Getting Gone

 
1.

It was spring and spring was the best time in Korea to be outside circling the neighborhood. The crisp air leftover from winter idled. A good time for a brisk walk. Warm enough to make you feel like one of those characters in a comic strip with the sweat drops hanging in mid-air. But not enough to not feel cool in the shade. It was either the end of April or the beginning of May. I lived in Woncheon-dong, a district of Suwon situated next to the sprawling headquarters of Samsung Electronics. You could see the main tower from almost anywhere. A sort of navigational landmark. A way of orienting yourself. Finding your bearings. As arbitrary as the position of a star. So, at the end of April or the beginning of May, I pointed myself in the direction of the Samsung tower, keeping close to a man-made stream called Oncheon-cheon that sat below street level. It looked like Cheonggyecheon in Seoul, but smaller and modestly adorned and dirty. The brown water of the unfinished stream and the high-rise apartments that enclosed the neighborhood and the intermittent whiff of sewage or rotting garbage or animal flesh cooking on a grill somewhere. I began to sweat for real and it was all too much so I turned around and pointed myself back towards my apartment building. Which I could not see from where I was. Along the way above the stream a small object on the sidewalk ahead of me appeared. Not appeared so much as occurred. Like an event. More than mere being. It projected the fleshy brilliance of a living thing. I stopped a few feet from it and started again. Then I was standing over it, and I recognized it at once. It was a hornet. But I didn’t recognize it. Its size, as big as a Hot Wheels car, threw me. I looked up to see if anyone else was approaching. Someone who could make some sense of it for me. Those happy children playing there? No. That pair of women up ahead, more polyester than flesh?

No one came. I stood and stared for a few minutes. I must have seen hundreds of bees and hornets in my life. But never a word from anyone about this. Not the teachers at my school or my students or my girlfriend or my girlfriend’s parents. But wait—a young man approached the spot where it lay. I had by this time walked ahead to the crosswalk. The young man, Korean and old enough to have a reasonably firm grasp on reality, flew three feet in the air as he passed it. This couldn’t have been mere coincidence. Surely he saw it. Unless he was jumpy by temperament. Jumping at all manner of perfectly benign sights and sounds: a car door closing, a child’s voice rising in increments, a fallen crumpled leaf, the contrails of a jet plane expanding like an explosion in slow motion, the limp and lifeless body sinking to the ocean floor. He must have seen it. Unless he had a neurodegenerative disease and the jump was involuntary. If you thought about it long enough, there was an infinite number of possible explanations. Each as unlikely as the next.

Just a few keywords in the Google search bar the next day: large bee Korea. Something appeared: the Asian Giant Hornet. The Wikipedia entry was sparse. I read carefully. The Asian Giant Hornet is native to temperate and tropical Eastern Asia; sometimes called the yak-killer hornet; its body length is about two inches; its stinger is six millimeters; in Korea it’s called jangsu malbul (commander bee); it kills between 30 and 40 people every year in Japan. The hornets in the photos matched the one I had seen. It was a relief: putting a name to it, describing its anatomy, delimiting its geographic distribution, detailing the effects of the venom in its stinger. But something continued to press down on me. Continued to exert a pressure like a stinger that penetrates the epidermis, detaches, and sinks beneath the skin. The body of its owner, the hornet, rattles, then petrifies in a matter of seconds. Rebounds a little as it hits the ground, unresponsive. The sting is a needle circulating through your body, a thousand tiny hollow needles stinging your insides in unison. Even that same day: the thought once more, and again and again, of the hornet on the ground above Oncheon-cheon three blocks from where I slept. I had to go back. See if it was still there. It was dark as I got close to the spot. I wanted to know that it hadn’t flown away. That it was still lying inert on the sidewalk and dead. That its giant striped smooth thorax and gaster weren’t buzzing around the neighborhood. There was nothing there. It had gone. Swept aside unwittingly, or deliberately, by some unsuspecting pedestrian. Or perhaps lifted by its own wings through a still vital agency and carried away to almost anywhere. It wasn’t summer yet. The onset of night still tempered the air. My body stiffened. I closed my jacket tight.

2.

Depression is said to be an unutterable condition. Naturally then it has inspired a proliferation of descriptors and figurative language. Depression is a disease, a mental illness, an affliction, a mood disorder, a cognitive instability, a neurobiological imbalance, a malfunctioning brain. It is disabling, demanding, maddening, destructive, agitating, painful, fatal. It affects appetite, sleep, energy, stress levels, self-esteem, concentration, motor activity, libido. It ruins careers, marriages, friendships, families. Depression is the Black Dog, a phrase sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill. Sylvia Plath said dark moods were akin to the emptiness in the “eye of a tornado.” For the title of his book The Noonday Demon, Andrew Solomon borrows a phrase from the Christian monk John Cassian, who first encountered it in Psalm Ninety of the Old Testament. In addition to the title of his book, Solomon reiterates some of the more popular metaphors. One is the image of a precipice that drops sharply into a dark, and presumably endless, hole. Depression is like standing on the edge of the precipice. To describe his own depression, Solomon uses the image of a massive oak around which a snaking vine has wrapped itself. The oak was a real tree in a wood where he had played as a child. When Solomon returned to the wood as an adult, the vine and the leaves it had sprouted were, from a distance, hard to distinguish from the oak itself. In another section of the book titled “Breakdowns,” Solomon says that in Depression “you are in touch with the real terribleness of your life.” The real terribleness—a terror, incomprehensible, and all too present.

It’s no wonder then that Kafka picked a bug to give voice to Gregor Samsa’s alienation—the grotesque vermin waking to an utterly ordinary day. It’s the same with the giant hornet: a thing at once ordinary (hornet) and alien (giant). It’s hard to forget, the hornet. It gets stuck in your head. For months, stuck in your ears and with growing frequency scratches and shrieks without warning. The imagined apparition of it overtakes you as a thick layer of sweat would, accumulating larvae-like on a muggy June night. Then the horizon flashes white once or twice. What was green is now covered thinly in razor-sharp stubble. Rough filament, black and yellow, overspreads the foliage. The cobalt horizon expands. Slow burial beneath the prickly firmament: [vespa mandarinia]

@@
0
// ( ) \\
// \\
// ! \\

This, of course, is not the literal account, only an account of feeling. Your mood, your whole interior, is overtaken by something that seems exterior but isn’t and collapses into itself suddenly. The whole gets smaller. Smaller and smaller. A catastrophic density. A singularity. A metaphor in any case—so heavy and narrow and nothing.

3.

It was October again, after exactly three years I found myself in Korea still. If you stay put long enough, at the same job or apartment, you begin to recognize the people around you by the sound their walking makes. The cadence of the steps: hurried or deliberate. The magnitude of each footfall: light and uncertain, or bounding and weightless, or as heavy as concrete. You recognize the person approaching much as a dog would. You take things for granted and don’t like to be surprised. You prefer that tomorrow look just like today.

I stayed put at the same school and the same apartment for three years. But the school lost its funding for my job so I had to move on. The new school and apartment were not far from the old ones. Most things looked and felt the same, generally. But the overall design—at the kimbap joint or eMart or Lotteria—felt scattered. The shift came as faint as a puff of air, no stronger than a breath. 1.5 liters of Hite beer felt like 1.5 liters. A pint of Hoegaarden was a pint. A single bottle of soju was just that—but not quite. Like, for example, behind my old apartment building a wide busy road stretched east to west. On the opposite side of the road I would take an express bus almost every weekend to Sadang Station in Seoul. I noticed one Sunday afternoon not long before I moved a small wobbly man on the bench. He was dressed casually, like any middle-class thirty-something Korean man, except there was a trail of darkly congealed stuff coming from the bottom of one pant leg, and his eyeballs kind of floated in his skull. Although there was no distinct smell, I, being unable to distinguish the finer shades of color, could not tell if it was red or brown down his leg and could not say for sure that it was not shit or blood. When I approached the bench he sort of smiled at me and raised his eyebrows several times, and as the bus pulled away I watched him fade into the dusty sidewalk and dirt-brown horizon.

