After their lunch, Dean and Angel decided to visit Dean’s home. To Angel, his house was like her own having spent so many days and the nights there with Dean and his sister Cathy. Dean’s mother kindly took care of Angel while Lynh worked at the restaurant until she could afford to hire a baby sitter.
When they entered the home, they found Dean’s father, Sam, sleeping on the couch. As Dean and Angel quietly walked through the living room to go to the kitchen table, Sam woke up briefly and asked Dean to bring him a blanket from the closet. Dean went to the linen closet and brought one to him. Angel helped Dean to unfold the blanket and she draped it carefully over Sam.
“Hi Mr. Lee,” Angel whispered.
“Oh, hi Angel. How are you?” Sam replied in a sleepy voice.
“I’m fine. My mom says hello.”
“You know you have a wonderful mother. You are very lucky young lady. Thanks for the blanket.” Then Sam rolled over and resumed his slumber.
When Angel casually touched Sam while she was draping the blanket over him, Bill’s spirit suddenly left Angel’s body and moved into Sam’s. Bill didn’t want to leave Angel’s body. He had already learned so much about her. She was a lovely young lady, he thought, of whom any parent would be very proud. She was the kind of girl that even prayed for her father despite not having any idea of who he was… Bill begged God for his spirit to remain with her. He wanted to know even more about Angel. Just before Sam closed his eyes, Bill could see Angel’s beautiful face for the last time. 'There’s no doubt. She must be my daughter.' Bill thought.
Sung-ho Lee, called “Sam” by those who knew him, was the eldest son of a wealthy family in Korea. As a young boy, he was fascinated by the western world. Over the years, Sam’s fascination toward the United States increased and he tried to learn more and more about the country. He loved their music and movies, so every chance he had, he went to see foreign (Hollywood) movies in Seoul. He collected record albums of any rock and roll groups and tried to sing like them. He learned English even before it was taught at high school.
However, what influenced him the most were the American GI’s. Sam saw them wandering around Seoul during the Korean War. Something about them was attractive to him. It could have been that they were carefree, cool, and confident. In Korea, children were taught to conform to societal norms at an early age. In contrast, Sam was a free spirited child, so he never subscribed to the idea of conformism. Watching the GI’s, he quite often wished he were one of them.
In Korea, high school students were required to wear “Byobok” or school uniforms. Sam hated the uniforms – those dull unattractive uniforms. The only uniforms he liked were those that the American soldiers wore. He also loved American’s casual clothes. To him they looked so stylish with their T-shirt and jeans. So, as soon as he came home from school, off went the school uniform and on went the jeans just like the teenagers in the U.S.
In high school, Sam began to visit one of the Christian churches in the city, even though his parents were atheist. After a year, Sam was baptized. He became Christian not because he truly believed in God, but because Christianity was the most popular religion in America. His personal hero was President John F. Kennedy. He even shed tears upon hearing of his assassination on November 22, 1963.
His fascination toward America did not cease, even when he grew to be an adult. After graduating from one of the most prestigious universities in Seoul, he decided to go to the United States to start his own business. To him, it was the right thing to do. He would be as carefree as those GI’s he saw some years ago. But he was faced with a dilemma. If he stayed in Korea, he could have taken over his father’s business and he would inherit at least one half of his father’s fortune as there were only two sons in the family. If he were to leave his country, there was a chance that he would not inherit anything. In the end, his desire to live in America prevailed and one night over their dinner at home, Sam told his parents,
“Father and mother, this is very hard for me to say. But I’m wondering if you would let me go to America. I would like to start a business there. I want to learn how Americans operate their businesses.”
His parents suspected that Sam would say something silly like this having observed Sam’s fascination with the US since he was a child. But what they didn’t realize was how serious Sam’s desire was to actually live in America.
“Start a business in America? You’ve never been there before. What makes you think you can start a business in a foreign country?” Sam’s father asked.
“I think I can. After all you sent me to business school in Korea. And, I’m your son – the son of a successful business man in Korea.” Sam replied with confidence.
“But running a business in Korea and in America are two different things. Besides, no matter how many years you spend learning in school, there is a big difference between knowing the theory of operating a business and actually running the business.”
