We only began seeing each other in passing and if we shared an elevator together. Things seemed awkward between us, and I don't know why. I figured it was probably one of his many phases he was going through. He just seemed distant. The day that the book arrived, Lee pissed me off with his moods and I stuffed it (still in the bubble wrap packaging) in my bag and went home.
For weeks it was in my apartment buried under laundry, so I forgot about it.
On Christmas Eve as I was leaving work, we shared an elevator. I was going down from the 5th floor, but it stopped on the 4th when he got in. "Oh shit," I thought. We greeted each other so formally. What. The. Hell?
"Do you have any problem?" he asks.
"Uhh ... no, why?" I ask getting irritated. Why would I have a problem?
"Just - it's Christmas Eve," he says.
"No - I don't," I say as I want the elevator to hurry up.
We part ways and say good bye. As I'm walking outside, I realize that Lee didn't ask me "Do you have any problem?" He actually meant, "Do you have any promise?" as in - an appointment later on. MY BAD!
I spent the evening of Christmas eve with my friend, Hye-jin, her husband Hong-il and their gorgeous baby Seo-jun. I met Hong-il and Hye-jin through Lee on New Years Eve last year. Hye-Jin has become one of my closest friends since then.
Hong-il says, "I invited Lee, but he's out drinking with other friends."
"What's new?" I thought. I was a bit relieved he wasn't coming.
That Saturday I met a friend in Seoul. On the subway, I was reading The Four Agreements and started the chapter, "Don't take anything personally".
In short: "Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering."
I remembered the book I was meant to give Lee was still in my apartment - still in its bubble wrap packaging.
On Monday morning I had to go to the 6th grade teachers room. Lee was there. I had to ask him something work-related. He seemed fine-ish. I told him I'd give him something later (the book). I had a busy day, but after lunch I went to his class to give him the book.
He asks about my meeting with Hye-jin and Hong-il on Christmas Eve and I tell him what a nice time we all had. I know him better than he thinks I do. He doesn't seem good - I can read his face well.
"Are you OK?" I ask.
He just nods. I know he's lying, but I let it go.
A few hours later as I'm leaving work, I pass him at the water filter machine on the 4th floor. I open the 6th grade teachers room door to say a few words to No-su (my Korean brother) and then as I'm leaving, I can see that Lee wants to tell me something. At 4:40pm, the corridor is deserted and ice cold.
"I'm independent of my parents," he says.
"You're what?" I ask as I walk over to the water filter.
"I moved out. I have my own apartment. Near LG Department Store. In Bucheon," he continues.
"LEE! Really?" I'm shocked.
He's the youngest in his family and the only child that's unmarried. For as long as I've known him, he's had to take responsibility for his ailing parents.
"It's because of my marriage," he says.
What's he saying? That he won't get married if he continues living with his parents?
"What do you mean?" I ask.
"My mother. Always asking me - 'When are you getting married?" he says.
"Wow..." I knew that he was tired of pressure from his family to get married but it must have really gotten to him to actually move out.
"Is this your first time to live alone?" I ask.
"Yes, first time in my life," he says. He tells me that's why he's filling water bottles to keep in his fridge at home.
I won't lie. For the past few weeks, he's made me so mad with his unpredictable moods, but now I understood why. And in the moment, I felt sorry for him - AGAIN.
"Let's talk more when you come back from your trip," he says. And we say good bye.
The next day as I'm sitting at my boarding gate for my flight to Bangkok, I send last minute messages to friends. I didn't see Lee before I left work. I send him a Happy New Year message. His reply:
I write back saying I hope he can experience the same one day. He replies:
Very often we take things so personally about other people's behavior or words they speak. We are so quick to assume, "It must be me!" or "What have I done?" Many times, THEIR actions or words have nothing to do with you! They're just expressing whatever it is that THEY are going through.
So as we celebrate this year year, I am going to try to consciously be less aggressive with myself and stop trying to think what is is that "I" have done. Everyone has issues that they have to deal with, sometimes on their own in their own time. I'm going to let it be.
...if you've read this far, thank you :-) Happy New Year to you & yours x