I sat on the floor with my sister till I heard my mother's room door open. I watched as the doctor walked over to Ji Tae and I immediately knew that he'd assumed that he was the eldest son. I instantly developed an obstruction in my throat and started coughing. Mi Soo took a break from her crying and hit my back a few times to help me out while everyone else rushed over to us but once they were assured that I was alright, they went back to their original spots. After a few minutes of speaking to my father, the doctor went back to the room and a few minutes later, I watched as they wheeled my mother's covered body on a steel bed out.
I immediately jumped off the floor and ran to my father. "Appa, where are they taking her to?"
He looked at me sadly and shook his head.
Of course I knew what it meant. Of course I realized what had happened when they turned off all the machines and her body stopped jerking, but I couldn't believe it. It just wasn't possible.
It was barely a few days since my mother had passed and we were already at her funeral. It always amazed me at how quickly a funeral could be put together but had it been a wedding or a big birthday party, it would have taken months. But all we really had to do was go to a funeral parlor and pretty much every single thing was set up. I wondered how people could make their living off other people's grief without even batting an eye but their professionalism and somewhat detachment made it easy to iron out all the details quickly so I was grateful for that.
Since my grandmother had asked that my mother to be buried near her, the entire funeral wasn't going to be completed in one day so the first day was mainly an opportunity for most of her friends and colleagues to bow at her coffin and spend a little time with her.
The room was filled with flowers and people who tried their best to not stare at us but were failing miserably. I wondered if that was what it felt like to be a celebrity - a hundred pairs of eyes that darted away with every movement of your head. The person getting the worst pitying looks was of course Jin Soo who had somehow transformed into a little man overnight. I wasn't sure if it because he didn't really understand what was happening or not but instead of crying constantly like Mi Soo, he spent most of his time consoling others, telling everyone that Umma being in heaven was a good thing because she could take care of all of us at once. But not to say that he had been that way the whole time because he'd kicked, screamed and cried the day after she died. And that turned me into an envious maniac because I was yet to shed a tear. I hadn't cried about my mother's death and it bothered me like crazy. Was I really so unfeeling? I had seen my mother's body lying in state and was aware of the fact that I was at her funeral and that she was in fact gone and never to return, yet, I couldn't feel anything about it. I was sure that I was sad but I was definitely not as sad as I should have been nor had I experienced the emptiness or sense of loss I was sure was meant to follow. When it came to this matter, I really did feel like the Tin Man.
I was looking at the bouquet Ji Tae's absent father had sent when his mother approached me. She'd taken the first flight in the minute she'd learned of the news and had been crying nonstop since then.
"Thanks for coming," I started to say when she put her arms me and cried some more.
"Hee Soo yah," she said between sobs, "I really can't believe that she's gone, I can't believe I never get to see her again!"
Not knowing what to say, I let her cry till she let go of me and stepped back.
"I feel so bad. This is terrible," she said. She dabbed her eyes with her wet handkerchief and shook her head. "Why did such a thing happen to her? She doesn't deserve it!"
I wasn't quite sure what to do. Was I to console her? What response was I supposed to give? Since I didn't know, I just let her vent.
"Your mother and I used to joke about what we'd do together when we became in-laws. And I can't believe that she won't get to see her daughter get married because of me. How could I have been so selfish?" she asked herself.
"If I hadn't left, you and Ji Tae would have been married by now and maybe she'd have seen her first grandchild. She's missed out on so many things because of me," she said before dropping her head and sobbing more. Her shoulders were moving so vigorously that I hoped she wasn't hurting herself. "You and Ji Tae.... How could I, how can I…?" she started to say till her voice trailed off.
I reached across and patted her shoulder. "Mrs. Park, it's okay."
I looked around the room to see if there was any place I could escape to. The entire conversation had become quite uncomfortable and I really didn't want to keep hearing about their plans for Ji Tae and me. Besides, was this the right thing to say at someone's funeral? And to make things worse, she was making it sound like the entire accident had been fated and that even if she'd never left for Philadelphia, my mother would still have gotten into the accident when she did.
A few minutes later, she spotted my father and walked over to him so I went to talk to Hyun Su who was leaning against a wall all by himself. As I walked to him, I couldn't help but feel guilty about the position he'd been put in.
My mother's death had obviously put far too much pressure on our relationship – if you could call it that. So in a matter of minutes, he'd been upgraded to consoling boyfriend status. I did sometimes want to tell him to forget about us but I knew that it wouldn't be right since he wasn't doing anything wrong by trying to be there for me, but I felt awful that he felt he had to.
When he saw me walking towards him, he came over and wrapped his arms around me. "Are you okay?" he asked.
