Authors: David Yoon
and see what
The hospital is sage green. I sign a form and slip it through the window.
“Are you two together?” says the woman behind the thick glass.
I can’t seem to understand English at the moment, so Joy cuts in: “No, we’re just”—she glances around—“we’re just friends.”
“I wasn’t asking if you were married,” says the woman.
We sit on the hard seats.
I tell Mom.
Doctor is here one moment ok i come out soon bye
Is dad okay?
Daddy okay he stable don’t worry
What do you mean by stable?
Mom doesn’t write back. She must be busy talking with the doctor.
Everyone occasionally harbors the secret wish to be free from their parents’ rules and constraints. Everyone fantasizes now and then of living untethered from the burden of family. But fuck, I just felt the string connecting me to Dad yanked hard by forces beyond my control, and all I can feel is relief that it did not snap.
I don’t know what sort of bond me and Dad have. But I know I need it, whether I even want it or not.
One time when we were little, I whispered to Hanna:
Do you love Mom-n-Dad?
She whispered back:
Don’t we have to?
Me and Joy wait. She wraps an arm tight around my shoulders and pulls me in for an urgent whisper.
“Your dad’s gonna be okay,” she says, and wipes a tear I hadn’t noticed was there. Then she rests my head on her shoulder, just as she rested hers on mine not too long ago. It’s like my heart has turned to lead and is now too heavy to carry alone, so Joy is helping me. She drove us here. She checked us in.
I look up to see a little boy across from us, smiling at us from behind a chair. He’s probably waiting for me to kiss her, I think. He thinks we’re together.
Buzz-buzz. It’s Q. I unlock my phone and hand it to Joy.
“Just read it to me,” I say. I don’t know if I can even formulate a sentence right now.
“I am a man with nothing to hide, Joy Song.”
“Metaphor incoming,” mutters Joy. She reads. “
tonight’s romantic masquerade proceeded most excellently, old bean?
Joy lowers the phone. “Is this how you guys really talk?”
I rake my face with a limp hand, like a weary king. “Just tell him what’s going on.”
Joy tells Q. Q drops the Old Boy routine and declares he’s coming over as soon as he can, over and out.
“Shit,” I say. “Tell him it’s too far. Tell him it’s too late at night.”
“He’s already in the car,” says Joy. “True friends can be such a pain, right?”
I smile at her. She smiles at me. Across the way, the little boy giggles aloud and stares at both of us.
“It’s Brit,” says Joy, offering me the phone.
“Just read it to me,” I say.
Joy eyes me—
—and reads. “
I love you I love you I love you,
heart eyes emoji, heart eyes emoji, blowing kiss emoji, two pink hearts emoji.”
I sit up and look at my phone screen.
“You were serious about the
I love you
s,” says Joy.
I love you
back, no emojis.”
Joy squints at me. “You should let her know what’s going on with your dad.”
“No way,” I say, and instantly hate myself for saying it. “I couldn’t stop her from coming over, and then—”
“And then nuh-duh-duh-dee-duh, got it,” says Joy, nodding. She types
I love you too!
and turns off the phone. I like
that she understands my trepidation without me even having to explain it. I like that she knows the last thing anyone needs is all the drama of Brit showing up, me having to act like we’re not together, and all the rest of it.
Q sends updates on his ETA, and each time, Joy holds out my phone for my thumbprint before giving me her reports.
I like that Joy Song is taking care of me.
“Li?” calls a voice.
We look back, and a trim Korean-American nurse finds our eyes. When we approach, he tweaks his mouth into a frowny face.
“I’m so sorry, our security protocol is family members only,” he says.
I lean in. “Come on, holmes, my dad’s just been shot.”
The nurse taps his fluorescent clipboard three times—
—and says, “All right. This way.”
We get to the room—an actual room with a door, not one of those curtained-off deals—and the nurse announces us with some Korean I don’t quite grasp, and then I see Dad lying in bed peering back at me through an oxygen mask the color of ocean glass. I see Mom leaning over him, watching his every breath.
I thank the nurse and take a step closer. I see little tubes coming out from under the blanket, connected to a big syringe, an IV drip, something else.
