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Forced Divorce of Parents (2)
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2016-01-21 13:39:40
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Forced Divorce of Parents (2)


H. AHN

 

H. Ahn was sent to a concentration camp for illegally crossing the North Korea/China border out of curiosity at the age of 18. After his release from the camp, however, his parents were forced to divorce each other to spare relatives from punishment. The following is his account of how it happened.​

1986: Born in North Korea 
1986: Was arrested for illegal travel to China at the age of 18. 
1990: Released from Yodok concentration camp 
1992: Defected to South Korea 
1995:  Published "Yodok List," an account of his experience in a North Korean concentration camp. 
1998: Presently, a University Student in Seoul, Korea 


Strangely, my father was already at home when I returned home one early afternoon.

"Eh? Daddy, are you home already?"
  "Yah, I am home, Hyok, my son. Come and let's have a drink between father and son."

It was very unusual that Daddy was drinking alone at home in broad daylight. He almost emptied a bottle of very strong local whisky. Mom was nowhere to be seen.

My father was already quite drunk. He appeared quite depressed and uneasy. I felt something unpleasant had happened to him that day and I quietly sat on my knees in front of him.

"Well, take my cup," he filled a large glass with whisky.

"When I was at your age, I dreamed of navigating to remote countries in a big boat. I must have told you that already. I really wanted to be a captain of a big boat to navigate the big, wide ocean. Isn't it fantastic? But when it was not possible, I changed my mind and wanted to be an architect. So, I was transferred to the Architecture and Construction Department in the college. My dream at that time was to be an architect constructing a tall building, and to feel satisfied when the tall building was completed." He paused a little while and drank another glass of whisky.

"Then, I met your mother for the first time when I was 28 years old. Your mother….At that time, she was very pretty. When I married your mother and had a sweet home, I wanted to work hard and keep a nice home. I had a nice home, I was hard working, I was competent, I had a son and daughter. I have had enough. I did not want anything. I just did my best to make a nice home. Well, I am neither a captain nor an architect. I am now a staffer of the External Service Bureau. But, I have had no regrets in my life. Your mother was a good housekeeper and I worked hard, and watched you and your sister growing with pleasure. I was always proud of you. Your sister was always so lovely…In fact, you and your sister never caused us any serious trouble…"

I could not understand why he was saying these strange words. What had happened to him? Something must have happened to make him drink in broad daylight and say these words. Is something bad going to happen? Where is Mom, anyway?"

As though he read my mind, my father called to mother "Darling, please come here." Oh, Mom was at home!

The moment I was about to feel relieved, I detected something ominous to be seen on mother's face when she was coming out of her room. Her eyes were red and bulged with tears.

"Well, Darling, please sit down here," said my father and he continued, "I thank you indeed for the hard life you have had with me. I did not thank you enough but I was always very grateful to you and I remember all the hard work you have carried out…" What a hell he is talking about? It's not like my father… I was confused. "Oh, Hyok!" my father called me and could not control his emotion any more and started to weep. The man who did not show his tears even when he first met me out of the concentration camp is now weeping… I was very nervous by now and did not know how to behave. 

"Your father and mother have decided to divorce," my father spat these words when he stopped weeping.

At that moment, I was so confused and I could not hear any more. I felt somebody far and far away in another country was speaking to somebody else.

"I like you to know that I have done my best for you, my son. Even now, if it is for you, I am prepared to sacrifice myself but…now…I am at my wit's end…"

I was more confused than before. I could only sense that something must have happened to my parents when they were at the National Security Office in connection with my offense. When my mother's brother- in-law visited us from Pyongyang by surprise the other day, I thought something was happening…but…but…I did not expect a situation like this! By now, my father finished up two bottles of strong whisky. 

"Oh, Hyok, my son… my son," my father hugged me and wept. My mother returned to her room. I heard her crying in her room.

Until this time, I could not accept it as reality. This must be a dream, a worst of the worst nightmare. I better wake up soon…
  I felt cold sweat running over my whole body. My father stopped weeping and told me, "Hyok, I am going to a village in the remote country side. Your mother will go to Pyongyang. Then, there will be nobody to live in this house…You better find a girl to live with you in this house." He sighed long breaths as he talked. I could not stand to watch my father so miserable. I still feel his sobbing voice ringing in my ears today.

