By Rachel K. Fauth, ETA ’16-’17
When I wake up from a three-hour nap after a ten-hour night of sleep on my first day back in Korea, my sister Dana sends me this from NY: ”Well, yeah. You’re isolated somewhere in the world.” She says it in response to my wish that she can feel this weird peace. This peace that seems particularly patient, having stayed put and waited for me in a distant country. I thought it’d stress me out beyond belief returning to New York—confronted not with the people or place I left behind, but with the fact of how easily I can meet with it again. That’s the strange part. To jump from one hemisphere, one long 14-hour jump, into the next and back. It makes me think that, all this time, there’ve been no rules. Plane rides and how easy they are make me hyper-aware that each place I’m in is a place that I choose, and I could be anywhere at any time if only I propelled my body in that direction.
I could be there, at home, every night. I could be at the long dark-wood dinner table my dad built. Its glass top and 12 seats prepared well in advance for all five daughters and their eventual husbands. I could be driving a white Honda. I could be at the pediatrician, tetanus booster before Vietnam. I could be watching Dane do her best impression of her college roommate: she’s taking up the whole space of the den, her long brown mane hilariously flipping to either side of her head as she sets up the scene, and I could be laughing a real laugh and thinking, yeah Dane, tell that story with your whole body, that’s how you do it, proud. I could be in every place at once and I am. Oh the couch is new, look at Lori, she’s all limbs. I could be on the LIRR every day like I was. I could be in Manhattan like I usually hate but not nearly as much as Hongdae. I could be walking back to Penn on 38th with my girl from Canada, listening to her tell me about the long strings of attachment she feels to the people she met in Dubai. I could go round and round with the boy who lives down the street from my parents house, who still goes round and round with me after seven years, who’s not a boy at all anymore, who’s very much a man, across from me at Candlelight Diner in Smithtown, telling me how his HR job’s not so bad because it’s temporary. “Never worry about me,” he says.
All these images are like opening one door at a time in a house of a million doors and taking a peek in each. What’s happening in here? What about in here? And each image is just as different as it is simultaneous. The door to the bus opens and I hobble my carry-on suitcase up three steps, look up to see twenty Koreans and take my seat among them. At the same time Chansong opens the passenger’s side door and I get into his mother’s car, tan interior, heated. He slides into the driver’s seat and throws a fleece blanket on my lap, puts a coffee in my hand. The door to my apartment opens as usual and the refrigerator hums in the corner, the fish tank filter trickles drops of water; there’s no one in the room but me and my bags, diaphanous curtains, an unmade bed. At seven I’ll open another, separate door to the Kim’s apartment and it will jingle with a brass chime. Mr. Kim will be in front of the TV wearing neon socks. In the same room his wife will be at the stove, my guess is kimchi stew because it snowed. We’ll pull out the little cherrywood table and take our places on the heated floor. Eunji will come out of her room and join us in the kitchen/den. Mr. Kim will feel inclined to ask about my real family while they’re asleep in another time zone. His wife won’t ask, but I truly don’t mind. When I leave I’ll shut the door behind me and go upstairs to another. I think about all these places opening and closing, none of them stopping just because I’ve left.
Rachel K. Fauth was a 2016-2017 ETA at Changpyeong High School in Damyang, Jeollanam-do.
She now lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.