Today, we are pleased to present “Mistakes of Thought” by shimmering new voice Youmi Park. This unique and cutting story delves into what it feels like to experience injustices and acts of discrimination that go unacknowledged by those who witness them. Please join us in welcoming this exacting story to our library.
“There are these insensitive things people do and say without even knowing, without even thinking about it, and in some cases, with good intentions. I’ve heard people say, ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ In Japanese, it’s called ‘mistakes of thought.'”
I found my Mama in the front yard garden, caught up by the next-door neighbor again. That mouth-running, frizz-hair broad in jean shorts was holding a finger in front of Mama’s face, bouncing it five times in front of her eyes. She was enunciating and talking at her real slow, like Mama was an animal that wanted a treat, and I didn’t like the way Mama was looking back: like an animal that wanted to run. I know hurt when I see it. You don’t have to tell me.
So I walked out of the garage with my arms crossed and said, “What’s going on?”
Mama’s body stiffened. She had her hands cupped in front of her, holding poppy flowers, the dirt from the roots freckling her yellow dishwashing gloves, which she prefers to regular gardening gloves. That’s what she’s always used. Latex is just easier to clean and a woman’s got to be practical if she wants her work to get done. And that’s what she was doing, getting work done, planting new poppy flowers, until this neighbor got in her face with her finger and slow talk.
“What’s going on, Lilah?”
“Oh, Maki, oh, good,” Lilah said. “Come here and listen to this.”
She swung her rawhide arm around Mama’s shoulder and turned her toward me as I walked over. Mama gave me a quizzical look, wide-eyed and eager, like she was trying to convince me to feel something other than what I was feeling. Mama, she’s so small, her eyes looked like they were taking over her entire face. They were—and I can say this for certain because I got up close—wet with unease.
I kicked the empty flower carton out of my way, spreading dirt between us.
“Your mother here was telling me about her new caretaking job?” the willowy broad said. “And you know what she said? She said, ‘My schedule is set illegulaly.’” She bounced her fingers in my face. She repeated, “Ille-gul-lay.”
Mama looked up at me and shrugged.
“I told her to never say that again!” Lilah said, rattling Mama’s shoulders. “My god, what if people think she’s saying illegally? What if they think she’s an illegal worker?”
“I’ve been a citizen since 1998,” Mama said.
“Well, all the more reason that we don’t want people thinking she’s an illegal.” Lilah flashed her teeth, her stupidity damping the air and wetting her lips. “And that’s why we were having ourselves a vocabulary lesson. Say it with me, Kimmi.” She lifted that finger again. “I-rre-gu-lar-ly.”
“I-lle-gu-lal-ly,” Mama repeated.
“That’s pretty good.” Lilah turned to me, leaned forward, and whispered, “The R’s are the hardest, aren’t they?”
She smiled widely at Mama, who tightly pulled the back of my shirt. I felt like I was being suspended from a skyscraper, way up high past the atmosphere of real life, with just that point—Mama’s grip on my dirty t-shirt—holding me back from falling, arms swinging.
“That’s good, though, Kimmi! That’s really, really good,” Lilah said in baby talk. She waved her arm once and walked back to her patch of the street.
“See you both on Garage Sale Day,” she said. “Looking forward to what you have for me this year.”