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Upon hearing that her daughter, Kim, was in a car accident, Sun Lieu's first question was whether the car was all right.
Silence. Then, in a harsh Korean accent, she asked, "Hello? You still there?"
Park sighed. "Your daughter is in critical condition, thanks for asking. She hit a tree last night at about 1 A.M., and --"
"Not possible. Kim was sleeping in bed last night."
"I'm only telling you what she told me, Mom. She dialed 911 before going unconscious, and they checked her into the closest hospital, Gilbert. I can give you directions if you want," he offered.
"She told you this? Why did she not call me first? I am her mother, after all."
"Maybe because she knew you would react this way? She didn't have ID on her, and the doctor offered to call you first when she woke up, but she told them to call me and have me tell you the news."
"That is not how it should be," she said. "A girl gets in accident, it should be her mother who knows first. It shouldn't be through her brother away in college that her mother finds out! Brother who thinks he's so smart because he goes to university. Brother who should have been there for her!"
"And what about you, Mom? Where were you?"
"How dare you speak to me like I am some stupid old woman! That is not how I raised you. Is this what happens when you are away for few months? You think you can talk down to me now?"
"The car's fine," he said coldly. "Goodbye."
The plane from New York to Philadelphia arrived three hours after Park's parents had been at the hospital, and he was there an hour later, taking a deep breath before entering.
"Hi, Park," she said timidly from the bed. Her usually straight black hair was a messy, tangled sprawl across the white pillow sheets, while purple bruises splotched her face and her bloodshot eyes hinted at a recent fit of tears.
Park does not wait to say hello to his parents, their arms both crossed beside the bed, before rushing over and holding his sister in his arms. "You're -- choking -- me," she said, gasping over her own laughter.
"Sorry," he said as the door shut quietly behind him.
"They're accusing me of drunk driving," she said in a lowered voice. "Mom and Dad, I mean."
"And were you?"
Kim raised her eyebrows.
"It's not like you to be out that late," he said, "so I don't know what's going on. Tell me."
Kim shifted uncomfortably in the bed and paused before speaking. "I had one drink," she said, "which is what the blood test would reveal. I declined the hospital's request to do a blood analysis because I know how Mom and Dad would react to hearing that I had even one. But that's all, Park. I wasn't drunk. You know I wouldn't lie to you."
Park examined his sister closely, the pleading look in her eyes to believe her, and the edge of the white bedsheet held in her pale hand. "I believe you," he said at last. "I believe you."
"Will she be okay?" Park asked the doctor when he left Kim to join his parents in the hallway. The doctor, a short, middle-aged man, ran his fingers through his thinning hair and said, "Your sister's in excellent physical condition. With that said, the collision crushed her spine and has done permanent damage to that region. There's a very likely chance that she'll be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. I'm sorry."
Park's mother looked to the floor as Jin wrapped his arms around his wife's bony shoulders. Park watched an elderly man limping slowly along the hallway with an IV fluid unit strapped to his arm as, in the other direction, a smiling mother held the hand of her daughter. They both passed Park at the same time, the man turning into his room just before the mother and daughter walked through the sliding exit doors.
They left at last as the sky darkened. After a silent dinner under a glaring fluorescent light, Sun announced she had to get a few things at the store and left abruptly.
The plates crashed to the kitchen sink. "Why is she so indifferent?" said Park.
"What are you talking about, son?" his father asked, placing the bowl under the running faucet.
"When I called to tell you guys what happened, she asked me if the car was okay. Not whether Kim was all right, but whether any damage had been wrought on the car."
Jin removed the steaming cup of water from the microwave and steeped it in a chamomile teabag before answering. "You're forgetting the way she was raised. I know you think we're strict, son, but imagine her parents scolding her for crying, or even showing joy. Imagine what effect that has on her even today. In her family, you had to be strong all the time, indifferent to the world around you. It's the way she is, unfortunately. But don't mistake that for not caring. Don't ever think your mother doesn't care."
They finished washing the dishes in silence.
"Chamomile?" Jin asked. "It's supposed to relax you."
"Give it to Mom," said Park, slamming the cabinet door shut. "She needs it."
He lit the cigarette before hearing the whimpering, and he jumped back, dropping the cigarette from his mouth and stamping it out. Then he turned at the second whimper to see a figure hunched over on the porch's single seat. Though it was dark, Park instantly recognized his mother.
He didn't say anything. Instead he stepped lightly over to her and rubbed her shoulder gently. She moved her body to the edge of the seat and motioned him to sit.
They hugged each other tightly, not speaking for what must have been fifteen minutes before Sun said, finally, "She is my only daughter. Now she is getting into drinking and, who knows? Maybe even sex and rock and roll. And you heard what doctor said. As her mother, I have failed her."
Park shook his head. "She'll be fine, Mom. We all will. And whatever you think of her sneaking out to go to a party, know, at least, that she wasn't drunk. Believe me, Mom, when I tell you that she wasn't drunk."
"Are you ready for your pills, Ms. Lieu?" asked the nurse. She left when Kim's vacant stare showed no flicker of recognition.
Kim was not thinking of the nurse, or even the hospital. She was replaying it in her mind again and again, the strange, pulsating thrum of her heartbeat that rose and rose to a breathless inhale at leaving her parents' house and getting into the car. Not thinking, really, of the party, but of him. And when she got there, he smiled and beckoned her to sit beside him in the circle of people. In the music's blare, words would not have sufficed; they barely spoke more than a handful. It did not take long for the beer to be discovered and passed around eagerly, reaching Kim last. With his eyes on her, she swallowed the last of its contents, though there were many more to come, and once she was drunk and ready, he kissed her, working his way down from her mouth before they left the other partygoers to go upstairs, closing and locking the door behind them.
She was still shaking when she left, buzzing with nerves and eyes giving a thousand-yard stare at the road before her. She was only in the car for a few minutes before it happened. It is here that her memory failed her, that strange plane between consciousness and unconsciousness that she knew she never wanted to revisit.
She turned to answer the nurse, only to find that she was already gone. Her lip quivered before collapsing down onto the bed in fits of sobbing. And when her father's number appeared on her cell phone screen, she left it vibrating on the bedside table. It dropped to the floor and shattered in two.