lea chew was born in corpus christi, texas, to two parents who had just moved from south korea. now, how they got to texas from south korea, lea never found out- as a child, she was much too afraid to ask, and as an adult, she had found that she no longer cared. lea's parents were staunchly religious- both quiet in their own ways. still waters ran deep with her mother, a proud woman who scrubbed rich peoples' toilets to make a living. she would often bring lea on her jobs and have lea clean up the trash bins and sweep the floors- it was here lea had her first glimpse into a world of people who had full bellies and full hearts, and at a young age, she dug through their trash bins with a need to understand them that never really went away. her father worked construction, drank beer and, when he was angry, threw lea into solid walls to make his point.
when lea was eight years old, after a particularly difficult night at home, she walked herself to the closest emergency room where she told a nurse, in a bastardized texan accent mixed with the unmistakable twangs of korean ancestry since passed, that she "needed help" before vomiting blood. and no matter how many people came to ask, no matter how often she was coered with food or toys or television, she refused to tell them her name. the next morning she confirmed her name was "ariel," and after much searching, the medical staff realized she had been referencing not her real name, but the name of the little mermaid. she rarely spoke during this time, though she repeatedly asked for bread and butter- which, it seemed, was her favorite food.
when lea was placed into the foster system, she was very much considered special needs. she was a minority, stick thin with a medical condition which meant she could gain no weight, a history of abuse, and an absolute, downright refusal to speak to much of anyone. in her first foster home, she lasted weeks- her second, merely days. she was prone to biting- not adults, but children, and she had a possessivenes over items like beds and stuffed animals that no one could particularly understand.
however, lea's night in shining armor came in the form of a rich, middle-aged white woman who had never been able to have children herself: elizabeth burbank loved lea from the moment she met her, and, unlike the other foster parents lea had been placed with, renamed her on the spot- lea chew became marcelina burbank, and there she stayed forever.