It’s Okay, I Love You

 

The past nine months, my life has become unrecognizable. When I say this out loud, it means who I am is unrecognizable. But in truth, I now see myself for the first time.

In February, I hoped to write again; beginning was also deciding. I once said, “I’m sick of writing because I’m sick of myself,” and to be kinder towards my person, I didn’t go back to that place.

On a Friday evening, I was pressed for new perspective. I used social media—asked anyone to write me about themselves and send their postal address to my email.

I decided to handwrite a thousand love letters to strangers.

Love letters, I called them. They remind me of the letters Mom wrote me when we lived apart. Her letters contained her—so when I read her words, I could conjure her to appear beside me when I looked for her most. When posting my letters to strangers, I wanted to send myself to cross whatever separated us geographically, but also as individuals.

The first day I got thirteen emails. And then thirty—from Mexico, South Korea, Indonesia, England, Canada, Australia, India, and even from my own city. Woman, girl, boy, husband, widow, baker, cheater, lawyer, orphan, judge, sinner, scientist, columnist, genius, liar.

And one common sentiment: Not one considered themselves to be great. They did not see themselves as generous where it was evident to me. It was profound, and then unrelenting. With equal hardship and joy that befell them, I felt deeply for people and our intricacies, aches, paranoia, and resilience.

They were not strangers. Rather, they appeared to me as multitudes of myself—and myself a constitution of them. I understood that during our time alive, everyone was trying our best.

Mom wrote me in her letters, “If someone hurts you, forgive them ten times. A hundred times. A thousand times, you forgive them.”

To give meaning to my childhood, at times, seeming irrecoverable, I spent the rest of it grieving—for thirteen years. Though grief may add importance, it cannot add meaning. Grief is only meaningful when it’s no longer needed. But continuing to grieve whatever had passed, I sabotaged who I could be. Sitting at the edge of my bed, gazing up somewhere past the ceiling, I forgave myself for everything.

In April, I joined a panel of writers in Los Angeles. After the panel ended, I stepped outside onto the balcony overlooking the main street.

There was a tap on my shoulder so light that I turned around to brush off the debris that must have escaped a leaf blower nearby.

Instead, there was a man with gray eyes and red glasses. He pointed at his name tag. He asked me if I recognized his name, and I did. He said he got my letter: “You who are yourself deserve love foremost without condition from yourself.” (Writing I know is divine. When I say a thing to strike someone’s heart, it strikes mine because it didn’t come from me but a wiser place.)

I embraced him. He said, “Now that I’ve met you, I know you mean it.” We only talked a minute before I was called away. When he walked the opposite direction, I watched him so I could memorize how it felt to be loved.

Love isn’t something to be found, but is something to become.

When I got back to Seattle, I learned that one of my writing students passed away. She had cancer. I don’t recall the church, but I stood in the lobby and stared at her photo on her memorial booklet. Blonde chin-length hair, a white off-the-shoulder dress, and a smile on her narrow face. It was five pages printed out without a word about her writing. But this was her book. I knew it because a group of people had moved in around me. All of us huddled together, held her book against our chests, and closed our eyes because we had never felt such grace.

For that man on the balcony and this woman in the booklet, I would’ve surrendered all comfort to lift them up onto my shoulders and take them across deep water. Even if it meant they, themselves, may or may not feel discomfort again. When my grandma passed, I missed her because she showed me how to hold someone’s hand steady when it wasn’t. I didn’t know that man or this woman, but I did because I’d once held them.

I don’t only want to become love, or to love continuously; I want whoever I love to know it is the truth.

The University surprised me with news. They offered me candidacy at their PhD program. I was supposed to go. This is what I said over again. But after two months, I turned it down. I believed the chance would someday come back around. Right now, I couldn’t afford the money or time. I followed a different education—how to become someone I would never withhold from those who needed me. I would write again.

I re-taught myself everything. I started here: Everything is love and nothing is not.

I will not suffer. I will not suffer because of suffering. I will not suffer because of non-suffering. Suffering is not a sign that says: yes or no. Suffering is not a punishment of who I am or who I was. In any manner of what I do now and hereafter, there are three words constantly beating against my heart: I am willing, I am willing, I am willing.

Thank You, I Am Sorry

 

I come to the page often tearfully then leave it without ever having written a word. Writing has become a strenuous, melancholic task. It dries up my veins and softens my bones. I do not have a strong-willed body nor do I own a peace of mind. On my birthday two weeks ago, lying in bed in a robe and socks, I realized that I must pause from writing. But I have depended on it to an extremity of my emotional and physical functionality. So much so, a life beyond it terrifies me.

