“Line up from oldest to youngest,” he said. I remember the orange carpet, we were standing in the living room. It was the 1970s, when we lived on the East Coast, in Maryland. We were a model Korean immigrant family of five. He waved the black gun in the air in front of our eyes. The gun was intended for security, to protect the unprofitable liquor store that my parents owned in Baltimore.
“Judy stands here, next is Jane, then Daniel, then your mother and finally me,” he said with his hand on my shoulder.
No one moved except him. We had our heads down, it was considered rude to make eye contact when being punished, but I could see him pacing like an anxious lawyer clown from my peripheral view. That’s how he saw himself as both prosecutor and judge of our fate.
He individually positioned us into a Chorus line formation. But we weren’t kicking choreography or singing, we were fighting for our lives; convincing, pleading, begging and apologizing to him, our crazy, insecure Patriarch.
I was silent throughout the whole experience, too shocked and scared to say anything. I thought it was our last night of living on Earth. It was eight or nine p.m., most likely a school night. I was 6, 7, or 8, probably 8 yrs old. I read “Jane Eyre” that year for the first time because my sister lent it to me. She was an unintentional advocate, a difficult nemesis teacher who outwardly hated me; my first and only true bully, but she inadvertently taught me to rely on myself. She was there next to me shivering, with her lovely, long hair shorn, sobbing hard for forgiveness as if he was a god, as if he had the right to murder us.
Father was frighteningly calm, seemingly normal, a strange mirage of gentleness and patience, but instantaneously he could morph into a psycho. It wasn’t alcohol that changed him, he abused us mostly when he was sober. I never saw my father drunk, maybe sometimes he was, but that’s no excuse. I remember the piled up shiny rows of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans stored at the bottom of the kitchen cupboard and the way he smelled like sour vomit when he made me sit on his lap, but like I said, all the worst things he did were done while he was sober.
It felt like slow motion, like when an accident is just about to happen but you can’t stop the momentum; a mistake you can’t undo, you see the keys inside before you forever close the door, you’re locked out. Fuck. For us I thought it was all done, end of story, game over.
He and his gun were deliberating about what to do and when. My sister, brother and mother were surprisingly able to convince him to stop, but it took what felt like hours of debating.
“I’ll shoot her first, from oldest to youngest. Your mother, Daniel, Jane, Judy and then myself. He kept saying that in my brain, or out loud, or both.
No one but I remember this ever happening. But I didn’t dream it, the terror was real. He was a live action grenade. It was a psych ward intervention parade. It was all way beyond my imagination. I write and speak for those who will not remember.
So why do I chose to remember? 1) I don’t want to deny what I don’t understand, to me that’s the definition of insanity. 2) I want to reclaim my sense of reality, and 3)survivor’s guilt keeps me from forgetting. My family went through so much direct trauma that eroded their brains and bodies, switched off the memory. Denial was their only way to survive. I don’t blame them, but I was different and difference is a lonely path.