What I mean to say is—I had to quit drinking for real this time right after I moved into my new apartment. And I did and made it through thirty-six hours of sobriety before heading to the convenience store up the street. And Lao Bar had opened a new location outside Ajou University, closer to where I lived so went straight there after emptying the plastic bottles. Straight down the wide staircase to where the bar was underground. Three straight pints. Threw darts straight at the board or tried to. More pints, one followed straight after another. Went on and on until daylight, finally. Another bright October morning. And cold. Gotta get my phone fixed. Gotta get to school. There he goes. Can you see him? Disappearing into that

3 cont’d.

bright October morning.

I don’t think my girlfriend liked me very much. Back in the spring and summer I kept going back to Baek Nam June Art Center and kept retracing the same paths through the installations and at the patio next to the cafe and up a hill behind the building outside through a small wooded area with different girls. It began to feel like a recurring dream. But now I was with the girl I had been with more than a year before when she drove me to Ajou University Hospital during the onset of my viral meningitis. She didn’t like me very much. We went to Imjingak in Paju near the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). There were periscopes through which the physical landscape of the north was made visible as mountains peeking over the South’s hills in the foreground. Due north. That strange north, so close you could spit on it, but we didn’t. Everyone wanted a look-see, Koreans and foreigners alike, even a few Germans, and sent long or short looks northwards trying to extrapolate something with our gaze, as if the staring itself were a silent password that would force it open. Most of the onlookers assumed the river running east to west was the natural demarcation line, and that the train crossing the bridge that spanned the river was effectively entering hostile territory, which is why we watched enthralled and anxious. What would happen to the train once it reached the other side? Would it return eventually, or vanish inside the fairy-tale nightmare? One more ghost among the pitiable souls who were told what to say and think and how to die. Looking through the periscope, one felt a collective sympathy hovering about, touching all persons regardless of national origin. We guessed that the people in the North probably weren’t allowed to feel sympathy. And because there was nothing perilous about the ground where we stood, it being solid and airy and open, we found ourselves transported suddenly to the winding line at Popeyes waiting to order fried chicken and soda. Perhaps one of those large-sized sodas that had the little basket built into the top so you could drink your soda and intermittently pop an oily nugget into your mouth. And because the free individual exercising his or her personal liberties can work up a thirst in the June heat, my girlfriend and I popped in to a cafe on the opposite side of a meadow covered in paper windmills, which stood for peace, we assumed. The god-awful heavy air made me sluggish and so I ordered a triple-shot iced mocha (one needed an iced mocha to stay cool). There was not a single shaded space at Imjingak, which could really make for an unpleasant afternoon. We briefly considered the amusement rides and the trinkets for sale and staged a mock duel with two wooden swords, and then headed back to Suwon. The rain came down hard because it was almost summer. Restless ennui of Sunday evening. Italian food sounded good. In the parking garage of the shopping complex there was an advertisement for the movie Moneyball, which was due for theatrical release soon thereafter. And I was like: I really wanna see that movie, and she was like: me too!

My girlfriend told me to meet her in Guun-dong on the western side of Suwon not far from where Y lived. It had been a long time since I’d seen Y and I wonder how she’s doing. My girlfriend and I sat on the floor of a galbi restaurant and ordered pork galbi. She said: let’s be friends. Because it wasn’t working out. But could she not understand that it required work in order to work out? No, she thought I was small-minded and what the fuck is that supposed to mean anyways? But I’ll tell you what I was outta there. Before she could finish explaining to me my small-mindedness and the meat was still raw on the grill. I paid first but I was outta there. We were on a sidewalk arguing and I was outta there at the bus stop on the phone with B. It was Saturday night: of course I’m gonna have a fuckin’ drink.

4.

For a while we were all about 88 (read: double eight). 88—yeah the place so many months before we had tried but couldn’t find from Gangnam Station to Apgujeong in the dead morning hours Seoul goes by as intermittent howling dark and streaking light. Didn’t know left from right. But it was Shinsa Station, not Apgujeong, that night the thoroughfare packed wall-to-wall only hours before was dead, deserted, and trying to find something up and down the empty grid was like chasing ghosts. 88 didn’t usually get going until 3 or 4 in the morning and closed at some unknown hour. Never there to see it close, even after we called it a night and emerged vampirically to find that the bright October morning had nearly slipped by us. We heard the music thumping underground, even as we ducked into a taxi, the beats rebounding from the walls of the mouth of the club at the sidewalk. It kept going without us. No one could say for sure when it stopped. We always went to Lao Bar at the beginning of the night. That’s how we knew it was the beginning, because we were at Lao Bar. And I would say to B: we’re not going to 88 tonight. It was too late and too far. So we would bum around soju road and I’d say: we’re not going to 88 tonight, and I’d tap B on the shoulder and say: we’re not going. And B would grab my arm and say: we’re definitely not going bro, and he’d push his hand against my shoulder to give me a good look in the eye and say: we’re not going to 88. And we always went to 88. We always said eighty-eight, not double eight. There was never a line to get inside and always a line to check your coat. The coat-check line terminated at the bottom of a winding staircase where a young man or woman would take your stuff and hand you a little laminated ticket. At first it didn’t seem like a good trade off: all our stuff for a ticket. But it was what the ticket signified that meant something. Temporarily standing in for our stuff so we didn’t have to carry it around the club. We were unencumbered as long as we had the ticket in our back pockets and salivated at the possibilities. We wanted to carry the ticket with us wherever we went. It could stand for practically anything. After a while we didn’t even want our stuff back.

5.

I leaned against the bathroom window frame with my arm hanging out whenever I smoked. It was winter and freezing cold. The one good thing about winters was there weren’t any mosquitoes. In the summer the mosquitoes got bad, and sometimes you’d start from sleep with the sibilant humming of wings echoing in your eardrums and slap your own face in the dark to extinguish the noise, and the blood, your own blood, would congeal and petrify in flecks and streaks on your skin; other times you’d see them congregating around street lamps in the evening when it cools down; drawn to the heat, they’d trace irregular vectors through the air, like sparks from a fire, confused, seeking a live body from which they could draw blood but which never materialized. A frozen pile of ash and mouth drippings took shape on the exterior of the window sill. The smell of cigarette smoke is always the smell of bars and clubs and a dangerous and unhinged racing through time without light. B thought I was straight up crazy sometimes. The sort of person who kept secrets and human skulls in his freezer. The walls separating the apartments in the building where I lived were paper thin. The owners must have converted the ground floor into residential units and just thrown up cheap plywood. It wouldn’t have been so bad had I not been able to hear every movement, vocalization, cough, sniff, fart, slam, rustle, crackle and whisper coming from next door. It was like being underwater, the way sound travels so efficiently. I heard everything, including his girlfriend’s whimpering during sex. I even heard his cell phone when it vibrated on a hard surface. There were no curtains for the large window above my bed. Rather than drilling a proper holder for the rod into the wall, I bought extra strong suction cups and placed one on the top corners of the window to hold up the curtain rod. But the curtain I bought was thick and heavy, so occasionally the suction cups would detach and the curtains and rod would come tumbling down onto the bed while I was asleep waking me up in a momentary panic. I needed a drying rack. There are no drying machines in Korea. I was anxious about not flossing. Needed more garbage bags. Felt bad about squashing a spider. Not just a twinge after the fact either, but a real blubbering sort of remorse. When I squashed it it dragged itself around in little circles while its legs lay next to it on the floor. Useless scraps. There is something remarkable and unnerving in how calmly the animated breath of a life, the soul, can be pinched until it is nothing. Everything engaged in its own meandering struggle. The microbes under the lip of the toilet.

The supervisor at my new school was nice. And the vice principal and principal were nice. And the students were nice. One of my co-teachers was not so nice. I’m sure there were people who thought she was nice, and they probably weren’t wrong. But I was not one of those people. I told my supervisor I was depressed and thinking about quitting and that I had made an appointment to see a psychiatrist and that I was not the sort of person who thought my co-teacher was nice. She was surprised. But she was nice so she said:

alright,

and I asked her if I could leave early to go to Ajou University Hospital and she said:

alright.

I had to see a primary care doctor in the Family and Community Health Clinic first. After a clumsy and inefficient description of my symptoms, the doctor’s mouth opened just a little and his head tilted back. He understood at last that I needed a referral before I could see a psychiatrist. So he said:

alright,

and punched a few keys on the keyboard of the computer, where all information, implicitly or explicitly, resides.

The Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Clinic looked different than the other clinics. Different than Urology or Family and Community Health or the Injections Room. Those clinics had wide, spacious lobbies. They didn’t have thick metal doors at their entrances that were flush with the hospital walls. They didn’t have any doors, just an opening. But the Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Clinic had big heavy doors. One could only imagine how many depressed individuals seeking help gave up after one or two halfhearted tugs at the door. There were no windows in the lobby looking out to the vaulted rotunda, a long shaft of space a long way down and nothing to stop you except the ground. In the PBSC waiting area the rows of seats were so compressed that I had to cross my legs to keep my knees from jamming into the seat in front of me. But it was alright because there was almost never anyone else in the waiting area when I was there and if there was they didn’t sit directly in front of me. And it’s not long before the doctor, a middle-aged guy, called my name. I explained my symptoms to him and he said:

alright,

but actually I’m not sure exactly what he said. But it’s alright because depression makes you so fuzzy—trouble sleeping, irritability, a gnawing sense that everything has gone wrong, guilt, colorless reality, anger. The doctor was a psychopharmacologist, and the first line of treatment was medication. He prescribed Lexapro for my depression and anxiety and Stilnox for my insomnia. He said it would take several weeks before the antidepressants had any marked effect on my mood, if they had any effect at all. Much of psychiatric medicine is a protracted trial-and-error process with drugs that have been approved after their own incredibly long and expensive trials. The doctor wrapped things up in less than thirty minutes and with what I could only surmise was his attempt at parting pep talk: life is for living, and so on. The man had a point after all, so I thought:

alright.

6.

It was January when I headed to Hongdae alone. The bus from Heungdeok dropped me at Myeongdong Station with a bladder fit to pop. I weaved through the pedestrians on the sidewalk and bounded down the stairs, three at a time, to the station’s innards. Advancing farther and farther from the exits, I noticed several nondescript long lumps lined against the wall. They were human-shaped and moving in barely discernible expansions and contractions. The lumps, sleeping bags or garbage bags or piles of flattened cardboard, were breathing. The station, which by day screamed with shoppers, became a makeshift, unauthorized shelter for homeless men. They probably wanted somewhere to get out of the cold even though it was pretty cold in the station but not as cold as outside. There wasn’t anything to be done at the time except jump into a taxi to Sangsu Station and with haste get pickled more than any reasonable person should want to. But things were alright until the very end when three assholes in a fancy car honked their horn and ruined my good time. Ruined it enough for me to feel compelled to kick their fancy car, fuck ‘em anyways, fuckin’ assholes, not happy about that dent, eh? It’s hardly anything at all lighten up fucking jagoff, break yer fuckin’ arm sonsabitches, none too happy eh? Well crawl back to your obscene condo, go hide in your girlfriend’s vagina, because no one could hardly see that ding against the deep black finish of your stupid fancy fuckhead car.

7.

Saturday night and all kinds of things were happening all over and I wanted to check it out for myself. I boarded a bus to Seoul for a few harmless drinks—a gentleman’s night out. Gentle-man because there was only one of me, but that was plenty. A crowd of one, really, because I ended up kicking the driver’s side door of an impressive-looking automobile, damaging it to the point where the driver and his passengers were compelled to detain me against the sliding metal gates of a storefront and at least once resisted my attempts to slip away. All things considered, they were very considerate and it was quite right of them to make sure I stayed put until a police officer arrived, and the officer asked for my Alien Registration Card, which I promptly produced without objection. He asked me some questions about the scuffle. I said to him: these three young gentlemen were driving rather fast through the narrow pedestrian alleyway, and as an Alien Resident I felt obligated to nudge their car in another direction, or at the very least to gently notify them of the potential danger of speeding through a narrow street filled with inebriated pedestrians. The officer scribbled notes in a little black notepad and asked me the name of my employer, which was the name of my school, which I tried to pronounce as clearly as I could, which was difficult for a number of reasons the most relevant being: that I was irretrievably wrecked; that I wasn’t a native speaker of Korean; that the name of my school was uncommon and therefore unfamiliar to plenty of Koreans. He looked at me as if the name I spoke were alien to him.

8.

Feelin’ jumpy. Springy, though it was winter, and hopped aboard a bus bound for the city of perpetually expanding light. 6 a.m. in Hongdae on a Sunday morning is nothing but throngs of boys and girls moving at the same halting pace under a dim mid-winter sky. It was the pace of any congested mass of discrete objects. Or subjects, as it were. In the same direction every time. Destination: Hongik-ipgu yeok. Despite the crowds a few cars tried to inch their way through the narrow alley, the fools. Naturally they deserved a good kick in the pants, or door as it were. But they didn’t see it that way I suppose and called the police. Police left after not doing much. In Korea there is a not uncommon way of settling personal disputes. Bypassing the law to avoid official charges. I offered the driver some money to nip the whole thing in the bud. He could see I was in a bind, so he and his two friends, the passengers, escorted me to an ATM where I transferred exactly 4 million won (approximately 4,000 dollars) into one or the other’s bank account. It was only fair since it would have probably cost 4 million won to replace the door panel, which is what the driver said he’d have to do and he was probably telling the truth. Plus it was my fault. And honestly I really didn’t mean to KICK! the door like that, and as I blurted out the word kick with some special thrust in my voice and threw a real kick into the air as a reenactment, I very nearly inadvertently kicked the damn car door again. So I said: whoa close one. And the three of them stared at me blankly. And that was their problem, y’know. They could not see the humor in it. They were humorless. And if you’re gonna go through life humorless, then you might as well be dead.

9.

I had a weekly talk-therapy appointment at AUH. The doctor was young and pretty and spoke English well because she had lived in the Philippines for several years. In an email she wrote: you will do most of the talking and I will be there mostly to listen. And I thought: good. I said a lot of things to her during our first session. She was nice, and I was wearing a heavy peacoat and felt warm but didn’t remove it even though I was perspiring. I told her about how my girlfriend didn’t like me and how I went shopping alone and remorsefully squashed insects and drank oceans of alcohol. She wanted to know about the meds. I told her I hadn’t noticed any adverse side effects, and she said: good, because sometimes antidepressants can have unwanted side effects like nausea and penile flaccidity and delayed ejaculation. None of that worried me. I was worried about the Stilnox though. What I didn’t know was that Stilnox is a hypnotic drug, no different from Ambien except in name, and can have euphoric effects similar to Xanax. I had noticed these effects after taking two pills when I was supposed to take just one. Two pills were a dull pleasure, bouncy, a tiny morsel of lightness, and I smoked through half a pack of cigs before going to sleep. Then I took three pills. Three pills were like falling into bed melting into the springs of the mattress while listening to music on my iPod nano. I tried five pills one night and woke up trying to figure out what time it was. It was dark, so it must have been early evening or late night or early morning. What did 5 o’clock mean exactly? And why was I wearing a different shirt and pants than I had been wearing when I swallowed the pills? It worried me. Practically anything could have happened during this apparent fugue state, like maybe I knocked someone’s teeth in, but my hands were clean and undamaged, or perhaps I tried to put my dick somewhere it didn’t belong, though my dick appeared unsullied. Maybe I just got up and changed my clothes and fell back into bed. In any case I was going through the Stilnox faster than I should have. But my therapist, being the kind and thoughtful person she was, said that it was no problem if I ran out because she can write another prescription.

10.

Anyone who knows meds knows that swallowing fourteen Stilnox will no doubt make you witless and dippy, and you’ll stumble around and make calls to every person in your phone’s Contacts and not remember any of it, but it’ll hardly kill you. On the other hand, swallowing fourteen Stilnox with a few open-throated gulps of beer, after an extended night of pints, and washing it down with two full bottles of soju is ill-advised and altogether bad bad bad. The trouble lay not so much in the overdose itself, or even in the collective chemical effects of the pills and alcohol. That amount of alcohol alone was probably enough, depending on body weight and tolerance, to approach poisoning. The real danger was what those substances might cause you to do. For instance, they might have the opposite of their intended effects: rather than knocking you out, as one would expect with prescription sleeping pills and/or large quantities of alcohol, they might jolt you upright and guide you awkwardly out the door and onto the sidewalk tryin to keep your pants up as you go then SMACK! against the concrete and upright again and SMACK!! once more. And if you’re unlucky enough to make it as far as the busy intersection at the end of the block, you might find yourself wandering into traffic, and only a matter of time before a car or bus comes along to collide at a shocking velocity with your near-stationary slumping form, and being subsequently tossed many meters from where you stood seconds before, now an inert body leaking fluids of a color heretofore unknown to any bystander. And where precisely would you be guided, if anywhere, after that? It’s anyone’s guess. I didn’t make it as far as the intersection probably. Last thing I felt was a burning mouthful of soju

and the strange contractions of my esophagus

pushing more than a dozen pills into

my stomach, and it probably wasn’t

going to kill me and I knew

that. But let’s be honest:

I was looking to hurt

someone, and I

was the only

one

around.

