As the date arrived, I began to go through major highs and lows. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Even rushes of regret came in like tides, blaming me for the blunder to apply for something I might not be able to handle. Okay, in one sentence; I was so unstable that I felt like applying for the Pollock Scholarship was a mistake. I refused to admit it, but I was truly going though complete madness, yet in the very controlled outside version as always, with others not noticing.
The main problem was that it all felt so surreal. Even packing was impossible. I have never gone anywhere for the past decade, my life was nailed down into the depth of this red rusty soil, with no option to escape. So, why should it be that I am able to go NOW? The overgrown shadows of my inner voice kept me back flat on the ground. Though my flight ticket proved that the nails were gone, my senses were telling me that it cannot be true.
“It’s just a piece of paper. It means nothing. Just ignore it. You are not going anywhere. It’s not for you to go. Stay put. Don’t forget… the ‘good days’ had ended and you already got your share of foreign air. So, just close your eyes and wait for the plane, which is already messing up with you to go away. Then you may return to your ordinary life, once the opportunity is tilted off.”
That was my mother’s voice monstrously distorted in me. Mom was the only stable standard I had all my life, and I was too weak to criticize her. It was her words telling me I have nothing but to be grateful for all the experience that fell on me that were all too great to be enough for the extent of spoilt-ness.
“You were too lucky to have lived in the best places, you know. The good days are over now, no use of talking about them.”
“You already did all the travel, how could you dare to ask for more?”
“Stop clinging on to the past, look what reality looks like.”
“How dare you complain! … You should have never gone ‘out’.”
These were mom’s mantras that I would hear every once and a while since we were ‘banished’ back to Korea. The subject of our life out of Korea was never mentioned in our living-room. Only rarely it was hinted as the ‘good old days’.
It later turned out after my breakthrough to the States that Mom, herself, had been so miserable of our repatriation, sick and tired of Koreans, and was quite unaware of what she was saying or how she was reacting to our past. Her hard words were not for me, but actually for herself, to survive in Korea after we were relocated and dad out of job due to politicking of another group when to company was at risk because the owner was caught doing illegal acts. For twelve years, the only trips available for me were the occasional school field-trips, one day drive to a nearby island once a year, a few sleep-over trips to some parts of the country and a week at Jeju Island. The true meaning of a holiday was even wiped out because dad was abroad, and mom with her own work now, would rather stay at home to collapse on the bed for her given holidays. We even stayed at the same small neighborhood of a bed-town near Seoul. After all those years, I was now finally going out. Back out.
I found it impossible to begin packing until the evening before my departure. Considering the length of my trip, which would be two weeks, I should have gotten things straightened out by then. Wandering around the house for a toothbrush and other necessary items that I know so well from my childhood, in my head, I was fighting by repeat the situation I was in. I got a scholarship to go to FIGT. I mean, I got this excuse to go out and somehow I got flight tickets, and places for me to stay were arranged. Everything was ready. Yes, everything… but me.
Again, I lost track of reality. The fact that I was finally going out was so odd that it felt like nothing. As always, tomorrow would be just another dull day in Ilsan, or some underground going to Seoul. Alas, my inner alarm broke that I must do every single thing to kick me, or else the pricey tickets would become rubbish. I arranged alarms with notes of every single step I were to take the next day on my cellphone so that simply following that will take me to the airport. I had to make something to automatically kick me out.
The next morning, I woke up with this peculiar feeling of soundness. It was as if not a single speck of dust in my room would ever move. My mind absently passed the suitcase. It was the morning of my departure. VERY funny. Everything seemed so settled that I may as if have brunch, read a book and make a cup of coffee for the afternoon. I was completely out of control. It was like floating around in a dream, knowing that it is, just a dream. Then my faithful cellphone gave out a cry. I packed the final set of clothes on the dryer and went out to pick up some booklets I ordered from a copy place. I got on a bus that I was never to ride--the bus that had ‘Incheon International Airport Limousine’ printed in bright red. Looking out, I could feel the only glimpse of reality by the bit of strain in my stomach, telling me that I was nervous.
Arriving at the airport, I acted like a total idiot, asking around about everything. I finally seated myself in a café, when Mom called. She was suffering from Dad’s messages, who himself, was virtually following my schedule sitting at his office in Nigeria and wanted to know what was happening to me by hours (or even minutes). Dad was sending notes of information that even made mom burst into laughter. Reading the preschool instructions, I too, joked that he still thinks I’m 14, which was the last time he was really living with us. Mom agreed that dad could not get over the fact that I am legally an adult.
“Yeah, he always hesitates to pour me Makgoli (rice wine) and just says ‘want to try a little sip?’”
But he was right. I was not 22, not even 14. I was no more than an eleven-year-old. The little girl locked inside. The girl of eleven woke up to find herself alone at the airport.
As I was guided through every step by my faithful cellphone, my envelope and mind were totally detached. My body was numb. But I could sense that there was an upcoming explosion. I got off the rumbling air-subway, and took the escalator for my final gate in this world. I arrived at a polished metallic hall of clear windows, and that, was when I faced the breathtaking view.- I saw the grounds. The waiting planes. Blinking of vehicles. Men with big headphones with orange batons in hand. A scene that was concealed so deep inside me…
I couldn’t help it.
The picture of the area wavered. I was just facing the exit I dared to dream, but its threshold, I had to hastily run to the bathroom to hide myself behind the closet door.
As soon as the lock made a click, the tank burst. Water, swollen all the way to the tip of my toes, to the head, began to pour out.
Twelve years ago, I had wailed out so hard when I was leaving Poland, although I was really a grown up in the covers of a child, knowing what was happening. This time, I was flooding silent tears, as a child in the covers of a grown up. Clueless of what to do.
My body was shaking as I leaned onto the door locked behind. I saw the vision of this ceiling that was closed above my head for so long. The dark ceiling that was haunting me for ages. The ceiling that would sometimes come so low to squash my lungs out was there as I looked up. And I felt, heard, and saw this beautiful moment of a great crack rushing across the hard surface and finally open to the blue sky. I stared in wonder. The pain was gone as I aggressively bit my jaws in vain to make no sound at this final moment. Tears were tumbling down from long long ago. This time, it was not the tears of fear and uncertainness but, relief. A white airplane flew across the clear sky. I could feel a breeze coming from the crack. And all this was silent.
It took long time for me to stop.
And it took me twelve years, to get back out.
Cerine NJ 21
Hawaii, Poland and South Korea
Moithetique - Wagamama - DaydreamerThis is one in a series of excerpts from the soon-to-be published The Worlds Within TCK Anthology. A portion of the book’s profits will be donated to the FIGT David C Pollock Scholarship Fund.