***For Raine, who is every inch her mother’s daughter. You are loved just as you are. The world is grateful to your mom for bringing you to us. Happy Birthday-week, chinggu-yah. ***
“Hae Rim-a” you call her gently as you hear her voice lilt with joy hanging up the receiver. “You have to try and move slower. I fear that you are going a little too fast with that man,” you gently reminded her. You see the defensiveness in her eyes for a moment before she tells you, “Omma, I’m 33, I can’t keep moving slow with things like this. The bus already left me years ago, so either I chase the bus or run on my own.”
You don’t believe her any bit. Because to you, she’s still the little girl who came home to you, showing her almost perfect report cards from school, the one who cried uncontrollably on your lap when you found out the gaping wound on her thigh she endured for hours and the sweet tomboy who would challenge every girl and guy in the neighborhood. Even with her myriads of accolades from her profession, you don’t believe her one bit, about being 33, about being old, about being left by a bus. Because to you, she deserved the best there could be, even in love. Yes, with Hae-rim, you believe that some people can and do have it all.
You’ve seen her shed tears over the men who left, the men she left and everyone else in between. You’ve seen her heart crushed as she made decision after decision, to pursue the right thing – be it a carefree relationship or a stable career. And you don’t want to see her cry again. Because maybe, little girl that she is in your eyes, you also believe that at this age she should know better. And your heart could only take a number of heartbreaks. Does she even know that your heart hurts more than hers does every time a tear falls down her eyes?
You feel someone’s arms around you, and a peck on your cheeks. “Omma, let’s spend girl time today, nae? I’ll take you to the foot spa and we can go have lunch.” You smile as you nod at her suggestion. “I will get ready so we can leave soon.” You say. “Yay! Saranghae eomoni!” she says in a singsong tone as she goes into the room of her childhood. She was there to visit you that day, in spite of her busy schedule. Your little eagle knows how to come back to the nest every now and then. You dare not imagine what she does as she lives on her own, especially with such a huge and continuously growing infatuation with that man.
“I have every reason to fear for my Hae Rim’s sake.” You think to yourself as you got ready for your girls’ day out. Guys like Hyun Bin are dangerous, smooth criminals. If you were younger, you probably would have been infatuated with him as well. And now that man’s lovebug has gotten to your own daughter. In your wildest dreams or worst nightmares, to your own daughter. Save the fact that your daughter carries her own bug as well to all other eligible and well-intentioned bachelors in South Korea, you especially fear guys like Hyun Bin. Because in a mother’s intuition, they’re just the type of people who can leave your little one’s heart broken into pieces, when they finally decide to break it. But knowing Hae Rim, you stand back and watch. You vow to be there if she does end up crying, but just to be safe you will offer up countless prayers to the heavens that her tears will not flow again. “She will do the right thing. She always does.” you console yourself.
During lunch, her phone vibrates on the table. She glances at it and pauses to look at you, asking permission to take the call. Seeing the mirth in her eyes, you understand who was on the other line. Her phone keeps ringing, so you finally say “Munja wassyeong. Gureom, take it!” You guess the conversation that transpired between the two lovebirds as Hae Rim spoke to the other line with an indelible smile on her lips. She told him she was spending time with you. And that yes she’ll have to see him again some other time. She told him where you both were and promised to say hello to you for him. You don’t know if you were supposed to feel guilty or proud, that at that moment you were still her queen and that she is choosing time with you, over the obvious longing in her heart for him. She repeats to you what she told him “Tae Pyung says hi. And that he wishes to see you someday.” She says this happily, and that’s how you know that you will not dare take away that joy from her now. You cannot and you wouldn’t. So, you brace your heart and try to conquer your fears.
You see a tall, lanky man with jeans and shirt on, hiding beneath a baseball cap and shades from where you were seated. You don’t tell Hae Rim yet what you were seeing as you were rather dumbfounded with his appearance as well. He looks at your direction, smiles and waves as he hurries to the door of the restaurant you were in. You watch him as he whispered to the server, as the server leads him to your table and as he teasingly says “Sillaehamnida, Ji Won-ssi, is this seat taken?” Not able to contain her surprise and amusement, Hae Rim claps at the sight of him. You almost cannot bear watching the cheesiness of the situation. “Kids these days!” you thought. “Annyeonghaseyo, eomoni. Kim Tae Pyung-imnida. Bangapsumida.” he tells you as he bows in respect in front of you. He also extends his hand to introduce himself. Either he forgot the Korean customs or was plain confused with situations such as this, so you save him from further humiliation and shake his hand. And you feel it being cold and shaky. Nerves. He was full of it. So, you decide to be nice to him at least then.
Hae Rim moves sidewards to let him take the seat next to her. You engage in friendly conversation over lunch. He was a gracious uninvited guest. He listens to you and Hae Rim catch up, almost as if he wasn’t there, only if not he was pouring water on her glass or yours, fixing her plate, passing food around or asking questions every now and then to engage in the discussion. Clearly he understood that the time was meant for you and Hae Rim, and he made you feel as if he will not try mess with that even one bit. He was just happy being there, next to her, or maybe even, finally, in front of you.
Almost an hour had passed and she taps his arm, to signal the need to go out to make a call to her manager about changes in her schedule He moves to let her pass, leaving you both alone at the table. A few moments of awkward silence later, you muster up the courage to tell him, “Don’t go breaking my daughter’s heart. I’m a good friend, but a bad enemy. Remember that.” He nods silently. Moments of awkward silence again. You wonder why Hae Rim is taking so long. “Omma.” he says almost in a whisper. “De?” you ask with arched eyebrows. “Jeongmal kamsahamnida. Jeongmal komawoyo.” He says sincerely. “De?” you ask bringing your eyebrows down. “For molding Hae Rim to who she is now. For making her tough. For making her gentle and warm. For making her easy to fall for, and hard to leave.” And you don’t know if you would cry hearing those. You hadn’t heard that in a while, much more so from a guy you fear for your daughter. “Omma, I will go into the military soon. I will try to be a better person. So I will be more worthy of her and your family when the service is over.” he continues. “I know you will do it anyway. But if not too much to ask, can you look after her for me too?” he genuinely asks you. And you can’t help but nod. You reach out your hand for his to squeeze it. This guy is going right by the how-to-hook-mom-playbook, okay, but in your mother’s intuition you knew, you heard from that voice, that he isn’t playing. That makes you feel warm. That makes you feel proud. Your Hae Rim knows to pick the right guy after all.
At your house hours later, you watch a movie with her, sharing a pint of ice cream. In a movie’s moment, when the guy was chasing after girl, you remember what transpired earlier that day. So, you tell the woman beside you, “Hae Rim-a, don’t break Tae Pyung’s heart, ahrasso? Move slow if you need to be sure. Just don’t break that boy’s heart.” She looks at you, surprised at your words, contrasting your words that morning. Avoiding her teasing, you stand up to go to the kitchen. She laughs heartily by the couch you just left. That day, you knew, he proved, that there’s likely no reason to be afraid. That smooth criminals like him can be innocent after all, for the right woman. With the look in his eyes as he spoke to you, it did seem like your daughter, to him, is the right woman.
If things go well for the both of them, you vow to yourself that you will guide them through that however way you can…
If things go well, you learn that your daughter will be safe. She can fly, much on her own. And that she can pick her own battles.
If things go well, you learn that you are just about to gain another son.