11.

When you’re a writer you’re supposed to establish a voice. They say: Find your voice! But if you’re down at the bottom of a ditch depressed and have no voice to speak of, voiceless as it were, how do you express that particular state? How do you voice voicelessness?

12.

In his memoir Darkness Visible, William Styron writes “Depression is a disorder of mood, so mysteriously painful and elusive in the way it becomes known to the self—to the mediating intellect—as to verge close to being beyond description.”

13.

If you watch a movie or tv show with the Closed Captioning turned on, pay close attention to any scene in which no characters are speaking and no sound effects or music are playing. Occasionally the word silence will appear in brackets at the bottom of the screen. Like this: [SILENCE]. Presumably it is important for the listener who cannot hear to know that, during these scenes, there is silence.

14.

Whenever I visit a museum or watch a play or film in a theater, I notice a tendency among some viewers to softly vocalize a sigh, more than a breath but less than an open-mouthed exclamation, and always somehow deliberate. What do they mean to convey? To me it always feels grating because a little false, as if those viewers simply cannot abide the notion that a person’s interior, where it is always silent, can’t be voiced finally.

15.

It is tempting to believe that, in the silent recollection of the past, there’s a way to see things as they really are. But neither the past nor the present are entirely transparent. They never open themselves completely, and never will, to reveal the dark matter that may or may not inhabit their secret insides. Heidegger wrote that in no case is the Human-Being “set before the open country of a ‘world-in-itself,’ so that it just beholds what it encounters.” His language is figurative, but it could be taken literally. The open country—the foreign place, your hometown, history, memory, or anywhere—is never entirely open. And the traveler doesn’t ever just see what is right there in front of him—a world free of interpretation—even with respect to himself. There’s always a mediating force, like intellect for Styron. The secret interior, if indeed there is one, must remain secret.

16.

Ludwig Wittgenstein pointed out that it’s senseless to say I know I’m scared. There is no knowing in this case, since knowing necessitates criteria outside the knower. There can be no outside confirmation of what goes on inside, in the interior. You just say I’m scared.

17.

The final proposition of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

18.

Yes. Silence.

19.

( )

20.

But there’s still the matter of the parentheses, which signify something.

21.

 

22.

But there’s still the matter of a chapter heading, which says something.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

24.

But there’s still the matter of the blank page, bound by pages of sentences, bound by chapters, bound by the front and back covers of a book, set on a bookshelf in a brick-and-mortar store, or uploaded to one or several online retailers, bound by the coded language of digitization which, when translated, reads like perfectly intelligible English sentences whose meanings can be readily understood by the fluent reader.

25.

The Silence can speak only insofar as it is not-silence; it can speak only as a state we refer to as—silence.

26.

Light

devoid of

life leaked into

the room through the shades.

The heavy fabric made it easy to confuse

day for night, or mid-winter for late winter. One could not tell,

under the weight of the down comforter, what had happened or what was going to

happen. The window had cracked open a sliver, and the wind whistled

as high as the whimper of a dog that’s been

struck by a car until its body ceases

to fill with air. The last

breath drifts quietly

along a dim

road into

the unlit

night.

27.

It’s sort of like playing detective. Rising from bed after 48 hours lying supine. After hours and hours of blank. I made my way at least once to the toilet, halfway bent over the whole way there and back. Reached towards the half-sized fridge to retrieve a bottle of water. I wanted to piece together the events that spanned the blankness and reconstitute some rough picture of what had happened. Not an actual picture, or even a thought-picture. The blankness was a void from which nothing would return. Any attempt to penetrate it would require an effort of imagination.

Last image before blanking: tipping forward with reckless disregard for the concrete and wobbly and didn’t get a good look at the fuzzy world outside too preoccupied with trying to keep my pants up for some reason they’d come undone. First image after blanking: in hospital pajamas standing before the locked door to my apartment building and a t-shirt that didn’t belong to me and the same incessant synthetic version of Beethoven’s Fur Elise that you hear in every apartment building in the country and who keeps ringing the damn bell? Oh, it’s me. A round magnetic peg, attached by a string, dangled from my cell phone. Like a three-dimensional puzzle the peg, when fitted in a small round cavity in the lock, opened the door. But putting a round peg in a round hole required too much of a coordinated effort at that moment. A neighbor, probably the loud one, kindly let me in.

The first thing to do when doing detective work is to establish a timeline of events: I kept the books in my apartment stacked meticulously on the desk. There was a design to the truncated columns: the stack of books on South Asia; the Korean-language-books stack; the Hindi-language stack; the stack I was currently reading; the stack I was planning to read; the stack I had owned for a dozen years or more and had always meant to read; the stack of early twentieth century fiction; the stack of American poetry, which consisted of a single, fat Oxford volume covering the years from Anne Bradstreet to Edward Hirsch. And so on. Next to the stacks of books is where I kept the plastic pharma bag from Ajou University Hospital. It contained a surplus of Stilnox, fourteen in all. I had not been taking them for several days or maybe a week or more. I had been hoarding them. And somewhere between the first and second bottles of soju I poured the fourteen pills from the plastic bag into my palm and gulped them down.

Like I said, my memory went blank after that. I needed clues, which meant examining the scene (my apartment) for evidence. In no particular order I found: 1. A loose plastic bag containing one t-shirt and one pair of jeans soiled with urine and feces (oops! (I wanted to be blasé about the whole thing, like, been there done that, which I had (been there and done that, that is) years before in Seattle during an alcohol-induced trip to the Emergency Room)) 2. A busted plastic drying rack (must have fallen into it on the way to the toilet or out the door) 3. A pattern of scrapes and bruises on my face and along the right side of the body, the worst being: bruises on my forehead, the deep purple hues of which had already begun to dissolve into bilious yellow; a large scrape on my right temple; a larger and deeper scrape on my right shoulder; a charcoal bruise the size of a baseball on my right hip (the coincidence of bruises and scrapes on the right side suggested that I hit the sidewalk with that side of my body, probably more than once) 4. One receipt that had been crumpled and tossed into the small orange plastic garbage bin under the kitchen sink; it came from a hospital in Yongin not far from where I lived and displayed a line-item list of procedures (after consulting the Korean-English dictionary in my cell phone, I learned that the good people of whatever hospital in Yongin I’d been taken to had performed among other procedures a CT scan, probably to check for broken bones or other internal injuries in my face and torso; the entire bill remarkably amounted to less than two-hundred thousand won (about two hundred dollars), a testament to the affordability of healthcare in Korea. 5. By some unlikely stroke of undeserved fortune (and despite the loss of dignity, confidence, self-worth, etc.) I had not lost my wallet, my cell phone, my bank cards, my cash, my jacket (unfortunately I had puked on my jacket and was thus forced to ditch it in a dumpster (or was this part of the aforementioned drunken episode in Seattle?)).

What’s strange is that the terror, the real terribleness of life, struck like a clock strikes twelve. Nothing so very interesting about twelve o’clock, post meridian or ante meridian. Either the sun sticks stupidly to its zenith. Or it’s dark. But it was an ordinary day in a bland apartment in the well-to-do neighborhood of Heungdeok. No especially unusual life event had transpired. No major upheavals had taken place. About a year prior, in the winter of 2011, several shells had exploded on a South Korean island near the maritime border with the North. It was clear the artillery had come from the North, though they would deny it like they always did. Three people died, including one civilian, the first time a civilian had died since the ceasefire decades before. But even this felt like the distant past in the awkwardly-shaped apartment with the heavy curtains blocking any trace of a cold golden January sunset. I was scared.
1.