“But, I really want to live in America. I will learn about the practical business operations when I get there. To me, it’s there where everything happens as far as business in concerned.” Sam stated with a bit of frustration.
“You are the eldest son in this family. You are supposed to take over your father’s business in the future. We’ve been waiting for such a long time for you to graduate university so you can actually learn your father’s business.” said his mother.
“But you have my brother who can take over our family business. I want to do more in my life. I want to find out what I can do with my own ability.”
After many hours of thoughtful discussion, his parents realized that Sam would not back down. They considered a compromise and Sam’s father said,
“Why don’t you attend a university in America. That way, you will find out what it is like to live there. After graduation, if you still find that you want to live there, then consider immigration.”
His father was hoping that Sam would eventually come to his senses when he experienced some rough times in the U.S. as a student. After that, Sam would come back to Seoul, and take over his father’s business. After all that was Sam’s destiny. He was confident that Sam would not give up his inheritance.
Besides, Sam’s father knew from his own experience what it was like to leave home with a dream and come back defeated. When he was young, he also had not wanted to take over his father’s business. In defiance, he went to Hong Kong to start a new life. His reasoning was that because he had graduated from university with honors, he should not have any problem getting a great job in Hong Kong. That was his dream then, but it died very quickly. Even though he thought he could speak English well enough to live there, he soon found out that his language skills was comparatively limited and he had to give up chasing any decent jobs. The only jobs he could obtain were as a dishwasher at a restaurant or as a member of the cleaning staff at a large business complex. He was told many times that he was “stupid” just because he could not speak English and Chinese fluently. Life in Hong Kong became a nightmare. He loved Sam so much he didn’t want his son to make the same mistake.
“Dad, when you were young, didn’t you have a dream? A dream you couldn’t give up?” Sam continued talking.
“I know it is going to be difficult, but no matter what, I think I can learn from my experiences there. So, please let me go. Besides, I already have enough education in Korea. I don’t want to go to school in the U.S. I want to find out my potential there.”
Though Sam’s father understood what Sam was going through, he was adamant that Sam would not survive in the USA just as he couldn’t in Hong Kong. So he told Sam that his decision was as foolish a dream as his once was.
They did not come to a consensus that night. Sam left home and considered their suggestion for the next few days, but he felt he could not waste more years at school even in the United States. Besides, he had another agenda that he couldn’t discuss with his parents. He wanted to get married to Jung-hee (Jackie). Jackie was his college sweetheart and was a closely guarded secret. His parents had never met her.
Jackie’s father was a Baptist minister from the U.S. who married a local woman. Jackie blended in perfectly with other Korean girls as she had more of her mother’s features than her father’s when she was young. Sam noticed something different about her from the first day that they met. She shared the same carefree attitude as those GI’s whom Sam adored. He was drawn to her very quickly. Jackie also noticed something different about Sam. They both fell in love shortly after their first meeting.
If Sam was to go to school in America, he had to leave Jackie here for the next few years. He had already proposed to Jackie without telling his parents. It had to be kept secret as Sam knew his parents would never approve of him marrying Jackie.
In Korea, it was important for most people to keep a pure Korean lineage in the family. It was unthinkable to mix their blood with other races. Though Jackie did not look much different from other Korean girls except for higher cheeks and nose, Sam’s parents would soon discover her background. It was customary in affluent families to hire a private investigator to find out as much as possible about a new in-law before being considered for acceptance into the fold. After seeing the results of the investigation, they would decide whether they would welcome their daughter-in-law or reject the marriage completely. It was especially true for those of higher status in their society such as Sam’s family. To them, this process was very important.
When Sam proposed to Jackie, she accepted wholeheartedly. Sam also told her about his intention to move to the US after their wedding. It was Jackie’s dream to live in her father’s home country, too. When Jackie was small, her father used to tell her many fascinating stories about America. So when she found out Sam’s plan to emigrate to the US, she could not believe her ears. Jackie prayed Sam’s wish would come true. At the same time, she understood Sam’s dilemma. After discussing their future over and over again, they finally made their decision.
A few days after the heated discussion about Sam’s future, Sam sat with his parents again at the dining table for dinner. During the meal, Sam was talking about his friends and his younger brother. Both parents were enjoying Sam’s story. He was quite a story teller. When they finished the meal, Sam again began to talk to them seriously about his future.
