‘The Korean community has a special name for the LA riots: Sa-I-Gu, Four-Two-Nine, the day it all began.’
The Los Angeles Riots erupted across South Central LA 23 years ago last week. Although the acquittals of the four officers involved in the Rodney King beating was the precipitating event, there had been another highly contentious event leading up to the riots—namely, the murder of fifteen-year-old Latasha Harlins by a Korean shop owner, Soon Ja Du.
The trial and sentencing of Soon Ja Du, who received only five-years probation, community service, and a $500 fine, exacerbated the already tense situation between blacks and Koreans in South LA. Misperceptions—such as the perception that Korean shop owners were disrespectful because they placed the change directly on the counter instead of in the customer’s hands; the perception that black youths were violent gang members and drug dealers—cumulated and snowballed. Harlins’ murder became representative of an entire constellation of injustice and systemic violence.
The LA Riots are remembered as being the first multiracial riots. Though the cause of the riots was wide-ranging and long-developing—police brutality, poverty, lack of educational opportunities, state-sanctioned segregation—news outlets preferred to stage the riots as an urban turf war—blacks versus Koreans, blacks versus Hispanics, Hispanics versus Koreans. As activist Angela Oh argued at the time, this was the easier story to tell—or at least it was the more profitable narrative.
And it was an easy enough narrative to perpetuate. For many of us growing up in LA in the early 90s, we remember watching footage of Korean men armed with AKs and Uzis on the roofs of their looted, burnt-out businesses, ready to shoot down whoever dared to trespass. Meanwhile, the LAPD was mysteriously absent, mostly letting the businesses burn.
Since the Baltimore protests, many have drawn parallels between the LA Riots then and the current uprising now—what has changed, what has stayed the same? Unfortunately, what has stayed the same has been an easy tendency to point toward POC vs. POC violence. Yes—during the Baltimore riots, Asian and Arab businesses were destroyed and racial epithets were hurled—but that isn’t the whole story. Perhaps the image of a Chinese liquor storeowner knee-deep in rubble is the face of the story, but what is underneath that story?
Perhaps to better understand our current historical moment, we might look again at the past, to look again at the macro by way of inspecting the micro. To inaugurate the first story in our #FridayFiction series, we would like to introduce M.K. Hall’s story “Fortune and Riot,” a story that is set during the 1992 LA Riots. In this story, a young half-Korean girl attempts to navigate this complex world of adult allegiances and hidden prejudices, and discovers for the first time how unfair and perplexing this world can be, a world where no crimes are equal and justice is doled out in the most arbitrary of ways.
A pencil. A calculator. A single, crisp hundred-dollar bill. A blue piece of yarn. A toothbrush. A golf ball. Grace’s dad arranged these items on a low folding table inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Whenever my mother spoke of the neighbors, she referred to Mr. & Mrs. Han as “Grace’s dad” and “Grace’s mom,” so that was what I called them, too. They owned a convenience/video-rental store downtown on Olympic near Wilshire Center. Every once in a while Grace’s mom would bring over a bouquet of flowers slightly too withered to sell, along with stacks of magazines and VHS tapes of Korean soap operas with Chinese subtitles I couldn’t understand.
It was sometime in November 1991 when the Hans invited us over to celebrate their son Jeffrey’s first birthday. I had been inside Grace’s house only a handful of times since they moved in next door, and despite my assumption that I would have a horrible time (I was in sixth grade and detested adult parties disguised as children’s parties), I was delighted by the little discrepancies between our homes. The blueprints were almost identical, except their three-bedroom ranch was the mirror image of ours. Reflexively, I would turn right towards the bathroom but end up in the kitchen.
When Grace’s dad was satisfied with the arrangement of items he called everyone to gather around the table. A screen adorned with peony blossoms served as the backdrop. Grace’s mom sat on the floor between the screen and table, Jeffrey squirming in her arms. The baby, oblivious to the display, kept tugging on the silk bow of her hanbok jacket until it unraveled like a partially unwrapped gift. Grace was also wearing a traditional Korean dress, and I was jealous of the colors, garishly vibrant, a kaleidoscopic rainbow. We were in the same grade and carpooled together, but we weren’t friends.
The ceremony was about to begin when the golf ball rolled off the table onto the wood floor, bouncing like rapid gunfire. It stopped under the sole of Grace’s dad’s shoe. To keep it from rolling away again, he set the ball on top of a silk coin purse, then circled his palms around the objects like a fortuneteller over a crystal ball.
