The Westminster Schools
Myung-hi Kim cuts through the stagnant air of Midland, Texas, the soles of her worn-in flats sizzling against the baked asphalt. A bead of sweat drips down her face, into her eye, where it burns until she wipes it away with a damp hand. From her peripheral emerges the sleek forms of a thousand silver-coated buses. Streamlined and silky in design, they glisten in the sunlight. All-American Greyhound buses.
A week has yet to pass since she first arrived in America. Buoyed across the Pacific by her family’s last breath, she chases an education and a future that shields her from memories of a war-torn Korea. Alone and afraid, she is exhilarated. She has been told that this is a land of opportunity, and she believes it.
Myung’s heart begins to beat faster, in sync with the low rumble of the resting engines. The lithe silhouette of the leaping greyhound invokes visions of America painted in her childhood, the America of smiling boys and girls, of rolling hills and soaring blue skies, of Roosevelt’s spectacled smile plastered across the television. She can almost hear the anthem roaring in the background, smell the diesel and sweat borne into the fertile soil. Seoul is a long way from here.
She settles her shoulders and walks briskly towards the bus station. From the expanse of the whitewashed station walls emerges a sign that had previously seemed insignificant. White Waiting Room, it reads. A sign hangs to the right in the same scarlet script: Colored Waiting Room. They look hand-painted, personal — like the signature scrawled across the hang tags of worn sweaters and coats. Myung’s feet falter, her steps stutter. She reads the signs again and again, smoothing out these barbed English vowels within her head. She knows that she reads them correctly, that there are no missed connections between her eyes and her heart. The letters crashing in her skull are real and red and right.
But these labels must be wrong because this is America, this is the Camelot of Jacqueline and JFK. A Mcdonald's jingle trickles from the speakers perched atop the bus station. No, this is too much like the Seoul of Japanese control, where her native tongue was beaten out of her mouth and she swallowed a foreign name. Yui. Her mouth still hardens against these syllables, shirking from the acid that creeps up her throat. She recalls the feeling of otherness that Japanese officials imposed upon her Korean family. A lost war became a lost identity when the air beyond the walls of her home began to reek of shame and spit and hatred. Culture and pride were buried in the basement for the sake of survival, and in its place grew a dream of elsewhere.
And yet, Myung can taste the same resentment here, an ocean away. It is not pointed at her, but it digs into her pores like shards of loose shrapnel. The red words are blinding against such a sluggish day, they are dividing and hating against the world carefully constructed in her head. A racially partitioned America feels self-contradictory because she has been told that America is all good things: free, just, and equal.
These glass doors hold white men and women; these glass doors hold African-American men and women. It is too simple, too crude a system for a world set miles above her home of dirt and spilled blood. The wings of a Boeing 777 were meant to take her away, not bring her back.
Dreams of America were slipped into her father’s drinks at night and fed to her in between spoonfuls of kimchi. They have been swimming in her stomach for far too long, and now they poison her in this reality. Myung, like all Koreans, loathes to admire outsiders. A culture of pride admonishes those who cannot stand upon their own two feet and snarls at outstretched hands. America was the begrudged exception. America brought soldiers and with them, a frail freedom. It whispered promises of education and a higher glass ceiling in between bouts of radio silence. The facade is crumbling quickly now, and Myung must reconcile the America she dreamed of with the America she breathes in. There is dirt and blood here, too.
Her likeness is not reflected in either waiting room, so she pauses. She has traveled thousands of miles to wallow in the same human depravity, and now her feet are swollen and rounded with the burden of this journey. Myung curses herself for so eagerly believing what she was told. She blames America for selling nothing more than a dream. Colored or white? She will not choose.
And she will not wait for the attendant to tell her what she is. She will not let herself play into this warped reality. She will walk to her destination instead — a small, insignificant protest for her soul and the Camelot of her youth.
Wendy had to grow up, Alice awoke from her Wonderland dreams, and Myung-hi Kim lost her Camelot. This piece beautifully explores the theme of innocence and losing innocence through a young child's disappointing shift into an experienced state.
Julia Rhee is senior at the Westminster Schools in Atlanta, where she is co-editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, edits the literary magazine, and last year, was honored to be a writing fellow. Her work has appeared in Eunoia, Aerie International, Self- Reflect, Mission,Young Writer Anthology, Teen Ink, Evolutions, and the Glenn Institute, among others. Her work has been recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards 11 times. Julia is an Iowa Young Writers Studio and Juniper Institute alum. Julia’s writing frequently explores the themes of vulnerability and truth; she is passionate about promoting understanding and relationships, and inspiring community through writing, sports, and service. She has a forthcoming anthology of family stories and memoirs.
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