Short Story The Hawk
You are thirteen so, of course, I am convinced I still have some say over you.
We swoosh toward church on wet roads under a sky with no feelings. You won’t speak to me. That’s typically true but more so on Sundays. You are thirteen so, of course, I am convinced I still have some say over you. As we merge into the jughandle that dumps us out onto the church’s road, you shout.
I glance upward and see nothing.
You hit the window with both hands.
“Stop!” you say.
There’s no safe place to stop, so I keep driving.
“There’s a baby hawk back there,” you say. “It’s hurt.”
I pull into the church parking lot because it’s the best place to turn the car around. Driving past tight rows of vehicles spattered with salted snow, I make the left and then another so we can exit.
“You’re going back?”
You sound genuinely surprised, and I admit to myself that your surprise leaves a little bruise. You’ve convinced yourself I’m hard. Your assumption that I would ignore an injured animal shows me how hard.
“Of course,” I say. “A baby hawk is hurt.”
Church has been the sorest point between us. You hate it. I don’t love it either, to be honest. It doesn’t give me the feeling it did when I was a kid. There isn’t an army of ajummas dishing up amazing food at picnics or ajusshis in white gloves and fluorescent vests directing traffic in the parking lot. There’s no glee from seeing all your Korean friends after a week of being “the only” at school. This church, to be honest, feels a lot like a work conference, down to the slide decks on the big screens and the white men in khakis and blue dress shirts with gelled hair who propound from the stage. But I love God, and I wish you did too. I am having a hard time admitting to myself that your Dad and I just aren’t going to be able to make this particular ritual meaningful for you. It barely feels meaningful for us. Maybe that’s what we’re in denial about.
You sound genuinely surprised, and I admit to myself that your surprise leaves a little bruise.
Why don’t you join a Korean church? my mother says on the phone from time to time. Maybe she would like that better, she says. “She” meaning you.
I’m not even sure how to respond. Her question presumes I have somehow missed an obvious and simple solution to your loneliness. I could try to explain that a church like the one your Dad and I grew up in, the kind your grandparents’ generation established and ran, doesn’t really exist anymore. The children of that community have moved on, scattered. Or I could say that we’ve tried a couple of Korean churches, but they felt like an uncomfortable throwback. Or I could even say that although our current church has some troubling messages about who God does or doesn’t accept that can make my stomach turn, those messages were there in the Korean churches too.
You know what people think and what God thinks are two different things, right?
I’ve said some version of this to you several times, thinking it will give you strength. I haven’t said it lately, though, because you get angry. You don’t want to talk about religious stuff. You don’t believe any of it, you say. None of it.
How can I explain to my mother that we, my family, have found neither a church nor a community where we feel we fit? Wherever we go, we feel like heretics. I can’t explain it to her, or I don’t know how, or I’m too tired at the prospect, so I just say yes, she has a point, I will think about it.
Our minivan is reaching the part of the road where you saw the hawk. I slow down.
“There,” you say, pressing your fingertip into the window. “You passed it!”
I don’t see anything, but I believe you. Pulling onto the shoulder and turning on the hazards, I’m not even sure what you’re about to do. But I have complete faith. You’re übercompetent and always have been. You built your own flat-pack dresser, bed, and bookshelves when you were nine. You start the nightly fire on family camping trips with lint from our dryer—something you learned from the internet. You bake both your sisters’ birthday cakes every year from scratch. I never have to say anything to you about schoolwork because you—distressingly—berate yourself for scores like 98 percent.
For the last year, you’ve been inexplicably angry, sometimes explosive. All the books say this is normal, but your anger seems like something else, something vast and dense, something I must heed. The more I treat you like my darling girl, the more you revolt, so I pull back from babying you as much as I can, knowing that you might resent me for this too, not just now but someday. What you will think about me someday haunts me.
You get out of the car and walk the hundred feet to the snowbank with such purpose. Your stride reminds me of your Dad’s. The weather is misting and there is no traffic. You remove your orange puffer as you go. Except for the gentle click of the hazards, the world has fallen silent. In the mirrors, I see you crouch down, and a few moments later, you’re back at the car with something bundled against you. I stretch and open the passenger side.