“Mother and father, I’ve decided and I am not changing my mind.” Sam said very quietly, almost as if he were trying to convince himself than his parents. He was also scared of his father’s reaction to what he was about to say.
“I know this will hurt both of you. But I have decided that I will go to America as an immigrant and not as a student.” Sam continued.
His parents were not ready for this kind of answer from Sam as they never thought Sam would give up his inheritance, let alone desert his family.
“But why Sung-ho? Why are you in such a rush?” His mother asked Sam trying hard to remain composed and not to show her true emotion.
“There is something you don’t know about me. I’m going to get married with a girl named Jung-hee. I couldn’t tell you about her as you were already upset about my decision to leave Korea.”
“So why don’t you get married with Jung-hee and live in Seoul?” His father asked Sam with a feeling of betrayal and desperation.
“Because it is our dream to live in America. As I said, I don’t want to get more education there. What I want is to start my new family there.” Sam passionately told his parents. Then softly with a tone of resignation he said.
“Besides, Jung-hee’s father is an American. You would never approve our marriage…”
Sam’s parents both gasped.
“You are damn right! You can’t marry that girl!” His father shouted.
“You’ve got to marry a Korean girl.” His mother mumbled.
This news was too much for Sam’s parents. They never expected this. Their son marrying a half breed! It was not acceptable to Sam’s parents. They became very angry. The next words Sam’s father said to him surprised both Sam and his mother.
“I never thought you were that stupid or disrespectful, Sung-ho! You don’t even try to understand how much we care about you. We thought we are more lenient than the most of your friends’ parents. We even agreed for you to go to the US as a student. But if you are going to be that selfish, we cannot have you as our son. You are disowned! From this moment, we are no longer your parents! Get out of here right now and never come back to this house!”
Sam stood in front of his parents with the blood slowly draining from his face and the sharp but gnawing feeling of being punched in the stomach. Sam stood stunned and tried to maintain his balance as the room around him started to spin. He knew his parents wouldn’t be pleased but he never thought it would come to this: being banished and disowned. His mother, slightly more sympathetic, tried to calm her husband. Sam’s father saw Sam’s decision as a rejection of everything his family stood for and was not going to accept anything less than Sam’s obedience or his banishment. His father’s heart had been hurt deeply and Sam’s mother began to cry. Feeling helpless, Sam left the dining room for his bedroom and began packing his belongings. He could hear his mother sobbing and begging her husband to change his mind. But Sam knew his father too well. Though his father generally was a mild mannered individual, he always meant what he said. Sam knew that he did not have any choice in this matter.
With the sound of his mother crying, Sam left his parent’s house. Though he expected his parents to at least be quite angry with him, this was an outcome that he never imagined would happen.
Before Sam left Korea, he married Jung-hee (Jackie) in Jackie’s father’s church. Only a few close friends and some of Jackie’s relatives attended their wedding. It was a bittersweet event with the obvious absence of Sam’s parents, but the newlyweds were very happy to be able to share their life to together. They faced their future with hope and a determination to succeed.
Sam had, fortunately, saved some money from his years of part-time work at his father’s company and the allowances he had received from his parents. Because of his determination to start a new life in the U.S., it was easy for him to put money aside every chance that he could. Jackie also had some money her parents had set aside for her future. Sam and Jackie spent very little for their wedding. They quickly made arrangements to move to the US. It was somewhat easier for them to apply for US immigrant status because of Jackie’s father. Though they had to give up a lot by leaving Korea, they were filled with hopes and dreams with their new life in America. And they were very much in love. They felt that they could face any hardship as long as they were together.
Upon arriving in the U. S., they had to work very hard because their university degrees and work experience in Korea did not count for much in the new country. Because Sam’s English was not fluent, the only work he could obtain was for minimum wage jobs. Sadly, he paralleled his father’s experience in Hong Kong. Sam began to work as a dishwasher at a restaurant; but unlike his father, he never changed his mind about living in the US. With his wife beside him and her words of encouragement, Sam forged ahead, undaunted.
Fortunately, Jackie had better luck than Sam and started working as a secretary in a small company. Though it wasn’t a professional job like she had in Korea, she was content and still full of hope living in their new home. She was enjoying every moment being there remembering many stories her father told her about the US when she was young.
