Renaissance and Immortality

I

It was 2006, in my apartment located within Daejeon, South Korea. The wooden door opened slowly but without any sound. My eyes squinted and adjusted to the various white lights that reflected off the cream-colored walls and the bathroom mirror. Sadly, the first image clearly delivered to my brain was just disgusting. A black porcupine covered a gigantic head swallowing the neck that supported it. Below it were shoulders as wide as a gorilla and a stomach plumper than a hippo’s. If I looked at that thing any longer, I would’ve punched the mirror. Maybe that could make it at least tolerable to observe.

After taking a shower, I would put on the nearest piece of clothing, as long as they weren’t tight. I slumped towards the kitchen table because it was Monday, which was always a horrible day according to a wise character: Garfield.

“Good morning, sweetie,” my mother said with her usual energetic voice and smile.

She had set up my breakfast for me. As I sat in the wooden chair with a cushion, I took a deep breath to appreciate the aromas from the three eggs, the two pieces of butter toast, and the glass of orange juice in front of me. Immediately, my mind woke up. I took a big bite out of the toast. As I chewed rapidly, the fork in my right hand already prepared the egg’s entrance into my mouth.

Mmm. I just love the combination of butter and eggs. I want to taste that again. Toast. Egg. Toast. Egg. Toast…

My lungs were gasping for air as I drank from the cup of orange juice. Then, I proceeded like nothing life-threatening just happened. After seven minutes, I thanked my mom for the meal and went back to my room to get my backpack. As I started to put on my grey and white sneakers, my mom said, “Have fun in school today, okay, Chris?”

That’s definitely not happening.

*

No matter how many times I went through it, being pinned down in the school hallway never felt comfortable. My arms and legs felt like a dozen sloths decided to sleep on top of me when I lay still on the wooden floor in front of classroom 2-1. Little droplets of defeat were absorbed by the planks on the floor, creating a polka dot decoration. My brain went into overtime, sending electronic signals to every part of my body and hoping that any limb or muscle would respond. No luck. The best that I had to offer was small vibrations from my fingers, as if they were a frightened rattlesnake’s tail.

“Get up, pig! Get up!”

I wished I could, David. I wish could also drive my fist into your face. Thanks to you, every mirror reflects a breathing corpse: a blob of fat lying on a wooden graveyard, ready to lose his soul in an instant. The fact that I needed to see your face and my own in the near future made me want to rip off my own limbs and choke on them. If only I were a superhero like Spiderman. You wouldn’t be able to stand, just like me at this very moment. Forget responsibility.

Tik. Tak.

My ears perked up. I could hear David’s feet moving in panic.

Tik. Tak.

David crouched and pressed his shoe right next to my left ear, blocking the sounds of Mrs. Kim’s black high heels stepping on the wooden floor. He positioned his mouth next to my right ear. I could hear the quiet yet accelerating heartbeat of the child pig-beater.

“Stupid forty-ton pig. Get in class. Now,” David growled under his breath.

No luck for the both of us. I still couldn’t move, or believed I couldn’t.

As long as you would leave me alone, David.

He bolted towards the door so that he could get in his seat, hoping that our homeroom teacher wouldn’t recognize his size, clothes, or his face somehow. By the time Mrs. Kim reached me, her expression had twitched so slightly that I almost failed to notice. I could not blame her, especially since this daily event had been occurring consistently for a semester. She knew that any amount or severity of punishment would not change my current predicament. She bent her knees and stroked my back with her left hand as if I were a wounded dog. She told me, “It’s going to be alright. You just need to become an impenetrable wall.”

Small blood veins were ready to pop as I squeezed my eyes as hard as I could, wishing that I would magically transport to somewhere better like Dorothy.

“Do you want to come back to class? I promise you that it’ll be better when you get used to it,” Mrs. Kim attempted to cheer me up.

Yeah, and I could also be comfortable being dressed in spandex.

I slowly bent my left leg, trying to get back up.

II

Closed eye hallucinations occur when a person shuts his or her eyes and sees the color of the small amount of light that slips through the eyelids. That’s why people can see the sun’s brightness and beautiful red even when they try to ignore it.

My childhood self found that phenomenon to be the only advantage of having the sun at all, I just didn’t know what it was called. Despite my only exertion of physical strength being walking, my white P.E. shirt already had a wrinkled, wet heart on its back. My hand brushed my forehead so many times that I understood why dogs pant so often during a hot day. I had become a human water slide by the time I arrived at the blue tent stand which shielded my mother and father from the ungodly sun beams. Other parents, relatives, and teachers were also sitting or standing under other tent stands, setting their sights on the children who were partaking in the field day events.

Some students’ family members peered through telescopes and with stopwatches, as if the result of this community event would contribute to their child’s obvious future professional career. All I saw were male and female clones with different faces, body shapes, and genetics who ran, jumped, and threw balls with force. I was not one of those kids because I was the third grader who weighed 100 pounds. Instead, I just sat back and listened to the sound of whistles blowing and my schoolmates running on sand.

Only one more hour of jealousy, and I can return to my PlayStation 2 at home. I can return to the land of ratchets and clanking and forget that I can’t run or jump.

All of a sudden, the school’s speakers made an announcement: “Attention all students. We will now commence the grade-wide 100m race in a few minutes. All members of a grade should head to the starting line after their grade number is announced.” All six of my family’s eyes widened. Four of them were excited, and the other two were shaking with fear and disbelief.

“3rd grade.”

I wasn’t sure if that was an announcement or part of my eulogy, but I walked like I had just heard the latter. As I waited in line with my classmates, I felt like I was part of the Terracotta Army, similar to everyone else but with a unique difference. Mine was too obvious that I didn’t want to even think about it. Every time a teacher blew the whistle, the distance between me and the chalk line of death shortened, as well as the length of my heartbeats.

