Monday, February 24, 2014


check out the latest entries to the online journal frankmatter here
Contributors to this issue: Juan José Saer, translated by Steve Dolph | J.M.G Le Clézio, translated by Patricia Frederick | Glenn Arnold | Carrie Crow | SJ Fowler 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Memorial Address by Jenna Lee

I do not remember my father’s face. I do not have any memories about my dad at all. The only thing I know about my dad as a person is his face in the picture. When other kids in kindergarten bragged about their fun trip with their dad on weekends, I just listened to them, thinking of what I did with my mom. Luckily, I was never lonely or sad about my father’s absence. In fact, I never felt I needed one, because my mom and my family tried to fill me with a lot of love so that I didn’t even care about his absence. Therefore, sadly, I actually don’t know my dad that much. However, when I was young, my mom used to tell me about my dad. According to my mom, my dad was the most sincere and romantic person ever in her life. My mom once told me that when she first saw my dad, she thought ‘This is the person I was looking for!’ Unlike other ‘boys’ she met in college, my dad was truly a gentleman. After my parents got married, they never fought or argued over things; they always loved each other and they still do.
It was a snowy day of January of 1997. I was three years old, in my Korean age. My family lived in an apartment, and there was a huge garden (more likely a shared field) in front of my apartment. There was a huge snow in Daegu province of Korea, where usually it is very hot. Taking pictures on special occasions, like a snowy day, was a matter of course to my family; the first snowy day for their first daughter was probably unforgettable. My dad wore his orange jacket that he wore everywhere he went; I wore my favorite red coat that my aunt bought for me. Red-and-white striped wool coat, black corduroy pants, and red shoes. I did not miss my woolen hat. As usual, my family had a great time. Most of the time, mom took the pictures for me and my dad; it was proven when my mom took all of the pictures of me and my dad from the album, because the whole album shrunk to half its original thickness. Anyway, the snow was a big deal for my family, and they were so excited to show their little girl a new world. They decided to take pictures in the apartment garden, where usually nobody went except homeless cats or the security guard who roamed around the apartment building. The ground was covered with white snow, and nobody interrupted the very moment of my family – just perfect for the picture. My dad held me next to the fence, smiling happily as if he had everything in this world. That day, my dad and I were totally photogenic, but my family did not know that this best shot would be last picture that we would take as a family.
My dad was a professor in college. Although he was only 29 when he became one, he was respected by many people. He met my mom when he was 31, and my mom was 26. According to my grandparents and aunts, compared to his friends, my dad was much more intelligent. But at the same time, he was my family’s photographer. My mom and dad used to take a lot of photos when they were dating. After I was born, they took hundreds of photos and put them inside my album. From the moment I was born, my dad always had his camera in his hand. Not only the film camera, he also had a video camera, and recorded various moment of my childhood (now, those films and videotapes are sleeping in my grandparent’s house’s closet). Two days after the day my family took the happy picture, my dad had to go to the airport to pick up someone. It was part of his work, so he had to go despite the horrible weather. My dad was a very sincere person, so he would have not wanted to miss his work. As shown in the picture, the weather was very cold and snowy for a few days. When it rains, it pours; the day my dad left the house was not only snowy, but also windy and rainy - it was a storm. Full of anxiety, my mom did not want my dad to go to the airport in that terrible weather. Saying good-bye to me and my mom, my dad left the house. Unfortunately, that was the last word that my mom would hear from him.
My dad took an airport limousine in the early morning. Despite the harsh weather and the early hour, there were a few other people going to the airport. Including the driver, people on the bus were very tired. It was raining and snowing outside and the road was very slippery. Although more attention was required, the driver must have been worn out from consecutive rides; the driver fell asleep while driving. It was only for a short moment that he lost control of his mind and body, but the consequence was irrevocable. When the driver realized what he did, it was too late; the bus slipped, hit the guardrail, and rolled down to a field under the highway. When the bus rolled down, my dad hit his head very hard and passed out. When he was moved to the hospital, he was in deep coma. He slept like that for two weeks. He could not respond to my mom’s cry, nor could hold me like he did in the picture. He could not greet my grandparents with a smile like he usually did before, and he could not go back to his office and teach college students. He was sleeping deeply and quietly, for two weeks. Eventually, the doctor declared brain death. My dad could not wake up again, and my entire family had to send him away like that without preparation or good-bye words. My dad was 35 in Korean age, and his early death was a huge shock to his family and friends.
Ironically, my dad was the only one who passed away because of that bus accident. Even the driver survived, which seemed totally unfair to my family. My grandparents and aunts were losing themselves. To my family, the driver was a murderer who killed the one we loved. The driver went to jail after the accident, but now, I don’t know whether he is out of jail or not. My entire family went through hard times that I can’t even explain in hundreds of pages, but they never let me feel sad or lonely. During my dad’s absence, my mom told me that my dad went to America to study. My dad was a professor and I knew that, so it made sense to me. Although he never called me, never wrote me, or never visited me for six years, I believed what my mom told me. My grandparents often took me to my dad’s grave, telling me that we are going on a picnic, but I never realized that it was where my dad was sleeping. There wasn’t any sign, and my grandparents never said anything special about the place. The only thing they said about my dad in front of me was how intelligent he was, and asked me if I hated him for not coming back from America. I never hated him for not being with me, because I thought that was a matter of course for all the fathers. I don’t know what hit me, but I never thought that it was weird to live only with mom. I was nine years old in Korean age when I found out about everything. A few months before my mom decided to remarry with another nice gentleman, she told me about my dad’s death. I could not believe what she was saying, and told myself that it was not true. I did not go to school, called my mom a liar, and cried all night with my dad’s pictures. That was why my mom took away all the pictures of dad from the album except this picture, and I hated my mom for a long time. 
The last picture of me and my dad is so important to me and my family. My dad could not see this picture, because there were no digital cameras at that time, and printing film took almost four days. At the moment when my dad was smiling with me in the snow, when my mom was happily taking the picture, when the whole family was just filled with happiness that their little girl was experiencing her first big snow, no one knew that the tragedy was waiting for us and was ready to destroy our sweet days. Although now his body is gone through the cremation because no one could take care of his grave, he is still alive inside my grandparents, aunts, and hopefully my mom. This picture is still in my grandparents' house, hung up on the wall in a huge print. I have a smaller version of the same picture in my room; it is laminated and stuck on my closet. I see it every moment I live and remember him all the time. Although now I have the world’s nicest stepfather, my dad will always be my only dad. I love you, dad.  

Congratulations to Jenna Jaewon Lee for receiving Honorable Mention in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for this essay, and our thanks to her for sharing it with us.