Two decades after a family flew to the United States, the mother was dying of cancer. Watching her son in his 20s washing rice grains in the kitchen, she said, “I should have not sent you afar off. I made a big mistake.” She still had regrets about his absence from home. If she had known that she would die too early, she would not have sent him to a boarding school far away from the town.
Her growing pains increased dependence on painkillers. Her weakening mind often made her mix up the 25-year-old son and the little boy that she left at the boarding school one afternoon in September many years ago. The trauma of living apart from her son might have resulted in her death at the age of 52.
After she passed away, the son heard from his father that she was left deeply frustrated on the day he entered the boarding school. As the father said, the pale-faced mother did not say anything while her husband was driving home. Then, she burst out tears. His father pulled over the car and cried out. Obviously, she would not have known how painful it would be to live apart from her son. His mother was one of the ordinary Korean mothers who think their life is all about the devotion to their children. She might have felt hurt much more painfully in a foreign country where things were too unfamiliar and new for her.
Novelist Lee Chang-rae has risen to the top of the U.S. literary arena since his parents immigrated to the United States with their 3-year-old son. The anecdote above was cited in an essay titled “Coming Home Again” in The New Yorker in 1995, five years after his mother died. He was able to grow up mostly thanks to his mother’s love, and his success as a mature writer was mainly attributable to his mother’s absence from his life because it was after her mother’s death when he started producing a pour of masterpieces.
Lee drives on highways whenever he misses his mother, imagining how sad she must have felt while missing her son in the car that was pulled over onto the shoulder of the road.