November Fiction: "Yesterday They Raised" by Matthew Salesses

"Now, with the ferry raised, parents will find their children’s bodies sealed inside the cabins, while the messages those parents saved remain ghosts."
November 9, 2017

Illustration by Jerry Ma.

Yesterday they raised the Sewol ferry. It sank three years ago with most of its passengers, including 250 of 324 students. The captain and crew escaped after telling passengers to stay in their cabins.

The last time I went to Korea, I noticed that you can ride the subway and stream a movie on your cell phone, call your parents with the exact time you will arrive home. While the Sewol ferry went down, many victims called or texted. If someone chose to save them, those messages remain.

Disasters have changed with cell phones. Now a victim can leave behind her departure. Long ago — say, 35 years ago — in the view of the survivor slowly sinking left the same trace as being swallowed by a sinkhole.

I have been thinking about my adoption, of course.

Birth parents could always leave messages. There are rumors they left messages on their babies’ skin, to know each other again someday by the marks.

Now, with the ferry raised, parents will find their children’s bodies sealed inside the cabins, while the messages those parents saved remain ghosts. Every day, if they choose to see their children, they choose to see their children becoming ghosts.

When I think about my adoption, I think about ghosts. I think what is this desire to haunt? What does it mean to be raised? When is too late too late? I think I never got the message. The last time I went to Korea was the last time. A recording is not a record. I think what does a body mean to me as an absence? I think who is to blame? I think how do I know whether to stay or to escape? What is a disaster and what is a disaster?



This piece was published as part of the November Adoptee Literature Folio. To see other works from the folio, please visit the table of contents here.



Jerry Ma is a New York-based graphic designer/comic illustrator. Best known for his work as one of the founding editors and artists for the ground-breaking graphic novel Secret Identities, Jerry has also created his own line of graphic tees and is now working on his creator-owned comic project, Legend.

Jerry’s work has also been featured at Lincoln Center for The New York Asian Film Festival, The Lunar New Year Festival at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Kangol Hong Kong, The World Journal, and Linsanity the Movie.  He has also been a keynote speaker at events ranging from Rutgers University to The Smithsonian Museum.

He is currently in the middle of opening a Taiwanese restaurant in downtown Manhattan.


Matthew Salesses

Matthew Salesses is the author of The Hundred-Year Flood, an Amazon bestseller and Best Book of September; an Adoptive Families best book of 2015; a Millions Most Anticipated of 2015; and a best book of the season at BuzzFeed, Refinery29, and Gawker, among others. He is also the author of I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying and the nonfiction work Different Racisms: On Stereotypes, the Individual, and Asian American Masculinity. Adopted from Korea at age two, Matthew was named by BuzzFeed in 2015 as one of “32 Essential Asian American Writers.”