Saturday, October 24, 2015


Earlier this year I wrote a book, and included part of the story below. However, in fear of full vulnerability I did not tell the whole story. I did not complete the experience of carving my own skin, craving my own blood, digging deep inside myself for emotions I wasn't sure I could feel. I tell the full story here:

   My sister has a double sliding-glass closet door. We spend countless hours hunkered amongst piles of teen pop magazines: Seventeen, Young Miss, Teen, and Sassy. In these pages, I learn how to properly brush my hair, wash my face, apply astringent, select my signature perfume, and dress for a prom that I will never end up going to. What I don’t learn is how to apply eye shadow to my hooded eyelids, or how to make my nigger lips less puffy, or my gook eyes any rounder. No matter how many spiral perms I go for, my hair is always the wrong texture; regardless of how much I tan, my skin is always the wrong shade of brown.

   It seems like all the other girls have had boyfriends since we were sixth graders. The beautiful boys and girls pair off and bop around in their bubbles of coolness, of happiness, decked out in their tight-rolled Guess jeans, plastic Liz Claiborne purses, and Eastland loafers.

   I’m too funny-looking to be considered pretty, and it’s not until freshman year that a boy expresses an interest in me. It’s a confusing situation. I haven’t learned to be discriminating, haven’t needed to tell a boy no, so I don’t know how. I’m flattered by the attention, and sort of embarrassed for feeling flattered. I don’t know how to be cool about it, and because I don’t know how to say no, I don’t. We start dating, which consists mainly of writing silly notes during school and kissing after school. I don’t know how to kiss, am I doing it right? Where is the tongue supposed to go? Is it supposed to be slobbery or dry? Is he doing it right?

   We sneak into the woods behind school as often as we can. We kiss. He wants to do more, but I don’t even know what more is. What leads to what? How do I tell him when to stop, and how do I know when? These are my inadequacies. I’ve never learned to be a woman. It seems that there are powers that the other girls possess, that they all know about, but it’s a club I haven’t been invited to. I’m not a normal woman like they are, and so I don’t believe in my own feminine powers. I don’t know how to control them.

   After we make out, I return home feeling dirty and used. Is this what love feels like? I don’t believe my heart knows how to feel love anymore, for it has completely grown over with callouses from being over-chafed. I think I’ll never be loved, and I think I’ll end up marrying this boy I call boyfriend because he is the only boy who will ever realize I’m alive, who will ever want me.

   I descend the stairs to our basement and search. I’m looking for something to help me know if I am feeling love, if I’m feeling anything at all. I find what I’m looking for, a box cutter, and slip it into my pocket. Back up the stairs. Into my room. Close the door. I slide the blade out of its sheath and press it against the dark skin of my forearm.

   I slide the blade across my flesh, at first drawing only the impression of a line. Then I retrace the line, pressing deeper, tearing at the layers of my young, flawless skin as crimson beads break through the surface. Breaking through another line and then another, rows of cuts, and I am mesmerized at the sight of my own alien blood. What does this blood mean? Whose blood do I carry?

   I realize that this blood is mine alone. I begin and end with myself, for me family is nothing more than a surface experience. The ties that bind me are shallower than those around me, and I fear the breaking of them. Other families are made of blood, but mine is made of legal documents and love that I cannot understand.  Because I have no shared blood, I pull my own out--I want to scar myself, to keep the image of my blood in ever-present sight as a symbol of my singularity.

   Yes, I feel something--not romantic or familial love, but something more primal. I feel isolation that yields determination. I feel a cold loyalty to my own flesh and blood above all. I won't abandon or betray myself. I won't depend on anyone else enough to be vulnerable to abandonment or betrayal. I feel an emotion more sustaining and lonely than love--a dogged self-reliance that needs only survival.

Soojung Jo is the author of Ghost of Sangju, and has contributed to several adoption-related anthologies. She has an American family that raised her and a Korean family that lost and found her. Both families met in 2013. Find her at or on Facebook as Soojung Jo.