Memory/Character Essay: Thirteen Examples

Georgia on My Mind

Joomi Park

Brace yourself. One step on the gray bleak concrete will be the end of you. Your feet will become infected with the crushed dreams of the city that never sleeps, and you’ll fall into the slums, into your own despair. Take one wrong corner and you’ll be kidnapped and thrown into a dark van that reeks of ambiguity and you’ll never see light again. Every single person on the street is your enemy. The men want to grope you, the women want to scam you, and the people there are the meanest in the world. So why on earth, Joomi, would you want to live in New York? Well I’m just wondering why Georgians who have never once set foot in the city feel compelled to fill me with their fear while they can nestle softly back into their sheltered beds.

My friend told me about her coworker who was kidnapped on the streets of New York and had barely made it out alive. She often liked to end her story with, “My coworker said she was never the same, and she still has traumatic bruises on her body.” Shortly after that tale spread around, my boyfriend gave me a pink bottle of pepper spray to ward off any unwanted people around me. Though it was small and light, the emotional fear weighed so heavily. I contemplated if moving to New York was a bad idea, especially when I had lived in the comfort of a suburban environment all my life. I always talked about leaving Georgia, and I saw college as an outlet for me to finally start fresh anywhere other than the peach state. However, with the opportunity right in my face, I drowned in worry—95% came from the courtesy of all my friends, teachers, and parents. They called me a potential target for the evil New Yorkers because I am a “short little Asian girl.” And it felt like everyone had gotten a note to call me that because I was never described as anything else.

I’ll admit that the streets aren’t as great as I had thought they would be. They don’t sparkle and gleam with the magic of the city, but I have noticed that they are adorned with the occasional dog poop that fled the grips of the blue dog waste bag. Instead of glitter falling from the sky to indicate that I am in the perfect place to be, cold water droplets bombard my head from some unknown source on these buildings. It also wasn’t a dream come true when I heard, “Look at those bodies. Damn, those tits.…Did you see those tits? And man, her ass,” on the streets at night. Regardless of whether those comments were directed at me or some other woman, I was appalled at hearing an incredible amount of inappropriate comments by men in the span of only a few blocks. I wanted to shove cacti all over their bodies, but when I was reminded that had the roles been switched, I might not have reacted as strongly to a woman speaking about a man in such a way, I guiltily tried to erase my dreamland streets filled with my man candy. Still, I’ve grown a fondness for walking down the streets. I’m pretty sure I’ve mastered my “I’m not interested in a trip to the Empire State Building so stop asking” bitch face, and surprisingly, a twenty-minute walk feels like nothing now. A twenty-minute walk in Georgia consists of trees, trees, and more trees. The streets would be lazy, save for the future fraternity boys who would roll out of their immense country club houses in their red pickup trucks with Confederate flag stickers on the bumper and country music blasting through the windows. Here, I take a few steps and I’m in front of a completely different store each time. I keep walking and I’m on a whole other street and I get to see almost every different kind of person in his or her own little world.

In its own ways, Georgia has its bad sides, too. I lived across from a very crowded Korean supermarket and in the other direction was a hog and horse farm. Almost everyone drove around, even if it was only a ten-minute walk, and maybe that’s why traffic was always the biggest problem. Perhaps I’ve grown to love the state more than I thought, because right now all I can think of is nighttime in front of my house. I would walk outside and hear toads and crickets making a ruckus across the lake, look up and see the most beautiful scenery of stars, and breathe in the freshest air my lungs have ever felt. And then a dozen mosquitos would attack and the biggest moths would fly into the light and I’d scream while running back into the house. Sometimes I would spot deer calmly making their way across lawns and then unfortunately see them again as road kill, and the occasional comedian will tie a “get better soon” balloon on their bodies. Rabbits always inhabit the grass and little critters are afraid of humans but kind enough to give us our personal space. The best thing is that there’s also a kangaroo conservation center where I’ve seen and petted all types of kangaroos, so even I have to ask myself what else I could possibly want. And then I find that I can answer my own question in a heartbeat. I want people who don’t dress like carbon copies of each other and I want to be around people who aren’t afraid to take a risk. I want to be able to roam the streets without seeing at least three images of Confederate flags. I want to live at a fast pace and put myself in situations that could only happen in New York.

I’d be lying if I said I’m not afraid of walking on the streets anymore. I never leave my dorm without my reassuring pepper spray, and there are times when I get super paranoid and look over my shoulder one or two times just to be safe. But currently, I can’t possibly think of having a future anywhere other than here. I might cry a little inside when I think of how I only had to pay seven dollars for Chipotle in Georgia, but I suppose dollar pizza makes up for it. I haven’t found any cool secret locations, but I’ve come to appreciate tourist scenes. At a certain time of the day, when the light hits just right, the Flatiron Building makes my head spin. My roommate and I stumbled upon Bryant Park late at night, and my eyes were coated with an infatuation so great that even a fountain blew me away. And I will never tire of looking up at the buildings, at the details, and sometimes at the solemn statues and gargoyles that are almost out of sight.

Georgia, this is not a goodbye or a breakup letter. It’s a harsher “I’ll only need you on vacations but I guess you’re okay, too.” Without a doubt I miss Chick-fil-A, sweet tea, and Coca-Cola. I miss going to breakfast restaurants like Cracker Barrel and ordering pancakes, grits, biscuits, gravy, eggs, and bacon. I miss school cancelling because of the first snow in five years and just on odd days when it was deemed too cold and dangerous. But don’t confuse my nostalgia for love. New York will always beat you, and I now consider this my home. Sorry, it’s not me; it’s you.

Discussion Questions

  • Why would somebody want to read this piece (the “Who cares?” factor)?
  • Can you clearly identify the author’s intention for the piece?
  • How well does the author support the intention of the piece? Cite specific details that support or take away from the author’s intention.
  • Is there information missing from this piece that would make its intention clearer? What else would you like to know?
  • Does the author portray herself as a round character? How does she do this?
  • Do you trust the author of this piece? Why or why not?
  • How clearly does the author establish a sense of setting/space in this piece? Cite specific details that support your claim.
  • How clearly does the author establish characters other than the self in this piece? Cite specific details that support your claim.
  • Did you learn anything new from reading this piece? If so, what?
  • Are there particular passages with engaging language/description that stood out to you? Describe the appeal of these passages.
  • Would you read more writing from this author? Why or why not?


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