I was twelve when we took our last family vacation.
My parents had filed for bankruptcy. My dad had gotten someone pregnant, or so the woman said, which was probably not true, but probably not false. The arguments between my parents had gotten pretty bad at night: the police came around sometimes to regulate. When Koreans argue, it usually takes the police to bring it down.
My dad made a last ditch effort to save everything. It was more out of pride than anything else. We rented a car, and the four of us – my brother, oblivious to the whole thing, and my parents, hardly talking – drove up the east coast to Massachusetts and then to Maine. I don’t remember much of the drive, except I kept checking the middle of the front seats to see if my parents would hold hands again. They didn’t.
In Boston there was my Uncle Jae, another guy I called my uncle even though he really wasn’t. He owned a sushi place with a clever name, but I don’t remember the name. He had a white girlfriend and I don’t remember her name either. I just remember my parents wanting the night out, so my brother and I hung out with Uncle Jae’s girlfriend, and while driving around we saw a car on fire. There were dark fumes. My brother asked our aunt-kind-of to call the police, so she grabbed the car phone and called them. Someone else had already called, but it was probably too late. Those people in the car were dead or dying.
Other than the car in flames, the streets in Boston were beautiful. I was used to the monotonous palm trees in Florida so the city of Boston might as well have been Disneyland. I didn’t want to leave. But also because I knew going back home was going back to pieces.
We drove up to Maine. We stayed for about a week and ate lobster every night. We never got tired of the stuff. My parents finally started holding hands again. I can’t remember when, but in my tiny twelve year old head I was suddenly excited for the future. Despite the bankruptcy and the pregnant woman thing, I thought maybe we’d be all right.
We stayed in a condominium type place right by the water. I guess Uncle Jae had loaned my dad some cash. Sometimes cash can save a marriage. On the last night there, I woke up in the middle of the night for something and my dad was on the couch. My mom was sleeping in a room on the opposite side of the condo. As far apart as both sides of the universe. I guess cash couldn’t save everything.
I walked outside to the shore, the waves caressing the sand, the moon kind of staring at me like a sleepy glowing eye. I watched the water for a few hours, just back and forth along that shore, making the soft sound of skin on skin. When I walked back inside the condo, my childhood was dead. You could see the chalk outline in the sand.
On the way back home, I knew it was over. My parents were holding hands in the car but they couldn’t be further apart. Holding hands was just a formality to keep the kids sane. Two years later my parents divorced and that was the end of family vacations, no more lobster and waterfront condos. We were just burning wreckage on the side of the road.
I can only remember that one moment of excitement when I thought the future was a long clean path of hope. I’ve never been back to Maine but some part of me never really left. I’m still there on the shore, watching the water move. I’m still there in that seedy condo wondering what could’ve been if we had kept it together and pressed on. This is where I say I should pick up the broken pieces and keep going: but I don’t want those pieces in Maine.
I like the moon better. The sun tells me too much.