Project 11: Dialogue
“It’s such a nice day,” Ian told the blank sheet of sky sarcastically.
The sky didn’t reply.
Ian let out a frustrated sigh and sat down on the train tracks. Only cold silence seemed to echo through the lonely clearing; for a summer morning, the forest felt eerily silent. Moisture kissed the open clearing, and a chilly fog groped around the green trees with wispy tendrils. The cold train tracks stretched meaninglessly into the distance, disappearing into the pale background that seemed more suiting of a ghostly world than that of the living.
“You know,” a calm voice broke out suddenly, “most people wait for trains at a station.”
Ian turned to see his sister with her teacher-like clothing walking toward him. Her pearl necklace clattered noisily as she joined him by the tracks, and she pushed a stray bit of blonde hair from her eyes as she settled down on the track across from him.
“It’s a nice day,” Serena noticed mildly, looking up at the gray sky.
Ian huffed, and Serena looked back down at him. “You know Liana didn’t mean what she said back there. We’re all just a little bit jet-lagged and cranky, and maybe we’re missing home a bit, too.”
He shrugged in a painfully uncaring way. “Yeah. Sure.”
Serena scanned her little brother, taking in his dark hair and simple T-shirt and jeans. He was so big, and he tried so hard to be strong. How had he gotten to be a teenager already?
“You know,” she said, trying to keep up the conversation, “it isn’t so bad here. I mean, it takes a while to get used to living like a normal American, and you don’t always feel like you fit in, but there are things to love and dislike about every country. Here you can go to co-ops, play on a sports team, eat good foods… Remember how we always used to look forward to having hot dogs and fishy crackers and stuff? And our old tradition of eating hamburgers whenever we got back. Maybe we can go out for lunch to do that since we haven’t had the chance these past couple of days.”
“I don’t like hamburgers.”
“Pizza, then? Or fish and chips? …Oh, what if we went to Cos–”
“You know what I really want?” Ian interrupted.
“What?” she asked, ready to jump on just about anything.
“수제비. 김치. 육개장.2”
Serena faltered. “You know it won’t taste as good as in Korea. I mean, I guess we could see if we can find a place, but it won’t be the same… but hey, at least we have access to it here in the first place, right…?”
Ian just looked away, and she sighed. “I’m sorry. I’m just trying, okay?”
“Yeah, well, don’t.”
Instead of being angry, Serena looked at her brother pityingly. “I know you miss Korea. I know you miss the lifestyle and the people and the language. But we’re back here now for good, and it’s time to move on.”
“Oh, yeah,” Ian snorted. “Move on, as if I didn’t spend more of my life living there than in this stupid place.”
He gestured angrily with his arm. “So many people here ‘know’ us, but we have no idea who they are, and they don’t really know who we are, and they have the gall to ask us how it feels to be ‘home’ when they have no idea where home really is.”
“Do you know where it is?” Serena asked gently.
Ian looked away. “I know it’s not here.”
She nodded slowly. “I guess it’s not. But Korea was never fully home, either.”
“But at least it was better than this,” Ian argued. “Here, everyone’s so caught up in living their American lives that they forget what it means to really live.”
“Being American isn’t a crime,” Serena reminded him. “Neither is being Korean, or Chinese, or any other kind of person. There isn’t any one right way to live.”
She leaned forward. “Ian, embracing an American life won’t mean you’re replacing Korea and all the things you love there. It just means you’re getting ready to start another phase of life.”
Ian gestured in frustration. “That’s the thing! I felt more at home as a foreigner in Korea than I do trying to fit in with people who look exactly like me here. Why is that? Why can’t I seem to understand the people here even when we’re speaking the same language? They think I’m one of them, but I feel like a badly-matching puzzle piece that only partially fits the criteria they expect. They have all this pop culture and stuff that I have no context with, and they think I’m stupid because I know Korea’s geography better than I know the U.S.’s!”
“I know,” Serena sighed with a hint of impatience in her voice. “Transition takes time, and it hurts. But life is like a train: there are so many things you can’t control, and most of the time you just have to go with it. Your track has diverged, and Mom and Dad decided it would be best to move back instead of staying there. You can’t always just stop the train because you’re still hanging onto what could’ve been on the other side, Ian. Sometimes you just have to make the best of what you have.”
Ian looked out at the end of the track, then leveled cold brown eyes at her. “Like Liana telling me she wouldn’t mind me committing suicide?”
Serena frowned at him. “She didn’t mean that, and you know it.”
“Do I? Like I knew you didn’t mean it all those times you told me I was annoying and to go away? Like that?”
“…Ian, that was years ago…”
“But scars don’t heal, and I don’t think this will, either.” Ian looked angrily away. “Look, I didn’t come out here for you to lecture me on all the reasons why I shouldn’t miss home.”
“Just leave me alone! I don’t know why you’re trying to be a good sister now anyway; it’s a little bit late for that!”
A whistle suddenly sounded in the distance, and the ground began trembling slightly. Both siblings looked up to see a dark form charging from the fog toward them, rumbling louder and louder like the growling of a hungry beast, growing bigger as it closed the distance between them at an alarming speed. The whistle sounded again, this time much closer.
The train was coming.
“Move, move, move!”
Serena jumped off the track, but Ian sat where he was, paralyzed. The pain and suadade came rushing back full force like the train barreling toward him now, bringing along his conversation with Liana from earlier about suicide.
The white world seemed to fog up more. Time slowed down. Serena was running back toward him from the forest where she’d noticed he wasn’t behind her.
The grief could be gone. The pain could be gone. He wouldn’t have to put up with any of this anymore…
Serena’s hand was suddenly in front of him, snapping him back to his senses. Ian reached out, and he was jerked off the tracks an instant before the greedy beast roared past with one last deafening wail.
Ian didn’t even realize he was crying. Serena held her brother, not daring to let go, feeling only immense relief as she kept her baby brother safe in her arms, away from the world that wanted to take him.
“미안해,3” she whispered, clutching him tightly as the tears streamed down her cheeks and the train rumbled past. “I know it’s hard. I know you want to go back. I know you feel out-of-place, and I know I let you down, and I know everything feels like it’s veering off-track, but I’m here for you now. I’m here for you.”
Ian nodded, shaking in her arms.
“사랑해 , 나동생. 진짜 사랑해 .4”
1“Annyeong,” a Korean word that can mean both hello and goodbye.
2Korean dishes: sujebi, kimchi, and yukgaejang, respectively.
4“I love you, little brother. I really love you.”