Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Going Once, Going Twice, Going Crazy

I don't know much about neuroscience, but I'm imagining sad memories creeping through the cracks in my brain like zombies slithering from graves. I'm going to be helping out at a summer camp in Gokseong for one week at the end of July. Don't get me wrong, this is really great news. I will make new friends, meet a whole bunch of teachers from Portland, (maybe I'll know some already) and make some extra money, but I taught at the same school last summer. And last summer I was in love and mostly optimistic.

I remember everything about this school in Gokseong: the smell of banana pancakes and chocolate syrup from the cooking classroom, the smell of mothballs in the elevator, the strong gust that greeted me when I swung the door open in the air conditioned teachers' lounge, the smell of wet pavement, the long hike from the dormitory and cafeteria up to the school, the unrelenting heat, the sound of doors slamming, children yelling and shoes stomping. And how can I forget the speaker in my dorm room that would wake me up every morning with announcements in Korean and sometimes wake me up after I had gone to bed at night? The only English the announcer employed was, "Did you have a good day? I hope so," always said in the same chipper voice. It was in Gokseong where I met my friend Sylvia and I joked about the speakers with her: "Are you sure this isn't North Korea? Is he telling me to love Kim Jung Il?" It may sound like I'm complaining, but I actually remember all of this quite fondly. The teachers' lounge was lit up like some 1950s rockabilly diner. Sparkly red tables and swinging stools were set up on a checkered linoleum floor. It reminded me of the restaurant in the movie "Pulp Fiction." Luckily, no one overdosed on cocaine, but I did feel suffocated by insecurities after checking facebook one day. I saw that my boyfriend's ex was visiting Portland from Southern California. He had told me on one of our early dates that he wasn't sure if he was over her yet. They were going to meet for drinks . . . without me. . . with me on the other side of the world. American and Korean female teachers tried to console me. "You're so gorgeous. How could he be interested in someone else?" Early in the morning, late at night, during breakfast, lunch and dinner, I would try to arrange video chats in my room. He assured me they were just friends, that even if he and I weren't dating, they would still just be friends. He told me he loved me and missed me enough times to ease my insecurities.

I made friends with all the Korean female teachers, and we all huddled on the floor of their rooms at night to guzzle beer and wine and talk openly about all things feminine. I told them how painful my love and longing for my boyfriend was. Koreans are obsessed with marriage, and when my Korean girlfriends asked if he and I planned to get married, I told them he said he wanted to marry me in Alaska. The whole roomful of girls just about exploded with joy, throwing their arms in the air like a fireworks display. I told my awed and envious listeners how breathtakingly beautiful Alaska is, what a great husband my boyfriend would be. I splayed my fingers, imagining a ring in the near future, a promise of love and loyalty. All of these memories of Gokseong are attached to him. I thought about him all the time. It's almost as if he was there with me.

Trying to explain to Sylvia that I don't have a boyfriend and I'm not getting married was like telling her I had a terminal illness. I think she may have been more devastated than me. I began to think my ex boyfriend owed everyone in South Korea a formal apology for shattering their hopes of a possible wedding. :) I repeat, Koreans are obsessed with weddings. But, I guess I was, too, for a brief while. It's really great that I got the opportunity to live with him and see that it never would have worked out. Sometimes I just need to convince myself that it's not my fault. I plan to stay busy during my stay in Gokseong and be as social as a parrot. Really, the idea of returning to Gokseong has vast literary possibilities. But I'm still nervous about the sad memories that might come creeping back.

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