12.15.2011

What happened last week.

I realize this blog has become pretty cold and impersonal, lately. Which is a far cry from how it started out. But at some point, it's become difficult to talk about more personal things here. Part of it is because most of that just goes up on Tumblr, which is a blog I started specifically for that reason. But I can't help but feel, personally, like this blog has suffered a lot from that.

I had a really rough week last week, and I wasn't sure that I wanted to blog about it. In fact, I was pretty sure that I didn't. But I let a week come and go, and I feel a lot better now.

On Wednesday of last week, several teachers stopped into my office to let me know that a student's mother had passed away. She had gone in to take a bath, and then never come back out. After an abnormally long period of time passed, he went in to check on her and found her lying in the bath with blue hands and feet. He called his homeroom teacher and said, "My mother's dead."

This student is meant to be our student body president next year. He's well known and well loved throughout the school. No one dared to make the suggestion on the day, but there was a niggling at the back of my mind, and somehow all night on Wednesday I couldn't stop thinking about it. Sure enough, on Thursday morning, the same coworkers came in to tell me again that it was suicide.

I felt like I'd been slammed into a brick wall. The fact of the matter is, I know what it feels like to have been there -- physically there -- when someone decides to make that choice. To be the one to find them. To be the one to wonder why they couldn't have just come into the next room and talked to you. Or why they didn't think about you enough to realize that you would be the one to discover them in that situation. Someone you love more than your own life, and someone who has been the foundation of your own upbringing. I know what it's like to have to replay those thoughts of how you should've said something, should've greeted them more kindly that morning, asked them, with more sincerity, how they were. Or noticed that something was strange earlier.

I know what it's like to have that image of them lying there in that state flash through your mind at the strangest moments for months and months and months afterward.

And I was fucking furious. I was furious at his mother. He was leaving for school in a matter of minutes, rather than hours. She had the choice, at the very least, not to do that to him. That was the last thing she could have done for him, as his mother.

I know that's not fair. I know on a very real, fundamental and personal level that that is not fair. But a lot of things I had put very far behind me and buried very deeply suddenly came slamming back up the surface.

I swear to God I'm not making this up. As I left the office after hearing this news, just trying to breathe and somehow push back down all of things that were starting to jut out of my chest, to get to class and just fucking teach, I spotted a tiny bird in the corridor linking one of our buildings to another. A group of students spotted the bird at the same time, and it suddenly got frightened and flew up into the ceiling, only to come crashing back down and lie heaving at my feet. I asked a student to hold my stuff and carefully scooped up the bird to carry it outside and place it in the grass. I squatted down next to it and watched as its breathing slowed and its eyes closed. My students had gathered around the window and were watching me.

Don't cry. Don't you dare fucking cry right now. It's a fucking bird. Don't you dare fucking cry in front of your students over this fucking bird.

Slowly, the bird's breath began to pick up and its eyes opened again. It didn't move, but it became clear that it wasn't seriously injured, but merely in shock. After my class finished, I went back out to check. It was sitting in the same place, upright and puffed out in the cold. As I approached, it looked at me, and the fluttered off into the bushes.

I held it together for two more days. On Friday night, without having told him anything, really, I went to meet my boyfriend in his neighborhood for dinner. I had no choice but to take the train, which was full, of course, of rudely jostling bodies. He was seven minutes late meeting me at the station, which ordinarily I wouldn't even mention. But I greeted him with a reluctant eye-roll instead. As we walked, I asked him where we were going. "To eat dinner," was his answer. My "eye thing", as he calls it, happened again. I know we're going to eat dinner, but where? "Uh.... 고기? 삼겹살? 아 갈비!" He settled on what he knows is my favorite, trying to appease my attitude problem, the source of which he still wasn't sure about.

He quickly found a place, but we were told there was a wait. I huffed about that as well. Only if you knew how uncharacteristic that is of me, would you know how worried he was getting at this point. "아 거기!" he said, and pointed.

"What is 거기?"

"거기! It means 'there'."

"Are you-- I know what 거기 means. What is there?"

