Walking home from work today, I was thinking. I was thinking about how, a few months ago, shortly after I returned from the US, there was something strange in the air. A little bit threatening. A little bit sad. And, sure enough, it's been a rough few months. A little for me, but mostly for the people around me, who I love.
But today, I felt it again. This time it felt good. And a little bit hopeful.
I was standing in the convenience store, deciding which ramyeon my pathetic, lazy ass wanted to wolf down for lunch, before starting the project that was getting my apartment back up to my own standards, since it hasn't been properly top-to-bottom cleaned since a week and a half ago. And has seen one enormous Christmas party, several sleep-overs and one semi-disastrous baking/chocolate making session since then. I gave myself a break for the holidays. But today, lazy gross filthy time was officially over.
So. Ramyeon. Convenience story. I'm standing there, thinking hard, because actually I hardly ever actually buy ramyeon. I eat it if it's there, and it usually is, thanks to one person or another. But I don't willfully create that situation for myself very often. And I felt some eyes. Some eyes coming from a bit above my head and, as far as I could tell from my peripheral view, belonging to a fully grown man. I felt uncomfortable. I sighed, and shifted away a bit, and turned to stare back. Which is possibly not the best approach to take in such a situation, but it's the one that makes me feel the most satisfied, usually.
Daehyeon. Fucking Daehyeon.
This kid was not an asshole his first grade year (and my first year in Korea) -- he was the asshole. I fucking hated him. I really did. Then, sometime in his second grade year, something started to shift. I started to gain a lot more confidence in the classroom, especially in the area of student discipline. My lessons no doubt got a hell of a lot more organized, effective and interesting. And Daehyeon started to grow up a little bit. We reached some kind of distanced truce, born out of not like, but some kind of mutual respect. I was getting my shit together, and so was he. We could cope with each other.
His third grade year, everything changed. I don't know how or why, but suddenly Daehyeon and I were doing fucking alright. Better than alright. I kind of started to like the little bastard. By mid-year, I trusted him enough to put my $500 dollar camera in his hands and let him have free run of the school with it. He took some of my favorite photos of my students I have to date, and of me with my students. And he promptly returned the camera, fully in tact, at the end of the day.
Now, today in the convenience store, there he was standing beside me in the ramyeon aisle in the form of a man. This little five foot tatertot who nearly ruined my life three years ago. Just beaming down at me.
He put his arm across his chest and stuck out his hand to shake and bow and we just stood there for a while, smiling at each other. I didn't know what to do, because what I wanted to do was to hug him, so I just punched him in the chest instead, and laughed. I asked him how high school was going, and he said it was hell. His head was shaved down in a buzz cut. We smiled some more, and he shook my hand three more times. I slapped him on the back of his puffy coat and told him to be happy, and to please come visit me some time -- that I was still at my school. He shook my hand one more time and bowed his way out the door, still smiling.
If you'd told me, nearly three and a half years ago, that this day was coming, I'd have laughed in your face. It just goes to show that bearing grudges is no good. Because sometimes you can turn around twice, and even the rottenest kid will have turned into a good man.
And sometimes we get better, too.