The choice I'm making.

So I should do what I can here to give a bit of an update so as not to give you lovely people (who have left so many incredibly kind messages over the last few days that I don't even know where to begin....), and especially my family (who are, apparently, officially all reading this blog) and friends (who have received correspondence over the last few days akin to "Oh my god! Boo hoo!"/"No I'm fine everything's great. Why?"/*radio silence*/"Oh my god! Boo hoo!") the impression that it's all doom and gloom and bipolarocity over here at La Casa de I'm No Picasso.

It's been rough -- I'm not gonna lie. I honestly don't think I've ever cried so much in my entire life. And I'm not a crier. And it's been pretty spontaneous as well, which I don't really know how to deal with. There's been more than a little public lip trembling over the course of the last week. Which is just. Blah. But everyone understands, I think.

To recap, I was on the bus to Gangnam on Thursday morning, where I was going to change to the train to Jamshil for our field trip to Lotte World, when I looked down and saw a missed international call. I pretty much already knew what that meant at that hour. I had a bit of extra time, due to having left my flat extremely early to avoid commuting with the students, so I hopped off at Gangnam and ducked into a coffee shop to call my aunt back. I sat there calmly at a table facing a window in the smoking room and took in the news, asked all the necessary questions with all the emotional investment of a block of ice. I still had the whole day to get through, and was nowhere near being in private or with people in front of whom I would feel comfortable breaking down. So I just had to suck it up. I think it kind of alarmed my coworkers when I showed up with such a calm smile and demeanor to deliver such news. But you do what you have to do.

I hadn't had a chance to talk to my grams while I was at the coffee shop, because of a bad connection, so while we waited to go into Lotte World, I sat by the fountain and phoned her. Suddenly I saw Minwoo's eyes lock onto me from across the lobby, and he tilted his head, asking a question. He made a beeline for me, and when he sat down next to me, I told him it was my grandmother on the phone. He took it gently with both hands and said, "Hi. Nice to meet you?" and then quickly handed it back. He sat watching my face throughout the short phone call, and when I hung up, he asked me in Korean with his eyes narrowed why I was talking to my grandmother then. I just smiled at him. He narrowed his eyes further, and called Seokhee over to translate.

"He wants to know if there's something wrong."

I just looked at him and smiled. He stared at my face for a long time and then nodded. Scooted over a bit closer and just sat there next to me until it was time to go in.

Of course what always happens when I do things like bottle up extreme emotions happened, and by the time I got home that afternoon, I was running an extremely high fever and barely capable of holding myself upright. I stopped at the 편의점 with my favorite friendly ajeosshi on the way back to my flat, and when he stopped me as I went out the door to double up one of my bags so it wouldn't break, I thanked him with so much genuine emotion that his normal kind of nervous exterior broke down for a moment and he laughed, telling me that it was really nothing. People don't understand what small acts of kindness like that can do for another person when they're having a really hard day.

That night as I lay in bed trying to catch a bit of feverish sleep, JH Unni phoned. She wanted to know if I wanted to come out to watch the game. Obviously I wasn't up for it, but we agreed to meet sometime this weekend. Which we did yesterday. The G Man phoned around midnight and we had a sort of much needed (for us) little heart-to-heart, and I feel like we set some things straight. Some things in life can show you the importance of other things. And those are the moments that I think you have to hold on to.

Friday's pretty much a blank. Most of my classes were cancelled, and the ones I did teach were my really darling and well-behaved C classes, who, of course, once they heard my sickly voice, tried their very hardest. Jae-in told me Ronaldo had told someone to "f off" and asked me what it meant. I explained. I came home and went back to bed.

Saturday morning I woke up at 4:30 am. I had a little chat with myself that ran along the lines of, "Enough is enough." I've gotten myself into real trouble before, with my tendencies to just hide inside when things get hard. Part of coming to Korea was forcing myself out of any kind of ability to hide away into things that are comfortable, and put an end to that kind of nonsense. And I've been extremely successful at it so far. I'm not about to go backwards now. So it was time to clean myself up and get back out there.

