The world is vibrations. Thunder. Particles.
Appa and I barrel into the woman in the floral skirt. She screams and my shoe flies off and my arm wrenches in its socket, shooting fire into my body. We're a tangle of hair and limbs hitting the sidewalk, rolling, bruising, as the horn falls in pitch behind us, then fades.
"Suzy! Are you hurt?"
My shoulder and upper arm burn. I can't move it. The pain comes in waves that threaten to drown me but slowly I realize I'm lying on top of Appa. He s at the pavement. His glasses have fallen off and I snatch their wireframes off the ground. One thick lens is cracked, but I shove them into his hands and he fits them to his face.
"Suzy." His face is more mole-speckled than I remember, his graying hair wild tufts on his head. "Suzy, are you okay?"
Something is wrong with my body. But I scramble to my knees and wrap my good around him, which I cannot remember doing since I was a child. He smells like soap, like Tide, like newspaper.
"You could have died," I sob.
All around me, people babble, prod, kneel, and fuss. But all my focus is on Appa's hand, hesitantly the back of my head, another something I can't remember happening since my early years.
"It's just my ankle. Better than my head, thanks to you," he adds when I pull back.
A flare of pain washes my vision white.
"Suzy!" Apa grips my arm as I cry out. "What's wrong?"
"Shoulder—" I grate. "My shoulder—"
"You've dislocated it." He grips my shoulder blade, his other hand my arm above the elbow. The worry fades from his face, replaced by a calm focus I've seen at parks and events, when he's kneeling before a medical emergency, and knows what to do. "Hold still, this will hurt."
With a wrench and pop, he jams my arm back into its socket.
The extreme relief collapses me against him.
"You'll be fine." He me back with that tentative hand. "In a few weeks—"
"You lost this." A man hands me my shoe. "Paramedics are coming."
Sure enough, a white ambulance, red-cross logo and red flashing lights, is moving up the street toward us.
Appa grips my hand. His next words tumble out, as if he'd dammed them in his entire flight, his entire search for me, and he needs to get them out before the paramedics are upon us. "On the plane, I was remembering a time we brought you to the park. You were four. A man was playing a violin and you danced barefoot on the grass. Everyone came and watched you. A woman told us to enroll you in dance classes. That was when we put you in Zeigler's."
All I wanted to do this summer was dance.
Appa heard me.
That four-year-old day, I don't remember. I didn't even know that was the reason I'd ended up in the studio that became my second home. But the story is a gift. Dancing has always been a part of me—and Appa's seen that.
"I'm sorry I let you down." This reunion is nothing like Mulan and her father. I'm not bringing him the emperor's crest. From his point of view, he sent his elder daughter over the seas and she went berserk. He's not entirely wrong either. "I'm sorry about the photos."
"You talk to your friends and guidance counselor more than us," he says. "Sometimes, when you come home, you speak English so fast we can't understand. Sometimes we are scared we haven't raised you right. All we wanted was for you to have a better life. What if we came to America for that, and we lost you instead?"
"But don't you see?" I shift against him, pressing my shoulder into his chest. "I already have a better life. Because of you and Eomma."
Appa's face spasms. I'm afraid he's going to cry.
"Do you feel that way?"
And then the paramedics are raining down a hundred questions on us.
"My ankle is broken," Appa tells them calmly.
"Appa, oh, no." Typical Appa, to keep that to himself. "But your work—"
"Let me worry about that."
They check his vitals. My ankle tender, but unsprained. A paramedic hands me a white pill—prescription-strength ibuprofen—and a bottle of water. As another paramedic inspects his ankle, Appa jokes their ambulance is better equipped than some hospitals in the States. His voice is richer, more confident, then I remember.
And another amazing thing happens. They're speaking Hangul—and I understood the gist of it.
The crowds hand begun to thin, funneled into the plaza and the theater. A man in a white coat presses through, kneels beside Appa, and shakes his hand. His hair is tufty and grayish like Appa's.
"William, I came as soon as I got your text."
"This is Dr. Jackson Lee," Appa introduces me. "We were in medical school together. He's the one who's been flying me out to consult for his hospital here these past few years."
"He's a treasure, your father." Dr. Lee squeezes my hand. "Thanks to him, we provide the best patient care in Seoul."
Dr. Lee takes charge, and soon Appa is seated on a stretcher, ankle temporarily wrapped. Despite his protests, they declare he's dehydrated from his long trip and put an IV into his arm. I gently rotate my arm. The pain has lessened but I know better than to ask Appa about the bo staff dance. It should be fine.
"Bae Bagsa?" The head paramedic hands Appa an electronic tablet. "The city will cover your bill. Please sign here?"
Bae Bagsa. Dr. Bae. He's using his proper title.
All these years.
Then Sohee's voice reaches my ears. "I need to speak to her. This is an emergency!"
Sohee appears from behind a paramedic, her face ready for prime time with faux eyelashes, deep blue eyeshadow, berry-red lips. A black smock covers her checkered dress. Her hair spills from its updo.
"Dr. Bae! Hi! I'm Suzy's Yonsei roommate. I heard you were safe—so glad! Um, since you're okay, ca Suzy come with me for an emergency school project?"
The trump card. Nice, Sohee. She shoots me a fearful look, while Appa removes his glasses and rubs them on his shirt.
"You should rest your arm, Suzy."
"I just need a few hours, Appa." I slip another ibuprofen from the paramedic's kit."
Appa's eyes tell me he wants to protest. But then he nods. "Jackson wants me to come to the hospital for X-rays and casting. I'll go to my hotel afterward. What's the project?"
"Just end-of-the-summer stuff." I automatically downplay. I give him another hug, then starts after Sohee, who waves me on impatiently.
Hurry, hurry! twitch her brows.
But something tugs at me, holding me to this patch of sidewalk.
I turn back. Appa's watching me from the stretcher, that mole-speckled, spectacled face I can never penetrate. That gap between us that will likely always be there.
But I know now that the Great Divide is the enemy. Appa might never understand why I cried in Mulan, but maybe it isn't fair to demand that of him.
And if that Great Divide is ever to be bridged, or at least made smaller, I can only change myself. Not to give up my Americanness.
But to let them in.
I take a step back toward him, finger wrinkling my black smock. He's never seen me dance outside my tame ballet recitals. For so many reasons, I've never been able to share this part of myself with him.
"I'm actually helping run the fundraiser in there." I point to the National Theater. "It's a talent show. I choreographed a dance. If you can pull your doctor strings and get them to discharge you, I'd love for you to come."
Appa blinks behind his lenses. "Oh." He tugs his IV from his wrist.
"Dr. Bae, please, be careful!" The head paramedic springs forward.
"If you could find me a wheelchair for now." Appa's already climbed to his fete, bracing himself on the ambulance door. I'd forgotten how stubborn he can be, too. "I'm going with my daughter."