I moved out of my parents’ home when I was nineteen, although my mother will tell you I ran away. In traditional Korean households, unmarried nineteen-year-old daughters don’t “move out”. At least they didn’t in 1994.
It was my second year at NYU while living at home, because home was only three subway stops away on the F train. My father had encouraged me to choose a school out-of-state but my hard-on for NYU had won me out. This was a mistake.
My mother and I were on a collision-coursed warpath against each other. We’d been best friends until college happened. I was not an adult in her eyes, because I was still living at home, and she demoted me to bullshit high school curfews and daily inquisitions as to what I was doing in my free time. I despised her closed-mindedness and started doing exactly everything I fucking wanted to do, after eighteen years of being the model Korean daughter at heart and home and church.
And just like that, one summer night just a few days after I turned nineteen, my mother and I got into THE fight of our lifetime.
No. It’s actually the fight leading up to THE fight of our lifetime.
It started with my mother snooping in my room and finding my birth control pills. I was “having the sex”. The only thing worse, to my mother, could have been finding a crack pipe and dildo with the pills.
She went “not of this world” psychotic on me, and my brother can confirm this. My mother and I screamed into each others’ red faces about privacy and “no prybus-y” while my very young brother retreated back to the safety of the living from whence he came. My mother threw my pills in the toilet and flushed them while I stood there laughing about how I could get new ones so easily.
“Because I’m an adult!”
Looking back, that’s what threw my mother into a bigger frenzy. She told me to get out of her house. I took it immediately as my out, and I started stuffing shit in a bag. My mother panicked, shrieking at me the whole time I packed while my brother ran back to my room freaking out. The most ridiculous part of all of it was that I was so freaked out myself I didn’t grab anything I actually needed. The thought of just walking out of my house into the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the dead of night, never to ever dramatically return, was making my heart beat too fast to be healthy.
I’d packed some random shit and flip-flops and, embarrassingly, a teddy bear. Last minute I’d grabbed my tennis racket thinking I could sell it for money considering I had maybe a couple of hundred bucks to my name. I looked ridiculous trying to make it down the long hall of our apartment holding a duffel bag with bear and racket in-hand while my mother followed behind, threatening things worse than death. She never told me to stop and stay. She flew off the handle about how I would never last more than a day on my own, probably judging from what she saw me pack.
My brother had cried. I’d felt horrible but had looked him in the eye and promised to see him soon. It was a Korean-American melodrama minus the soundtrack. The Korean community was in an uproar.
But my father remained calm. He did not help me at all financially, but he was always on the line to talk. And I did last more than a day, eventually hustling my way to a basement apartment in bootleg Queens by two weeks time.
In that time my mother conned my brother into giving up my newfound address and she showed up on my doorstep, bowling bowl in-hand. I had company at the time, my boyfriend Jee. Double whammy. I was all of a sudden the Korean Hester Prynne.
This was and will forever be, to my mother and me, THE fight of our lifetime.
Hair and shirts were torn and tears were shed. It was all about how dare I shame the family and leave home to shack up with someone in sin. And the bowling ball eventually ended up in my television by my mother’s hand.
My mother and I did not talk for a year after the bowling ball incident.
And today, neither she nor I could imagine lasting more than a day like any of those days that one year.