connection · healing · love · recovery · synchronicity · trauma

How I met my best friend from Long Island in South Korea

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It’s 10 years this Fall since we met. I’d come
off a 14-hour flight from JFK into Seoul. I seem to recall I was actually
picked up by the Assistant Principal of the pre-school where I’d be teaching who drove me the 45 minutes back to the Samsung Apartments. The LG Apartments
were over the hill. 
I arrived to a large 4-bedroom apartment with heated floors,
one Texan, and a Canadian, the two other “native English speakers” who taught
at the school just up the road – or over a fence if you were late and feeling
adventurous. I tore my favorite pants that way.
Further up that road was a mountain spring, where my
Canadian roommate, the one who showed me the short-cut, would refill his water,
in line with agimas, old hunched Korean women with no front teeth who would
cut in front of you no matter how long you, young white person, had been
standing there waiting to fill up at the fresh, cool water tap.
The Texan insisted that I come “into town” that very
first night, before jetlag and culture shock set in. Beer. The great equalizer.
It was halfway through the school year, so the Texan had met some of the other
ESL teachers in the area, one from South Africa, one from Ireland, all in our early to
mid-twenties, all young enough to be stupid and adventurous, but old enough to
have consequences. We celebrated on the first of many nights to come over uncountable
pitchers of piss-water beer, bad games of darts, and laughter
that always got too loud, and if you were me, too sloppy.
About a month into my new life there, culture shock,
homesickness, alcoholism running like a hotshot through my veins, I found
myself hailing a cab in a dark corner of Seoul. Well, I was attempting to hail
a cab. But wherever we’d ended up wasn’t the typical wei-gook (white person)
hang-out, and fading, wasted, and tired, there weren’t any cabs.
This is where we flash forward through the two Indian men
offering to give me a ride home, me saying no thanks; long minutes passing without a cab,
and them coming back; me agreeing to the ride. This is where we flash forward
through them pulling the car over on a lonely stretch of highway, and taking
turns raping me, too drunk and immobilized to fight.
This is where we flash to them actually driving me home, and where I collapse inside my apartment’s front door and begin to wail.
And, by the grace of something I will never quite call
coincidence, this is where Jess walks out of her boyfriend, the Texan’s room,
and comforts me.
She picks me up, I tell her what happened; she offers to
stay in my bed with me, I tell her it’s alright. But the darkness of my bed
is too large, and I pad across the heated wooden floor to their room, knock on
the door and ask her to stay with me after all.
Jess insisted the next day that I go to the hospital. I
wouldn’t have. Never would have even crossed my mind. She came with me to all 4 of
them, because at each we were turned away, because “rape is not an emergency.”
To flash forward over the harrowing and humiliating events
of that day that only compounded the isolation and violation I’d suffered, I’ll
tell you it’s over. And the rest will have to remain the content of therapy
sessions and the slow course of healing, which over the years since I’ve
considered turning toward volunteering at a crisis hotline. But honestly, it’s not over. I’m not over it enough to help others. 10 years later.
Two years later, I lived in San Francisco. Jess lived in upstate New York in a
partially-converted garage next to a washing machine while earning her
Teaching Certificate. 5 years later, she met an old high school-mate at a New
Year’s Eve party. 9 years later, I watched them get married. And three weeks ago,
she had a baby girl. Who I’ll get to meet, and hold, and smell next week on Long Island.
My friendship with Jess is inextricably linked to one of the
hardest events in my life. I’d barely known her before that night, met her
sure, another East Coaster, great. But friends? As dramatic as it is to say,
but real enough anyway, it was while holding the hand they’d botched the IV into
that Jess and I became friends.
It’s accrued and built and become many more colors and
tenors and experiences over the decade, mainly on the basis of a shit-talking,
wise-cracking, overly honest relationship. (Yes, the nurse stuck her hand up
Jess’s vag to pull out the rest of the placenta.) And although it started as it
did, and though I would eagerly and instantly give that experience back–despite how it might
“benefit others”–our friendship is easily one of the great and unexpected treasures of my life. 

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