I know the details of streets in another country that were once filled with smoke and tear gas. I sat on the very cobbles.
I relaxed in the sunshine today, enjoying company and listening to music that pulled me back to times of revolution and a fight for freedom.
Yes, I was there.
It was not so long ago that peoples fought for freedom from tyranny; they still fight today, in some parts of the world. In fact, perhaps, Americans too, will rejoinder and fight again for what they have lost, or rather, or given away. The Eagles sang "Hotel California" and the Scorpions crooned "Still Loving You". I sat in a circle of non-violence, listening to the strums of guitar and attempting to sing the much-coveted English lyrics of these songs.
Back then I did not seek center stage, and so the requests for song in English, alone among a circle of strangers, was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.
Up to that point.
"And I was thinking to myself, this could be heaven or this could be hell..."
But then, only a few months later, I had to watch that very place being rolled over by tanks. Possibly those same people I sung to, along with-- crushed and smothered and fired upon. I watched the gas bombs and the students ablaze, safely. I was 1,000 miles away a month later.
What was harder for my 19-year-old self: Singing ungainly in front of all these other students, or watching them die later?
"And still those voices are calling from far away,
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say"
Someone wondered how I remembered ("How do you remember that?") and how it could have affected me-- someone "so young". Viscerally, I feel that darkness fighting for its right among neon and floodlights-- those were nights spent on University Street in Seoul, with beer and friends and guitars. A friend of a friend vomits on the sidewalk, immediately apologizing for his drunkenness. He was wearing a white shirt and dark pants. During languid day, we all hung out on the staircase in the multistoried Lotte mall, smoking and affecting Cool. Yeah, that's when we all smoked, Inside. I sampled foods I could not understand, but loved... speaking of love, I crushed on a boy called Chan Wan; his almond eyes and brown skin bright and blinding in my memory. He crushed back. I remember him as clearly as I remember my most recent crush; but he played guitar for me and was kind. I wish I could find him in present times; if he lives I am sure he is married, working too much, with children.
Later that summer, I watched the peaceful request for freedom turn to martyred blood on television, coddled in the safe distance of my Grandparent's living room. I read it in the headlines and third-page stories of newspapers. All that I had experienced in spring had bloomed into deadly explosions.
And so, yes, I transition into silence and reminiscence when I hear the Scorpions, or The Eagles' "Hotel California". I become one of the
"prisoners here, of our own device",
when I recall that Boy that may have died amongst the many on the USS Stark, for I was one of the blessed/horrified that watched that ship bombed...then sink. Yeah, that boy who sat across (athwartship, mate) from me; he laughed when my younger sister rolled her eyes at me. I sat and flirted -- I blinked at eyes that that must've died on the Stark, they were too bright to last, they were so bright they could only have been born from a momentary solar flash -- at the MAC airbase in Yongsan. That bright-eyed boy, freshly deployed, on his way home.
"Blue eyes laughing in the sun
Laughing in the rain
Baby's got blue eyes
And I am home, and I am home again..."
The flight was cancelled.
We returned the next day, squashed between crowds hoping for departure, and he was no longer among them. It is of him I think, when I hear the song by Elton John, "Blue Eyes". Yes, even now, 30 years later, I recall that his name was John, and that he hoped to travel home, and that his eyes were stars that lit up one night in my life, and that he loved me for a few hours.
After those hours passed, he was exploded into a thousand fragments of flesh, or drowned under tons of steel. The Stark had been hit.
40 years of struggle in Korea, from the Korean War to Democracy,
A millennium for man to continually kill man over religion
Here I am, I lone girl, affected by protests and wars and destruction.
If these events still bide their time in my mind, exploding when the right song plays, how violent their affect must be for those that were there on those same cobbles?
How does it affect those (my) friends in Korea, Chan Wan, the boy with the bright-eyes...?
but he is dead so long now
How does it affect the street vendors, the brave ones who stood before girded soldiers, the students who begged me to sing an English song, and the ones who reveled over my pink cowboy boots...?
"Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before"
I write this, and I think I am going to suffocate...
The pain of memory is so heavy.
I don't want to.
I don't want to remember.
And yet, I don't ever want to not remember.
Scorpions: Still Loving You
The Eagles: Hotel California
Dokken: Alone Again
Joy: Korean Girls, Hello
Neil Young: The Needle and The Damage Done
Metallica: Fade To Black, Master of Puppets
Elton John: Blue Eyes