My lover is from Ulleungdo, Korea, an isolated island of craggy rocks and squid fisherman and a population of just over ten thousand people. Her parents brought her to Los Angeles when she was four years old.
Growing up, her father drank, and her mother was often so checked out that her older sister had to raise her. She and her three siblings all became somewhat depressive, to one degree or another. These grey clouds of sadness, even denser than the fog that hovers over that Korean island, compel my lover to tunnel under the covers alone, deep into her past and herself. We have come to call this turtling, and she, therefore, is my turtle. My turtle from squid island.
I find her there today, the third or fourth time within the last week that she has retreated into her shell of blankets. I climb the stairs and open our bedroom door to find the still mass of cotton and discontent. I reach down, and gently but firmly remove the blanket that does not wish to give. I rustle her up with the force of my will and a few gentle teases. She allows me this: it is a trust that neither of us has ever given another before.
I reach my hand toward the blanket shell, from which her face has now popped out. She looks up at me, then bows her head down slightly. I understand that I have just been thanked. She crinkles her face in false anger and exasperation and growls as she takes my hand and pulls herself up.
We get ready and head to our favorite coffeehouse. The din of steaming milk and muffled chatter soothe us. The bell on the door fills the air with music as people come and go. She reads, and I am grateful she is here with me. She sees me watching her, puts down her book. Her eyes are wet and brimming. She clears her throat.
“Do you know how the fishermen of Ulleungdo catch the squid?”
Instead of prodding, I listen. I wait.
“The boats circle around. The fishermen shine their lights, and the squid swim right into their nets.”
Over these past two years, I have learned more by listening to my turtle than perhaps ever before. The afternoon sun fills the room with golden shadows. She wraps her hands around a half-full mug. I understand now, as I see her smiling at me sadly – to catch the one I yearn for, I must only shine a light, and wait.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/John Hunnicutt II