By U Jin Jo, IV Form
The Mask: Art Inspired By The Loss of My Grandfather
“Do you ever wish you could just take off your mask and show people what is going on inside of you?”
I have been asked this question multiple times before. However, I never really understood what it meant before I experienced the death of someone whom I loved. In fact, his absence is still hard to believe today.
My grandfather – my best friend, my mentor, my everything – passed away two years ago when I was in 7th grade. The pain of the loss was unbearable for my 13-year-old self. However, having to tough through each day of school, I maintained the bright smile on my visage and carried my sadness within me. Day after day, I became more tired of burying my feelings inside. Eventually, I could no longer hold back the tears that flooded inside of me. I needed to show people what was going inside of U Jin Jo.
For this piece of art, I wanted the background to be important without having too much information because I wanted the focus to be on the inside. Hence, I used red acrylic paint and created a gradation behind the person. For the hair, I used a black felt-tip pen for the hair-like patterns. Under the mask of the girl, I wanted the section to express an entirely different feeling than the rest of the page because it is the focus of this piece. I looked through fashion magazines and cut out images of thunderstorms, clouds, and tears to create an ominous collage. Everything else was done in pencil.
I made this piece of art to reach out to the people who are hiding their true emotions and to tell them that they are not the only ones. Whoever you may be, know that you are not the only one. I am here with you on this difficult journey.
A short story in memory of my grandfather:
When we used to hike, my grandfather would hold my tiny hands with his lanky fingers. He was skinny, but his eyes were like two flaming fires, which had always intimidated me. At the age of ten, I was half his size. My eyes meeting his wrist, I noticed the reds and purples of speckled age marks on his hands.
“Grandpa,” I asked hesitantly, “Why are there marks on your hands?”
Although I knew the answer, I hoped for a different one. Maybe there was another explanation. He looked down with his flaming eyes that would have persuaded me that the marks were not age marks, but as soon as he smiled and started speaking, the reality hit hard.
“Welmh’ Ujinn’, I am old… It’s lika dying flowa afta it lives a long life.” The thought of my grandfather dying like a withering flower scared me so much that I stopped walking, my mouth frozen at a loss of words.
“Ujinn…Whaat’s wrong?” My grandfather asked with irritation, fatigued after a long day of hiking. Having the sudden urge to cry, I forced the tears away by gazing up at the sky, which was pigmented with amber and superimposed with creamy clouds.
“Ujinn? Letsgo, we need ta make in before dina!” His impatient tone pricked at my throat, and I lost all my control. The tears fell one by one, dropping on the pink princess sneakers that he had gotten for me. Mortified about my childish behaviors, I tried to rub my tears away. But I could not hide my fear of the thought of my grandfather’s death.
My grandfather’s flaming eyes softened and his hands suddenly felt clammier.
“Now, there is no need to cry about it.” He no longer talked with his usual accent. My grandfather whispered, “You may hesitate whether to let go, or not. But you may not stop. Even if the obstacle is my death, you still must run in the everlasting race called life. I get it – the thought of an unknown place makes you hesitate, not the pain itself.” Surprised by his sudden lecture, I stopped crying and tilted my head.
“The frightening sound of the looming future will intrude your pace. But you must continue. The overwhelming noise of the future is eager to catch you; the thick thunderstorm will jar your ears like a phantom telling you to stop running so hard. And soon, the rain drops will commence, which will seem like a light sound to calm your heart. But the raindrops will be faster than your own heartbeat. And your heart will toil to beat in time with the raindrops’ rhythm, craving for more oxygen, signaling you to stop. But you must still run. Run even taller, faster, my dear, faster. Then, the pain from running so hard will subdue the sound of the raindrops. And you – my little princess – will say, ‘I own this pace; this is my pace.’”
I realized that my mouth was hanging half-open and rapidly closed it. I took in his soothing words, savoring each bit. My eyes were too dry to tear up again. Then, his eyes carefully held mine, and the flames within them ignited again.
He smiled. “I sapose yonda’s too strong ta let go anyway.”
U Jin Jo is a IV Form boarding student from Seoul, South Korea. She lives in Gaccon and does ice hockey, crew, and loves taking pictures.