“I admired my Mother in someways, although things between us were never easy. She expected too much from me, I felt. She expected me to vindicate her life for her, and the choices she’d made. I didn’t want to live my life on her terms. I didn’t want to be the model offspring, the incarnation of her ideas. We used to fight about that. I am not your justification for existence, I said to her once.” — Offred (The Handmaid’s Tale)
Recently, I broke my drama hiatus by watching the oh-so-popular Weightlifting Fairy Kim Pok Joo. I devoured it like how a hungry chap wolfs down his lunch having skipped breakfast.
One thread that ties the narratives of the different characters together is the theme of family. From Bok Joo’s unconventional family unit consisting of just her, her ailing father and uncle, to Joonhyung’s troubling and traumatising familial past since his mother suddenly left him in the custody of his aunt’s family, to Siho’s already faltering family ties further destabilised by the confrontation of financial difficulties brought on by her increasingly demanding gymnastics career.
They are all adolescents, at the cusp of adulthood. And to strengthen the notion of independent living and self-sufficiency, these characters are required to stay on campus, I suppose, as part of the college’s residential living programme. For the most part of the drama, we are shown the perspective of the main characters as they get by day after day, week after week of gruelling practice, their personal problems with relationships and their struggle of finding themselves, their own identities. Occasionally, the family intervenes be it through financial difficulties, the threat of break-ups and divorce, or through the worrisome health of an important family member (like Bok Joo’s father).
Having experienced a year of living independently on campus away from my family, these problems and some of the scenes in this drama resonated strongly with me. At times, I found myself getting really caught in playing this independent adult character, someone belonging to no one else but myself. I do my own laundry, I eat whenever and whatever I want to eat, I sleep the number of hours I feel like sleeping on the weekends, I invite the people I loved having over, and the list of liberties from living alone as my own person goes on. It felt good to throw away whatever troubles and considerations that would usually crop up when making decisions involving more than one person about the things they may not like, the compromises that I’ll have to make, the extra responsibilities that I’m expected to shoulder, the times that I have to fit my own schedule to in order to make plans work…the worries are endless, too.
Somewhere in the middle of the entire drama, Si Ho finds out about the impending divorce between her parents not from the parents themselves, but from her younger sister. She had an idea all along that if anything is going to break her parent’s marriage, it would be her budding career as a professional gymnast because of the financial strain it has brought upon her parents and the conflict of interests between her parents right from the beginning. Si Ho confronts her mother at her workplace upon receiving news of the divorce with anger mixed with disappointment. A squabble ensues when Si Ho says she’ll quit gymnastics and work for an income instead. The following in the translated dialogue between the mother and daughter:
Si Ho: I’ll quit gymnastics. I’ll work and make money instead.
Mother: Who says you can? Who says you can quit gymnastics? Do you think your life is just your own? Wrong, your life is part of my life, too.
Si Ho: That has burdened me the most. The fact that my life is also your life. Why are you being greedy over my life? You should have lived your own life better. Why did you have to put me through all of this.
(a thundering slap ensues, duh. How dare you challenge your mother’s authority and decisions, you ungrateful wretch.)
So, I have been wondering, at which point do I have full autonomy over my own life? Do I even have complete sovereignty over my self? Do we ever have full autonomy over our lives? Because, what about our parents, people who have made my life possible and existent in the very first place? Or perhaps our parents’ ownership over our lives ceases the minute we exit our mothers’ wombs. If so, how then can we explain the years of love and care given to us by our parents. Is that a simply biologically programmed instinct in parents for nurture or a socially constructed expectation that oblige human parents to care for their children till they are at least of a certain age? If my life is part of my parents’ life too, who makes the final decision?
“‘A life without pain: it was the very thing that I had dreamed of for years, but now that I had it, I couldn’t find a place for myself within it. A clear gap separated me from it, and this caused me great confusion. I felt as if I was not anchored to the world — this world that I had hated so passionately; this world that I had reviled for its unfairness and injustice; the world where at least I knew who I was. Now the world has ceased to be the world, and I had ceased to be me.'” — Creta Kano