Christine Hyung-Oak Lee

Date and Time of Loss

Christine Hyung-Oak Lee

DATE/TIME OF LOSS: 11:00AM June 15, 2010
LOCATION OF LOSS: Downtown Seattle (Spring at 5th Street)

MAKE/MODEL OF VEHICLE INVOLVED IN COLLISION WITH YOU: SUV Mitsubishi.

TRAFFIC SIGNALS INCLUDING CROSS WALK SYMBOLS: 1 traffic light. Green for both pedestrian and driver.

WHEN WAS THE FIRST TIME YOU SAW THE VEHICLE: a split second after I turned around to see what the noise was, and before it hit me.

DO YOU WEAR CORRECTIVE LENSES OR GLASSES: yes
IF SO WERE YOU WEARING THEM AT THE TIME: yes

DID YOU HAVE AN MP3 PLAYER OR WALKMAN ON AT TIME AND IF SO WERE YOU LISTENING TO IT: no. (and Walkman?).

WHAT KIND OF CLOTHING WERE YOU WEARING: Dark khaki green cargo pants. Loafers. Red cotton blouse underneath a black and purple North Face, hip length coat with hood.

IN YOUR OWN WORDS WHAT HAPPENED FROM START TO FINISH:

In Seattle, I was on the road.
            Literally. On the asphalt.
            We were on a road trip to Seattle. Oftentimes, instead of flying to locations for business trips, my husband and I would opt to drive, eating sandwiches out of a cooler and watching the road dive under the car hood, listening to Journey and Styx. The air smelled like salty ocean, smelled like cow shit, smelled like pine trees, smelled like road food stands. It was a comfortable thousand miles of silence. That was before the baby. Before we split up.
            The first day in Seattle, having been in town but twelve hours, I left the hotel, a quirky and comfortable place with leopard print sofas and purple throws (not my style but I like hotels that make me feel like I’m not at home). I wanted lunch in Pioneer Square; I was hungry and curious about a sandwich place.
            When the car hit me, I was in the crosswalk in front of the hotel; the light was green and counting down at the time. I heard the roar of a truck engine. I saw the shiny chrome grill of a champagne-colored SUV. It was so close, I had no time to move. It was so close, I had no time to react; I had to submit myself to that grill. It was so close, I thought only about whether or not how much pain I would feel. It was so close, the brakes didn’t bring the car to a stop. It was so close I thought this could be how I would die. And it was so close, my sternum left a dent in the hood of the SUV.
            My body and the car met and made a sound like a truck hitting trashcans. I heard people on the street scream. Maybe I was screaming.
            It happened fast, but I remember it slow.
            I spun and spun and spun. The right side of my body, my elbow, shoulder, and hip hit the ground and then I bounced, landing and sliding on my belly like a baseball player stealing home.
            Split seconds became minutes.
             My life did not flash before my eyes. I did not think about the day I graduated from college, watching my cohorts’ mortarboards in the rain from the top of the Greek Theater, I did not think about how I tried not to trip on the train of my wedding dress as I circled my husband seven times, I did not think about the day I saw my ovaries, like pomegranates, filled with cysts on an ultrasound, I did not think about swatting mosquitoes under the walnut tree of my childhood backyard, burrowing my feet into the warm fur of my German Shepherds, I did not remember hot showers on chilly mornings or cold showers on scorching days, I did not remember conversing all through the night on the roof of the dormitory and watching dawn break and realizing I was in love for the second time in my life, I did not remember hot and dry days in Southern California where the summer skies turned pink with smog and my lungs sharp with pain, I did not remember eating chicken and pizza as a small child on the streets of Queens, I did not remember cutting my wrists and waiting for the pain, I did not remember the day I closed escrow on my first house, my tiny cottage into which I moved with cardboard furniture and out of which I moved with the hope of buying all new furniture, I did not remember backpacking the Sierras and waking up in the mornings to still Alpine lakes reflecting sky and sunrise and mountains, I did not remember talking state troopers out of speeding tickets, I did not remember the first time I smelled tuberose at the flower market, and I did not remember how after three weeks of dating he said he wanted to ask me to marry him. I remember vertigo and disorientation. I remember wind as I flew. If I were in a Murakami novel, that would have been the moment cats began talking.
            I remember looking for lipstick tubes.
            The contents of my purse were scattered around me. I crawled on my hands and knees gathering my lipsticks, my pen, my wallet, my orange tic-tacs, and my cellphone. I remember thinking that this shit was fucked up—that I was like that soldier in Saving Private Ryan whose arm gets blown off during the invasion of Normandy, and he gets up, singularly obsessed with finding his arm. So it was with my tic-tacs and cellphone.
            “I’ve got one more lipstick. One more lipstick!” I muttered this in the crosswalk as onlookers gathered. My right leg was numb. My chest stabbed. The skin on my stomach burned. But still I had to find the lipstick. Rose Drop. Chanel.
            It was the driver of the vehicle that hit me who found it. She handed me my lipstick tube. I remember her ballet-slippered fingernails.
            I looked up. She was sobbing. She wore a pink button down gingham shirt and light tan khakis and on her feet were black slides. I could hear her saying, “Oh my God! Oh my God!”
            Did I look that bad, I wondered.
            “I’ve got to make a call,” I said. I was bent over in the crosswalk on my knees, as if in prayer.
            He picked up on the first ring. In those days, he picked up on the first ring.
