Forgive me a little sentimentality on a Sunday morning. I’m about to take another TOPIK practice exam, and my life’s been way too practical lately. I don’t do things like this very often — almost never. But I’m thinking this morning about how, on this day two years ago, I had no idea my life was about to change.
I was so ready to let go of 2010. I had spent the first part of the year away from my grandfather and my family, as he was diagnosed with cancer. As he died. As I tried, from thousands of miles away, to grieve a kind of thing I had never even had a concept of before. Everyone says that death is natural, and of course it is, but the grief that comes from death is not something I believe we have a “natural” understanding of. I had no idea what to do with it. I felt like I was just left holding handfuls of this black, sticky stuff that clung and dripped off of me into everything. I lost a lot of weight. I cried. I went home, and I held onto my family, and I cried some more.
That was the man who taught me what a man should be.
I learned a lot that year, because when life gives you hard things to go through, you either learn, or your walk away with damage. By the end of the year, I still wasn’t sure which way I was going to go.
And then I met Busan. It was so far from love at first sight — neither one of us is the type. To me, love is something that you earn the right to say. I have loved this person. I have stood beside them when they’re ugly and terrible, and not wanted to be there, but I have known that if I didn’t stay, I would regret. I have stayed because I knew it was what was best for me, and what was best for them. And I’ve seen them do the same for me. Love is a choice that you make, not against your will, but in favor of it. Even when it’s hard to stand by what you want. Love is what happens in the worst moments — not the best.
But it’s what happens in the best that creates the raw materials for love. That spring, after I had gone away to Europe for a couple of weeks, and come back to find that he was still there, that was what we started to do.
After the trip, after he showed up for my birthday, I thought, okay. I guess this one is going to stick for a minute, and I took him to meet my friends. That night we went back to the same rock club where we had met. And this is a story I’ve never told anyone before. Standing on the stage, when this song (the Oasis version, of course) started to play. He leaned over to speak in my ear, so that I could hear, and said, “Are you gonna save me?”
Something dropped out of the bottom of my stomach. It was such a stupid thing to say. But there was a look on his face that was half in jest, masking something else underneath. A different question. The same one I’d had for the three previous months. Are you going to be something that matters? Are you going to change me? Are we going to go through hard things, and come out on the other side together?
I stood up to put my mouth against his ear: “I’ll do what I can.”
I didn’t have a chance to see the look on his face in reaction, because he wrapped his arms so tightly around me, let out some kind of guttural growl, and lifted me up off of my feet.
Late the next month, we finally had the chance to see what we would do with the raw materials we had been stacking up. I won’t go into all of the details, but Busan had a chance to start to realize that there are some dark pits inside of me, that I’ve not know what to do with, other than to cover over as best I can. To hide them away, and protect them. There was a moment where he had to decide what he was going to do, and I felt like a fool, for not having hidden it better. He walked out. And I thought, well that’s just it then. He wasn’t what I hoped he might be.
The funny thing now, when I talk to Busan, is that he doesn’t remember that night at the club. He doesn’t remember most things, and to this day will tell you I was wearing pants when he met me, despite the fact that he told me early on one of the defining moments of that night for him was the fact that I kept tugging at the hem of my short dress, at 4 am in the club, to make sure I was decent. He doesn’t remember finite details. About anything. But he clearly recalls that day in April, when we both had to make a choice about whether to stick it out, or jump ship.
He says: “I kept thinking that I wouldn’t get a chance like this again. I had to do the hard thing. If I didn’t come back, I knew I would regret it.”
That day would set the precedent for the biggest struggle we would, and still, have. His tendency to run, and how quickly my sadness turns to anger. It’s ironic that our individual biggest downfalls match exactly with our individual biggest fears in another person. But this is where the love happens. And this is where what love is, makes you a better person. We have to face our biggest fears in another person, and we have to start to slowly work on the part of ourselves that is the worst of us. For the good of the other.
It’s never bothered me that Busan just doesn’t remember the details, because, despite stoic appearances, he is actually a person who exists largely in emotion. He remembers feelings and convictions, rather than events and facts. I analyze events, searching for facts to line up in straight lines, attempting to elbow out the emotions, digest the logic. He pushes me into the moment, forces me to see that, after all is said and done, the residue of an emotion that stays with you is the one thing that really matters. I push him to see that without making the right, logical decisions based on those emotions, the residue can’t matter. He loves me enough to make me let go of the facts, sometimes, and I help him to see that without action displayed through fact, you sometimes can’t see love.
Whenever I was serially single, people used to ask me, what are you looking for? What will it be that will make you settle down with someone? I think they were looking for a list. But I never had one. The only answer that ever came to mind for me, was that I wanted a person who would make me better, and who I could make better, rather than worse. When emotions are high, you see the ugliest parts of someone, but that emotion, which is not love in my opinion, gives you a chance to choose what you will do when confronted with the ugly. The love happens in those choices.
I don’t know how far we’re going to go, but I know that even if it ends tomorrow, Busan has made me better. And the kind of better that can’t be undone, even if it ends. You can’t save another person, but you can help them to save themselves. And no matter how we end up in the future, or how far we go, I will always be grateful to Busan for what he’s done for me in that regard.