You climb in, curled around your parcel, and close the door. The fierce gold eyes of the fledgling make me want to laugh. Their intensity defies us to call it helpless. I take in the sight of you holding the hawk so tenderly. Large beads of moisture stud your sweater. Your cheeks are flushed. I feel a flash of vanity when I see how pretty you are.
I made her , I think. I smile, knowing my blasphemy is forgivable.
“It didn’t move,” you say. “Not even when I laid my jacket over it.”
You balance the swaddled hawk on your lap with one hand and pull out your phone. Your long hair is tied back, but the loose strands in front hang damp and black as algae. As you tap away on the screen with your thumb, I feel a vague pang, something to do with how I can still see your baby face even though you colt further away from me each day.
What you will think about me someday haunts me.
The hawk’s head juts from the spool of your jacket. It looks like a stuffed toy swaddled in a tiny duvet, a toy so realistic it bends the brain. And then my brain snaps to:
The hawk is real.
I offer to hold her so you can search more easily. Gently, you pass the raptor. We move and breathe slowly. We speak softly and almost not at all, using only necessary words. The fledgling has stunned us into reverence. I hold her encircled in my hands and poised on my lap like a delicate football. She is still but her amber eyes dart, taking in the inside of our minivan. The brown and cream markings on her head remind me of sun-dappled water. I am so tempted to pet her but I resist. She is wild and worthy of respect.
I stare at her hooked beak and actually think about running my finger along the cutting edge to see how sharp it is—I’m not even scared at the thought of slicing my finger open—but of course, I don’t. I even fantasize about unfurling the jacket to see if she’ll unfold her wings. I want to see their full span, to see if she’ll flap them and swoop around, screeching. But of course, I don’t.
Darkness is something we share, but you don’t know that. I repress the thought of the scars on your arm, which we have only recently discovered through the school. The revelation has cracked the world, has brought me to the daunting knowledge that we are only at the beginning of a long and treacherous journey. I see the parallels to my adolescence and wonder if I should tell you about my own struggles to become myself, but I don’t want to implicate your grandparents, whom you adore. There is a constant circling in my mind, a treading and retreading of the same territory as I try to figure out how much of myself to share, how much I need to protect you, how much of an adult I have to be, and what that even means. I wonder how—or if—I can help with whatever the brawl inside you is. Sometimes it feels the only thing I can do is be nearby.
The hawk twists her neck. She looks here and there. It’s funny because we never sexed her, but I use she and her as the default. For all we know, the hawk is a boy, but the idea of three girls in the car together charms me.
You put your phone away, and although you don’t ask, I pass her back. You found her. You should be with her as long as possible.
You tell me what you’ve learned:
“It says we should have left it where it was because the mother is probably around somewhere. Oops.”
You bring a palm to your forehead and then rake your loose hair back with your lovely fingers. Guilt spills over your face. The way you’re so hard on yourself, is that my fault?
“We didn’t know,” I say. “And I’m sure we’re not the first not to know.”
A screech. We look up through the windshield. A large hawk circles. The feathers at the tips of her massive wings flare like eyelashes.
“Junior!” I say in cawing tones. “Where are you?”
You laugh. My playacting the mom-hawk has actually made you laugh. You join me in the improv.
“I thought I told you to stay in your room.”
It’s been so long since we laughed. For a few seconds, it feels like old times.
I start the car. Time to loop around and put the hawk back where we found her. You’re holding her lightly as a bomb. I drive at a crawl so we don’t scare her but also to draw out time.
I pull over, and you get out. You take the baby hawk back to the same spot, place her on the snow, and unwrap her. She unfolds her outsize wings and takes a step, but she’s wobbly. You look up to see if the mother is still circling. I look too. She’s gone.
You hold your jacket as you watch over the fledgling, who keeps up her gawky movements. I text you: The mother won’t come back if we stay. You know I’m right and return to the car.
You’re even wetter from the mist when you get back inside. As you yank your seatbelt on, I notice that you are holding your jacket in your lap. I don’t mention it though. I just turn the heat up. How could I possibly say something motherly, something like “It’s cold, you should put that on.” It would feel profane.
“So I guess we’re going to church now.” Your voice sounds flat and gray.
“Let’s just get lunch.”
A stream of light splits the sky. I can tell you see it and feel it too, though I know by now you’ll forget you did.