Our first submission by a reader! It so beautifully demonstrates the fact that our voices are truly stronger together. When we set our stories free, there is no end to the support, understanding, and freedom our words may give others.
*trigger warning rating: small reference to inappropriate contact
"Whom have I in heaven but You
and earth has nothing I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever."
— Psalm 73:25-26
I’ve always been that sensitive kid in class. The one easy to tease. I also happened to be the only Asian kid most of the time while growing up. That combination hardly ever resulted in positive interactions with my peers.
“Where are you really from?”
“Why is your lunch so smelly?”
“Are you related to Bruce Lee?”
“Can you show me how to karate chop?” “Why are your eyes so small?”
I already felt like an Other in this world because of my struggles with academics, and not living up to the model minority myth. These microaggressions pushed me further into isolation and “shyness.” I was an assertive tomboy while growing up in Korea, but the transition to the US never settled well with me. I felt lost for many years, questioning my identity, worth, and place in this world.
I began violin lessons at the age of 11. The teacher my parents selected for me was most highly regarded. He was a student of the revered Jascha Heifetz, one of the greatest violinists of all time. My teacher was known to be extremely selective with his new students, but we were close friends of a family member of his, so he took me on as a student without an audition.
The lessons were strict and serious, There was not only a student-teacher hierarchy, but a cultural one as well. In Korean culture, elders hold power and authority that children most often are not given until adulthood.
One year into my lessons, when I was 11, a change came about. My parents began to leave me alone with my teacher at my lessons, as they trusted him without hesitation. This is when the confusion started. First, it was a back rub that supposedly helped my violin posture. Then, a kiss on the lips for playing well. This ultimately led to sexual intimacy, “our little secret” that no one could know about.
These encounters lasted three years, nine months, and seven days. I cannot remember the words I exchanged with him over the phone before we moved away to a new city, but I can distinctly recall the smell of his musky cologne, the texture of his body hair, and the inescapable shame that penetrated my innermost being.
This was the foundation upon which I tried to build a social life and solid academic standing at a large new middle school, all while maintaining family honor. There were fond memories during my childhood, I am sure of it. But those three long years erased
most of my victories from my memory and destroyed any healthy boundaries or perceptions of myself I once had.
Soon after my contact with my violin teacher ended, the ideations came. I had always unconsciously believed that I was unworthy of life. I had never truly understood where that belief came from, but I knew without a shadow of doubt that there was a constant battle going on within me. I was the weak link, expected to die off or be discarded without acknowledgement. The relationship with my violin teacher confirmed my belief.
The insomnia began in early high school. My grades plummeted because I could not keep up with sports, academics, and obedience to my parents while I starved myself daily. The point system I had created, where I would accumulate points through calorie deprivation to earn a bite of food led to my physical decline. Soon, I lost my period and constantly felt the shivers due to extremely low body fat.
I developed a counting routine that needed to be completed before I proceeded with my day. Each morning, the lights were turned on and off 50 times, my desk was sanitized 5 times, my hands were washed 10 times. I became known as the Asian girl who always missed the school bus.
I can clearly remember my prayer of tears as I knelt one afternoon before a god I did not know at the time. I begged for a friend who would not tease me, for parents who would believe what had happened to me, and most of all, for a way out, if mercy could not be given. I wish that all things did turn out well and that it did all get better.
A strength of the Korean American culture is the strong family accountability and the child’s desire to gain parental approval through obedience. A weakness of the Korean American culture is the strong push for excellence to the point of perfection. Most immigrant families like mine believed that parental sacrifice gave the child the obligation to become a doctor or lawyer in order for the parent’s blood, sweat, and tears to have been “worth it.” It was unfortunate that my inclinations were in the visual arts.
My junior year of high school was tumultuous. I was taking high stakes tests while battling dyslexia, trying to do well in sports while managing anorexia, and considering colleges and off-campus living while unable to touch my own doorknob in fear of diseases that would infect my body and brain.
After one extraordinarily stressful week of very little sleep, beatings at home, bullying at school, and a harsh derogatory remark from a complete stranger while walking home (“Go back to where you came from!”), I felt utterly defeated. A period of reflection came and left me with a series of unanswerable questions: What is the purpose of life? Why should I
keep fighting? What is worth living for? Am I any more than a burden and disgrace to my family name? Who would notice or care if I disappeared?
Sleep would not come that night. I begged a god above to force me into a deep sleep so that I would no longer feel the pain. I wept furiously in silence, pretending that my hand that wiped away my tears was the hand of an angel who was here to protect me from this world. I had always imagined and spoken to the unseen spirits around me as if they were my hiding place.
This night, I could hear the spirits moving. I saw a group of figures moving across my bedroom, whispering into my ear. I could not discern what they were saying to me, but I was disturbed and frightened. All night, for hours, I lay awake, listening to their whispers. Although I shoved my ears into my pillow, desperately trying to block out any and all sounds, the whispers amplified.
I just wanted it all to stop. My desperate prayer felt unheard. I knew that my parents would institutionalize me if they found out. If only I had even one trusted friend to call to cry out for help.
I ran downstairs in the middle of that night, only to find that the spirits had followed me. The high, screeching whispers continued for several minutes that felt like an eternity. My hands waded through the darkness until I found the medicine cabinet. I grabbed a large bottle, then ran back to my room. There was no plan. Only a desperate attempt and plea for mercy.
I tried to swallow as many pills as quickly as I could. I soon realized that I had forgotten to grab a glass of water. After the third handful, I began to choke, and I threw up all that I had consumed. I fell onto the ground in sheer exhaustion.
The next morning, I woke up to the smell and sight of partially dried throw-up stuck all over my hair. I quickly ran to the shower and showered myself in cold water. Was I really awake, or was I still dreaming? Where had the voices gone? Was I safe from harm? Did I leave evidence of this shameful thing I had done on the carpet of my room?
I grabbed a small wet towel and ran back to my room before my parent’s alarm went off. My obsessive hands rubbed the carpet clean longer than necessary. I then dried my hair, put school clothes on, made breakfast, packed lunch for me and my brother, put my books into my bookbag, and walked to the bus stop.
I stood there, still feeling separate from my body. The cool autumn air felt soothing as I took a deep breath in and let it out. The bright yellow bus slowly pulled up and I realized that I was actually on time for school that day.