It was spring and spring was the best time in Korea to be outside circling the neighborhood. The crisp air leftover from winter idled. A good time for a brisk walk. Warm enough to make you feel like one of those characters in a comic strip with the sweat drops hanging in mid-air. But not enough to not feel cool in the shade. It was either the end of April or the beginning of May. I lived in Woncheon-dong, a district of Suwon situated next to the sprawling headquarters of Samsung Electronics. You could see the main tower from almost anywhere. A sort of navigational landmark. A way of orienting yourself. Finding your bearings. As arbitrary as the position of a star. So, at the end of April or the beginning of May, I pointed myself in the direction of the Samsung tower, keeping close to a man-made stream called Oncheon-cheon that sat below street level. It looked like Cheonggyecheon in Seoul, but smaller and modestly adorned and dirty. The brown water of the unfinished stream and the high-rise apartments that enclosed the neighborhood and the intermittent whiff of sewage or rotting garbage or animal flesh cooking on a grill somewhere. I began to sweat for real and it was all too much so I turned around and pointed myself back towards my apartment building. Which I could not see from where I was. Along the way above the stream a small object on the sidewalk ahead of me appeared. Not appeared so much as occurred. Like an event. More than mere being. It projected the fleshy brilliance of a living thing. I stopped a few feet from it and started again. Then I was standing over it, and I recognized it at once. It was a hornet. But I didn’t recognize it. Its size, as big as a Hot Wheels car, threw me. I looked up to see if anyone else was approaching. Someone who could make some sense of it for me. Those happy children playing there? No. That pair of women up ahead, more polyester than flesh?

No one came. I stood and stared for a few minutes. I must have seen hundreds of bees and hornets in my life. But never a word from anyone about this. Not the teachers at my school or my students or my girlfriend or my girlfriend’s parents. But wait—a young man approached the spot where it lay. I had by this time walked ahead to the crosswalk. The young man, Korean and old enough to have a reasonably firm grasp on reality, flew three feet in the air as he passed it. This couldn’t have been mere coincidence. Surely he saw it. Unless he was jumpy by temperament. Jumping at all manner of perfectly benign sights and sounds: a car door closing, a child’s voice rising in increments, a fallen crumpled leaf, the contrails of a jet plane expanding like an explosion in slow motion, the limp and lifeless body sinking to the ocean floor. He must have seen it. Unless he had a neurodegenerative disease and the jump was involuntary. If you thought about it long enough, there was an infinite number of possible explanations. Each as unlikely as the next.

Just a few keywords in the Google search bar the next day: large bee Korea. Something appeared: the Asian Giant Hornet. The Wikipedia entry was sparse. I read carefully. The Asian Giant Hornet is native to temperate and tropical Eastern Asia; sometimes called the yak-killer hornet; its body length is about two inches; its stinger is six millimeters; in Korea it’s called jangsu malbul (commander bee); it kills between 30 and 40 people every year in Japan. The hornets in the photos matched the one I had seen. It was a relief: putting a name to it, describing its anatomy, delimiting its geographic distribution, detailing the effects of the venom in its stinger. But something continued to press down on me. Continued to exert a pressure like a stinger that penetrates the epidermis, detaches, and sinks beneath the skin. The body of its owner, the hornet, rattles, then petrifies in a matter of seconds. Rebounds a little as it hits the ground, unresponsive. The sting is a needle circulating through your body, a thousand tiny hollow needles stinging your insides in unison. Even that same day: the thought once more, and again and again, of the hornet on the ground above Oncheon-cheon three blocks from where I slept. I had to go back. See if it was still there. It was dark as I got close to the spot. I wanted to know that it hadn’t flown away. That it was still lying inert on the sidewalk and dead. That its giant striped smooth thorax and gaster weren’t buzzing around the neighborhood. There was nothing there. It had gone. Swept aside unwittingly, or deliberately, by some unsuspecting pedestrian. Or perhaps lifted by its own wings through a still vital agency and carried away to almost anywhere. It wasn’t summer yet. The onset of night still tempered the air. My body stiffened. I closed my jacket tight.

2.

Depression is said to be an unutterable condition. Naturally then it has inspired a proliferation of descriptors and figurative language. Depression is a disease, a mental illness, an affliction, a mood disorder, a cognitive instability, a neurobiological imbalance, a malfunctioning brain. It is disabling, demanding, maddening, destructive, agitating, painful, fatal. It affects appetite, sleep, energy, stress levels, self-esteem, concentration, motor activity, libido. It ruins careers, marriages, friendships, families. Depression is the Black Dog, a phrase sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill. Sylvia Plath said dark moods were akin to the emptiness in the “eye of a tornado.” For the title of his book The Noonday Demon, Andrew Solomon borrows a phrase from the Christian monk John Cassian, who first encountered it in Psalm Ninety of the Old Testament. In addition to the title of his book, Solomon reiterates some of the more popular metaphors. One is the image of a precipice that drops sharply into a dark, and presumably endless, hole. Depression is like standing on the edge of the precipice. To describe his own depression, Solomon uses the image of a massive oak around which a snaking vine has wrapped itself. The oak was a real tree in a wood where he had played as a child. When Solomon returned to the wood as an adult, the vine and the leaves it had sprouted were, from a distance, hard to distinguish from the oak itself. In another section of the book titled “Breakdowns,” Solomon says that in Depression “you are in touch with the real terribleness of your life.” The real terribleness—a terror, incomprehensible, and all too present.

It’s no wonder then that Kafka picked a bug to give voice to Gregor Samsa’s alienation—the grotesque vermin waking to an utterly ordinary day. It’s the same with the giant hornet: a thing at once ordinary (hornet) and alien (giant). It’s hard to forget, the hornet. It gets stuck in your head. For months, stuck in your ears and with growing frequency scratches and shrieks without warning. The imagined apparition of it overtakes you as a thick layer of sweat would, accumulating larvae-like on a muggy June night. Then the horizon flashes white once or twice. What was green is now covered thinly in razor-sharp stubble. Rough filament, black and yellow, overspreads the foliage. The cobalt horizon expands. Slow burial beneath the prickly firmament: [vespa mandarinia]

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0
// ( ) \\
// \\
// ! \\

This, of course, is not the literal account, only an account of feeling. Your mood, your whole interior, is overtaken by something that seems exterior but isn’t and collapses into itself suddenly. The whole gets smaller. Smaller and smaller. A catastrophic density. A singularity. A metaphor in any case—so heavy and narrow and nothing.

3.

It was October again, after exactly three years I found myself in Korea still. If you stay put long enough, at the same job or apartment, you begin to recognize the people around you by the sound their walking makes. The cadence of the steps: hurried or deliberate. The magnitude of each footfall: light and uncertain, or bounding and weightless, or as heavy as concrete. You recognize the person approaching much as a dog would. You take things for granted and don’t like to be surprised. You prefer that tomorrow look just like today.

I stayed put at the same school and the same apartment for three years. But the school lost its funding for my job so I had to move on. The new school and apartment were not far from the old ones. Most things looked and felt the same, generally. But the overall design—at the kimbap joint or eMart or Lotteria—felt scattered. The shift came as faint as a puff of air, no stronger than a breath. 1.5 liters of Hite beer felt like 1.5 liters. A pint of Hoegaarden was a pint. A single bottle of soju was just that—but not quite. Like, for example, behind my old apartment building a wide busy road stretched east to west. On the opposite side of the road I would take an express bus almost every weekend to Sadang Station in Seoul. I noticed one Sunday afternoon not long before I moved a small wobbly man on the bench. He was dressed casually, like any middle-class thirty-something Korean man, except there was a trail of darkly congealed stuff coming from the bottom of one pant leg, and his eyeballs kind of floated in his skull. Although there was no distinct smell, I, being unable to distinguish the finer shades of color, could not tell if it was red or brown down his leg and could not say for sure that it was not shit or blood. When I approached the bench he sort of smiled at me and raised his eyebrows several times, and as the bus pulled away I watched him fade into the dusty sidewalk and dirt-brown horizon.

What I mean to say is—I had to quit drinking for real this time right after I moved into my new apartment. And I did and made it through thirty-six hours of sobriety before heading to the convenience store up the street. And Lao Bar had opened a new location outside Ajou University, closer to where I lived so went straight there after emptying the plastic bottles. Straight down the wide staircase to where the bar was underground. Three straight pints. Threw darts straight at the board or tried to. More pints, one followed straight after another. Went on and on until daylight, finally. Another bright October morning. And cold. Gotta get my phone fixed. Gotta get to school. There he goes. Can you see him? Disappearing into that

3 cont’d.

bright October morning.