Mom looks up. “Aigu, Joy, you don’t have to coming.”
“Mom, is Dad okay?” I say.
Mom starts fussing to clear a chair for Joy to sit in. “Too far. You driving?”
Dad is shot, I just got here, and now Mom’s playing host? The whole thing makes me snap.
“Mom, what the hell happened?” I bark.
“Why you shouting, Frank?”
“I’m sorry,” I bark.
“Frank, Frank, how about you sit?” says Joy.
“I’ve been sitting forever.”
Then Joy gently encircles my wrist with her cool fingers, and I relax.
“They shooting three times,” says Mom. “One hit the lung, cracked one rib. Make a hole. Doctor already put the Band-Aid. Doctor so good. He like you, Korean, but no speaking Korean.”
Sorry I grew up in the wrong country,
I want to snap. I’m in a bad mood. I just want answers.
“Mom,” I say, as evenly as I can. “
“American man, Caucasian man, he coming in,” says Mom with disgust. “I never seeing him before. Only white customer is Charlie, right? That man come in, he asking Daddy how much is the lottery ticket, he so stupid.”
“The sign says the price right there,” I say. Because it does.
“Then he take out kind of antique gun, and he shooting.”
“Bmfmfmfbm,” says Dad through his mask.
“What?” I say.
“Small bullet, only twenty-two caliber. White man, he run away.” Out of nowhere, Mom laughs. “At first Daddy feeling okay, not that much pain. He calling police. But then, oh boy. Hard to breathing. Because tiny-tiny hole in lung.”
“Ai-oh-gey,” says Dad.
“Wait, so the guy didn’t take any money?” says Joy.
“No money,” says Mom. “He going to three other store, smog check store, water store, dambae-jip, he shooting them too, every time he take no money.”
“Anyway police catching him. He so crazy white man.”
“Wait, so they caught the guy?” I say.
“They catching. He shooting three more people. Nobody die. Everybody okay. Daddy gonna be okay, doctor say.”
I fall into the chair. Joy catches me halfway down to make sure I don’t miss the seat with my ass.
“That’s so crazy,” says Joy.
“I buy big bag of Nachitos,” says Mom. “You want Nachitos? Too spicy. Daddy love Nachitos.”
“I’m okay, Mrs. Li,” says Joy. “I can’t eat food that’s too maewo.”
“You don’t like maewo stuff?” says Mom.
. Mom smiles, because Mom can’t deal with spicy food either. She’s been known to eat Nachito chips on top of rice to cut the heat, which is almost as weird as my habit of eating Nachitos with chopsticks to keep my fingertips from turning fiery orange.
While they go on and on about spicy food, I basically just let myself slip into a complete space-out.
Dad just got shot.
The bullet was small, and hit him in a safe enough spot.
But what if the bullet had been just a little bigger?
What if it had hit his left side, not his right, and gone through his heart?
I feel like this moment should be more . . . momentous. But instead, there is Mom, talking about spicy foods, and there is Joy, sitting for all the world like the perfect Korean daughter. She’s even got her knees lined up neatly together and her hands folded in her lap.
I see Dad, staring at me through his mask. He looks frail. I’ve never seen him frail before, and a vision of him convalescing in old age flashes in my mind. But: he’s smiling.
And I understand why. Mom is taking care of him. Joy is taking care of me. We are all here together. His son has chosen a proper girl. All four of us are keenly aware of the specter of death, and remain defiantly alive. Cozy, even. Here in this small emerald room.
I glance at my phone for no reason. Q is twenty minutes away. Nothing from Brit. Why would there be anything from Brit? It’s late and she’s off prancing about in dreamland in her sleep, where me and her are a genuine, authentic Dating Couple.
“Are you okay?” says Joy.
I’m breathing faster and faster. “Can we . . . go . . . outside?”
“Sure, yeah,” says Joy, urging me up. She stares and stares into my increasingly vacant eyes. “Go go go. We’ll be back, Mrs. Li.”
