“For time is the longest distance between two places.”
– Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie
When I wake up in the middle of the night, and I can’t hear my alarm, the first thing I do is check my legs. Often, during the night, I kick off my covers and wake up with my legs cold to the bone. It feels like icy air particles have seeped into my pores and through my muscular sinews, and clung to my femur. Eyes shut, I send down a slow synapse to my thighs.
I sigh. It’s going to take a while to expel the nasty host. I curl up my legs to my chest and fluff my blankets and tuck them under my body.
I try to sleep, but I think of my parents. They’re in South Sudan, eight hours ahead of Michigan. I picture my mom walking. She’s wearing a pink shirt and a flowing skirt with brilliant colors that shimmer as she makes quick strides through the undulating heat waves radiating off the dirt road. She’s donning large sunglasses and that ridiculous wide-brimmed straw hat. Sweat moistens her thick white make-up and her face is expressionless, pointed straight ahead.
My father is probably talking to someone. He’s hiding in the shade of a mahogany tree, chatting with a student of his. He’s wearing open-toe sandals and a loose cotton shirt that’s tinged with dust. His eyes are squinting from the bright landscape and he clears his throat because it’s parched.
They’re not cold. It’s over a hundred degrees where they are. The sky overhead is blue, and white rainless clouds drift from horizon to horizon. A thick layer of red dust covers the roads and the plants beside them, and it’s hard to keep your gaze on anything when the sun shines on it, especially around noon, when the sun’s at its highest.
As I’m waiting for my legs to warm, I hear my phone beep. I poke an arm out of my blanket cocoon, and open one eye to peek at the phone. The refrigerator motor isn’t working, my mother texts me. The phone beeps again. Maybe the fridge got broken during the ride, she writes. We need to get it fixed… The message trails off the preview bar.
I stare at my phone until it flashes off and then close my eyes.
For three days, all they’d talked about on our message thread is their new mini-fridge. They inform me that a fellow Korean missionary has given it to them. They had to outfit it with a new kerosene motor that took forever to find. Then they had to haul it all the way to their village house in South Sudan. They were so excited. It was going to be the one cubic meter of cold air for miles around.
I imagine what they might put in it. I remember my mom telling me that even fresh onions and potatoes are rarities in the village. I wish I could send a quick synapse to them, a rapid brainwave, to find out what’s happening. Technology enables this quick back-and-forth, but instead of typing a reply, I put down my phone. I opt out of entering our long-distance, time-defying conversation. Unlike the nerves in my legs, I refuse to send immediate feedback.
Am I being dishonest? Perhaps. I’m probably being lazy, too. Or maybe it’s four o’clock in the morning, and I’m thawing my frozen legs. So I fall asleep again.
Before I wake up, my parents have long begun their day. They’ve tied up the mosquito nets around their bed, washed their faces using small plastic basins, knelt and prayed with their knees pressed on a small cushion, eaten breakfast (what did they eat?), and gotten dressed. By the time they step outside, the sun’s already dried the dew from the ground. The air is getting warmer and as my parents walk and talk and go about their work, they feel their throats dry. But their biggest worry for the day is how on earth they’re going get the refrigerator to run.
When the sun’s high above my parents’ heads, I’d have woken up to my alarm and checked again on my legs. They’re fine, but I stay under my blankets. When I finally get up, I stumble in the dark to the mini-fridge under the stairs and grab a jar of water. I keep rows of used Prego and Tostito jars filled with water in my fridge. I like my water that way: cold and in glass. I sit down in my dark basement room, drink slowly, and think of what I might do today.
Greg Kim (’14) graduated with a BA in history and international relations. He lived in Grand Rapids for a year and has since moved back to South Korea to fulfill his mandatory military service.