            “What’s wrong?” he asked. My husband knew I knew he was in a sales meeting. That I wouldn’t bother him if not for something wrong.
            “I got hit by a car,” I said, “in front of the hotel.” My voice was shaky. That’s when I realized I was shaking. I spotted my shoe across the street. That’s when I realized I was barefoot. The asphalt was cold and rough. The paint marks on the crosswalk were smooth. “My shoes,” I said, “they were thrown off my feet.”
            “Are you okay?”
            “I don’t know.” My teeth chattered.
            “I’ll be right there.”
            I did not hang up. He did not hang up. He heard the scuffling of my feet as I was guided to the hotel lobby across the street. He heard people telling me I would be okay. He heard the wail of the ambulance as it approached.
            We’d been married eleven years then, together fifteen. When we weren’t without dissatisfaction, but he hadn’t yet gone outside the marriage for romance. When I hadn’t yet told him I would look the other way and forgive him. When he hadn’t yet told me it didn’t matter, because he wasn’t in love with me anymore. When he hadn’t yet set me free. When every year, three-dozen roses showed up on the doorstep.
            When he was the first person I’d call.
            The paramedics came. The ambulance arrived. I was shaking. The paramedics put me on a backboard. The driver of the SUV sobbed.
            “I didn’t see her,” said the driver of the SUV.
            I wondered how she could not see me. I was somehow invisible.
            One time I went to a psychic fair. The psychic read my aura. “You are lavender,” she said, “you need to work on turning your aura deep purple.” She looked into my eyes. “You are in danger of disappearing.”
            And there I was, invisible in Seattle.
            The ambulance drove to Harborview Trauma. I talked nonstop. The paramedic said he didn’t like Love Actually, but I quoted from the movie anyway, shouting out “We’re heeere!” when the doors opened up in the ambulance bay.
            He very nearly groaned. “Please be still,” he said.
            I had been waving my hands.
            On the backboard and unable to move my head or body, I traced my route through the hospital on ceilings, dingy and purple against the fluorescent lights. I felt lost. There was no way I’d find my way back out. “It’s like Space Mountain!” I shouted. The paramedics smiled, but not out of amusement.
            In the ER, nurses evaluated me. I was joking, as I always do when I’m in shock.
            “Wow,” I said to the nurse who unclipped my brassiere with assured swiftness, “you do that a little too well.”
            “Haha,” he said. “We’ve got a live one!”
            The x-ray technician told me, “People get hit by cars all the time.”
            I replied, “No—they don’t! I planned on going my whole life without getting hit by a car. People don’t normally get blindsided by cars.” I giggled. And then I stopped, because it hurt to laugh.
            “I see them in here all day long.”
            “You do—you do x-rays at a trauma center. That’s all you see. But that’s not normal. It’s not normal!”
            “You have a point there,” he said.
space break
            By next morning, bruises blossomed on my skin. Like camouflage. My friends told me to apply arnica, and I did. But nothing stopped the hematomas. Nothing stopped the pain. Nothing stopped the trauma from manifesting. For months afterward, I flinched at the sound of car engines.
            I was blindsided by the car—only seeing it a moment before impact. And years later, I would experience the same in my marriage; I’d just had a baby, was suffering from serious postpartum depression and unable to do anything about the strange, ciphered incoming texts on my husband’s phone.
            “Who is she?” I asked.
            “It’s not what you think.”
            “You’re having an affair.” I pulled the sheets on the bed closer to me.
            “I’m not having an affair.”
            But he was. He was having an affair. He was falling in love. And not with me.
            “End it now and I won’t ask any questions.”
            “But I’m not having an affair.”
            Months later, after I’d gotten treatment for my PPD and garnered energy again, after my friend called to tell me he had seen them walking hand in hand, after I learned her name, after I looked up the old credit card bills, he said he didn’t know why he didn’t end it when I’d told him to. “I could have ended it then, and we could have moved on.”
            “But you didn’t.”
            I’d given him time to think things over. To end things, again.
            “I can’t end it now, either.”
            We were on the telephone. I had no words. I could see what was coming. This was going to hurt.
            I could tell he was holding his breath, too. He said, “I want a divorce.”
            I let out my breath. It sounded like a wail.
            It was December 12, 2013 in the evening. The skies outside were clear. The roads were dry. I was at home, in the brightly lit kitchen. I was wearing sweatpants and a tshirt. I was wearing my contact lenses. I was not listening to an mp3 player. My heart was broken.
            And this next time, when the deep purple bruises formed, I became visible.


CHRISTINE HYUNG-OAK LEE is the Fiction Editor at Kartika Review. Her work has appeared in journals and anthologies such as ZYZZYVA, Guernica, The Rumpus, Verbsap, and Men Undressed. She was awarded a residency at Hedgebrook, and her stories have also placed in competitions by Poets and Writers Magazine‘s Writers Exchange Context, Glimmer Train, and others. She is working on both a memoir and novel.

Her favorite road to travel is the Palisades Interstate Highway in New Jersey–when the leaves turn color in the Fall and mid-winter, when the road reminds her of deep winter Narnia.

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