Not convinced I was ready to face actual people, I instead headed to Myeongdong to do a bit of shopping and sit around in a cafe reading all morning. After watching a couple of nearly ajeosshi at the next table compare biceps, them catching me watching, and us all laughing together, I figured it was best not to let the day end there. I texted Whiskey and asked him to come out to Sinchon for dinner and drinks, and later, at dinner, phoned JH Unni to get her and her boy and her boy's brother out as well.

We had a great night, mostly low key, and everything was fine until I looked down and saw that the time for my grandfather's funeral was drawing close. I went a bit funny and decided it was best if I just got myself home before any truly humiliating public drunken sobbing set in.

Of course, I left the bag with all my (fairly expensive -- it was Myeongdong, after all, and I gave myself every excuse to indulge) shopping in it in the cab. Fucking idiot. There was a moment where this relatively small thing almost broke it all down, but you know...

You can look at life one of two ways: either the hard things that happen are just bad luck that visit you for no reason other than you are a victim of fate. Or. There's something there that's pushing you to get up and push yourself harder. To become stronger. To face more challenges. To learn more, develop more compassion, more understanding.

Probably neither one of these things are true. Probably life is more times than not simply random. We give meaning to the good things and the bad, because we can't bear to face the idea that there is no bigger meaning to any of it. We try to organize it into all kinds of systems of belief and ritual, to protect ourselves, excuse ourselves, give ourselves a reason to keep trying. Probably, none of that is real. But I still think it's okay.

So I drunkenly left the shopping bag in the back of the cab. And I almost had a breakdown about how it was just one more thing, evidence that things just can't ever quite work out. But that's bullshit. I had a lovely day with people who were not my family, with some I had met for the very first time. But it was what I needed. And it was there when I most needed it. And that's something that's just a little bit bigger, if you want to choose to assign meaning to things.

So I'm going back to Myeongdong to replace every goddamn thing I lost. Because I choose to take it as a sign that I'm not meant to be allowed to sit in again today and sulk. Maybe I need one more day of forcing myself out there to get back to normal. That's the meaning I'm giving it. That's the choice I'm making.


Kel said...


Lola O. said...

I wanted to say "I'm sorry for your loss" but that doesn't seem right. I'm sorry that you had to say goodbye to someone you loved. This week has been one of the hardest weeks for me. My grandma back home was in the hospital for a congestive heart failure. I spent this entire week like a zombie, so even though our stories aren't the same I understand a bit where you are coming from.

Those last few paragraphs you wrote really struck a cord with me. It seems like everything that could go wrong was going wrong which only made me fel worse, but like you said sometimes things happen to push us harder to make us stronger. Like you, I made a choice the other day to stop bottling it up, stop walking around like a zombie, stop feeling sad and miserable and just keep living and remember why I'm here. So thank you for sharing and writing this out. You helped bring me back towards normal again.

Anonymous said...

you have all these angels around you, from your students to neighbors, looking after you and just being there for you just because they all love you. in the name of memories kept and memories to be made, fighting, liz!

Tiffani said...

I haven't been able to follow your blog lately and I hate myself for it because I think about you all the time and have been worrying about you.

I think your attitude facing all of this is extremely grounded and mature. But even more than that - don't doubt that there is a reason. Even if we do make retroactive explanations, that doesn't make them any less meaningful.

I think the ultimate goal in life is to find a peace and acceptance in whatever happens - not to be attached to anything, because everything is impermanent. Only when you stop worrying about holding onto something can you appreciate what life has let you borrow. And dealing with hardship always - always! - gives you an opportunity to practice and solidify that ability.

So yes, the specific details may be somewhat arbitrary in their assigned importance (I lost the Teach for America job because I was *meant* to teach in Korea - maybe?) but any act that causes disappointment or grief opens up a space for new opportunities of growth and new beginnings.

I have no doubt that this will make you an overall stronger, more aware person in the end. I'm a shoulder any time you need one, kay??

Sabrina said...

I am very sorry and I feel deeply for you and your family. I didnt have the possibility to follow your blog the past week, so I read just now what happened. I am relieved to hear that so many people support you and I wish you a lot of strength.