To Sam, life in the US was certainly not as good as he had hoped. Not only was he unable to get a decent paying job, but he also found that everyone spoke English too fast and he was not able to understand most of what people said. All those English classes he attended in Korea were not as helpful as he thought. The inability to communicate with people made him feel very insecure about himself. Though an adult, he felt as if he were a child – starting a new life and learning a new language all over again. He felt as though he had lost his identity. Everything he had in Korea had little or no meaning in the US. For the first time in his life, he lost his confidence about the future.
Furthermore, Sam began to realize that the American people, whom he had admired from a distance, were not as kind as he thought they would be. On many occasions, he faced discrimination by some of the people who surrounded him. He was laughed at because of his accent, spat at because of his color, swore at because he could not quite understand what he was told, and treated as if he were stupid because he could not express himself properly.
How strange life was, Sam often thought at that time. At home in Korea, he was someone who would rather be a white man and speak English than be Korean. Because of this, he traveled thousands of miles to come to this country just to be close to the nation he admired. He was even disowned by his parents whom he loved very much. Perhaps his parents were right about America. He felt, perhaps, that he and Jackie did not belong here. There were many times he regretted his decision to come to the United States. Living in this new country made him aware of his race. In his desperation, this was the first time he truly turned to God for answers to the many questions he began to have because he was simply not finding them himself.
It was not his choice to be born in Korea. He just happened to be born half way around the world. Why blame him for his skin color or the shape of his eyes? Any white man could have been born as Asian or African.
Though his positive perception of the people in the U.S. had crumbled, he patiently and diligently, continued to learn and worked harder. The last thing he wanted to do was to admit that his father was right and that his decision to come to the U.S. was wrong. And though he met people who didn’t want him there, he met even more who treated him with dignity and offered their friendship unsolicited. Some of his neighbors welcomed Sam and Jackie and treated them as their own family, even white neighbors. When Jackie got pregnant with Dean, the same people helped Jackie with the baby. Without their help, Jackie could have not survived as a new mother in a new country.
Jackie was patient and maintained her unbending support at his side, no matter what happened. She encouraged him when Sam became depressed about their future in America. She worked as hard, perhaps even harder than Sam at times to support the family. Though they never had much money at the beginning of their marriage, they were happy to be with each other. They learned to appreciate the little things. Even the smallest item they purchased became a very precious possession to them. That was not always the case for Sam coming from a very affluent family. In his youth, he was provided anything he desired and developed no sense of appreciation for what he had. He never worried about money when he lived in Korea. And in this short time, his entire sense of entitlement changed dramatically.
In their new country, they began with very little. But they had love. Because of Jackie, Sam had enough will to continue to pursue their dreams despite the exhausting work and soul-crushing discrimination.
In the hope of owning a business, Sam often held two jobs to in order to save for the start-up capital. All the hard work eventually paid off and they purchased their first grocery store, combining their savings and the remaining money they had brought from Korea to purchase it. Though Sam became more fluent in English he never lost his accent. He was always aware that he was different, in looks and how he spoke. But he would not let such things hinder him as he grew competent in running his business. Back in Korea, his major in college was in commerce. And his father’s guidance when he was young helped Sam gain the basic skills that led to his success as a businessman. By 1978, Sam and Jackie owned six grocery stores in town. They also purchased a vacant space right beside their first grocery store and established their headquarters. There, Sam ran his business as president of “Lee’s Grocery” and Jackie handled the bookkeeping for all the stores.
Sam and Jackie continued working nights at the original store even though they had reached the point that they really did not have to. In order to do this, part of the store was converted to a small kitchen and a family room so Sam and Jackie could spend some time with their children while they were attending the store at night.
Their next endeavor was to expand to other cities. On the eve of opening their first out of town store, Sam thought of his father and decided to attempt a reconciliation with him. That was the first time Sam sent a letter to his parents since the fight. To his surprise, Sam’s parents were delighted to hear from him. They were worried sick about their son as he provided no way of contacting him. They were embarrassed to admit they didn’t even remember his bride’s name. But even after all the years that had past, Sam’s father still did not let Sam know his true feelings. His father was relieved to hear from his son and to know that he had become successful in the new country. Sam promissed to visit Korea with his family and was hoping to mend the relationship with his parents.
