“Where did you go?” My mom gets up from the couch as soon as I open the front door. 

I rub my eyes, dropping my bag on the ground slowly. “Angela picked me up.” 

Looking tired, she walks over and grabs my shoulders so that I can’t turn away. Her eyebrows furrow. I flinch, waiting for a sharp retort. Waiting for the argument to start again. Instead, her face relaxes as she pulls me in for a hug. 

“We were worried,” she sighs. She points in the direction of the kitchen. “There’s still jjajangmyeon in the kitchen. Only if you want it. Did you eat already?” 

I shake my head. 

“Well, it’s there if you want it.” She moves to sit back on the couch. 

The air is thick, like slow-moving molasses. I want to say something, but it’s impossible for me to imagine my small words wading through to reach my mom. I let her rest on the couch. We’re both tired. 

I see the Jajangmyeon on the table. Noodles covered in glistening savory brown sauce. Halmoni had even garnished them with pretty designs of shredded cucumber and scallion. It looks like a movie scene. A beautiful table of food, untouched and unattended. 

I hear the silence in the next room, and though I know my mom has forgiven me, I still feel like I’ve disappointed someone. The floorboards creak as she walks up the steps to her bedroom.

She has nothing to say because she also understands. She remembers when her family shunned her because she married outside of her culture and she remembers when they apologized. But her silence is one of responsibility. You don’t have to choose an identity, I remember her whispering when the church kids bullied me. 

If my heart was a wineskin, it had already burst five hours ago, anything of substance drained out of it. Right now, all I feel is deflated. Increasingly aware of the emptiness that’s started to fill that space. 

The sunroom door is open and I see Halmoni lying supine on the couch. Her eyes are closed and I can see her eyelids quivering all the way from the door. 

I’m afraid to talk to her. Her hands, though I know they are strong and sturdy from years of laboring, look delicate and fragile. I feel like one touch would send her crumbling into dust, leaving me with nothing but regret and an ache for my grandma. 

“Halmoni,” I whisper softly. 

She doesn’t turn to look at me. Instead she turns to burrow her head into her pillow. She simply whimpers in acknowledgement. 

“I’m sorry.” 

I think about the Jjangmyeon on the table and my angry scream from five hours ago, I wish I wasn’t Korean. My voice cracks and I kneel by the couch. 

“Meane,” I cry. 

Her native language from my mouth cracks her exterior and she cries, turning to hug me, both of us crumbling.

Tessa Pulgar is a current Honors undergraduate in the Bandier program at Newhouse, and is set to graduate in 2023.