7.21.2009

A Block

In the winter days when I was growing up in Korea, our traditional homes had toasty warm floors heated by blocks of coal. Pressed-formed coal rods were delivered by the soot-covered coal man.

Our wood-framed rice paper doors couldn't keep the bitter cold out, but our thick quilts, warmed from below, cocooned us. It was painful to get out of bed those cold cold days. Sometimes, someone you love wouldn't make it out of bed in the morning. And you'd know they died of carbon monoxide poisoning. It might seep in from a crack in the heating system, and in the hours of subconsciousness, someone might slip into unconsciousness, and the soul silently wafts away.

In the days when I was growing up, Korea was not the commercial leader it is today. Korea was still recovering from the war. The streets weren't paved, American GI's wandered the streets, and it was a poor, poor place.

Shim met one of those American GI's. They were escorted by a cousin everywhere they went. She was from a fine family, but even a fine family, in Korea, didn't have much. They fell in love. And he married her and brought her to the U.S. Here, he finished law school and they settled in the typical newlywed way. They had a girl, then a boy. Leisha had her face and golden skin, but his narrow nose and mouth. The boy had his face, but her dark eyes. Shim was adored by this young lawyer, who continued to do well. Better and better, in fact. He kept her in diamonds and other fine things, and the children in private school. Most of all, he kept them in his love.

Shim had always been artistic but got busy living in a new country, then raising her treasured children. Leisha inherited the talent and went to art school. As a graduation present, she wanted to tour Europe. Every art students needs to travel. She wanted to do this on her own, without even a buddy. Why not? Why not Paris? Why not Barcelona? Why not Prague?

Prague. In that beautiful, historic city. This beautiful girl of privilege, so far from her Korean roots. So far from her mom's Korea. She lay in a hostel, under a window overlooking a city block, her soul slipped away - from carbon monoxide poisoning.

*

5 comments:

gpieacake said...

oh my, soo sad :(

Anonymous said...

That's awful, awful. Heartbreaking for that family. Is this recent?

Grace, you are a real writer.

- dwb

Anonymous said...

Oh no! I'm so very sorry.

A in MD

Margie said...

Oh no. Omigosh this is so so sad. Grace, I'm so incredibly sorry.

Lora said...

This is such a heartbreaking story. Not unlike so many families here, who heat their homes with old space heaters, dirty fireplaces, KITCHEN STOVES.

As a child who grew up scared of dying by the things my mother did to keep us warm, who watched as the adults forced themselves awake with busywork and pots of coffee to watch over us as we slept, this is especially terrible to hear