Sam’s return visit was never to happen. On the night before they were to leave for their first visit as a family to Korea, Sam was finishing the paper work for his business for the previous day. Then Sam joined his family for dinner that was prepared in the small kitchen in the back of the store. It was always quiet at the store around 7 o’clock at night so they could spend some time together as a family. During the dinner, they shared the excitement of the trip to Korea the next day. For the first time, Sam’s family would travel on an airplane together as a unit. They were imagining how anxiously Sam’s parents would be waiting for them at the airport.
Their pleasant conversation came to an abrupt end when they heard a loud “bang” through the door between the kitchen and the store. Sam quickly ran to the front of the store from where the noise came. His son Dean, always a curious little boy, followed right after him. One side of his store’s window was smashed and Sam found flames and shattered glasses scattered all over the floor in front of the refrigerator where dairy products were stored. Then he heard several more “bangs”. Bottles of gasoline with rags inside had been thrown into the store. In a matter of seconds, the store was filled with fire. Sam yelled at his family.
“Get out from there! Someone threw gasoline into the store! Get out! Get out now!”
Sam realized that Dean was right behind him so he grabbed his son’s arm and took him quickly outside to a safe place through the front door of the grocery store. Then Sam went back into the store and tried to save his wife and daughter. Fire and smoke were filling the place rapidly.
“Jackie! Cathy! Where are you! Answer me!” Sam yelled. Then Sam heard Cathy’s cry and Jackie yelled back at Sam.
“Sung-ho! We can’t get out! The fire is everywhere in here, too!”
“Daddy! Daddy!” Cathy cried out.
What Sam did not realize was that the vandals had also thrown bottles filled with gasoline through the back room window and now Jackie and Cathy were trapped inside. Through the door frame, he saw his wife and daughter screaming for help. They were both clinging to each other surrounded by thick smoke and flames. He tried everything to get through the door to help his family but by this time, he was surrounded by a wall of fire and he could not get through the door. Then part of the roof collapsed and fell between them. A fire truck arrived a few minutes later. One of the firemen forced Sam to go outside the store. Sam cried helplessly outside, holding on to his son. By the time the fire was put out, it was too late for Jackie and Cathy. An ambulance arrived and Sam and Dean were taken to the hospital, with Sam having suffered serious burns throughout his body.
He spent a couple of months in the hospital for his burns. During his absence at home, Lynh, who was the mother of Dean’s friend Angel, volunteered to take care of Dean. Sam spent many months agonizing over memories of the gruesome event that killed his beloved wife and their daughter along with the physical pain all over his body.
Three months later, after numerous surgeries and painful rehabilitation, Sam recovered well enough to be able to go home. The loss of his wife and daughter haunted him to the point of despair. His only consolation was his son. If his son had not survived, Sam thought with certainty that he would have committed suicide.
After the death of his loved ones, Sam lost his desire to do anything, not the least of which was to expand his business. He realized how much his family meant to his life. It didn’t matter how successful he could become nor how much money he could have from his business. Without his family it meant nothing.
Consequently, Sam slowly sold off all the other stores but, incongruously, kept the one that had burned down. He could not bring himself to sell it and, instead, rebuilt it. Too many happy memories were in that little store and somehow he felt that the spirit of his wife and daughter were still there. It seemed that his family spent more time in the back room of that store than in their own home. His children played and did homework at the table when they were not using it as a dining table. Even though Sam and Jackie worked very hard, they never neglected their children. There was always laughter’s in that back room.
Years passed after that disastrous incident. Even though the renovated store looked fairly new from the outside, inside was still filled with an air of melancholy and gloom. As Sam’s drive to be successful in business dwindled, everything inside the store reflected Sam’s dark mood. Customers became scarce in the store whenever Sam was there. As the store stopped making any profits, Sam had to use his savings from the sale of the other stores. Even though he was losing money running the store, Sam could not let it go. He was a living ghost trapped in the past with his wife and daughter's memories. Sam held a hope that his son would one day take over the store and rebuild his broken dream.