I nodded and rested my head on his shoulder. It wasn't entirely comfortable but it wasn't exactly uncomfortable either so I decided to make the best of our situation. Maybe something great would come out of it.
We were still standing together when Ms. Roger Rabbit came over to us. I'd noticed her earlier in the day and was slightly surprised that Ji Tae had brought her along but if he wanted her with him, what could I say? I'd accepted that he had a right to grieve for my mother and could bring whomever he wanted with him.
"Hi," she said, wearily to me.
The first thing I noticed was that her teeth didn't really look that bad up close. They were slightly bigger than average but not that big. Had the lighting at the club been than bad?
"I know it's a little weird for me to introduce myself like this," she said, "especially under the circumstances but my name is Ahn Tae Hee. I'm Ji Tae's girlfriend."
"Really?" I said in a voice I hoped sounded welcoming. "That's nice." Tae Hee and Ji Tae, huh? Was it just me or did their names sort of match? Were they indeed a match made in Heaven? I was about to smirk when I realized that Hyun Su and Hee Soo was even worse. With that thought, I introduced Hyun Su to her.
After they exchanged pleasantries, in a sad voice she said, "I'm really sorry about your mother. My father died when I was 15 and back then, I thought I was going to die but it gets better, trust me. Regardless, how are you hanging in?"
Hyun Su excused himself and left and we stood in silence for a few minutes before she turned her head and watched Ji Tae who was talking to one of our old neighbors.
"You guys grew up together, right?" she asked, gesturing at him.
I nodded. "Next door neighbors," I informed her.
She nodded. "Yeah, that must be why he's so devastated by this. Your families were very close?"
I shrugged. "I guess. But he wasn't in touch with us while he was in America so maybe he's also feeling a bit regretful." I wasn't sure why I was giving her all that information but why not? Maybe she could use it.
"Really? Is that what this is all about?" She shook her head sadly. "He's so sad. I really wish there was something I could do for him."
I rolled my eyes. Great. So even at my mother's funeral, it was all about Ji Tae?
"I-I-I'm so-so-so s-s-s-orry. I d-didn't mean it that way."
Ah sh.it. From the way her eyes grew to twice their size, I realized that I'd thought aloud. What the hell? I thought I'd outgrown that stupid habit.
Seeing her reaction made me feel terrible after all, she was only trying to be nice. "I'm sorry about that… I know you didn't mean it that way. I didn't mean for it to come out like that…."
"I'm so sorry…," she said, avoiding my eyes. "My condolences again." With that, she scampered away.
Other people came to offer their condolences including my boss, Mr. Oh the CEO of SGH industries, my mom's boss and a host of other people that I didn't recognize and after what felt like countless hours of watching them bowing to my mother, their bodies had all begun to meld into one and I couldn't tell them apart.
At the end of the funeral, my father, two of my uncles and one of my mother's cousins carried the coffin to the hearse. We never really interacted with my uncles outside of family events that involved the company and seeing them crying their eyes out, I wondered if they regretted not having a closer relationship with her or if that was just the normal reaction to one's sister's death regardless of how much you loved each other.
We woke up early the next morning to drive over to bury my mother. The drive to my mother's family's gravesite was long and somber and Jin Soo spent more of the time with his face buried in my side.
When we finally arrived at the location, I was shocked to see quite a few people there. I knew a lot of it had to do with my mother being from a successful family and I was sure that she'd probably not recognize most of them but it was nice to see a lot of people turn out to say their final goodbyes even if it was partly due to wanting to see their photos in the local paper.
The grounds erupted in a loud chorus of cries the minute they started lowering the coffin into the ground and didn't subside even after it was completely covered with earth. Once again, not even a single tear escaped my eyes and as Mi Soo and I laid food over the grave then watched Jin Soo pour wine over it, I was quite disheartened by my inability to feel because I'd hoped that the finality of the events would hit me but even though I definitely realized my mother was dead and buried, I still couldn't feel any grief. What was wrong with me?
As we walked back to our car, I noticed Ji Tae walking to his. I excused myself from my family and caught up with him.
"Park Ji Tae," I called to get his attention. He turned around and stopped walking. "I didn't know you came."
"Is Tae Hee here?"
He arched his brow. "How did you...? You met her?"
I nodded. "Yes, she introduced herself yesterday. Very nice girl. She couldn't make it?"
He shook his head. "She had to work but she wanted to come. She sends her love."
Says the guy who didn't even know we'd met. "Thank her for us. And also, thanks for coming – I know it was a long drive."
He shook his head. "It wasn't that long – I barely felt it."
"I see." We stood in silence for some uncomfortable moments before I said, "Well, thanks for coming. I guess I'll see you around."
"Yeah, see you around," he said before turning around and walking away.