Samantha Tucker

I’m Depending on You to Tell Me the Truth

Picture

She is on a boat.

It’s a ship, not a boat, and everything is Technicolor because it’s 1962 and though my grandpa and my newborn uncle should be with her, she’s by herself, risking the depths, and she’s wearing a fuchsia scarf, Korea at her back.

I know they must have come by plane. The Army would not have sent them on a boat, my grandpa and his war bride and their new American boy. But I cannot ask them for clarification, and I can only infer the year. He would get angry and tell me to stop prying. She would stare up at the ceiling from her place on the couch in the den and say, “Yah. That’s a long time ago.” We don’t discuss the dreadful past in this family. That’s a long time ago.

So she is on a boat. Her family must see her off: “Bon Voyage,” they yell, though they are haggard and war-torn and not remotely French. They clutch white handkerchiefs in their hands at their sides and surrender their daughter to America—or perhaps they negotiated a trade? They can’t be asked for confirmation. They never will be.

Perhaps she makes eye contact with her mother then. Perhaps their fated eyes lock. (They did. They must have.) They do not speak a word; they say too much.

My grandma’s mouth is set and so is her final destination. She suspects she will never see her mother again, or Korea, and she is right.

*            *            *

We didn’t know our grandparents had parents of their own. It turned out—in 1995, when I was ten—there was still one left, waiting in Ohio. “Ruth. Your great-grandmother is Ruth,” our mother explained from the driver’s seat. She couldn’t tell us more than that because she had never been allowed to meet Ruth. So we stole away to Ohio, a covert haul our Korean grandmother would never—will never—find out about.

I perched in the front with our mom because she is our first, and she needed a second. Daisy and Ronnie found a barrel full of monkeys in the back of the rented sedan, something the previous passengers may have left behind as a warning or plea. They hooked the monkeys over the safety handle above the window, the “Holy Shit!” handle my dad would have called it if he were driving. If he had been driving, I would have been stuck in the back between my siblings. He wasn’t there though; he was somewhere with some other woman, and the divorce had been final for over a year.

It was just the four of us in the rental car we would never own in real life. Our mother was rail-thin but not frail, and young but not naïve, and she needed something more, a touchstone, a definition, so we drove east, towards the sunrise.

*             *             *

I’ve deduced Grandpa and Grandma were stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado in 1972, around the time my mom entered second grade. She went to Mesa Elementary, and was taught by Mrs. Allen. I would also be taught by Mrs. Allen. We often ate lunch together because in class I kept enacting my parents, who were always splintering or gluing themselves back together, as families do. Mrs. Allen and I shared Symphony bars at a tiny table in her goldenrod classroom, a chocolate t