Bill’s spirit was in Sam. With the warmth from the blanket, Sam began to dream, the one that relived the horrifying night. Surrounded by fire, watching Sam’s loved ones dying in the flames. Bill was also there that night. That horrible incident, that brazen act of vandalism, had been Bill’s suggestion to his organization. He and his gang wanted Sam to know that they were not welcome in this country. Sam was getting too successful, the organization felt, by owning too many stores. He was becoming too well known in “their” town. Because of this, Bill’s organization was determined to crush this Asian show-off. Bill was there that night in a car not far away from the strip mall, watching his gang throw the flaming bottles of fuel through the store windows. To Bill, it was fun to see the grocery store burn. Bill could not understand the helplessness of a father in such a disaster. He never had any children. But as Sam dreamed of whole incident, Bill absorbed all of Sam’s feelings of horrifying pain and agony.
In a moment of sympathetic hallucination, Bill imagined that Angel was engulfed in the flames of the burning store. Bill, in a panic, felt that he wanted to do everything and anything to rescue Angel. He felt as desperate as Sam did for his family.
Sam woke up from the violent dream, with his hands sweaty, and his throat parched. He looked around his house and realized that it was same, never ceasing nightmare. It had been a long time since Sam had dreamed of his wife and daughter that vividly.
He thought of the phone call he received a few days ago from a lawyer asking him to be interviewed about the fire incident. Apparently, the case was reopened and the lawyer needed to find out details of the crime that took place in his store six years ago. Since the day of the call Sam had once again become preoccupied with the incident.
Sam sat up on the couch and glanced at the clock in the living room. It was just after two o’clock in the afternoon. He heard Angel and Dean’s laughter from the kitchen. He slowly got up from the couch and washed himself to get ready for his work. The hired help at his store would be leaving at 3:00 p.m. He said goodbye to the children and left his home.
Until a couple days ago, Bill never understood how anyone could be so depressed to the point that nothing mattered. However, by feeling his victims’ emotions first hand, it made him finally understand why Sam could be in such a state. He thought of Helen, who was beaten by him regularly. Then of David, who watched his family die because of Bill’s actions. How terribly he felt for Lynh. She was physically violated by a senseless beast like him. Angel, that poor little girl who endured needless pain just because of Bill’s senseless rage and impulse. Then Sam, watching his wife and daughter crying out for help right in front of him, but he could do nothing to help them. That had to be the worst experience any human being could suffer, Bill concluded. He at once felt remorse for everything he had done in his past. If he could change the past he would.
The next morning, a phone call woke Sam up at 10:00 a.m. The caller was confirming the appointment with Sam at 8:00 p.m. in Sam’s store. Though Bill could hear the caller’s voice, he did not catch his name. Something about the phone call made Sam change his mood. He sat in his bedroom for a little while staring at the wall. Bill suddenly felt an acute pain in Sam’s heart. Things around Sam began to look out of focus. Sam’s eyes began to fill with tears.
Dean had already left to go to school so Sam was alone in his house. Sam got up from his bed and entered the living room. On the piano, there were many family pictures. Sam reached for a photo of his wife and the daughter smiling sweetly at him. Then he went to the dining room and opened one of the drawers of the cabinet. From there, Sam pulled out an old photo album. Sam opened it and began to flip through the pages. Bill, through Sam’s eyes, was looking at the same photos. There was a little baby girl in her mother’s arm right beside a white man that seems to be the baby’s father. There were many pictures of the mother, the father and the baby in the old oriental style house, which Bill was not familiar with. The baby had curly hair, lighter skin, and defined nose which were not typical of an oriental baby. As Sam flipped through the pages, Bill realized that it was Sam’s wife’s old photo album. It also made Bill realized that Sam’s father-in-law was a white man and that made Sam’s wife half white.
“My God” Bill exclaimed. “It can’t be! I killed my own people. I didn’t know. God, I honestly didn’t know it!” Without knowing Bill’s reaction, Sam kept gazing through the pages of photos. The last picture in his wife’s album was the university graduation picture of Sam’s wife.
Sam stared at the picture for a moment and began to weep. Sam prayed that this time, the murderers from that horrible night would be caught and sentence to death. Even that wouldn’t be enough for Sam – if he had the choice, the chance, he would execute them himself.