He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
– Friedrich Nietzsche
3.37 am, Monday January 14, 2007 Seoul, South Korea. Another sleepless night that is part of a five year pattern of irregular sleep. I stare at the ceiling for two hours, finish half a book, write, listen to music or un-think at a half hour’s montage of dirty and useless images on television.
If I tell myself to, my brain can easily turn on the day when I had just finished teaching a third grade class. I had taught an enjoyable lesson on Konglish, and as usual, these students enthusiastically participated throughout the 45 minute session. The lively students have already funneled out for lunch – rice, soup and other side dishes on metal trays eaten with metal chopsticks – as soon as the bell had stopped ringing, and my co-teacher and I were just about to leave the empty library room when I notice a black windbreaker hunched over a table. The only lights in the room were filtering through from the pleated cotton blinds on the windows, which look like they can be torn off and recycled as engine air filters. I nudged my co-teacher and point to the listless student hunched over at the farthest six-seated wooden table. I pointed to him in the usual cracker screwball cane-nudging manner, “What’s up with that kid? Too tired today?” As soon as she told me to leave him alone and the regardless punch, “Let’s go! It’s time for lunch!” The sequence slows down. It breaks like that, and I can play and rewind this sequence over and over as if that moment two months ago is yesterday’s reproduction.
Throughout every school day, his head lays on a table, where he sees (or not) the darkness of the table’s grain with his arm curled around his hair. He hears (or not) the students next to him talking and working, the teacher explaining, and probably the playful yet painful punches between male students and gray newspaper worksheets crumpling.
Along with the noted mentally disabled sitting with normally behaved students in various other classes and grade levels in the school, he is one of those few students who’ve confirmed their inability from participating in a socially ordered, classroom environment by laying his head down. Since the four months I’ve been at the school, I have never seen his face like I’ve seen most of the other students in a classroom. Whether or not he chooses to keep his head down, whether he is prevented from keeping his head up to see, I am not allowed to go near him. One day, with a pair of scissors, he had tried to stab his mother at her backside. His anger temperaments during his first two years at the school alarmed the faculty members and like a giant yellow sticky slapped on his hunched back, he has always been noted as the one to be wary of.
…lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.
Book of Revelation 16:15 (King James)
He remained lifeless as I looked back while my co-teacher and I were leaving the room. I was not to go near him. I do not know what I would have done anyway, standing there as a foreigner next to him, with thirty students staring at us after he would have coldly told me to fuck off like he did to my co-teacher earlier during his useless time in school.
Some questions have easy answers: Is the sky blue? Yes. Is she athletic? No. I cannot help but answer the question about his near future if he continues to be passed on to another people. He is an easy answer if nobody dares to break a crack in his wall to let in some light, regardless of how small it is. Despite the circumstances a mere unit of a school-turned social services juggles with, including students with no guardians, students who have returned from mental institutions, students who live with an aging grandparent, invalid immigrants unsure about the months ahead, students whose fathers are alcoholics, students whose fathers threaten to take their son’s intestines out of their mouths and choke their sons around their necks, students who watch pornography and enact them…these are also my students. And I cannot help but see how much of a monster we are to make of this particular young man who has never seen light. Although I am pulled back to be reminded that I have no part in any of this, it’s difficult to disclaim an honest guilt. In a blindly developing society, where granite towers are built for the sky and chain-smoking men serve neon signs above, this society is exposing more and more her helplessness.