the first dream was a good one. i don’t actually remember the details of dream itself, but i awoke knowing something, feeling certain that it was true. at the time, i was living in the suburbs of Seoul with a Korean family, a recently married couple from whom i rented a room. what i awoke knowing was that my “host mother” was pregnant. when i told her at breakfast what i’d dreamt, a look of wonder passed over her face, and then she broke out into a huge smile. her husband had apparently had a dream that night, too, the kind of dream that is known as tae-mong.
there’s no one word in English that can convey all of the meaning contained in the word tae-mong. “tae” is related to birth and “mong” means dream, so in a general sense it is a dream about birth and/or pregnancy. a dream that a member of the family or someone close to the expectant couple has. i learned that these kinds of dreams are supposed to tell about the unborn baby’s personality and fortune, and i don’t think i ever met someone there who didn’t believe in them.
my host father and i both turned out to be right: my host mother was pregnant. later they found out it was twins, and they were overjoyed. i tried to share in their excitement, but something like dread was hanging over me. when i tried to talk about it with my best friend Min-Ha, who also lived there with the couple, she stopped me cold and told me that in Korea they believed that words had the power to make bad things happen. i never mentioned the overwhelming fear i felt about my host mother’s pregnancy again. a few months later, i moved into my own place in Seoul. i hadn’t been close to my host parents and didn’t really think much about them in the months that followed. but one night i had another dream about my host mother, a terrible dream, one where there was something very wrong with her babies. i woke up feeling sick and panicked. after several days of trying to get through to my former host family on the phone, i finally learned that my host mother was in the hospital. she’d been there since the night of my dream–something was wrong, and one of the babies wasn’t growing well (as she put it.) i visited her several times in the hospital, and she seemed a bit scared but also surprisingly optimistic. (“he’ll listen to his mama and grow. i know he will. everything is going to be okay.”) that feeling of dread i’d experienced before was back, though, and somehow i knew that she was wrong.
later i learned that they’d induced her in an attempt to save the bigger baby. he (or she?) died immediately. the smaller twin survived for several days in the NICU before also passing away. i still don’t know whether they were boys or girls, but i do know that my host mother never saw either of them. i look back now and feel such incredible sadness for her. twins lost at seven months, and their mother never even got to see their faces, to hold their tiny bodies. i don’t know if i ever told her how sorry i was…i’m ashamed to admit that i probably didn’t. it wasn’t something that anyone talked about by anyone around me, and as hard as it still is for me to find words of condolence in English, in Korean it would have been impossible. (now i know that i should have tried anyway…now i know that heartfelt words, no matter how clumsy, are almost always better than silence.)
when i saw my host mother again several months later, her usually bright smile was muted, and there was a heaviness in her home that hadn’t been there before. at one point, she came and sat down next to me on the couch. she leaned in close and suddenly began to plead with me in a quiet voice that shook with emotion, “please have another dream for me. please. oh please, just one. just one more dream for me.”
i didn’t know it at the time, but there were plenty more dreams to come…even worse ones.