Joy hustles me through the maze of corridors like a Secret Service agent scrambling the president, and we make it
outside into the freezing night air to stand under a cube of brilliant blue-green light. I hunch over my knees and breathe and breathe and breathe.
“Slow it down, you’re having a panic attack,” says Joy. “Deep breath in through the nose, slow breath out through the mouth. That’s it. Make a long
“Shh,” I say. “Shh-h-h-hit fuck piss.”
Joy stifles a laugh and puts on her serious face. “In through the nose, shh-h-h-hit fuck piss through the mouth.”
“Oh man,” I say. “I think I almost just lost Dad. Oh wow.”
My eyes are dancing. Something inside my chest is clenching tight. I stop speaking.
“What do you need?” says Joy. “What do you need? A hug?”
So Joy hugs me, and my thoughts evaporate into cloud form, then fall again to crystallize into something different. My arms spring up to embrace Joy’s back. I’ve hugged her plenty but never like this, never with the whole length of my body, and I feel like I’m clinging to a raft.
“What if all three shots hit?” I say. “What if he bled out? What if it was a bigger gun? He could’ve died so easily tonight, but for some random reason he’s going to be okay, and now we get to pass around a bag of Nachitos like we’re just hanging out.”
I’m babbling. “Shh,” says Joy.
“Seriously, what if he died? He would just get erased, and the world would just go on, and he knows so little about me and I know so little about him, and fuck, if he died, then that
would’ve been it, just like oh, come to America, have this kid named Frank, work at a store, die. You know Dad never talks about his childhood? Almost never? He’s already a huge question mark, and if he fucking died, I wouldn’t even know who I was missing.”
“You still have plenty of time to get to know him,” says Joy. “You’ll get sick of him. I promise.”
“He could’ve died, Joy.”
“He’s gonna be okay.”
“And then that would’ve been
“He’s gonna be okay.”
When Joy releases me to examine my face, she wipes my tears with her sleeves one by one, left, right, then left again, then right again.
I lift her hair, find the green there, and smile at it. All at once my tears stop. My face feels hot and swollen, like someone just kicked a soccer ball at me.
“Thanks,” I say.
“Your eyes are brown,” says Joy.
“They’re black,” I say.
“No, they’re brown,” says Joy. She turns my head in the light and peers closer. “Mhm, brown.”
My whole life,
I have been wrong about my own eyes.
“Whoa,” says a voice.
Joy and I separate. “Hey,” I say.
Q examines my face. “You’ve been crying.”
“I have indeed, old chum.”
“Cry away, I say. Let it all out. How’s your dad doing?”
“He’s gonna be fine. We just got the medical intel.”
“My fingers should help with your swollen face, due to my perennially poor circulation,” says Q, and places a palm over my left cheek.
“Hey, I have bad circulation too,” cries Joy. She offers her hand for Q to feel, and he’s impressed. She places it on my right cheek.
We’re a strange trio, under the cube of light like this.
I take out my phone and begin texting.
“That’s not Brit, is it?” says Q.
“No, because then she would want to come here—” says Joy.
“And then nuh-duh-duh-dee-duh,” says Q, nodding.
Hey, Dad got shot at The Store. We’re at the hospital now. Perforated lung, but he should be okay. Doctors are in wait-and-see mode.
I wait and wait. Two long minutes go by. No one responds slower than Hanna. It’s not just the time difference.
So the official word is he’ll be okay?
she says finally.
Yep, he’ll be okay for sure. Mom’s not even worried.
That’s rare lol
I just figured you should know.
Actually . . . mom already emailed me (!) But thanks Franks
This is a first. Mom hasn’t written Hanna in forever.
So all it took was Dad getting shot, huh,
You’re positive Dad’s gonna be okay
Yes, Big Sister Hanna.
Then tell him I’ve completed my conversion to full black,
I laugh so hard, Joy and Q struggle to keep my cheeks cool. Then they read Hanna’s message and start laughing, too.
Just turning my tears into funny hunny
My thumbs hesitate. I’ve never said this part before.
I love you, big sis,
And instantly, fastest she’s ever responded, Hanna says back:
I love you too boo
Hopefully I’ll get to see you soon,