“Let the selection begin,” he said in a mock announcer’s voice. People laughed politely at his theatrics.
“In Korea often baby die too young,” my mother whispered to my dad and me. “Doljanchi is a cheer for baby, ‘Yes you made it! Good for you.’ After one year, most likely, baby will survive.”
I was surprised my mother was bothering to explain anything to us. My dad was the son of a Syrian woman who fled her homeland and wound up marrying an Ohioan. Like his parents before him, my dad didn’t think I needed to know a distant mother tongue and my mother was too busy working as a labor and delivery nurse to teach me. Everything I knew about Korea I learned through osmosis. It really wasn’t until the Hans moved next door that I saw how my mother belonged to another group of people, that she had a “we” that didn’t include us. I was disturbed by her sudden explanations as though we were just tourists in her world.
Kneeling behind the table, Grace’s mom balanced Jeffrey by the armpits to keep him from falling as he held onto the ledge and did an infant’s exercise routine: a series of fast squats.
“Aga,” Grace’s mom said. She tapped the table’s shiny surface. “Ha na gol la.”
My mother translated for us. “She say, ‘Baby, pick one.’”
“I know,” I said, though I didn’t.
According to my mother, whichever object the baby chose would predict his future. Traditionally, a calligraphy brush represented life as a scholar, while rice signified a post as a government official. Money, rather unimaginatively, suggested wealth. Modern families substituted newer objects to portend more relevant aspirations. The calculator meant Jeffrey would become an engineering genius while the golf ball heralded his career as a star athlete.
“What’s the toothbrush for?” I asked.
My mother tapped her front teeth. “Dentist.”
Grace’s mom lifted Jeffrey over the objects, letting him touch each one. His mushy infant fingers did not grasp the golf ball or the pencil. When he passed over the money and the calculator, the room groaned in jest. He ignored the toothbrush too. Then his fingers tangled around the blue yarn. People clapped and nodded.
“For long life. Very good choice,” my mother said.
Afterwards, we gathered around towers of rice cakes, paper plates in hand. The room smelled of pickled things: cabbage, daikon, cucumbers, garlic. With his fingers, my dad dipped a piece of kimpap into soy sauce then plopped it into his mouth. He was the only man in the room with a beard. Everywhere were strangers who somehow knew my name.
“Japanese people trick the world pretending they invented sushi,” said Grace’s mom, appearing at my elbow. “Always they steal the best idea from Korea. Eat, eat. I make the best cooking.” Her eyebrows were tattooed in blue ink that creased elegantly as she transported half a dozen kimpap onto my plate with a slender pair of metal chopsticks. Then she fluttered off to attend to the other guests, the loose bow of her jeogori trailing behind her.
There was an empty picnic table in the backyard covered in white construction paper, which my parents and I approached, plates in hand. A lonely balloon was tied to a lawn chair, bobbing in the November wind. Grace’s dad stood smoking on the border between the patio and the lawn. As we maneuvered our legs into the bench’s skeleton, Grace’s dad turned. He took one last deep drag, then a second smaller puff, before dropping the cigarette into the grass, extinguishing its tip with the bottom of his sneaker. He had tucked his feet only partway into his Reeboks so the material in the back was flattened under his heels. Shuffling towards us, hands clasped behind him, he spoke with his announcer’s voice, “So my favorite neighbor, how is the Lovejoy family enjoying yourself?”
My dad sucked his fingers, index and thumb, then stood halfway, the picnic table restricting his movements. He pumped Grace’s dad’s hand. “Great. Everything’s great.”
“I am so happy you can come.”
Grace’s dad spoke to my mom in Korean and she laughed, shielding her mouth with a cupped hand, as if embarrassed to show her teeth. She was wearing lipstick. My mother was not generous with her laugher and I wondered what could be so funny. My dad examined the tips of his unused chopsticks. “How’s business? That controversy about the Harlins shooting affect your store at all?”
Earlier that year a girl named Latasha Harlins had stopped for breakfast on her way to school and put a bottle of orange juice in her backpack at the Empire Liquor Market, which was owned by a Korean family named Du, not far from where Grace’s dad ran his convenience store. The owner’s wife thought Latasha was shoplifting. There was a scuffle. When Latasha turned to leave, Mrs. Du shot her in the back of the head.
Upon hearing the name, lines of worry momentarily furrowed Grace’s dad’s forehead.