The next month was the worst period in my life. I recollected my life for the past 20 years or so. I remembered my days at elementary school and at the Sports High School; the glimpse of China for a little while, the detention center, the concentration camp and the two years since my release from the concentration camp… The only time I was happy was until I was 12 years old; I was happy under the care of my parents without any knowledge of the outside world. My life after that time was full of problems and pains. I was in a position to be happier than others. Where did my first wrong step begin to come to this situation today? If only I did not attend the Sports School, No, No. If only I did not visit China…the whole problem could have been avoided. The feeling of repentance and regret was breaking my bones. All the hard efforts of my parents for me are falling like a castle of sand. My efforts for a new life after my release from the concentration camp is becoming like a mirage…How could I accept the fact that a long-time happy home is destroyed for political reasons, for the acts of a child of the family? How painful would it be for my parents, to be divorced from each other, which they never dreamed of, when they loved each other so much. 

I learned later that the Security Authorities' last warning was:

"We have tried but I am sorry we have no other choice. Hyok already tasted freedom in China and this is irrevocable. Furthermore, the prisoners in concentration camps are creating new problems. So, we can be no longer lenient with you. There was also an urgent instruction from the Party. Final action will be taken shortly."

I also came to know that the brother-in-law of my mother, a central party member, read security report about my brief defection to China and spread word to all our relatives. Our parents were forced to divorce as a last resort, under the intense pressure from these relatives of my mother who did not want to have anything to do with a dangerous family.

My sister, Hye Yong, came home for vacation. There was nobody at home to welcome her.

"Brother, what's wrong? Has anything happened to us? I find some thing strange in the family."

She tried to improve the depressed family atmosphere by making jokes and telling us funny stories. I felt so sorry for her that I did not have the nerve to say anything to her. But I could not keep it from her forever. I had to tell her all about what happened. Very cautiously, I opened my mouth.

"Under any circumstance, Hye Yong, you have your own life and you must keep your own good life." Then, I stopped and looked at the mountains far away.

"What's the matter with you, brother? Yes, something has happened! What is it? Tell me all about it, will you?"

"…Father and mother decided to get divorced…" 

Hye Yong's eyes grew big and was so surprised with the nonsense and she shouted,

"It can't be true! That's nonsense. What the hell are you talking about?" She hugged me hard and started to cry.

Already, she has had problems due to bad family records (because of me) even when she just applied for college. The dark cloud that enveloped her family because of me had finally led to the painful family break-up. Now, the family is going to be split and separated, all because of me. How bitterly would she be resenting me? I tried to comfort her but I could not stop the tears running from my eyes. A sharp hook was causing bitter pain inside my broken heart.

At the beginning of October, father and mother finally left home. My father went up to a timber yard in a mountain far away with a small trunk containing a few pieces of clothing. My mother left me some food and went to Pyongyang with a few pairs of clothing.

This is what happened on this Earth.

My father made it sure that everything was in the right place in the house before he had one last look at every corner of the house. He picked up the small trunk my mother prepared and said to my mother, as though he was going on a field trip, "Well, I am leaving now." This was a moment of his over 40 years of life bursting like a bubble. He left the gate without looking back. I knew how anxiously he wanted to look back. Obviously, he must have felt that this must be a dream or a joke, not a reality, and he wanted to come back. He looked so miserable when he walked away from us step by step, lonely. The tears blurred the last image of my father.

Mother did not say anything all this time, just turned around to wipe tears from her eyes when her husband had left. She told me, "Hyok, please let me know if you have any problem, will you?…How are you going to manage the house work without me…?" She could not finish her words and caressed her chest as though for a last good-bye. 

I carried my mother's package and we walked together to the railway station. Neither of us said anything. The leaves of trees around the railway station began to change to a yellow color, some of the leaves fell to the ground, and were rolling under my feet. Check-in began. She gave me a last look and moved toward the train with a heavy step.

I watched the black train slowly leaving. I left the station and walked home very slowly. I felt my body wandering afloat .