I am having a hard time writing as I sit here at the kitchen table. I am not in a writing mood.
Sometimes, here at the kitchen table, I have been in a spectacular writing mood. I sat here with my Dell computer on middle school summer vacations and seventh-grade half-days, typing away as I ran my hands over the rhinestoned computer back, tapped my fingers on the tabletop. I stayed up until the house was dark and still and my eyes were sore and dry, immersed in the swings and roundabouts of imagination. I was going to write a famous book that surpassed even Harry Potter. It was going to be so epic, and my mother would be so proud, and of course then I wouldn’t have to go to college.
Other times, I have not at all been in a writing mood, here at this round glass table. I have stared at the fingerprint-smudged glass, not seeing it as anxiety roiled through my chest, a beast, twisting my heart with its acid claws. I have sat here all alone after shouting matches with my parents over college applications, after feeling as though, if only computers didn’t cost so much, I would smash the stupid keyboard with my mug of tea. I have sat here empty after pulling down the blinds around the kitchen table so that I didn’t have to see how darkly the night was pressing in.
Most times, here at the kitchen table, I shift about in the mildly uncomfortable leather chairs, and I do not think about writing at all. I have often sat here and studied into the wee hours of the morning, a strange, thick pressure in my chest and a hand clutching at my frowning forehead. I have scrawled frustratedly through monstrous calculus homeworks, picked diligently through redundant chemistry puzzles, broken down over English essays I wrote and yet didn’t understand myself, as sometimes happens with English essays.
I have cried at five in the morning at this table as I finished a calculus review sheet. My head felt as if it would split in two.
I have drunk more cups of steaming ginger tea than I can count here at the kitchen table. Cups of ginger tea leave a round, foggy mark on the glass surface when my mother sets them down, the shape of a full moon late in the night. The ginger tea is dark, so that you can’t see the bottom of the cup. I have squeezed more honey bottles than I can count dry at this kitchen table, because my mother never stirs in enough honey. She says it is bad for me.
I have eaten so many dinners at this table. I know a rotating list of foods that my mother conjures in her scrubs: soy sauce-sautéed vegetables with rice; steaming tofu soup; orange fried rice, sometimes with spam; Korean barbecue with lettuce and spicy red bean paste; pesto pasta salad. I can’t pinpoint what we talked about when we ate all those times, just that we talked, and that we teased each other, and that my dad always finished first because he ate so fast. And that my mother scolded my sisters and dad when they forgot to thank her for the food.
I have shifted my leather chair at this table so that my mother could crouch and gather the crumbs and dirt from underneath it.
I have sat down at this table and felt bad that my mother crouches down to gather up the crumbs and dirt from underneath my leather chair. I have sat here and typed out a Google Sheet designating chores to everyone in the family but her, so that she wouldn’t have to sweep the floors and wipe the fingerprints off the table and whip dinner out of thin air in her scrubs. I’m leaving fingerprints on the table as I write—I will wipe them later.
I have chugged hot ginger tea at this table late in the night, my other hand sprawled over a precalculus textbook. The tea scalds my throat with ginger spice and boiling heat, but I drain it, teary-eyed, as my mother sets down a hot snack by my elbow and asks, in her polka-dot nightgown and night glasses, how much longer I will be up.
My sister has sat in the seat next to mine, here at this round glass table, in the night with the blinds drawn down. Her eyes have dried out over math study guides, she has picked through the mud of biology textbooks till dawn just barely kissed the windows. She has fallen asleep here at the kitchen table, the cup of steaming ginger tea our mother placed by her head cooling through the night.
Our youngest sister will, too, sit here at the kitchen table, maybe in that leather seat across from mine, or in the one I sit in and type in now. She will take out her pens and pencils, and when she sets them down our mother will set down a mug of piping hot ginger tea next to them, and tell her not to stay up too long. Then she, too, will lift her feet off the ground as our mother crouches down in her scrubs to gather up her crumbs.
Just as her mother, our grandmother, did in their little house in New Jersey, reaching with a cloth beneath the thin wooden table and telling our mother to lift her feet a bit more, shift her hard chair back an inch or two.
Just as her mother did, crouching down six decades ago to clean the dust by our grandmother’s feet beneath the low, glinting wooden soban at their house in Korea, telling our grandmother to drink up—ginger tea is good for your stomach.
And when I close my eyes, I imagine that one day, perhaps it will be me. Me, crouching here as I weave through my daughter’s ankles, gathering up the dirt and glancing up to study her tired, determined face through the smudged glass of a table, the blinds drawn closed around us.
I hope that she will not stay up too long.