Although I moved to Korea, I grew into a slump. It must have been the fact that I spent a month in a hotel room as if I were Bob Harris. I wished I was on a trip towards self discovery, but I really was lost in translation.
I found myself taking online courses that alienated me from the prospect of human interaction. The crazy part was that this was self voluntary. I had the option to take physical classes on the military base a bus commute away, but I told myself “I didn’t need any friends. I’ve lost too many of them already.”
I thought that I escaped the question mark that was the future. I thought I would avoid the troubles of a postindustrial economy in America. However, I was still adrift in a metropolis in the Far East. Unemployed, not having enough “experience,” and not having many friends, I was wondering how the hell I was going to get back to fighting shape.
As a result of this slump I began to read more. I picked up novels that I only got halfway through in the past. Books like Catcher in the Rye or The Sun Also Rises. I took to reading almost a book every day, receiving the proper education that I needed outside the constraints of a thousand dollar tuition. I dissected a number of Eurocentrip books as well, some Satre, some Nietzche, and some Shakespeare. There was nothing more out of place than reading a bunch of dead white men’s manuscripts in an Eastern Asian country.
Because I wasn’t in America, I didn’t have to groan at the prospect of people telling me I was a hipster for reading these kinds of books. I was a foreigner once again, gobbling up American literature.
With a gym downstairs, I also made sure to keep in physical shape. I jogged for three miles on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I did weights on the days between. While I exercised, I listened to musicians I have never really delved into: a little bit of Prince, some Simon and Garfunkel, and plenty of Scott Walker. This cycle went along for a good month during the winter. Winter was a period for my own deep meditation, a time to weather the snow.
When my parents asked me what I was planning to do to return back to America, they interrogated me into a state of extreme self loathing. My chance for deep meditation was disturbed by the prospect of my future. Where was I going? What have all these books been teaching me in the first place? I wasn’t even writing as much as I was supposed to either.
I retreated deeper into the books, searching for the answer. At that moment, I wished that I had spiritual guidance, a person that would lead me to the end of the yellow brick road. I needed my wise old man. As a result, I picked up Kafka on the Shore, a book no other than the Haruki Murakami.
I identified with the fifteen year old protagonist throughout the whole text. Like Kafka, I felt a strange disconnection from everyone around me – my parents included. Employers from multiple trades rejected me like an orphan asking for spare change.
After I completed the book, I felt compelled to stand in front of a mirror and give my best thousand yard gaze. There were bags under my eyes. My hair was disheveled from lying down for a while. My eyes had been glued to the page for at least a couple of days, and I needed to take a walk. Being inside was the last place I wanted to be.
I brushed my teeth. I combed my hair. I washed my face. I tossed on blue jeans, a Hofstra hoodie, and brown Wallabees. I went out the door.
As I took a stroll onto the military base, I passed by the elementary school that my mom worked in. She had been working there ever since we moved to Seoul. She specialized in kids that were mentally challenged and needed extra patience that a normal teacher didn’t have. In other words, she was saint-like.
Passing by the school, my head went into a whirlpool. I sensed a complete flush of all the negativity from the rejection that I had been given. It must have been from all this fresh air I thought.
That’s it! I thought. That’s what I’ll be! If Kafka could do it, I’ll do it too!
On a whim, I entered into the elementary school’s front office and asked about volunteering for them. Money became the last thing on my mind. My prospect of finding a job finally went out of the window.
The front office responded with enthusiasm as they gave me paperwork to fill out. I filled out what seemed like 30 pages and handed it to the receptionist. She told me to come whenever I felt.
“Can I introduce myself to the librarians?” I asked
When I walked into the library, I noticed that it looked smaller than what I remembered as a kid. Of course, the only thing that had grown was me. I looked at my hand and imagined the size of a Harry Potter book in it then (in my small hands), and how it would look like now (still small hands).
“Hello, I’m your new volunteer. I was wondering when it would be convenient for me to come in” I asked.
“Oh, great. What’s your name?” they ask.
“Kris Santos,” I replied.
I shook their hands with great enthusiasm. The librarians responded with smiles. I exited the library with a profound hunger. It was the late afternoon, and I decided to treat myself to lunch.
As a few months passed, the kids came to the library and didn’t leave empty handed. They would run through the library, and I would tell them to slow down. It made no sense for them to be in a rush for anything. This one time, I sat behind the desk with a book on the counter. “What are you reading?” a kid asked.
I looked up and responded.
“I’m reading the story of my life!”