At the trial, Mrs. Du was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. But in light of the circumstances surrounding the shooting—the gangs that terrorized the store, the death threats against Mrs. Du’s son, who usually worked the counter at the time Latasha was shot—the judge reduced the ten-year sentence to five-years probation, four-hundred hours of community service, and a $500 fine.
“To be honest, the situation is tense,” Grace’s dad said. “So many gang sell drug in our area. Korean storeowners are afraid. In my opinion fear is more dangerous than even hate. My one friend suggest I should buy a gun for protection. His position is, to the police Korean people will always be foreigners in this country. We must defend ourself. But I refuse to resort to that way of thinking. I work hard. Everyday I prove I belong.”
“Fifteen-years-old,” my dad said, shaking his head. “You know what they found in her hand when she died?”
“In a way, I am not surprise such a tragedy can occur. To Korean storeowner, we have constant worry, is this customer gang, drug dealer, robbing me? There is serious problem. So it becomes difficult to separate what is truly dangerous from what is not.”
“Two dollars.” Dad was angry, but it seemed weird that he was directing his anger toward Grace’s dad. “My students are her age, you know. There’re just kids. Latasha Harlins was not dangerous. She wasn’t even shoplifting. And now she’s dead. That Du woman should rot in prison.”
“How can they send her jail?” my mother asked. “She was self-protect. What happen very sad, but this girl she was scaring storeowner. Fighting. Punch her face. Knock her down. You cannot do this my country. Younger generation show respect.”
“Yobo, not even the jury bought that bull.” My dad called my mother by the Korean term of endearment for sweetheart. That was one of things I loved about him.
I ate a piece of kimpap, and since I didn’t know what Mrs. Du looked like, I imagined Grace’s mom with her tattooed eyebrows, who seemed more foreign than my own mother and, thus, in my young logic, more prone to disregard American laws.
“Why send jail for mistake?” my mother insisted.
“Because Latasha’s family deserves justice.”
“What about Korean family? The police are not protect their store. I think judge made right decision, let her go.”
“What do you think, Mr. Han, about the sentence?” my dad asked sharply.
Grace’s dad tightened his mouth. “In the end, God will decide how to punish us all.”
The bones of his face seemed right beneath his skin: wide cheeks and a strong triangle nose. He wore his hair short with a clean part on the side. I remembered how my mom said he looked like a movie star from one of the soap operas she and Grace’s mom watched.
He clapped his hands together. “Today is my little piggy’s birthday. I am so happy. What about you, Ruby Lovejoy?” Grace’s dad always called me by my full name. I asked my mom once if this formality was a Korean thing, but she said no. That he probably just liked the way it sounded.
“What about me what?”
“Are you having a fun time at the party?”
“You should not have to guess your feelings. You should know.”
Grace’s dad asked my mom something in Korean. She shook her head once so quickly I wasn’t sure she moved.
“What are you saying?” I eyed her warily. “Speak English.”
“I was asking whether you had a doljanchi celebration as an infant,” said Grace’s dad. Again my mom shook her head, more vigorously this time.
“No!” I was outraged, as if such an event could have possibly informed my memories. “Why not?”
“Because,” said my mother. “You are not Korean.”
Grace’s dad smiled at my mom. “She is the future. A post-racial world. Am I speak correctly, post-racial?”
“People will always find something to hate about each other.” My dad popped another kimpap into his mouth. “Hey, Mr. Han. Hundred bucks says I can pop that balloon over there with the tip of this chopstick.” The red balloon was at least thirty feet from where we sat. He hovered the metal chopstick in the air like a dart, aiming.
Without hesitation, Grace’s dad pulled out the crisp bill from his wallet that Jeffrey had bypassed and placed it on the table. “I love to gamble. Without standing?”
“I’ll do it right from here.” My dad licked a finger and tested the direction of the wind.
“Why are you do this?” my mom said, embarrassed.
He winked at me. “Ruby, you ready to earn your commission?”
“I’ll split the winnings if you go over there and fetch me that balloon.”
In a flash I ran across the patio and ripped the white string that tethered the balloon to the lawn chair. When I handed over the balloon to him, he popped it easily with the chopstick.
Grace’s dad laughed so hard he closed his eyes, and his joy sounded like sobbing. “A clever trick,” he said gasping for breath.
