It’s good that I wrote this down, a white memory from a green spiral notebook.
The notebook turned up in the turmoil of a move; another move, foolish and dismal, leaving only a vision of the dim patch of coarse grass and weeds beyond the metal door to the shed of this new place.
So: an old notebook, things recorded barely legibly or consciously, dream scribble. It contains a memory of an incident in Seoul; an incident during G.I. times when I journeyed there from a Korean island at the edge of The Yellow Sea. Spring or maybe summer, long ago.
Stepping out into the light, an old Korean woman looks at me, aghast and distainful….then there are children at a doorway, children and people all along the street. I go with coat over shoulder to a building. I am trying to find the right building. To see if by chance the woman I’d known is still there from the night before.
I walk down steps past a woman coming up. She does not greet me. There is a doorway. There is hanging laundry, empty basins. The door is open. I step inside; go to another door — the door I remember. And this I’ll always remember — the once familiar room, dark when I was in it, is bright with daylight. The walls are perfectly white, as if freshly painted. That’s impossible, of course. A girl is standing alone in the room, holding a mirror, combing her hair. Startled, knowing I’d be intruding on a private moment, I don’t approach or speak. I walk outside again, wondering, was this the same woman I’d known? Just a girl, really. I wonder: did she see me behind her in that mirror? Choose not to speak? I simply was not there to her. I was never there, perhaps….not to her.
After a moment, I go down the steps to the same street where traffic moves swiftly by now and another girl in a doorway looks at me for a moment before I turn, glance one last time up at the shabby building and walk back to the heart of the district known as Etae-won ( a Seoul neighborhood once and perhaps forever notoriously red. I take a cab “home.”
“Home” : That would have been an Army post.
This is from a time in which I have forgotten much — and much is best forgotten. But we learn — don’t we? — exploring old rooms, dark waters? Old notebooks?
The girl with the mirror. I hope she loved what she saw in that mirror. No, I don’t believe she saw me. She will always be serenely alone, combing her hair. The only sound, children’s voices on the street.
Perhaps I was looking into the wrong room that day. Perhaps the room I’d known was farther down that corridor, still in darkness; that the girl I saw was not the girl I’d known. I’ll never know.
But I’m glad I saw her, whoever she was, and that I went back and saw that white room and that I found this white memory in that tattered green spiral notebook.