“You cannot hide your mind.”
I was caught off guard by the comment and quickly turned around in my chair to look at Maria.
“You are very happy today. You are fresh,” she said in her sing-song voice.
I was having a particularly good day and I realized I had been smiling to myself. Maria, my co-teacher picked up on it because after two years of working together she knows me quite well. She is around 60 years old and I think of her as my Korean mother. She is sweet, caring, devoted, and keeps a basket of snacks on her desk for us to eat together. Some days we have jam on bread, hard boiled eggs, or apples. Unlike most Koreans (for example, both of my principals and all my students), she has never once asked about my private life or made inappropriate jokes about boyfriends or needing to get married. I never would have believed that I would become such good friends with a Korean woman three times my age.
Maria has never really been a stranger to me. The day she picked me up from orientation she grasped both of my hands and shook them, which I soon found out was how Maria hugs. On the car ride to my hotel room in Daejeon, she sang along to Girls Generation and gave me songpyeong which I ended up squirting all over her seat belt. Luckily, she found that quite entertaining.
Her happiness seemed never-ending. Yet, there was a time when she told me she had just cried in the bathroom because another teacher had yelled at her. I immediately wanted to kill that teacher. It was the same feeling you would have if someone in your family had been mis-treated. Maria really is like family to me. It’s almost shameful how much she lets me get away with. I’m like her spoiled child; leaving school early, going off to buy snacks, and having her ask the principals for days off for me. Today I asked her how to get a tax certificate in Korea. A normal co-teacher would probably say they didn’t know, give vague information, or direct you to a website. Maria instantly was on the phone and then grabbed me by the hand and drove me to the City Council to get it for me. I buy her little gifts whenever I go somewhere, but sometimes I don’t think it will ever be enough to re-pay her for all she does.
Besides being sweet, Maria is hilarious and laughs like she is 16 years old. On April Fool’s Day, I convinced her to go lie to my friend Margo and tell her that I had broken my leg and was in the hospital. She came back laughing and gleeful. Her little jokes make even the most wretched day better. I’m also inspired by how active she is for her age. Every weekend she goes hiking or plays volleyball and she has traveled all over the world. She was very excited to hear I would go to Spain because she had been there as well, yet she couldn’t remember where she had gone exactly.
“There was a beautiful park. Um, with color.”
“Was it Gaudi, Maria? In Barcelona?,” I asked patiently.
She laughed loudly at herself.
“Yes! I went to Barcelona!”
Life is so delightful to Maria. I know she gets angry and sad, just like everyone else, but I think she tries her best to be positive. When I think about leaving my school and her, it breaks my heart. There will never be another like Maria, which was one of the main reasons I didn’t want to leave my school after my first year, but it’s time for me to go now. I hope we keep in touch and I’ll always feel lucky to have had a Korean mother, but I’m sure she knows.
As she said, I cannot hide my mind.