I used to be your typical, book-reading girl. But I never liked stories with romance in them. When I read fables about princes and princesses, I - being a 7 year old little shithead - would say something like:
“Why do I have to marry a prince? The princess is prettier.”
I could never hold on to those books for long anyway, because adults would hear me saying the same to other kids.
As I grew up, I got to read more sophisticated romance novels, and I still couldn’t feel anything. The nerdy girls my age (or, perhaps instead it is more reflective of the times to say, “thirsty”?) would talk to me about their curiosity for men with great passion and all I could do was nod. Romance just seemed like a pain in the ass. Not only the prince, but I also couldn’t care about the princess anymore.
When I got older and went through The Wild Times, I started becoming disillusioned with the concept of love. (Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but it was also around this time it became harder for me to make friends.) It was always the same. Confessions cause an uproar, but they act like nothing happened when they break up. 6 months is the furthest I had seen a pair go. Boys never refuse a confession and girls make up rumors even before anything’s said. It was like everything was following a damn textbook. To me, love was a ‘code’ to be studied.
Humans say ‘love’ is truly the most inherent and natural element of the human experience. But even before enrolling in high school, I had made a conclusion. That love is the most artificial thing in the world. You have to follow what others say, watch for the other’s back, beg for the other’s acceptance - never looking inside yourself. What could be more superficial than that?
For the moment, that was my conclusion. For the moment. That was still when I couldn’t even entertain the possibility of love entering into my own life.
A co-worker of mine said this to me the other day. “Sia, you live alone, so how come you’re so good at self-management?” Of course, it was really a rhetorical compliment of sorts, but I felt sick after listening to it. So I asked her back, "isn’t living alone common in this line of work," with another rhetorical question. She said, "that’s true, but your personality is cleaner and more careful than any married couple’s." I did not understand what she meant by this.
What’s the last song I’d want to hear before I die? This is a question that came to my mind one day. My first thought went to “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles. In one verse, there’s this part about ‘waking up’ then going ‘into a dream,’ and I always thought that was a metaphor for death. You finally wake up then have a dream right after - you just started but it ends only slightly after - that oxymoron symbolizes death for me. And that outro with its orchestral crescendo captures the extremeness of death well.
But the Beatles are too cliche. That said, I don’t want to pick an obscure song. So I think “Quicksand” by David Bowie would be better. It’s hard to explain why. Just that, as I’m losing consciousness in bed, I have a feeling the lyric - “Don’t believe in yourself, don’t deceive with belief, knowledge comes with death’s release” - will be repeating in my head unconsciously.
Rock ‘n’ roll saved my life. Thus, rock ‘n’ roll will kill my life. She would want that too.
I was invited to a university alumni reunion. I went with my memories buried inside my heart. Not many come to university reunions. University is where people with an infantilized mind inside a two decades old body go to laugh, love, drink, punch, have sex, and cry - together. Not something anyone who’s properly matured into adulthood would want to remember. Rather, we beautify our middle or high school days in nostalgia. I went to a middle school alumni meet once but have never wanted to meet my high school classmates again. The possibility is close to zero, but perhaps I was afraid I would meet her again.
The primary objective of an alumni meet is to show off, so after having met for the first time in 4-5 years, we immediately started being patronizing to one another. I don’t particularly have pride for my job so I waited until someone asked me directly. Most thought I’d become a writer, but they didn’t express too much surprise that I became a journalist. Whether it's a newspaper or a novel, they just process it all as “jobs that don’t make money.” Writing books used to be a young passion of mine. Going to university and studying literature, I decided to actualize that dream. But everytime I would try to make the stories in my head come to life, I would remember her name. And I would have a 1/3 chance of having a panic attack. So, I rescued my soul by listening to music. But nothing made me remember her more than music. After I graduated, I stopped trying to write books.
We had meat, got drunk, and talked aloud. As tales from our university days started to turn painful, we went over to more nostalgia-inducing times; back when we were even younger. I started sweating cold. Jihye, who majored in media, and for the past 3 years have been working her ass off as an assistant director, brought up an innocent tale of her first love. She used to be quite popular in our campus, so we all expressed shock that even she had such a pure youth.
The restaurant started to fill up with the disgusting scent of romance. Whenever the storyteller in focus would describe something embarrassing or cringy, we would all laugh it up, but I found it difficult to even sigh.
I lied at my turn. I lie in my job professionally, so it was not difficult creating a believable story. I talked of a first love that someone who used to be shy and quiet like me would’ve had in middle school. It was about a boy who I had only talked to once. Of course, I never talked to a boy even once during all 3 years of middle school. Everyone bought it though. They thought it was pure but bittersweet. They do not know true bitterness.
When Sunghee started talking, who majored in music composition, everyone started simmering down. Sunghee confessed to us that he is a gay man. And also that his first love wasn’t in middle school, nor high school, but actually in university. With a professor at that. (We all knew the teacher because he was one of the youngest teachers in our campus, in his mid 30s.) Giyu, who majored in engineering, and has a voice as gigantuous as his beer belly, laughed out loud. “How come only your story actually sounds like it’s from some romance movie!”
Sunghee said it’s not that fun of a story. Before then, in his senior high school year, he had awakened his sexuality. So he explained that every relationship or sexual attraction mixed with confusion caused by social pressure, were all not real. But those extreme feelings he felt for his piano teacher felt so natural, felt just “right,” that he could point to that teacher as his first love. Of course, the two never developed into that sort of relationship. To this, some people chattered, saying, “I did think Sunghee acted weird when that guy was around.”
“Now that I think about it,” Sunghee raised his glass and shook it. Smiling, he looked at the slashing liquid. “I think I wanted a man who would treat me like a father. Even when I foolishly thought I liked women, I liked the relationships I had with those sort of men the most, especially spending time with older students. An older man who would hug me like my father, but wasn’t actually my dad. I think my type is still that sorta guy. Just like how straight guys just want a mother they can fuck.”
To these words, every man in the room went dead silent, only nodding their heads. All the women, excluding me, would only look at each other’s faces with confused looks.