1. My father served in Korea, in the Army.
This is probably the most obvious explanation.
My parents separated when I was in the second grade, and I never knew my dad that well. I didn’t grow up with him around. But I remember being fascinated by the fact that he was in the military – and stationed in a place where there had been an actual war, even though he was there decades after the worst of it.
There was this photo of him, in uniform, hanging over my grandmother’s coffee table – an unrecognizable teenager with short hair and tiny wire-rimmed glasses.
Every once in a while, if he’d had a few drinks, my dad would talk about the Army. How he signed up at 17 to avoid getting drafted and sent to Vietnam. The Army wouldn’t send a 17-year-old to Vietnam, he said. (I have no idea if this, or much else my dad told me, is true.)
He was especially proud of having protested the Vietnam War while he was in Korea. There was a clipping from a military newspaper with photos of the protest. I was 12 or 13 when he showed me this, and I definitely didn’t get it.
Over the years, I’ve had people tell me I must be confused about my dad, that there weren’t Americans soldiers left in Korea in the ‘70s. But there are still American soldiers in South Korea. We never left.
Anyway, the other thing my dad would talk about, every once in a while, was a girl he’d known in Korea. My mom says he carried this Korean girl’s photo in his wallet for years after he came home. He’d been in love with her; my mom thought he still was.
I used to wonder about that girl. About how he met her. Whether she spoke English. Whether she was his age. Whether it was some secret love affair, or something her friends and family knew about … What if she was his soulmate?
What if fate and circumstance and the U.S. government had come together to deliver my father across the continents to his soulmate – and he just left her there.
He could have stayed, I thought. He could have brought her back. Omaha is a military town; people bring wives and husbands back from all over.
I remember being so angry with him. First for leaving the person he was meant to be with; then for leaving my mom, the person he wasn’t meant to be with; and then for leaving all my brothers and sisters and me in his wake.
So … in Eleanor & Park, Park’s dad gets sent to Korea because his brother has died in combat in Vietnam. He meets his soulmate there. And he brings her home.