Bottom of the Barrel

Photo by Masha Danilova on Unsplash

I’m very claustrophobic.

I didn’t get that way overnight. I was born into a world crowded with people, noise, and filth in the middle of some ghetto in a place my mom called Sonyuri, South Korea. She also yearned to get away by any means necessary, using her beauty, her body, her wiles, and her business sense.

What the wide-eyed tourists pouring in from America won’t tell you is that Korea is terribly polluted, cesspool really. But the food is fantastic.

My claustrophobia affects the way I deal with people in general. I don’t like them too close unless I really like them. I get panicky in crowds, even with groups of friends. After awhile, I have to leave. When I’m driving for longer than 15 minutes, I can feel that itch to run away.

I couldn’t wait to leave. At three, my Army sergeant father took us to the United States, the land of the free. Yeah, for a few months.

The moment American Airlines touched down in Kentucky, my world opened up. My fondest memories are from there.

I felt the breeze, I felt the wide, open, green spaces landscaped with cattails, fireflies, and honeysuckle. I felt freedom for the first time, and I hungered for more.

I experienced many firsts, good and bad: my first crush, the first of many rejections, the first time someone other than my parents hit me (with a ruler across my hands in school), riding shotgun on a motorcycle, shooting a BB gun and getting shot in return, cherry pie and Pepsi picnics, playing doctor with the boy who only loved me for my long, black hair, living in a trailer park on nickels and dimes, Certs and Bingo, Rough Collies, grits, piping hot sweet potatoes and Halloween, racism and rock ‘n roll.

When my father suffered his first (of three) heart attacks, he retired from the Army in July of 1977. He offered my brother and me a choice: back to Hawaii or Stuttgart, Germany. In hindsight, I should’ve went with Germany.

But we all agreed that being with our own kind (Asia City!) might serve us better after so many years growing up with racism on the Mainland.

But Hawaii, Hawaii… It reminded me too much of where I came from. Far from the paradise the tourism industry pushed like crack.

In the beginning, from the 1970s to the early ’90s, Hawaii almost lived up to the hype. Wide open blue skies, plumeria-scented tradewinds, beaches for days, as long as you stayed out of Waikiki, but starting to show the wear and tear of catering to tourists flooding in from Japan and then China.

Even then, there were too many people packed on one island (Oahu). If you were smart, you took the bus or walked everywhere. Driving became a hassle; forget about finding parking at any of the hot spots or landmarks. Nobody drove to Ala Moana Center, or Hanauma Bay.

Concrete buildings grew where plumeria trees once stood. Hawaii resembled a cross between Hong Kong and a poor man’s Bel-Air. I wanted no part of it.

By the time I met my husband at a Nadine’s Music Store, we were both ready to go back to the Mainland and find our own wide open space somewhere — untouched by racism or mindless development.

We thought, Seattle.

Until the Emerald City pushed us north toward the Snohomish suburbs.

Now, look. It’s become another Hawaii, Korea, Hong Kong, Beijing, Bel-Air, crowded, polluted, dirty, one festering, claustrophobic hellhole.

I honestly believed the people of Seattle were smarter than this. They wouldn’t allow massive overdevelopment to happen, not these nature-loving, pure-hearted activists. I can’t tell the difference between downtown Seattle and any other big city.

More and more people continue to come here, hoping to find a place of their own. The homeless situation is almost as bad as Hawaii, #1 in have-nots. Needles litter schoolyards, parks, busy sidewalks in between tourist destinations and five-star dining establishments. The gentrification is absolutely out of control.

Now, wildfires up north in Canada are causing massive air pollution. We’re going in on week two, and I’m afraid to let my son, who has asthma, go to his soccer practices today and Thursday, then the weekend tournament.

Air quality’s gone back down and will pose a threat to children like him and others through Friday.

Yesterday, I went walking around my neighborhood and couldn’t see the sun. This gauze of grey took over, like a real-life “Under The Dome.” The age-old claustrophobia set in.

My soul can’t breathe.

What have we done to this planet?




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