I will discontinue my writing.

Writing was a spiritual surrender, a bar of moral responsibility. To others, it was masturbatory self-indulgence; I pursued writing not only with foolishness but with stubbornness and illicit rebellion against my own self-preservation. These opinions did not matter to me until they did. Nothing was said out loud for me to notice that I was losing the support of people around me—oddly due to their concern. In my culture, my country and society, I am someone who refuses to become an adult because I desire only to do what I like at the expense of accumulating time and debt. It is, in many ways, irresponsible—swinish, ignoble. The reaction is therefore understandable. I am no engineer or politician. I am not even a medical professional but a deeply indebted academic. I have invented nothing of worldly value nor have I yet to save a life. But certainly, I have at least risked mine in a different way.

I always told myself, in the course of becoming a writer, that I was at the point right before things got hard. And I was always right. I knew before coming to writing that I must accept hardships with grace. I have never been capable of making a living. And I am not talented enough to pursue two careers at once. (Colleagues more capable than I, who have careers in finance or marketing or teaching, have yet to write in years). I do not have the skin to witness my writing slowly recede into a memory of youthful self-amusement. I would rather cease it altogether.

Then why did I begin to write? The truth is I did not think to be a writer until—I cannot think of a suitable word just now—it salvaged what remained of me at the place I was.

I often write about my parents leaving suddenly to Korea for eight years, but I do not explicitly say what happened when I remained behind in Davis at the age of fourteen. At fifteen, at the start of a new school, I was bullied then terrorized for my oriental features by the baseball team, which is nothing new I told myself. At the end of the year, I became bulimic losing a portion of my fingernails from malnutrition, which my sewing teacher noticed because of a puncturing accident. I also became addicted to psychoactive drugs to muster through school. At sixteen, I added hard liquor to the list of things I hoped not to survive but did. So that year, I attempted suicide with a mixture of OTC’s. At seventeen, I was molested at my best friend’s house, which could have been far worse if I had not committed to walking home a mile at night while indomitably high and sobbing. Event of an abusive relationship followed during my young adult years. But I lied to myself, are not all relationships forms of abuse anyway? I reasoned my experiences as traumatic but surely not uncommon. So I did not count for, as a result of my three years in Davis, that I would invent such lies to believe as truths. For one, I did not give a damn about what I meant to anyone and especially not to myself. I did not know who I was nor did I remain hopeful to discover it. Because I was sure whatever I found would be wretched, unlovable, and worthy of being found only to be discarded.

I read about loneliness and listened to psychologists speak about it. Neither seem to truly depict the whole bodied paroxysm from the impenetrable torment of seeing, hearing, feeling no one reachable in past, present, and future (despite it seeming otherwise to a spectator). As if one would sit on a white-tiled floor, and looking up, there is no god, and looking around, there are no people, and looking even inside, there is no soul, and therefore, there is no possibility of solace except vast barrenness and permanent desolation. Keeping secrets, especially those worn as bruises or scars on the body, compounded the symptoms I experienced as an adolescent. Even the word loneliness begs to be dismissed—a trivial, tongue-in-cheek to be lonely. But it is an exile I would not wish upon an enemy of mine nor is it a place I would ever return to even if threatened with my life. I learned how deeply humans require empathy and even the most introverted among us introverts could not bear to become a prisoner of such psychologically chilling confinement as my childhood bedroom.

Writing for me began in college, or my triumphant turnaround. At eighteen, I quit drinking alone; I quit drugs; I quit purging my body; I quit fearing a physical embrace; I quit resenting my tormentors, and my parents, or so I sought to do by writing love poems to my estranged mother. After all, there were people walking around and living just fine, and, I wanted that too. How much willpower and delusion it took me to get to that point I don’t know. It took a sort of borrowed courage that I did not have. Even the times a shorter life offered itself to me in the guise of a meadow glowing pink and yellow in an endless afternoon, I turned it down. I said that I must live.

I completed not only high school, but earned an English major and a Creative Writing emphasis in college while teaching Literature at an at-risk high school, freelancing at the local paper, and even dancing for a hip hop team. I graduated with five awards of excellence, the International Center fellowship, offers from graduate schools, then completed my masters at one of them. All-triumphant not for the accolades but because I had not imagined myself as capable. And I was with writing present in my life. Most of all, I credit these years to my teachers who saw a brightness in me, more so inside my trenchant darkness. My teachers believed that with extra help and a currency of kindness that I could not afford previously, I would achieve something. So I could grow up to say that I am somebody: I am Eun Ji. And I am a poet.

