Before I get on with it, I guess I should clarify that I am no longer living and teaching English in South Korea. That phase of my life came to a close quicker than I expected and I don’t really know how to feel about it. Now that I’m living with my mother in Inglewood, California, I’ve come to realize that I’m in a weird place. That weirdness is split in equal parts physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. Past me (from a year ago) contended that she didn’t know what she wanted but she knew what she didn’t want and that, at least, was half the battle. Present me affirms something similarly daunting – she knows both what she wants and doesn’t want along with who she is and isn’t. Obviously, I’ll never know what future me will stand by. Just because I time traveled on the flight back to Los Angeles, that doesn’t make me the magical demi-god I’ve always likened myself to be.
The whole endeavor of moving back has been and continues to be a struggle. Inbetween jobs, inbetween homes, inbetween countries and languages, inbetween lovers, inbetween friends, inbetween wardrobes, inbetween career paths, inbetween financial stability, inbetween.
Initially, I thought of coming back to California for a two week-one month vacation. At most. Even considering moving back for good made my mind weak. Live with mom again? NO. I’d have to get a new car and a new job? NO. It was simply too much to deal with! A break from South Korea and work, however, that seemed like a sweet thing to do! Or at least until I was served with the straw that broke my back. This isn’t something that I’ve written about or told many people about.
In May, on a night out with good friends/co-workers, I was drugged and raped. I used to fondly joke that I’m the girl that all the bad things happen to, but really though, I am. It’s not a joke. What I can say about the whole incident is that I’m a bit glad that I was drugged because I can’t remember much. I’m grateful for that, because if it were the contrary, I think the recollection would have pushed me over the edge. To have to survive and fully process two rapes in this lifetime… that’s excessive. I can also say that I am resentful toward the “good friends” I was out with. Friends don’t let their friends get raped if they can help it. They could help it and they fucking didn’t. JBA, BMA, GDH, you guys are fucking awful friends.
Dealing with the incident made me feel alone, lost, ridiculed, belittled, and insignificant. I woke up in a pile of trash somewhere in the heart of Seoul sometime in the middle of the day. My glasses were missing along with one of my shoes. My hair was matted up, my clothes a mess, my body (inside and outside) in severe pain. I was lucky to have been left with the bracelet that had the key to locker I’d left behind. None of my surroundings looked familiar and to this day, I’ll never know when or where it all happened. “Ignorance is bliss”, a saying that sings to me when I think of this. Quickly, I hopped into a cab to Hongdae to fetch my things. Another stroke of luck came along when the cabbie dropped the fare; maybe because he took pity on me, a shrieking mess – since I like to think that latent humanity is still a thing.
All my stuff was where I’d left it. Thank goodness. I checked my phone only to find one message from BMA, “I’m at Gogo’s, come!” I’d disappeared for hours into the night and no one fucking bothered to inquire about it. I could’ve been killed and they’d never find out. Seeing that I couldn’t count on those “friends” to help out in this case, I called on another co-worker, but this one is Korean, JP. After getting a good look at the bruises on my body and the massive hickies left all over my neck, he graciously took me to the hospital and called the police to file a report. We spent nearly eight hours there. I was scavenged and tested. In all my desperation for help, all I really wanted the entire time was to eat and sleep. I felt decrepit. My insides hurt like nothing I’d ever felt before.
After a long inquisition by the police and a final drop of spermicide infused antibiotic IV, I was finally released. Not to mention the $400 tab I had to pay out of pocket because I decided not to follow through with further investigations. I made the conscious decision to do so because:
• I couldn’t fully answer most questions because I was drugged. Hence, had no clear memories of what occurred and so couldn’t provide any further details past my last memory.
• Since I couldn’t remember a thing, there was no way to narrow down a suspect simply from finger prints or sperm samples. Leading us nowhere.
• I’d have to pay for all the investigation costs.
• The police would have paid my constant visits at my workplace during the course of the investigation and that would have gotten me fired.
• I was in a totally different country where I didn’t know how I could be properly represented and/or supported by the consulate.
All in all, to go through an investigation would have been to subject myself to further stress and turmoil on top of what I’d already been dealing with. As we walked out of the hospital to fetch a cab home, I knew things wouldn’t be the same. I tried to enjoy the McDonald’s we had for dinner, but even still, intrinsically, I felt broken.
The next day, a work day, JP set up a meeting with the school’s director, GL, to talk about what’d occurred and ask for her help. She was shocked and ashamed. I was met with blame imposed by rape culture. “Angela, why did you go out?”, “Angela, why were you drinking?”, “Angela, you must have been wearing something very tantalizing.” (for the record, I wasn’t. Not that her rationale deserves a rebuttal, but I was dressed in a plain forest green t-shirt, a pair of average length patterned shorts, and a pair of old brown flats.) “Angela, are you sure YOU weren’t the one doing drugs? Maybe the marijuanas? Because that stuff can make people do crazy things!”, “Angela, I will pray for your cleanliness.” I don’t know why she had to say my name so many goddamned times. I wanted to punch her in the uterus for every accusation she made in my name. Before the meeting adjourned, she said, “thank you for keeping a smile on that face. No one can know this happened. It will cost the reputation of this deeply grounded institution and my own, and I simply won’t have that.” She said it in the way Lumbergh from Office Space would say, “yeaaaaaaa, if you could do that for me, that’d be greeeaaaat…”
The Friday of that week I had to go back to the hospital for my test results. GL promised she’d accompany me for “moral support” but when it came time to meet my appointment, she made me go alone because, “many Poly parents work at that hospital and I cannot risk being seen with you. They will ask questions that I will not have appropriate answers for. Remember, it’s my reputation over yours.”
That’s when the concept of Korean shame culture truly sunk in.
The test results showed vaginal lacerations, internal bruising, and abnormal splicing. Not the kind of news I wanted to hear about on my own. Especially not during an extended lunch break followed by another six hours of elementary grade classes.
The hardest part of all this was keeping quiet. I wore an extra two layers of make up scattered around my body to hide the bruises, hickies, and massive bags under my eyes from the crying. I wore scarves and blouses with high neck lines even in the midst of hot temperatures and inside warm classrooms. I had to wear pants (which I find extremely uncomfortable) to hide the bruises. I had to smile and laugh when little boys and girls happened to touch any area where I felt excruciating pain. Why? For the sake of keeping my job. For the sake of sanity. I repressed so much for so long that I became numb.
I only told JBA about it because our friendship extends back to our university years. He cried, I cried. He apologized, I shrugged. In the subsequent months things unravel with us and he ends up putting me in the friendzone. Something that I’ll never fully understand and I wish it wasn’t so.
So that is the story, otherwise reason, for my move back to California. However, now I am met with a different challenge, and that is, finding a place to belong or make sense of myself while existing inbetween so many facets of life and living. It’s like I’m engaging in a constant tug’o’war with everything around me.