My mom grabbed the bill and tore it down the middle. “Half for you and half for you.” Angrily she handed part to my dad and part to me, extracted her legs from beneath the picnic bench, and went inside. Grace’s dad and mine exchanged looks of bewilderment, then started laughing. I didn’t think there was anything funny about what she’d done. I wanted my money.
When my dad stood to go after her, he squeezed Grace’s dad’s shoulder meaningfully. “Be careful, my friend,” he said.
On the table the shriveled balloon lay attached to its leash. Grace’s dad plucked the balloon, wound the string around the rubber and put the lump in his shirt pocket while I fumbled with the fissure in Ben Franklin’s face, trying to reassemble what was beyond repair. Grace’s dad sighed extravagantly. “Tell me, Ruby Lovejoy,” he began. But then he seemed to change his mind, and we sat together, not speaking.
~ o ~
Then came the restless days of spring. Late April filled with sour static energy, the atmosphere tight with apprehension, as if we were all holding our breaths, a thrumming in the chest.
One afternoon, Grace and I waited on the white brick wall at the corner of the school. Her mom was late picking us up.
“What’s the zygomatic?” Grace asked, frowning into her biology notebook. I peered over her shoulder. There was a diagram of a human skeleton with horizontal lines pointing to various bones. Grace’s neat handwriting marched in purple ink across the lines.
“It’s the cheek bone,” I told her, pointing to the corresponding line.
She looked up, turning her head from right to left. We were the only kids left at the curbside pickup. She sighed. “What time is it anyway?”
“Maybe your mom’s car broke down. Maybe she crashed.”
Grace stood and stretched her arms overhead. “Do you have any money?”
“We can get change at the gas station.”
“To call home. There’s a payphone there, too.”
“Shouldn’t we stay here? What if your mom comes?”
“She’d wait until we got back. Come on.”
Without pausing to see if I would comply, she took off. I followed, not wanting to miss out on the adventure. Darting across the street, Grace took the route along the alley. Empty soda cans and potato chip wrappers littered the dirt path. The alley was where the popular older kids came to smoke before class, so I was surprised not only that Grace knew of its existence, but also that she was familiar with the shortcut to the plaza. We arrived at the dumpsters behind the Arco station, startling a man in a navy mechanics jumper. The ends of his hair were bleached blonde from the sun and hung in unwashed strands down to his shoulders a la Kurt Cobain. Leaning against a dumpster, he was smoking something that appeared to be a joint. We had learned about drugs in school and I was scared to approach him. Grace, however, plodded ahead.
“Excuse me,” said Grace, pouting her lips. “Can you help us?”
“We need a quarter for the payphone,” I said holding up my dollar.
“You guys Sea Kings?” His voice was reedy.
“Uh huh. Eighth-grade,” Grace said, lying. She flipped her hair, revealing a perfect conch shaped ear. “We’re trying to find a ride somewhere.”
“I was a Sea King once, back when the middle school was a high school. Used to be captain of the water polo team before I dropped out.”
“We want to go home,” I told him.
The man glanced at the station. No one was at the pumps. Twin lines of tire tracks stained the pavement. “You can use the phone in the office. It’s free.” He stared as if waiting for something, then giggled to himself. “Guess I’m supposed to led the way.”
Through the mini-mart we went. The three of us crammed into a shadowy room that contained a metal desk, but no chair. The blinds on the window were partially closed, slashing the dark with thin bands of yellow. A calendar of a topless woman hung on the wall. It was April. Kurt Cobain pointed to an old rotary phone, its plastic stained with whorls of black fingerprints.
“Just don’t tell my boss I let you back here.”
Grace picked the phone from its cradle, twirling the cord between her fingers. I thought about Jeffrey and the blue yarn from his birthday, so many months ago. Sensing Kurt’s eyes on me, I pretended to be engrossed with watching Grace dial. The sound of distant ringing.
“Hey,” Kurt whispered. I toed a broken piece of plaster with my shoe. “Hey,” he said, louder this time. I raised my eyes to his. He jutted his chin toward me. I hadn’t noticed how good-looking he was. No wonder Grace had been acting strangely: a twelve-year-old’s attempt at flirting. Even in the gloom, his eyes shone like blue sea glass. For a moment I thought he might kiss me. “Are you two Japs?” he asked.
“Me?” I asked incredulously, shaking my head.
“That’s good.” Kurt appeared genuinely relieved. “My boss hates Japs.”
