Thanksgiving dinner was great, yet also a reminder of what a social retard I am.
Some of this is in reality due to a generation gap, but I have always been awkward in social situations, behind in what’s current, my brain like molasses, my thoughts always out of sync with the conversation, and my tongue saying the wrong things. I am reserved. It is a reservation I remember since my very first year in America where I stood, hiding behind the legs of my adoptive father, whenever I found myself thrust into a new situation. People might call this being shy, but I am not afraid to be judged: it is more that I am observing how the rest of the entire planet manages to interact and how I can possibly fit into it. It has always felt more like everything people-related is just insurmountable.
I’ve consciously spent my entire life trying to overcome this, but I’m always one step behind. I missed every right of passage given by my North American culture: prom, high school graduation, open house, a circle of friends, spring break, dorm life, youthful trends, pop culture, campus life, student travel, etc. While others were learning to be part of society, I was working on not imploding, too busy picking up pieces, cleaning up messes. A decade late beginning college, a decade late starting a career, working abroad like people two decades younger than myself, my company has mostly always been that much younger than myself.
Seeing my young expat friends interact, their witty banter, their intricate relationships, the commonalities they share, etc. and putting myself out there as much as I can possibly muster, always reminds me how out of step I am, how many precious moments were lost; only to find myself a middle-aged social virgin among a population who feel challenged here, despite having a conspicuous sub-culture and a Korea that caters to them. And though I love that they will include awkward me, it is still bittersweet. Especially those moments when I touch what could have been: A moment of bonding in the kitchen, a moment where somebody wants me before I tell them I’m not just a little older but old enough to be their mom, a moment of alcohol fortified dancing where my dislocation with pop culture is rendered meaningless. I can be peripheral to their world, but I can’t fully partake, because this is their time, their time to grow together. For me, it is always: oh, this (or that) looks fun! I KNOW I could do that (current thing) if I could just get a little practice… But the reality is I can’t, even if I want to badly. This is not a mid life crisis: I don’t want to recapture my youth. I want a youth I never had.
The reality is that is the realm of youth, and my youth disappeared early. For laughing out loud. My adoptive mother would wistfully remind me how I would do that when I first came and watched cartoons. And ever since has been a futile effort to be like that little girl lost and the youth that got arrested by these things done to me. And don’t talk to me about not working hard enough or not finding the will. It’s all I’ve done, fight to be joyful, passionate, and appreciative of this life.
At the train station tonight I want to be instantly home and rush to get one of the two taxis waiting before someone beats me to them. I get in the car and say, si ti bil. HUH? Ok. I’m not gonna touch that with a ten foot pole. I fall back on what should be fool-proof. I say, Nong Hyup Bank, jusayo. HUH? Nong Hyup. Bankuh. HUH? Defeated, I bang my forehead on the seat back in front of me. N o n g H y u p B a n k uh. The guy looks at me blank, with no attempt to listen at all. No attempt to try and eliminate the non-possibilities. I can read his mind. You piss ass excuse for a Korean who can’t even speak Korean. Say it to me right. My forehead and the seat back in front of me are one. Never mind I say.
Trying not to hyperventilate, I quickly grab my bags and backpack and move on to the other taxi, where we go through the same routine. This time I also think to get out my bank card and point to the bank’s logo and say, Nong Hyup! Nong Hyup bank! and he just looks at me. It’s like I’m in the Twilight Zone and every taxi driver is the same old guy. They even look the same. I point to the logo. I try again, and again, and finally I just say That’s just great. ok. I’ll walk.
And I get out of that taxi, my fists clenched, and just stand there for I don’t know how long, and something just broke inside me and somewhere out of the very depths of my being came a long, loud, primal scream. Out loud. Just standing out there. This crazy lone woman, screaming out loud.
People are wrong. It did not make me feel better.
And I walked through the rice field, my mind only comforted by the thought of smoking a cigarette, and I wait for townspeople to pass by and disappear into the train station, and I sit under the 200 year old tree and smoke and wonder how the hell I am ever going to make it here.