As you can imagine, my refusal to just simply speak completely in Korean had this situation escalating rather quickly. Add a mostly gentle, but a bit cocky, suggestion that I "천천히 가" and, before you know it, I'm doing something I have never done to anyone before. Something that would make me completely irate, had it happened to me. Something that I didn't plan or even pause to think about, but did in slow motion, as an out-of-body experience. I walked away and left him standing on the street. Without saying a word, and without looking back.

I walked for a few blocks and then ducked into a coffee shop, placed my order and sat down at a table to breathe. Lit a cigarette and tried to figure out what had just happened.

Everything I'd held in for the previous three days had simply crumbled and melted at the sight of him. I hadn't felt like going to dinner in the first place. I had felt like just giving up and crying, the second I laid eyes on him. And that pissed me off. Or, being pissed off was easier than crying in the middle of the street. Or crying at all.

The thing about the kind of sadness that comes along with something like suicide is that it is accompanied by a hell of a lot of anger. Anger at someone who you love very much, and because you love them very much. One of the things I love the most about my boyfriend is the way that he reminds me of all of the good and gentle parts of the person who I found lying unconscious on the living room floor that morning.

I took one last deep breath and prepared myself to eat crow. I sent him a message saying I was sorry, and would he please come back and meet me again. His reply was curt, but he agreed. I grabbed my coffee, buttoned up my coat and headed back out into the cold. The second he saw my face, all of the resolve flowed out of his. He took my arm and said, "I'm sorry." I don't think either one of us knew what he was supposed to be apologizing for. But as we finished the walk to the restaurant, he tried to come up with something. I think what he saw in my face made him want it to be something he had done, rather than whatever thing that it was he could see there instead.

I used the fewest possible words to explain the issue over dinner that night, as he carefully watched my face and silently refilled my soju glass. And then, after it all, he said the most stupidly naive and foolish thing he could have said, and the only thing he could have said, which was, "I hope you won't have that pain anymore."

My student should come back tomorrow. I don't know what he's going to do about his exams. He's the only child, and had to carry the burden of the funeral duties alone. I don't know what to say to him when I see him, but I have a feeling the words won't be the most important part anyway. There really is nothing to say.

7 comments:

Diana E. Sung said...

I wish I could give you a big virtual hug right now. Suicide blows. I'm not sure what else I can say about that (and I work at a suicide hotline...). I'm thinking of you and your student.

I'm no Picasso said...

Thank you Diana. I'm feeling much better now, but I'm worried about the student. And not just in the short-term.

By the way, the baby is adorable. I'm so happy for you and Mingi.

Charles said...

I agree that there really is nothing to say.

re: your boyfriend. It seems like he is trying to say "I'm sorry" and "it's okay" and "are you okay" and "I don't know what to say, but I feel like I have to say something" all at once. But I think you knew that.

re: your student. I think he'll be fine and you will be fine, too. Not just in school, but later too.

Personnaly, I've never been comfortable with "I'm sorry" as a response about death. It doesn't seem right to apologize for something that is not your fault. So, I don't say it. Instead I will talk about anything other than the person's death. Perhaps, it odd to avoid the elephant in the room, but this is one time it make sense.

msleetobe said...

I'm sorry INP. That's all really sucky. As for your student, I think the hardest part of tragedy is people remembering to check in on you a month later, 3 months later, a year later, or more. Life goes on, and so it should, but the effects of trauma continue to pop up at random times in random ways. Having someone check in on you...having someone you feel comfortable going to at those times...that's important. And maybe you have a roll to play in this student's life in this way?

Kokoba said...

Periodic reader, first time commenter, just to say: I admire your compassion and tenacity and toughness in ALL issues, and I hope things are going better now than when they wrote this. I hope your student manages to rise above the choice(s) his mother made that morning.

rapuntsel said...

I just wanted to say this: you inspire me. Both as a teacher and as a person :)
힘내요!

karisuma gyaru said...

wow... this post made me so sad, and touched... and just remained the desire to say "i'm so sorry", even though i don't know what for.

big hugs. nobody deserves shit like that to happen... i hope that you can go to that student and be there for him, and tell him - maybe, if you feel strong enough - that you have been through something similar and that you can be there for him...