Moving from Honolulu to Seoul, in the middle of winter, a week before the eighth-grade Valentine's dance, was cruelty in the extreme. I'd never forgive my parents. On my last night in paradise, I gently laid out my favorite muumuu, envisioning the brightly flowered dress as a burial shroud. The next morning, a blue knit skirt with matching blouse, a thick green cardigan and white tights lay in the muumuu's place. Mom wasn't allowing "martyrs", just fashion victims.
As we left the house, our neighborhood friends bade us farewell with homemade leis of pale blossoms. "Aloha! Don't freeze too much, ya?"
I hugged them somberly, but skipped over Kimo, who'd given me five black eyes over the years. His mom must've made him come to say farewell, even though her response to each black eye had been, "That's what happens to girls who fight with boys."
My best friend, Malia, was the last to hug me. "If Danny Leong asks Kuulei to the dance, I'll kick him for you."
I wiped at my eyes, afraid to say anything that would unleash the kind of tsunami crying that led to blood-shot eyes and wayward snot. "Thanks," was all I managed.
My new, closed-in shoes clunked along our driveway. I wondered how fast I could bolt in them. Dad would catch me in a minute though and the escape attempt would just end up being another "undignified" episode for my friends to remember. Apparently, there'd been enough of those lately with my hints of wanting to be adopted by their families, two staged runaways, and a door-to-door fund drive to collect money to make up for Dad's lost job. My parents yelled the loudest after the last of these and were heartless enough to make me return the $23.55 I'd collected.
Since the worst dad on the planet had sold our car the day before, we rode off in the Takahashi's sand-gunked station wagon. I pressed my forehead to the glass, staring at the images of home: the bee-infested guava bushes, the mountain with the Pinto-shaped rock on top, the wiliwili tree where Malia and I had shared so many secrets. I tried to memorize the scent of plumeria, sniffing so hard I couldn't smell anything by the time we reached the airport. When the plane door closed with a suffocating hiss, I knew that my months of pleading had been useless. We really were leaving. No last minute pardon. I cried non-stop on the twelve-hour flight, running to the bathroom so often that the other passengers shot me annoyed stares. And still, the stewardess refused to serve me an alcoholic beverage.
When we changed planes in Tokyo, I barely glanced at the bright advertisements featuring geishas and cherry blossoms. My sister Gina had stopped mourning two hours out of Hawaii for the price of a candy lei. She squealed and pointed to a billboard for Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
I scrubbed at my raw nose with a damp tissue. "So what? We've already seen it." I snuck a peek anyway, intrigued by the Japanese characters blazing across the sky. I could swear they'd even done something to the seagull to make it look less American.
By the time we reached Seoul, my vision was blurry and my head throbbed. It seemed like we drove in circles for hours between Kimpo Airport and the Chosun Hotel. I tried writing a post-card to Malia, but the taxi's jerky starts and stops, along with my crying, left the card blotchy, poetically ruining a little drawing I'd labeled "Tear Drop Lake". Giving up on the card, I cracked open my window, hoping to dilute the smoky smell of the taxi's upholstery. Maybe the tears on my cheeks would freeze into a mask of melancholy my parents couldn't ignore.
Gina, stuck in the middle, leaned around me. "That bus must have a hundred people on it."
In the far left lane, a rusty hulk teetered through the gray slush. Pressed into the windows was a jumble of faces. The bus moved in close enough to push a fresh cloud of diesel fumes our way, then sped up and swerved past us in a ruffle of black exhaust. Our taxi driver hadn't slowed down or deviated from his lane, even when the bus came within inches. I wondered how many people a year died in bus accidents. Or in taxis.
If I were on that plane, I'd do more than shoot her an annoyed glance, I'd shoot her out the emergency exit.
You're starting at the wrong spot. Start in Korea.
And this doesn't feel like a kid talking, to me. I don't think sardonic or sarcastic humor works as a middle grade voice. Most kids are too self conscious at that age, or too unsure of themselves for that kind of humor.