My parents did not return to the same person they had left behind. They did not witness my developing life so how could I, who had been so fruitful in their eyes, choose to bide my time with writing when just as easily I could be happy. They did not understand that I was happy—that that was as happy as I had ever been.

I wrote to re-write, to reclaim, to un-silence myself of what happened to me which surely happened to others and would continue happening in different forms of suffering, misrepresentation, or abuse. What I wanted most was to exercise empathy towards the characters in my life, and then reinvent my own person, not as a victim or a casualty of familial absence and modern exclusion, but as someone rightfully beloved. By writing, I was enacting what it was like to forgive not only others but myself. By writing, I was building up to hope.

It is no mystery that in abandoning my writing, I fear that I am abandoning myself.

For how long I am not sure. But I must dream of a lesser love. Love, even in its diminutive forms, is still love. Some days I dream of owning a place, waking early to get to work, coming home to eat dinner, complaining about a coworker’s terse remark, then sleeping more peacefully than I have ever slept. A simpler choice of living, perhaps less inspired, but never less in worth. Those are days the dream appears as lovely as the one belonging to a writer. But I learned a writer cannot dream for a safe, warm place as that, a place to remain, return to, and where others are welcome. Writers must be humbled, humiliated, then humbled further, and must feel generosity in the mere occasion to write. Writers cannot provide anything but their soul, and even then, their soul is undeserving and perpetually overlooked.

Walking by a quiet book will not make me sad but I will be saddened by a pen lying still on the counter and my hand beside me just as still and cold.

It must be my fault for positioning writing as the utmost in my life. I placed it, with design, above my relationships, friendships, and family expecting that they must both accept it and understand that it will never be a part of them. How could I possibly grow without removing writing wholly from my life? How do I face what is left of me unless I take away from myself everything? Some days I fantasize that I will return to writing and realize that time away had only been good. Do you see how I twist my logic even now to serve my writing? There is no other method to leave it.

Other days I am fifteen again walking alongside the freeway and counting cars speeding over the cooled asphalt as glazed as my eyes are glazed, my pupils veering left and right, my spirit bouncing along the tops of cars, a part of me wondering if I could do what I am thinking of doing now and throw myself into traffic—or is it just another silly and frightening thought, the sort of thought that arises while walking along a canyon, or crossing a hanging bridge, and I think what if I slipped and fell? As easily as I think it, the thought would unthink itself, and it would be well on its way to someone else.

Odd that suicide is avoided in public conversation. It is reserved for whispers. Yet it strangely lacks intimacy because it is a common experience. Everyone knows suicide, and in private conversation, the ones that accuse the act affrontingly with fancy words like cowardice, selfishness are often themselves survivors, however brief their wrangling with mortality. There was only one man whom I met that never entertained the option of suicide, and I knew this as certain as others did, because he asked, Why? No one asked why because they knew, they felt, they heard, and they saw why. That is an even rarer topic in conversation. It may seem everyone knows suicide, but if one does not, then he will never know. It is a clear drawn line. He will see suicide as he holds a photograph of Kilimanjaro comparatively to if he stood at its peak, famous clouds dissolving at his feet.

The same man will look over the railing of the Golden Gate Bridge; he will notice the height of the fall, the wind speed below the bridge, the sound of traffic behind him, the estimated water temperature, its undulations and waves. He will even feel as if everyone has stopped to watch him watching the water, but he will never know what these things mean. The way he cannot know that these things are no less lovely and terrifying as they were before, that no one in his life matters less now that he stands here, that he is as afraid of letting go as he is of hanging on.

After my first attempt, and in graduate school, my second, suicide became an option. Since then, it will remain lodged in my periphery after options A, B, and C—there it is. I will overcome it. I will refuse the option, and at times of clarity, I will even ridicule it. But it will never leave me entirely. When I am looking for a way out, it will offer itself in a guise as obvious as pageantry but as riveting as consolation. Of course, every time I will turn it down. But the fact of the matter is that I will have to turn it down.

My sincere hope in ceasing to write is to say I have failed splendidly. Perhaps it was always supposed to be that way. The pursuit of writing is at times more profound than its triumph if it ever existed. Can one argue who is worthier between a swimmer and a dead one?

Today, I cannot ask you to understand me. I only ask that we celebrate two things: 1) We are alive and 2) we are, at this moment, together.