My older sister made us do a lot of things for her entertainment.
She told us once that if we put our tongues to the rectangular batteries (the kind that go in smoke alarms), it would feel cool. With her we were incessantly gullible (she was our older sister after all), and of course we tried it. And of course our tongues were jolted with a current of electricity.
Once we were playing outside and she told me I could eat leaves from a tree in our backyard. She offered it with a smile that I can still recall with unfaded clarity. I took the leaf and began chewing on it with the most unsullied hope and expectation of something delightful. Upon seeing my face wrinkle in distaste she threw her head back and laughed, telling me it was all a farce. My older sister was different from my younger sister and me. She was the eldest and therefore was extraordinarily precocious, and almost too intelligent. She was never interested in all of the games I would play with my younger sister. She kept to herself and was always reading.
She was also the eldest of a Korean family, which meant she was given an eternal status as not just the eldest, but the Eldest. In Korea, it is common for adults with children to refer to each other in relation to their eldest’s name (e.g. Youn-Kee’s dad, Youn-Kee’s Mom). Perhaps because I was not the oldest, I had a simpler childhood, removed from the pressures of setting an example for other siblings. My older sister was always the one my parents told what to do in case anything happened, she was the one who knew the emergency numbers to call, who kept track of the names of adults around us, what their relationship was to our parents and much more I cannot even begin to grasp.
When I was very young, I remember rifling through my parent’s den and finding a box of black plastic combs. To me they were toys with which to play barber or something. To my older sister, who came to tell me to put them away, they meant something entirely different. I only found out later on that they were remnants of an arduous time in my father’s life, after he came to the States with my mother to attend graduate school. There was a brief period, after graduate school and before he found his position at a large research company, that he was selling those little black plastic combs. I still don’t know the full story, but my sister knows all of this in her vast vault of knowledge and history. Whenever my parents talked about money, they closed their doors and muted their voices. They only shared information with my older sister, and whenever I asked, they always said, “we’ll tell you when you are old enough.” I never did get old enough.
I did end up taking one of those little black plastic combs from my father’s box of combs. They’re the best combs I’ve ever seen, and considering I’ve had it for over 30 years, it’s proven itself as a durable item. I never use combs, however, because my hair is immensely thick (see Day 3) and indubitably straight. What a memento to carry around, of one’s father’s belabored time in life. A time even before I was aware of the working of money and capitalism. A time when a box of combs meant more toys, and nothing more.
I have a few combs, in fact. And because I have nothing of my father’s in my possession, I am going to keep the short comb. But I will give away all the other combs that have come into my small toiletry kit. Today on Day 344 of my 365 Release, I am going to keep something that meant my father took care of me, even outside of my awareness. I’m going to let go of the others that are in the same family of objects, but cannot even come close to the original.
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[I created the 365 Release Project to practice non-attachment, letting go and change by giving away 1 thing a day for 1 year. The background, vision and guidelines to the 365 RELEASE project are here. The running list of everything I have released is here.]