- onNovember 10, 2014
- Vol.14 Winter 2011
- byKIm Insuk
- Bye, Elena
I got the first email about two weeks after my friend left the country. The subject line read, “Whoa. Internet access!” There were three photos attached. File names: elena1, elena2, and elena3. I read the rest of the email before opening them. The message was brief.
Man, this place is lousy with Elenas. Here an Elena, there an Elena.
The short email ended with an LOL. I thought he was messing with me, and I opened the files. Elena1 was a picture he took with some white girl he met while traveling, and Elena2 was a picture of an old photo of the same white girl sitting next to a middle-aged white woman. Most likely he’d taken a picture of a photo the girl kept in her wallet. Elena3 was a shot of a kiosk—a woman selling newspapers was smiling broadly at the camera. I pulled up all three photos on the computer screen side-by-side and stared at them for a while. My friend’s message was so short that there was pretty much no way for me to figure out what the photos meant.
Before he left on his trip, I asked my friend to find my sister for me. I didn’t blurt it out while drunk or anything—I meant it as a joke. At least I think I did. A long time ago, my dad used to work on a deep sea fishing boat. Since it was before I can remember, that too could have been just another of my father’s jokes. But even long after I was grown up, whenever my dad drank, he would launch into his fishing stories, and those stories of a young sailor catching squid in the Antarctic Ocean for half a year or even a full year at a time always sounded romantic to my young ears. Even before setting eyes on the ocean myself, I knew the sea from my dad’s memories. The ocean in my imagination was always bobbing with ice. Schools of ruddy squid swam between the floes. Lonely, so lonely. My father ended each chapter of his story with those words, like a chorus. Of course, there was nothing romantic about those sea voyages that took him away—not from morning to evening—and required him to be at sea for several months in a row. New crew members couldn’t take the seasickness and the loneliness and the fights that broke out at the drop of a hat, and would throw themselves overboard, but my father laughed as he told me how they would just fish them out with nets, their stomachs bursting from all the water they’d swallowed.
The first time I saw the ocean, I was well into my teens, long after the other kids my age had seen it. In that iceless sea, there were no swimming squid, no lonely sailors aboard fishing vessels. But there were nets. Women with towels knotted around their heads sat in rows on the wharf mending fishing nets. Not one of them was pretty. Considering that my memory of those sunblackened and wrinkled faces of women patching fishing nets is so much clearer than my memory of seeing the ocean for the first time in my life, it’s no wonder that the story that impressed me the most of all of my father’s drunken ramblings was his Elena story.
I left a kid named Elena behind in every port. Poor things… I sowed my wild oats, and they raised themselves.
He was still living with Mom at the time. Each time he told that story, she snorted. I would listen to her snort with laughter, sounding just like someone blowing their nose, and I’d think to myself, gee, Mom likes that story too. My memory may be blurry, but I’m sure she did.
Every night I dreamt I had a sister with a different skin color than me. We would talk in an indecipherable language. Since they were kid dreams, we were always in a castle with pointy spires or a meadow in the Alps, like something you would see in a cartoon. But do they have meadows in the Alps? Anyway, they did in my dreams. I would wake up feeling like there was a heavy weight on my chest. If I dreamt of running away in my younger years, that was probably in order to find my sister who was said to be on the other side of the world.