I saw an old neighbor and former classmate of mine at the Incheon International Airport. I don’t think he saw me. He was just another foreigner passing by in the terminal. He had a cane and that familiar limp. I knew the story behind his limp and the origin of his love for guns. Those are things no one else there could see. I knew about that because we had gone to school together in the States and because we had lived a few doors down from each other in the same apartment complex - because I had sat in his house drinking beer with him and he had told me the story.
I know he loves the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. I also know he is a Moonie. I knew the cause of his dark expression. I know about the daughter who would never walk. She must be five now.
I sat next to my wife. We'd been married less than a year. She didn’t know these thoughts that were passing through my head as he walked by, as I sat next to her holding her hand. These were thoughts from my past life, thoughts I had forgotten about, about people I never thought I'd see again.
She saw him too. To her, he was just a foreigner with a gloomy scowl, navigating through the airport during the holiday travel season in winter, limping along with his cane, gray-haired, tired.
I remembered his wife is also a foreigner here, but she is Japanese. In Korea, I imagine that she's not so comfortable sometimes. Koreans tend not to have fond thoughts of Japan as a neighbor country because of the years of Japan’s occupation and annexation of Korea until the end of the Second World War. It must be hard for her here, never able to fit in, caring for a daughter who will never have the use of her legs, and an aging husband ten years older than her, also ailing.
I understood the necessity of their having to live in Korea: the economic necessity of taking care of their daughter. Her medical bills would be exorbitant in the U.S. because we don’t have universal health care. I know why he is keeping his dead-end job and I can see that he is aging, just as I am. But he looks a lot grayer than when I last saw him more than four years ago in Seoul. I don’t think he has any idea I am here in Korea.
I see him. Do I say something? I am invisible to him. He is preoccupied. He is not happy. I'm sorry. I wrestle with my conscience. Now is my last chance. I decide and I watch him pass. He doesn’t see me. I feel guilty, but also relieved. On he goes. I hear the sound of the cane receding…click…click…click. Yes. I am relieved.
I know about how he was robbed in an alley in New York then shot in cold blood and left in the snow to die. He was found eight hours later - the damage to his spine was permanent. Now he loves guns. He can't keep his collection with him here in Korea. I'm sure they're all in storage somewhere in the western U.S. - in the wild west. His first wife left him. It was too much for her.
He found guns and he found a new religion. He found a new wife imported from Japan. He went to law school, passed the bar exam and incongruously...got a job in Korea teaching English at his spiritual leader’s own private university. They (the Moonies) believe Sun Myung Moon is the Second Coming of Christ, by the way. He and his new wife had a sweet and precocious baby girl in his advanced years…I know those things. I saw the girl when she was a baby. I think she'll be fine and in the long run, she'll make them happy. She was one of the smartest babies I ever saw.
So much has changed in my life since then. I don’t want to go through it all with him: my divorce, my new wife, my son coming to visit from the States, my new job, etc. I don’t want to arrange meetings with him out in the provinces where he teaches and I don’t want to think of excuses to cancel them. I just see, remember, let go. I don't know what it means.