit. I cough and cough. On the way home, there is turbulence, a snowstorm, so we land. I cough and cough and cough. You are happy and strong, and you do not complain that I am not prepared. I do not know what is wrong with me. I do not know what I will do if I cannot take care of you. I am so afraid because I hack-hack-hack can’t stop coughing. I am drowning. Other stranded passengers lend me diapers, fish crackers, money for the vending machine. Finally, we trudge through the snow to our front door before I collapse.
Six years pass. After too much turbulence, we move to Montreal, to a rented one-and-a-half, so we can start over again. You shoot flimsy plastic arrows at squirrels in Sherbrooke Park. We eat poutine and walk in the shade, visit the humongous new library on Sainte-Catherine. I worry about money, worry about my health. When I find a job in a small town, we start again. After school, we bike or skate, cook together, read books. At night, I correct and plan and cry a lot. Weekends, we visit museums in Ottawa or take the bus to Montreal. Your dad promises to visit but doesn’t follow through. You bawl because he lied. I sob because he broke our hearts. Weep because I am exhausted from all that cough-cough-coughing I did years ago before I lost my lung. Before we drifted to Korea and back home again, before your dad and I divorced and he returned to Korea. What if you never see him again? I don’t know how to fix this. How to protect you. How we’ll survive. One day, I cannot force myself to go to work, so I take a leave from my job. Days, I cry in bed until you return from school. We read Roald Dahl and books about dragons. We cook and watch movies. Nights, I cry because I cannot picture our future. I do not know what to do or how to be okay. We drive four days back to where we started. New home, new job, new school, new friends. We try again, but there is too much turbulence, and nobody can help either of us.
I teeter between crumbling to dust and rising from it. You have no father. I have no choice but to return to teaching. I am drained after school, but I cook. We read together. We paint rocks. We are both full of sorrow, but neither of us cries. Neither of us laments. At night, you shut the door to your room, so I do not know how to reach you. And I disappear until I am numb from sighing in the empty house. I become a machine—mark, mark, mark, plan, plan, clean, clean, clean. I make bad decisions about men until, again, there is too much turbulence.
Surprise—we’re moving again! I swear this time is the last, but you do not trust me anymore. No longer admit your disappointments. We stop reading together. We never visit museums or art galleries. Never paint rocks. Your sea of tears dried up long ago, but mine drowns us both. We cannot talk because we are barely holding our heads above the tide. We dogpaddle to separate islands, build moats as large as the Pacific. Keep our bridges drawn until you are the age I was on our first Pacific crossing. As the turbulence fades, we dismantle our defences, slowly drift together and start over again.