As I Fade with the Summer Breeze


January 10, 2022 / Eunjae Kim



I was a girl living from dream to memory to dream.


In the sultry August nights, I melted underneath a buttermilk moon. I, along with my mother, aunts, cousins, and grandmother, would lay our picnic blankets in front of where the Hangang River glistened best along the Seoul cityline. To relieve some of the heat, we pressed our bodies to the cool earth, and I was finally at one again with the place and people I loved most after a long period of separation.

Whenever the sun rose and swallowed the darkness whole, the air was thick with humidity and clung on like a second skin, softened and distorted by the fog and the almost-sickeningly sweet scent of nectarines ripening in the heat. My little cousins and I spent our days looking for four leaf clovers in the patches of weeds in the hills — precious, soft-leaved seedlings — and tying their stems around our ring fingers. I wished that I would never have to leave here because I, too, germinated under this hemisphere’s sun after months of darkness and dormancy.

I wanted to stay in Seoul forever, in the warm embraces of family, where everything was clear despite the milky air. Here, where I knew that my next step would land on solid ground, and I didn’t have to stumble my way through unfamiliar traditions and customs. Our annual visits did not fill the emptiness inside of me — I needed to live here, die here, feel the dirt under my toes and bury my heart under the pine trees speckled across the sloping landscape.

And thus I spent my girlhood, bathing under the moonlight and making wishes in the sunlight, one summer month out of the 12. It was pure bliss, honey-sweet and beautifully bright, and I was sure I’d at least have these visits for eternity, if nothing else. But eternity isn’t so long-lived after all, and I haven’t set foot in my homeland for nearly five years. It was my ultimate sacrifice — I traded my happiness for academic responsibilities that were out of my control but necessary for my life in this part of the world. As the years went on, I found myself growing apart from the family on whom so much of my happiness depended.


 

I desperately clung to moments passed and people grown — things that existed only in my fading memories. Memories of when my grandparents were strong enough to walk across the flowerbeds with me, hand in hand; when my baby cousins knew me as family and not a stranger; when life was filtered through a golden light. All this no longer existed, and I was angry. I felt deprived. I hadn’t had my fill of childhood: golden sparks of laughter, love that poured down on me like scented oil. Some will call it naivete. Others will call me a fool who can’t let go of the past. But I’m simply a girl who had to grow up too quickly and realized too late that childhood does not last long.

There’s an innocent sort of beauty that lies in the youthful optimism of childhood. Ideally, children have no responsibilities, and their only duty is to absorb all that is beautiful and well in the world as they bloom. Mistakes are forgiven at the sight of a cheeky grin, and problems are solved with the drop of a perfectly dramatized tear. Many years ago in Seoul, that was the life I knew, but the life of an immigrant is drastically different. The lines between parent and child were blurred and crossed, for we all become children in foreign lands. My mom cried because of others' belittlement and her yearning for her mom. I cried because she cried. I filled out paperwork and forged signatures for school. My dad, the only one out of all four of us who could speak English, was never there. Every night, I prayed that we could go back home, where I experienced true childhood. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped feeling like that since.

Perhaps my fate has been sealed. I will forever be a ghost of a girl, chasing dreams that slip past my outstretched fingertips. A phantom forever floating in the hazy memories of a sweetly suffocating summer, unable to find her way back with no home to ground her in reality.





Sweet things often leave a sickening aftertaste. Youth and naivete are beautiful, but they leave you with an empty, bitter feeling. From afar, summer is a picturesque image of lovers sharing ice cream cones on park benches and ripe fruits that hang low from their branches, ready to harvest. But up close, the streets are sticky and stained with melted ice cream. Fruit, once sweet, begins to rot. My childhood was slowly rotting; fixating on what I’d lost only furthered the pain and left me unable to move forward. I needed to let go.

Life comes in phases. We are born, we are young, we are old, and then we are reunited with the earth. Each comes with its own set of problems, but also joys. If there is a delight in innocence during childhood, there is delight in independence and the search for identity and purpose in adulthood. After all, was it childhood I was truly mourning? Or the sense of stability and feeling loved, which could be recreated in any stage of life?

Though my years of childhood are over, I still feel like a child. I miss being allowed to feel like a child, showcasing all my worries and doubts and love with no fear of judgement. But I’m slowly learning that the waning moon can fill into a full moon again, and I can start anew — but only once I’ve learned to set fire to the past and let go. ■




by: Eunjae Kim

layout: Grace Davila

photographer: Lorianne Willet

stylist: Gabi Vergara

hmua: Sarah Tin-U

model: Priscilla Takyi
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