I don’t think my girlfriend liked me very much. Back in the spring and summer I kept going back to Baek Nam June Art Center and kept retracing the same paths through the installations and at the patio next to the cafe and up a hill behind the building outside through a small wooded area with different girls. It began to feel like a recurring dream. But now I was with the girl I had been with more than a year before when she drove me to Ajou University Hospital during the onset of my viral meningitis. She didn’t like me very much. We went to Imjingak in Paju near the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). There were periscopes through which the physical landscape of the north was made visible as mountains peeking over the South’s hills in the foreground. Due north. That strange north, so close you could spit on it, but we didn’t. Everyone wanted a look-see, Koreans and foreigners alike, even a few Germans, and sent long or short looks northwards trying to extrapolate something with our gaze, as if the staring itself were a silent password that would force it open. Most of the onlookers assumed the river running east to west was the natural demarcation line, and that the train crossing the bridge that spanned the river was effectively entering hostile territory, which is why we watched enthralled and anxious. What would happen to the train once it reached the other side? Would it return eventually, or vanish inside the fairy-tale nightmare? One more ghost among the pitiable souls who were told what to say and think and how to die. Looking through the periscope, one felt a collective sympathy hovering about, touching all persons regardless of national origin. We guessed that the people in the North probably weren’t allowed to feel sympathy. And because there was nothing perilous about the ground where we stood, it being solid and airy and open, we found ourselves transported suddenly to the winding line at Popeyes waiting to order fried chicken and soda. Perhaps one of those large-sized sodas that had the little basket built into the top so you could drink your soda and intermittently pop an oily nugget into your mouth. And because the free individual exercising his or her personal liberties can work up a thirst in the June heat, my girlfriend and I popped in to a cafe on the opposite side of a meadow covered in paper windmills, which stood for peace, we assumed. The god-awful heavy air made me sluggish and so I ordered a triple-shot iced mocha (one needed an iced mocha to stay cool). There was not a single shaded space at Imjingak, which could really make for an unpleasant afternoon. We briefly considered the amusement rides and the trinkets for sale and staged a mock duel with two wooden swords, and then headed back to Suwon. The rain came down hard because it was almost summer. Restless ennui of Sunday evening. Italian food sounded good. In the parking garage of the shopping complex there was an advertisement for the movie Moneyball, which was due for theatrical release soon thereafter. And I was like: I really wanna see that movie, and she was like: me too!

My girlfriend told me to meet her in Guun-dong on the western side of Suwon not far from where Y lived. It had been a long time since I’d seen Y and I wonder how she’s doing. My girlfriend and I sat on the floor of a galbi restaurant and ordered pork galbi. She said: let’s be friends. Because it wasn’t working out. But could she not understand that it required work in order to work out? No, she thought I was small-minded and what the fuck is that supposed to mean anyways? But I’ll tell you what I was outta there. Before she could finish explaining to me my small-mindedness and the meat was still raw on the grill. I paid first but I was outta there. We were on a sidewalk arguing and I was outta there at the bus stop on the phone with B. It was Saturday night: of course I’m gonna have a fuckin’ drink.

4.

For a while we were all about 88 (read: double eight). 88—yeah the place so many months before we had tried but couldn’t find from Gangnam Station to Apgujeong in the dead morning hours Seoul goes by as intermittent howling dark and streaking light. Didn’t know left from right. But it was Shinsa Station, not Apgujeong, that night the thoroughfare packed wall-to-wall only hours before was dead, deserted, and trying to find something up and down the empty grid was like chasing ghosts. 88 didn’t usually get going until 3 or 4 in the morning and closed at some unknown hour. Never there to see it close, even after we called it a night and emerged vampirically to find that the bright October morning had nearly slipped by us. We heard the music thumping underground, even as we ducked into a taxi, the beats rebounding from the walls of the mouth of the club at the sidewalk. It kept going without us. No one could say for sure when it stopped. We always went to Lao Bar at the beginning of the night. That’s how we knew it was the beginning, because we were at Lao Bar. And I would say to B: we’re not going to 88 tonight. It was too late and too far. So we would bum around soju road and I’d say: we’re not going to 88 tonight, and I’d tap B on the shoulder and say: we’re not going. And B would grab my arm and say: we’re definitely not going bro, and he’d push his hand against my shoulder to give me a good look in the eye and say: we’re not going to 88. And we always went to 88. We always said eighty-eight, not double eight. There was never a line to get inside and always a line to check your coat. The coat-check line terminated at the bottom of a winding staircase where a young man or woman would take your stuff and hand you a little laminated ticket. At first it didn’t seem like a good trade off: all our stuff for a ticket. But it was what the ticket signified that meant something. Temporarily standing in for our stuff so we didn’t have to carry it around the club. We were unencumbered as long as we had the ticket in our back pockets and salivated at the possibilities. We wanted to carry the ticket with us wherever we went. It could stand for practically anything. After a while we didn’t even want our stuff back.

5.

I leaned against the bathroom window frame with my arm hanging out whenever I smoked. It was winter and freezing cold. The one good thing about winters was there weren’t any mosquitoes. In the summer the mosquitoes got bad, and sometimes you’d start from sleep with the sibilant humming of wings echoing in your eardrums and slap your own face in the dark to extinguish the noise, and the blood, your own blood, would congeal and petrify in flecks and streaks on your skin; other times you’d see them congregating around street lamps in the evening when it cools down; drawn to the heat, they’d trace irregular vectors through the air, like sparks from a fire, confused, seeking a live body from which they could draw blood but which never materialized. A frozen pile of ash and mouth drippings took shape on the exterior of the window sill. The smell of cigarette smoke is always the smell of bars and clubs and a dangerous and unhinged racing through time without light. B thought I was straight up crazy sometimes. The sort of person who kept secrets and human skulls in his freezer. The walls separating the apartments in the building where I lived were paper thin. The owners must have converted the ground floor into residential units and just thrown up cheap plywood. It wouldn’t have been so bad had I not been able to hear every movement, vocalization, cough, sniff, fart, slam, rustle, crackle and whisper coming from next door. It was like being underwater, the way sound travels so efficiently. I heard everything, including his girlfriend’s whimpering during sex. I even heard his cell phone when it vibrated on a hard surface. There were no curtains for the large window above my bed. Rather than drilling a proper holder for the rod into the wall, I bought extra strong suction cups and placed one on the top corners of the window to hold up the curtain rod. But the curtain I bought was thick and heavy, so occasionally the suction cups would detach and the curtains and rod would come tumbling down onto the bed while I was asleep waking me up in a momentary panic. I needed a drying rack. There are no drying machines in Korea. I was anxious about not flossing. Needed more garbage bags. Felt bad about squashing a spider. Not just a twinge after the fact either, but a real blubbering sort of remorse. When I squashed it it dragged itself around in little circles while its legs lay next to it on the floor. Useless scraps. There is something remarkable and unnerving in how calmly the animated breath of a life, the soul, can be pinched until it is nothing. Everything engaged in its own meandering struggle. The microbes under the lip of the toilet.

The supervisor at my new school was nice. And the vice principal and principal were nice. And the students were nice. One of my co-teachers was not so nice. I’m sure there were people who thought she was nice, and they probably weren’t wrong. But I was not one of those people. I told my supervisor I was depressed and thinking about quitting and that I had made an appointment to see a psychiatrist and that I was not the sort of person who thought my co-teacher was nice. She was surprised. But she was nice so she said:

alright,

and I asked her if I could leave early to go to Ajou University Hospital and she said:

alright.

I had to see a primary care doctor in the Family and Community Health Clinic first. After a clumsy and inefficient description of my symptoms, the doctor’s mouth opened just a little and his head tilted back. He understood at last that I needed a referral before I could see a psychiatrist. So he said:

alright,

and punched a few keys on the keyboard of the computer, where all information, implicitly or explicitly, resides.

The Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Clinic looked different than the other clinics. Different than Urology or Family and Community Health or the Injections Room. Those clinics had wide, spacious lobbies. They didn’t have thick metal doors at their entrances that were flush with the hospital walls. They didn’t have any doors, just an opening. But the Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Clinic had big heavy doors. One could only imagine how many depressed individuals seeking help gave up after one or two halfhearted tugs at the door. There were no windows in the lobby looking out to the vaulted rotunda, a long shaft of space a long way down and nothing to stop you except the ground. In the PBSC waiting area the rows of seats were so compressed that I had to cross my legs to keep my knees from jamming into the seat in front of me. But it was alright because there was almost never anyone else in the waiting area when I was there and if there was they didn’t sit directly in front of me. And it’s not long before the doctor, a middle-aged guy, called my name. I explained my symptoms to him and he said:

alright,

but actually I’m not sure exactly what he said. But it’s alright because depression makes you so fuzzy—trouble sleeping, irritability, a gnawing sense that everything has gone wrong, guilt, colorless reality, anger. The doctor was a psychopharmacologist, and the first line of treatment was medication. He prescribed Lexapro for my depression and anxiety and Stilnox for my insomnia. He said it would take several weeks before the antidepressants had any marked effect on my mood, if they had any effect at all. Much of psychiatric medicine is a protracted trial-and-error process with drugs that have been approved after their own incredibly long and expensive trials. The doctor wrapped things up in less than thirty minutes and with what I could only surmise was his attempt at parting pep talk: life is for living, and so on. The man had a point after all, so I thought:

alright.

6.

It was January when I headed to Hongdae alone. The bus from Heungdeok dropped me at Myeongdong Station with a bladder fit to pop. I weaved through the pedestrians on the sidewalk and bounded down the stairs, three at a time, to the station’s innards. Advancing farther and farther from the exits, I noticed several nondescript long lumps lined against the wall. They were human-shaped and moving in barely discernible expansions and contractions. The lumps, sleeping bags or garbage bags or piles of flattened cardboard, were breathing. The station, which by day screamed with shoppers, became a makeshift, unauthorized shelter for homeless men. They probably wanted somewhere to get out of the cold even though it was pretty cold in the station but not as cold as outside. There wasn’t anything to be done at the time except jump into a taxi to Sangsu Station and with haste get pickled more than any reasonable person should want to. But things were alright until the very end when three assholes in a fancy car honked their horn and ruined my good time. Ruined it enough for me to feel compelled to kick their fancy car, fuck ‘em anyways, fuckin’ assholes, not happy about that dent, eh? It’s hardly anything at all lighten up fucking jagoff, break yer fuckin’ arm sonsabitches, none too happy eh? Well crawl back to your obscene condo, go hide in your girlfriend’s vagina, because no one could hardly see that ding against the deep black finish of your stupid fancy fuckhead car.

7.

Saturday night and all kinds of things were happening all over and I wanted to check it out for myself. I boarded a bus to Seoul for a few harmless drinks—a gentleman’s night out. Gentle-man because there was only one of me, but that was plenty. A crowd of one, really, because I ended up kicking the driver’s side door of an impressive-looking automobile, damaging it to the point where the driver and his passengers were compelled to detain me against the sliding metal gates of a storefront and at least once resisted my attempts to slip away. All things considered, they were very considerate and it was quite right of them to make sure I stayed put until a police officer arrived, and the officer asked for my Alien Registration Card, which I promptly produced without objection. He asked me some questions about the scuffle. I said to him: these three young gentlemen were driving rather fast through the narrow pedestrian alleyway, and as an Alien Resident I felt obligated to nudge their car in another direction, or at the very least to gently notify them of the potential danger of speeding through a narrow street filled with inebriated pedestrians. The officer scribbled notes in a little black notepad and asked me the name of my employer, which was the name of my school, which I tried to pronounce as clearly as I could, which was difficult for a number of reasons the most relevant being: that I was irretrievably wrecked; that I wasn’t a native speaker of Korean; that the name of my school was uncommon and therefore unfamiliar to plenty of Koreans. He looked at me as if the name I spoke were alien to him.

8.

Feelin’ jumpy. Springy, though it was winter, and hopped aboard a bus bound for the city of perpetually expanding light. 6 a.m. in Hongdae on a Sunday morning is nothing but throngs of boys and girls moving at the same halting pace under a dim mid-winter sky. It was the pace of any congested mass of discrete objects. Or subjects, as it were. In the same direction every time. Destination: Hongik-ipgu yeok. Despite the crowds a few cars tried to inch their way through the narrow alley, the fools. Naturally they deserved a good kick in the pants, or door as it were. But they didn’t see it that way I suppose and called the police. Police left after not doing much. In Korea there is a not uncommon way of settling personal disputes. Bypassing the law to avoid official charges. I offered the driver some money to nip the whole thing in the bud. He could see I was in a bind, so he and his two friends, the passengers, escorted me to an ATM where I transferred exactly 4 million won (approximately 4,000 dollars) into one or the other’s bank account. It was only fair since it would have probably cost 4 million won to replace the door panel, which is what the driver said he’d have to do and he was probably telling the truth. Plus it was my fault. And honestly I really didn’t mean to KICK! the door like that, and as I blurted out the word kick with some special thrust in my voice and threw a real kick into the air as a reenactment, I very nearly inadvertently kicked the damn car door again. So I said: whoa close one. And the three of them stared at me blankly. And that was their problem, y’know. They could not see the humor in it. They were humorless. And if you’re gonna go through life humorless, then you might as well be dead.

9.

I had a weekly talk-therapy appointment at AUH. The doctor was young and pretty and spoke English well because she had lived in the Philippines for several years. In an email she wrote: you will do most of the talking and I will be there mostly to listen. And I thought: good. I said a lot of things to her during our first session. She was nice, and I was wearing a heavy peacoat and felt warm but didn’t remove it even though I was perspiring. I told her about how my girlfriend didn’t like me and how I went shopping alone and remorsefully squashed insects and drank oceans of alcohol. She wanted to know about the meds. I told her I hadn’t noticed any adverse side effects, and she said: good, because sometimes antidepressants can have unwanted side effects like nausea and penile flaccidity and delayed ejaculation. None of that worried me. I was worried about the Stilnox though. What I didn’t know was that Stilnox is a hypnotic drug, no different from Ambien except in name, and can have euphoric effects similar to Xanax. I had noticed these effects after taking two pills when I was supposed to take just one. Two pills were a dull pleasure, bouncy, a tiny morsel of lightness, and I smoked through half a pack of cigs before going to sleep. Then I took three pills. Three pills were like falling into bed melting into the springs of the mattress while listening to music on my iPod nano. I tried five pills one night and woke up trying to figure out what time it was. It was dark, so it must have been early evening or late night or early morning. What did 5 o’clock mean exactly? And why was I wearing a different shirt and pants than I had been wearing when I swallowed the pills? It worried me. Practically anything could have happened during this apparent fugue state, like maybe I knocked someone’s teeth in, but my hands were clean and undamaged, or perhaps I tried to put my dick somewhere it didn’t belong, though my dick appeared unsullied. Maybe I just got up and changed my clothes and fell back into bed. In any case I was going through the Stilnox faster than I should have. But my therapist, being the kind and thoughtful person she was, said that it was no problem if I ran out because she can write another prescription.

10.

Anyone who knows meds knows that swallowing fourteen Stilnox will no doubt make you witless and dippy, and you’ll stumble around and make calls to every person in your phone’s Contacts and not remember any of it, but it’ll hardly kill you. On the other hand, swallowing fourteen Stilnox with a few open-throated gulps of beer, after an extended night of pints, and washing it down with two full bottles of soju is ill-advised and altogether bad bad bad. The trouble lay not so much in the overdose itself, or even in the collective chemical effects of the pills and alcohol. That amount of alcohol alone was probably enough, depending on body weight and tolerance, to approach poisoning. The real danger was what those substances might cause you to do. For instance, they might have the opposite of their intended effects: rather than knocking you out, as one would expect with prescription sleeping pills and/or large quantities of alcohol, they might jolt you upright and guide you awkwardly out the door and onto the sidewalk tryin to keep your pants up as you go then SMACK! against the concrete and upright again and SMACK!! once more. And if you’re unlucky enough to make it as far as the busy intersection at the end of the block, you might find yourself wandering into traffic, and only a matter of time before a car or bus comes along to collide at a shocking velocity with your near-stationary slumping form, and being subsequently tossed many meters from where you stood seconds before, now an inert body leaking fluids of a color heretofore unknown to any bystander. And where precisely would you be guided, if anywhere, after that? It’s anyone’s guess. I didn’t make it as far as the intersection probably. Last thing I felt was a burning mouthful of soju

and the strange contractions of my esophagus

pushing more than a dozen pills into

my stomach, and it probably wasn’t

going to kill me and I knew

that. But let’s be honest:

I was looking to hurt

someone, and I

was the only

one

around.