Instinctively I looked over my shoulder, as if Kurt’s boss were standing behind me. Instead I saw the calendar. The pinup girl was wearing a fireman’s hat, her nipples tiny and pink. There were cross marks on the calendar through days 1-28.
Grace hung up. “No answer.”
“Bummer,” said Kurt. He bit into a hangnail on his thumb, then spit. It was a boyish thing to do, and I remember thinking he probably was just some teenager, tender age in bloom.
~ o ~
We bought a packet of Skittles with my dollar and ate them as we walked back to the curbside pickup, kicking an empty Gatorade bottle down the alley. The excursion had made us giddy. We talked breathlessly, recounting events from the Arco, wanting never to forget.
“And then he like winked at me,” Grace said, popping a skittle into her mouth.
“Are you sure he didn’t have something in his eye?”
“For sure. And he was totally high, you know?”
“Yeah.” I nodded, adding helpfully, “He was under the influence.”
We emerged onto the street. Pine trees lined the perimeter behind the white brick wall. I wondered if Grace and I were more than neighbors. Maybe we were friends.
“Wait.” She stopped walking. “I left my biology book there.”
“On the desk. We have to go back. Oh my God,” she squealed, grabbing my arm. The thought of seeing Kurt again made my bladder tighten. I heard a car swoosh past, then stop.
“Ruby!” My dad stuck his head out the window, glaring at us. I was so excited by the prospect of returning to the Arco that I didn’t wonder why he wasn’t at practice, drilling the high school track team to run in circles on the red clay track. “Ruby, where have you been?”
I skipped towards the van and flung open the door. “Grace left her homework at the gas station. We have to get it.”
“I’ve been driving around looking for you.” The sharpness of his voice began to find its way into my core like a stone dropping into a deep well.
Grace hopped into the backseat. “Hi, Mr. Lovejoy! Where’s my mom?”
He put a hand on the passenger seat and twisted his torso to face Grace, who was buckling her seatbelt behind him. Parallel lines creased between his eyebrows. “She’s at the hospital.” We were learning about parallel lines in math class, how they traveled side-by-side never touching. “Your father’s been attacked.”
~ o ~
When the riots started, my dad watched all the footage. Helicopters and news crews filmed everything: Reginald Denny beaten by a mob of locals at the intersection of Florence and South Normandie, the cinderblock crushing his skull; the rescue by Bobby Green Junior, a black man, who after watching the scene unfold on the television in his living room, decided enough was enough. My dad always said there was something poetic about Bobby driving Reginald to the hospital in a truck that was filled with sand. There’s footage of the armed resistance in Koreatown, merchants firing pistols, shotguns, AK-47s, an uzi (where did they get an uzi?). Because of what happened to Latasha, Korean stores—including the Han’s—were targeted, looted, and torched. The Korean community has a special name for the LA riots: Sa-I-Gu, Four-Two-Nine, the day it all began.
We drove and drove. The peninsula was a land of rolling hills perpetually shrouded in mist. Roads curved steeply on the downhill grades and we tilted our bodies against the centrifugal force. Trees gave way to power lines. We passed the oil refinery, smokestacks behind it releasing white clouds. From the on-ramp, my dad merged and darted into the carpool lane. A semi-truck blared its horn, barely missing us. He drove hunched forward, both hands on the wheel, eyes alternating between the rearview mirror and the exit signs that rushed by in blurs of white letters. Carsickness made me grip the armrest on the side of the door. Acid rose in my throat, faintly flavored with Skittles. I worried I would vomit. To the left a giant figure of Felix the cat stood guard over the Harbor Freeway, smiling.
Everything in the hospital was the same muted color: the flowers in the gift shop, the sign for the I.C.U., the green chairs in the waiting room weren’t really green but a darker shade of beige. My mother came forward, frowning. She must have come straight from work. Her scrubs had teddy bears holding onto strings of balloons. She told us Grace’s dad was still unconscious somewhere, recovering from surgery. The doctors had reattached a partially severed finger and wired shut his jaw. One of his lungs had collapsed. Mandible, I thought to myself. Maxilla. My mother had driven Grace’s mom, who had been too upset to drive, to the hospital where she now stared at a television mounted to the wall, absently beating her shoulders with a loose fist, waiting for the doctors to decide if Grace’s dad was stable enough for visitors. Jeffrey slept on the chair beside her. I wondered if Grace’s book was still on the desk at the Arco station, if Kurt would keep it safe for us. What did it mean that he had called me a Jap? That word had put me ill at ease because it meant Kurt saw me as different from him and that that difference was notable enough for commentary. If Lathasa Harlins had told him she needed to call home, what would he have said to her? A commercial for dishwashing detergent blinked images soundlessly. I wanted to cry, but no one else was, so I dug my nails into my palms. Grace went to sit on the other side of her mom, their shoulders close but not touching.
