Locke, Bach, and K-pop
We didn’t call the police right away. Later, I would blame myself, wonder if things might have turned out differently if I hadn’t shrugged it off, insisting Dad wasn’t missing missing but just delayed, probably still in the woods looking for Eugene, thinking he’d run off somewhere. Mom says it wasn’t my fault, that I was merely being optimistic, but I know better. I don’t believe in optimism. I believe there’s a fine line (if any) between optimism and willful idiocy, so I try to avoid optimism altogether, lest I fall over the line mistakenly.
My twin brother, John, keeps trying to make me feel better, too, saying we couldn’t have known something was wrong because it was such a typical morning, which is an asinine thing to say because why would you assume things can’t go wrong simply because they haven’t yet? Life isn’t geometry; terrible, life-changing moments don’t happen predictably, at the bottom of a linear slope. Tragedies and accidents are tragic and accidental precisely because of their unexpectedness. Besides, labeling anything about our family “typical”—I just have to shake my head. I’m not even thinking about the typical-adjacent stuff like John’s and my boy-girl twin thing, our biracial mix (Korean and white), untraditional parental gender roles (working mom, stay-at-home dad), or different last names (Parson for Dad + Park for Mom = the mashed-up Parkson for us kids)—not common, certainly, but hardly shocking in our area these days. Where we’re indubitably, inherently atypical is with my little brother Eugene’s dual diagnosis: autism and a rare genetic disorder called mosaic Angelman syndrome (AS), which means he can’t talk, has motor difficulties, and—this is what fascinates many people who’ve never heard of AS—has an unusually happy demeanor with frequent smiles and laughter.
Sorry, I’m getting sidetracked. It’s one of my biggest faults and something I’m trying to work on. (To be honest, I don’t like shutting it down entirely because sometimes, those tangents can end up being important and/or fun. For example, my honors thesis, Philosophy of Music and Algorithmic Programming: Locke, Bach, and K-pop vs. Prokofiev, Sartre, and Jazz Rap, grew from a footnote in my original proposal. Also, I can’t help it; it’s the way my mind works. So here’s a compromise: I’ll put my side points in footnotes. If you love fun little detours like Dad and me, you can read them. If you find footnotes annoying (like John) or want to know what happened ASAP (like Mom), you can skip them. If you’re undecided, you can try a few, mix and match.)
So, anyway, I was talking about the police. The fact is, I knew something was wrong. We all did. We didn’t want to call the police because we didn’t want to say it out loud, much the same way I’m going around and around now, fixating on this peripheral issue of calling the police instead of just saying what happened.
Here goes: my fifty-year-old father, Adam Parson, is missing. At 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, June 23, 2020, he and my fourteen-year-old brother Eugene hiked to the nearby River Falls Park, the same as they had done most mornings since I’d been home from college for the quarantine. We know they made it to the park; witnesses have come forward, a dozen hikers and dog-walkers who saw them together at various points around the waterfall trail as late as 11:10 a.m. At 11:38 a.m. (we know the exact time from the dashcam recording), Eugene was out of the woods, running in the middle of a narrow country road in our neighborhood, forcing a driver who’d run through a stop sign and turned too fast to swerve into a ditch to avoid hitting him. Just before the dashcam video jolts from the crash, you can see a fuzzy Eugene, not stopping, not turning, not even looking at the car or at anything else—just stumbling a little, so close to the car you’d swear he got hit. The screech of the tires and the sound of the car thudding into the ditch, not to mention the chain reaction of the two cars behind it, apparently caused a terrible cacophony of metallic crunching, banging, and squealing that brought people out, and bystanders reported seeing a boy they later identified as Eugene staggering away. It bears note that not one of the five bystanders, three drivers, or two passengers involved in the crash saw my father precede, follow, or accompany Eugene. We confirmed this multiple times, and it is beyond dispute: Eugene was in our neighborhood alone.
While all that was going on, I was in the midst of what I was thinking of as one of the great tragic moments of my life. It’s funny how relative these types of judgments are, how much they can change depending on context: that day has obviously since become The Day Dad Disappeared, but if you’d asked me that morning, I’d have sworn it was The Day of the Big Breakup. Not that it was as dramatic as all that. The breakup itself had, unbeknownst to me, happened earlier through Vic’s semi-ghosting, which I’d noticed but misinterpreted as him needing alone time. This was my first Serious Relationship (as in, one lasting more than six months), and I thought I was being considerate in stepping back rather than nagging for attention and insisting he open up to me and bare his soul or whatever, but what I was apparently actually doing was failing a test of some sort—how much I cared, how much our relationship meant to me, etc. That morning’s call was merely a courtesy notification of the results.
I listened quietly to Vic’s (trying a little too hard to be) cool, matter-of-fact conclusion that he thought it best we “remain separated” because I obviously didn’t care all that much, and it occurred to me that this call was yet another test, which I could pass by acting upset and saying “of course I care” and “it’s just the quarantine and the agony of being apart, the angst of isolation,” blah blah. But I don’t do drama. Also, I was pretty pissed that this guy who usually extolled my “refreshingly low-maintenance lack of game playing” was playing one himself and expecting me to participate and excel. It was juvenile, insulting, and, frankly, more than a little deceitful. Which is exactly what I said as soon as he stopped talking, right before I hung up. (I believe in saying what you’re thinking, as much as is practicable.) I threw my phone across the room—hanging up on an iPhone isn’t nearly as satisfying as slamming down an old-fashioned phone like our kitchen landline, and besides, I had an industrial-strength titanium phone protector—but damned if it didn’t land on my plush comforter.
I was contemplating picking it up to try again when I saw something out the window that stopped me: a boy in a bright yellow shirt, rounding our street corner, running fast. The thing my brain couldn’t reconcile was that the shirt was definitely Eugene’s—I distinctly remembered him wearing it that morning—but that running gait was definitely not. Eugene’s mosaic Angelman syndrome means that he has two distinct sets of genes in his body: some cells with an imprinting defect and some that function normally. The mosaicism makes him “less affected,” without some of the most severe symptoms that can plague AS kids, like seizures and difficulties walking and eating. Eugene can do some things he’s been practicing all his life like using utensils, walking, and even running, but he has issues maintaining consistent coordination and speed. It’s like a tongue twister; you might manage saying it once or twice carefully and slowly, but the longer and/or quicker the utterance, the greater the chances of tripping up. Eugene needed years of therapy just to walk long distances—that’s why the daily hikes to and from the park with Dad, for practice—and I’d always thought he didn’t like running at all. So how was it possible that this boy who appeared to be my little brother was running the length of our long street?
It’s funny with siblings, how you think of them as just there, but then something great or awful happens that unearths and makes visible what Koreans call jeong. It’s hard to explain in English; it’s not any particular emotion—not affection or even love—but a complex bond defined by its depth and history: that sense of belonging to the same whole, your fates intertwined, impossible to sever no matter how much you may want to. I rushed downstairs, threw open the front door, and ran outside, barefoot. “Oh my God, Eugene, look at you go,” I yelled out and clapped and—God, this is so not me, but I couldn’t help it—even whooped and jumped a little.
Copyright © 2023 by Angie Kim. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.