11.

When you’re a writer you’re supposed to establish a voice. They say: Find your voice! But if you’re down at the bottom of a ditch depressed and have no voice to speak of, voiceless as it were, how do you express that particular state? How do you voice voicelessness?

12.

In his memoir Darkness Visible, William Styron writes “Depression is a disorder of mood, so mysteriously painful and elusive in the way it becomes known to the self—to the mediating intellect—as to verge close to being beyond description.”

13.

If you watch a movie or tv show with the Closed Captioning turned on, pay close attention to any scene in which no characters are speaking and no sound effects or music are playing. Occasionally the word silence will appear in brackets at the bottom of the screen. Like this: [SILENCE]. Presumably it is important for the listener who cannot hear to know that, during these scenes, there is silence.

14.

Whenever I visit a museum or watch a play or film in a theater, I notice a tendency among some viewers to softly vocalize a sigh, more than a breath but less than an open-mouthed exclamation, and always somehow deliberate. What do they mean to convey? To me it always feels grating because a little false, as if those viewers simply cannot abide the notion that a person’s interior, where it is always silent, can’t be voiced finally.

15.

It is tempting to believe that, in the silent recollection of the past, there’s a way to see things as they really are. But neither the past nor the present are entirely transparent. They never open themselves completely, and never will, to reveal the dark matter that may or may not inhabit their secret insides. Heidegger wrote that in no case is the Human-Being “set before the open country of a ‘world-in-itself,’ so that it just beholds what it encounters.” His language is figurative, but it could be taken literally. The open country—the foreign place, your hometown, history, memory, or anywhere—is never entirely open. And the traveler doesn’t ever just see what is right there in front of him—a world free of interpretation—even with respect to himself. There’s always a mediating force, like intellect for Styron. The secret interior, if indeed there is one, must remain secret.

16.

Ludwig Wittgenstein pointed out that it’s senseless to say I know I’m scared. There is no knowing in this case, since knowing necessitates criteria outside the knower. There can be no outside confirmation of what goes on inside, in the interior. You just say I’m scared.

17.

The final proposition of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

18.

Yes. Silence.

19.

( )

20.

But there’s still the matter of the parentheses, which signify something.

21.

 

22.

But there’s still the matter of a chapter heading, which says something.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

24.

But there’s still the matter of the blank page, bound by pages of sentences, bound by chapters, bound by the front and back covers of a book, set on a bookshelf in a brick-and-mortar store, or uploaded to one or several online retailers, bound by the coded language of digitization which, when translated, reads like perfectly intelligible English sentences whose meanings can be readily understood by the fluent reader.

25.

The Silence can speak only insofar as it is not-silence; it can speak only as a state we refer to as—silence.

26.

Light

devoid of

life leaked into

the room through the shades.

The heavy fabric made it easy to confuse

day for night, or mid-winter for late winter. One could not tell,

under the weight of the down comforter, what had happened or what was going to

happen. The window had cracked open a sliver, and the wind whistled

as high as the whimper of a dog that’s been

struck by a car until its body ceases

to fill with air. The last

breath drifts quietly

along a dim

road into

the unlit

night.

27.

It’s sort of like playing detective. Rising from bed after 48 hours lying supine. After hours and hours of blank. I made my way at least once to the toilet, halfway bent over the whole way there and back. Reached towards the half-sized fridge to retrieve a bottle of water. I wanted to piece together the events that spanned the blankness and reconstitute some rough picture of what had happened. Not an actual picture, or even a thought-picture. The blankness was a void from which nothing would return. Any attempt to penetrate it would require an effort of imagination.

Last image before blanking: tipping forward with reckless disregard for the concrete and wobbly and didn’t get a good look at the fuzzy world outside too preoccupied with trying to keep my pants up for some reason they’d come undone. First image after blanking: in hospital pajamas standing before the locked door to my apartment building and a t-shirt that didn’t belong to me and the same incessant synthetic version of Beethoven’s Fur Elise that you hear in every apartment building in the country and who keeps ringing the damn bell? Oh, it’s me. A round magnetic peg, attached by a string, dangled from my cell phone. Like a three-dimensional puzzle the peg, when fitted in a small round cavity in the lock, opened the door. But putting a round peg in a round hole required too much of a coordinated effort at that moment. A neighbor, probably the loud one, kindly let me in.

The first thing to do when doing detective work is to establish a timeline of events: I kept the books in my apartment stacked meticulously on the desk. There was a design to the truncated columns: the stack of books on South Asia; the Korean-language-books stack; the Hindi-language stack; the stack I was currently reading; the stack I was planning to read; the stack I had owned for a dozen years or more and had always meant to read; the stack of early twentieth century fiction; the stack of American poetry, which consisted of a single, fat Oxford volume covering the years from Anne Bradstreet to Edward Hirsch. And so on. Next to the stacks of books is where I kept the plastic pharma bag from Ajou University Hospital. It contained a surplus of Stilnox, fourteen in all. I had not been taking them for several days or maybe a week or more. I had been hoarding them. And somewhere between the first and second bottles of soju I poured the fourteen pills from the plastic bag into my palm and gulped them down.

Like I said, my memory went blank after that. I needed clues, which meant examining the scene (my apartment) for evidence. In no particular order I found: 1. A loose plastic bag containing one t-shirt and one pair of jeans soiled with urine and feces (oops! (I wanted to be blasé about the whole thing, like, been there done that, which I had (been there and done that, that is) years before in Seattle during an alcohol-induced trip to the Emergency Room)) 2. A busted plastic drying rack (must have fallen into it on the way to the toilet or out the door) 3. A pattern of scrapes and bruises on my face and along the right side of the body, the worst being: bruises on my forehead, the deep purple hues of which had already begun to dissolve into bilious yellow; a large scrape on my right temple; a larger and deeper scrape on my right shoulder; a charcoal bruise the size of a baseball on my right hip (the coincidence of bruises and scrapes on the right side suggested that I hit the sidewalk with that side of my body, probably more than once) 4. One receipt that had been crumpled and tossed into the small orange plastic garbage bin under the kitchen sink; it came from a hospital in Yongin not far from where I lived and displayed a line-item list of procedures (after consulting the Korean-English dictionary in my cell phone, I learned that the good people of whatever hospital in Yongin I’d been taken to had performed among other procedures a CT scan, probably to check for broken bones or other internal injuries in my face and torso; the entire bill remarkably amounted to less than two-hundred thousand won (about two hundred dollars), a testament to the affordability of healthcare in Korea. 5. By some unlikely stroke of undeserved fortune (and despite the loss of dignity, confidence, self-worth, etc.) I had not lost my wallet, my cell phone, my bank cards, my cash, my jacket (unfortunately I had puked on my jacket and was thus forced to ditch it in a dumpster (or was this part of the aforementioned drunken episode in Seattle?)).

What’s strange is that the terror, the real terribleness of life, struck like a clock strikes twelve. Nothing so very interesting about twelve o’clock, post meridian or ante meridian. Either the sun sticks stupidly to its zenith. Or it’s dark. But it was an ordinary day in a bland apartment in the well-to-do neighborhood of Heungdeok. No especially unusual life event had transpired. No major upheavals had taken place. About a year prior, in the winter of 2011, several shells had exploded on a South Korean island near the maritime border with the North. It was clear the artillery had come from the North, though they would deny it like they always did. Three people died, including one civilian, the first time a civilian had died since the ceasefire decades before. But even this felt like the distant past in the awkwardly-shaped apartment with the heavy curtains blocking any trace of a cold golden January sunset. I was scared.

Tyler Arndt was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. He graduated from the University of Washington, Seattle in 2005 with a Bachelor’s in English Literature. He spent most of his 20’s writing poetry. Since 2012, he has been working on a memoir of the years he spent teaching ESL in South Korea. In September 2015 Tyler stayed at the Vermont Studio Center for two weeks as a resident in nonfiction writing. “Getting Gone” will be his first published work.