After a while, my dad and I went to the cafeteria for dinner. A woman had used what looked like an ice-cream scoop to dollop spaghetti onto my plate, but the food was surprisingly good. I ate ravenously as my dad graded papers.
“Why was Mr. Han attacked?” I asked, my mouth full of noodles.
“People are angry, Ruby.”
“But Mr. Han didn’t do anything wrong.”
“What is happening is too complicated to think about in terms of right and wrong.”
“How should I think about it then?”
My dad stacked his papers and leaned back in his chair, his hands tucked into opposite armpits. “I don’t know.” He opened his mouth then closed it. When he spoke again his voice got distant like he was quoting somebody from one of his civics lessons. “The thing worse than rebellion is the thing that causes rebellion…” he said, trailing off.
“Is Mr. Han going to die?”
The sudden candor of his gaze made me uncomfortable. “I hope not, honey. How are you doing? Are you scared?”
I shifted and I looked around the hospital cafeteria. At the next table a pair of doctors in white coats sat down, each transporting twin domes of spaghetti. “We’re safe here. The riots don’t have to do with us.”
“No, Ruby, that’s not true. You cannot draw a line in the sand between yourself and the problems of the world.”
I nodded, though his words didn’t really sink in. Instead I thought to myself that I was having a grown up conversation and it was weird to recognize so consciously the first shedding of my childhood, a sensation that grew more acute when my dad picked up his papers and spoke as if I were no longer there.
“I’m scared,” he said.
~ o ~
That summer the Hans moved away. Grace’s dad didn’t have health insurance, and the mounting medical expenses were staggering. They put their house on the market and collected a nominal recompense for the arson of their convenience store. Everything had burned. The magazines in their racks. The aisles of junk food, their brightly colored packaging going first white, then gray, then floating into ash. Plastic VHS cassettes of comedies and dramas and nonsensical game shows melted into nothingness.
There was no moving van. My dad enlisted five boys from his track team to carry couches, the dining table, mattresses, bed frames from the Han’s house to the front lawn. Those runner boys were skinny, all ropy arms and ostrich legs. The way they obeyed my dad as he shouted instructions, I could tell they were scared of him in a way that made me proud. Flocks of Korean families and neighbors I’d never seen before arrived, buying furniture that the boys struggled to negotiate into the backs of station wagons, roped to the roofs of cars. My mother managed the exchange of money, thumbing through the cash with rapid dexterity. Later that evening I caught her sneaking extra bills into the cashbox, thousands of dollars. No one acted surprised when the yard sale proved so profitable. What didn’t sell, the runner boys crated into boxes to be stored in our garage until the Hans figured out “next steps.” As far as I know, those boxes are still in there.
North along the Pacific Coast Highway we drove: my mom, Grace’s mom and Jeffrey in one car, following the rest of us in my dad’s Dodge van that could accommodate a folded wheelchair once he removed the middle seat. I had to sit in the back with Grace and the luggage. We Lovejoys stayed with the Hans until they boarded a flight to Honolulu, where they would catch a connection to Seoul. I had never been to an airport before and imagined the windshields of the airplanes were eyes of monstrous creatures that peered excitedly into the terminal, waiting to be fed through the straw connecting the side of their heads to the building.
From his wheelchair Grace’s dad kept thanking us, saying how lucky they were to have such good neighbors, such good friends. The toes of his shoes pointed childishly at one another. He acted as though they were setting off on some great adventure. At the time I pitied him, his foolish optimism. Now I think maybe he was right. We do not get to choose our fates, our families, our neighbors. But we can decide how to be in this world, whether to focus on the horrors or the acts of grace that make enduring hardships worthwhile.
I can still see them now: Grace’s father so thin, his cheeks sunken from weeks of a liquid diet, his jaw healed though still swollen on one side. He pats his wife’s leg encouragingly. She wears tan slacks topped with one of Grace’s old gym sweatshirts, hand resting on knee. Her fingers twitch as though she is counting. Beside them Grace holds Jeffrey in her lap like a precious souvenir from a foreign place. The windows behind them are enormous, letting in the light.