Jersey City Photographer

Umma

My mother never went to high school.

 

The oldest of five poor children, she went to work at a candy making factory instead. (Decades later, my grandfather, a little hazy from Alzheimer's, admitted that that was his biggest regret.) There, she met my father, and chased him.

 

One day, after a couple months of missed periods and morning sickness, my mother disappeared. She was eighteen. So stupid, and young, and scared.

 

The night my sister was born, my father was drinking in the room next door. Screaming, my mother had her on the bedroom floor. Afterward, my father, drunk, threw my sister's umbilical cord off into the ocean. The waves brought it back. Laughing hysterically, bent at the belly, he fished it out and threw it once more.


 

My mother has spent most of 2016 in South Korea. Late 2015 she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer and underwent a hysterectomy that wrecked her. Physically, her legs felt weak, her heart rate at a constant high pitch that left her shaking. She started having dark thoughts that frightened her.

She came to Korea in hopes of finding answers. I came in search of her.

 My mother takes a moment to rest after walking around in a park.

My mother takes a moment to rest after walking around in a park.

 My mother applies ointment to a scar at the base of her neck. She underwent surgery in her throat to remove non-malignant masses.

My mother applies ointment to a scar at the base of her neck. She underwent surgery in her throat to remove non-malignant masses.

 My mother sleeps on the floor.

My mother sleeps on the floor.

 My mother and Soobin laugh together while on a ferry tour. Soobin is her niece. My mom has raised her since she was 10.

My mother and Soobin laugh together while on a ferry tour. Soobin is her niece. My mom has raised her since she was 10.

 My mother laughs while holding on to the railing. The staircase leads into the ocean.

My mother laughs while holding on to the railing. The staircase leads into the ocean.

 My mother sleeps in the living room of her younger sister's home.

My mother sleeps in the living room of her younger sister's home.