August 21st, 1967, South Kingston, Rhode Island. A home economics teacher from Maine named Jane and a URI oceanography student named Chuck (his American name) welcome their first son into the world. Chuck names him Alexander, for Alexander the Great. Alexander’s Korean grandfather chooses his middle name, the suffix of it to be shared with any of the other children my parents will have. In this case, another boy and a girl.
For a long time I think my first name meant Protector of men, but then in Greece, a Greek friend tells me, “Alexander means ‘Pushes all the other men out'”.
I feel like this changes my entire sense of my life, as if all this time I thought I was wearing a blue shirt, and instead, it is chain mail.
I am a native of Rhode Island who lived there just 9 months before leaving for Korea with my parents. Years later I will return for my sister’s graduation from St. George, and share a cab from the train station with a sweet older woman who asks gently where I’m from. As we pass from South Kingston to Newport, I say, “I was born here.”
I realize this is the first time I’ve ever been able to say this, and I laugh.
In 1968, the young family takes a cross-country drive, arriving in Los Angeles and flying from there to Seoul, Korea. The rest of my life has since felt like one long trip.
This is a photo of me in my grandfather’s house in the Wonso-dong neighborhood of Seoul, wearing my mother’s shoes, two years later.
“Wrong decisions are harder to make than most people realize, tears flying sideways in a gale.”
This is from my friend Mark Bibbins’ new book, The Dance of No Hard Feelings, coming out very soon. Please buy it.
3 days after my birthday, it’s my favorite thing to think about. I feel sure it’s a good omen.