October 6, 2009
“Look, there are many more waiting for you over there,” Kun said as he stepped away from Nam Soo’s grave. I passed by the grave where Ki Soon and Sang Woon were buried together. They were married in a posthumous ceremony.
“Sang Woon is buried in the 5.18 cemetery down there. This is a temporary one. So you can see him again there.”
We said hello to many different names. In the 5.18 cemetery were Sang Woon, Young Joon, and Chul Young, who passed away more recently. Chul Young, unlike me, spent nineteen years in a psychiatric hospital, his brain injured during torture. He lived his whole life stuck in that day. He lost his mind because the memory was frozen. Whenever his struggling wife came during a visitation, Chul Young asked her about the safety of those already dead and what was happening in front of the state capital. He’d been the last of the civilian militia in solitary confinement at a psychiatric hospital. Decorated with marble, the 5.18 cemetery looked more like another kind of prison. Where Nam Soo was resting was a real, older cemetery, where myriad friends gathered amiably. There, even the dry grass seemed warm and comfortable.
Kun took me out to dinner downtown. Nothing much had changed there. Some people had gathered at a Korean restaurant and were waiting for me.
The whole evening was a tedious performance, and I have no specific memory of it. I kept saying no, but despite my objections the gathering continued on to two subsequent bars and I lost consciousness in between. It was my first night out drinking since my release and I was cautious until someone at the first bar provoked someone else and began a fight. I think I took shot after shot at that point. What I remembered from the conversations we had that night played out like a strange movie that was shot slowly but projected at a furious pace.
“I guess there’s no way to bail out Yang Hoon from his bankruptcy now, is there? How much did you put in there?”
“Just a couple, but it’s just not right. What am I supposed to do, he just ran away after things went kaput!”
“Listen, listen, everyone from Kang Wook to Duk Hee took the parachute and got something but you? What are you doing, just looking after everyone else? What’s the use of all these committees and boards and memorials when you can’t even get a seat on the local assembly?”
“It gives me a headache, I want nothing to do with them. How come there are so many organizations related to the Kwangju Uprising?”
“The revolution is short but life is long, I guess. To be alive is to be ashamed.”
“Look who’s talking! Take care of yourself and don’t fool around.”
“It’s a disease caused by too much to eat and too little to do.”
“Don’t just think of your business, think about others, too! Help some of them, at least show up for special occasions like funerals and weddings. Look what happened to Hyo Shin. We ignored him until his liver dried up and his face went totally black. What kind of community is that? Where’s Bong Han tonight?”
“Well, well, look who’s talking now. Community? It was shattered once compensation began.”
“We always end up bickering when we get together. Why? Why is that?”
“Is this living? I am just empty and bitter inside, that’s why.”
I could not remember whose words turned the table upside down. It was quite certain that I was there, based on the red pepper sauce splattered all over my shirt. I climbed up the stairs of the inn, wobbling and supported by someone. I guess others staggered toward taxis or climbed into their cars, held up by their chauffeurs. Maybe they dozed off in the back of their taxis. Or maybe some felt lonely and stopped by a street bar and had another glass. What were they thinking, with a cold glass of soju on a stained table? Would they be as devastated as I was? There was a woman who came with me. I would presume someone who owned a business sent her with me, like he would do for a client or a government official he wanted to butter up, take care of me in bed. I yelled, I kicked the door, the bellboy was annoyed and pleaded with me to be quiet, the woman ran away, I vomited in the bathroom, in the sink. My mind was blank, I was sitting down on the bed in my underwear. Like I used to in solitary confinement, I spat out the words in a garbled mumble, “No one can win against time.”