I planted my feet into the ground when the group in front of me ran off. The heart on my back started to become bigger from cold sweat. The teacher with the whistle glared at me as if telling me to come forward.

No. I don’t want to. Don’t make me. It’s not fair.

The two eyeballs commanded me forward.

I resisted with all my might.

Now other sets of eyeballs behind me pushed me forward.

My legs tried their best to uphold Newton’s third law.

The whistle blew. I lost to the eyeballs.

I ran.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine…

Nine steps. That was all I could do before the fire in my stomach conquered me. My calves burned, and my heart boiled. I couldn’t even hear the kids laughing as I limped to the finish line with my left hand pressing on my right lower abdominal.

My other arm shielded my eyes from the sun, from contact. After the next group had the space to start their race, my feet slumped towards the school entrance. I heard the sound of a pair of dress shoes and a pair of heels approaching me.

“Why didn’t you run during the entire race?”

Because I can’t run for that long. Why? That’s thanks to the fact that I’m a pig. A disgusting, fat pig.

I forced my tears to stay behind my eyelids, like a well that should never be accessed.

“I didn’t feel like it,” I mumbled.

III

By the fourth grade, I was used to my shirt turning into a sweat puddle. However, nothing prepared me for the countless days of rain in Oxford, England. My eyes scanned the vast grass field that seemed like the size of fifty houses while I dragged my feet in a supposed running motion. The invisible thermometer in my body couldn’t stay still. Droplets of water cooled me down while my heart rate rose. If that weren’t bad enough, my red P.E. shirt with black stripes could never decide whether it should stick on my torso or fly with the wind. After an infinity of minutes, I finally caught up with my classmates, feet burning.

“Park!” Mr. Bishop’s voice echoed like thunder in a rainstorm, “Another lap!”

That was the thing with New College School’s physical education; if one were distracted or just slow, he would have to run a lap around the entire field. That meant pain.

As my foot readied to leave the ground, an unseen force hastened my acceleration. I heard a relatively high voice behind me.

“Good luck, Chris!” said one of my classmates.

I’m Chris. Not the rodeo pig for entertainment. Just Chris Park.

*

Seven months of rain and occasional cloudy weather passed with ease. On a Wednesday, my arm became almost impossible to lift as I woke up from the squeaky bed on the second floor of 21 Lathbury Road. It hurt, but I didn’t mind. My eyes only saw a blurry kitchen with the aroma of last night’s dinner and breakfast dancing a duet into my nose. I was a slow, blind slug that crawled out of the blankets and inched his way towards a table with food. Afterward, I went to the shower to clean myself. I still ignored the kid in the mirror who was ready to stare back at me. If only he talked to me about his fears, I might have given him a second chance, but all I saw was the same pig, only growing bigger.

*

“Listen up boys,” Mr. Bishop said in a calm yet loud voice, “Today is the start of the spring season. That means it’s field hockey season.” Some of the boys’ faces brightened like the nonexistent sunlight in England, others were already reminiscing about rugby season. I just restrained myself from asking a question in order to avoid embarrassment.

What exactly is field hockey?

The answer came in the form of a miniature medieval warzone on grass. Sticks clashed as boys from both sides charged towards a white ball. Some knew how to operate their weapons, everyone else was simply trying to avoid the crossfire. Sweat was gathering around my hands that gripped my orange hockey stick as my eyes were searching for the nearest safe spot. My eardrums tried their best to relay my coach and classmates’ screams, but my brain rejected all of them.

I’m going to go through mandatory enlistment anyway, why try to be a war hero now?

Two days later, the boys slipped their arms through the red shirt with black stripes. As I squeezed my head through the red hole, Mr. Bishop announced that one of our goalies was sick, so he needed a volunteer. My hand shot up faster than the plane that got me to England.

If I become a goalie, then there’s no way that I would be in the midst of the others and their sticks.

Brilliant plan.

I wobbled across the field, trying my best to get my stomach and goalie gear all the way to the goal. I thanked God for assigning me to the closer goal. The whistle blew, but I wasn’t even looking at the game. My gloves were so thick I couldn’t properly grip my stick. I guessed that blocking the ball with the stick would be quite difficult, but then I wondered why the goalie even needed this piece of wood if he couldn’t use it.

“Chris!”

My head bolted away from my glove to the white ball rushing towards me. As if I saw an empty soda can on the sidewalk, my foot kicked the sphere from the goal zone. A little bolt of electricity crossed through my brain. I didn’t know enough about dopamine and its effects on the brain at the time. All I knew was that I was eager to feel that sensation again, like a lion cub that had eaten meat for the first time. While lightning did not strike the same place twice, I felt like Zeus by the end of the day, if Zeus had a sore foot.

*

Before I knew it, three weeks had passed. I’d blocked, kicked, and deflected the white ball for three days a week. As I packed my P.E. bag before leaving the house, my mother placed her black rental phone down on the kitchen table. Her eyes were flying in all directions as if she were trying to search her subconscious manually. Her lips were in the general shape of a smile, but little signs of crookedness were everywhere. Finally, she let some air in and out of her torso.

“We’re going back to Korea in a week.”

My mind short-circuited.

It’s too soon. I don’t know when to say goodbye to my friends. I have homework due a week and a half from now. Future me is planning to play football with my classmates during lunch. Worst of all, the interscholastic hockey season just started. That means that I can only play in one game, the first game.

By some miracle, it wasn’t raining. My legs moved comfortably in my plastic armor towards the far goal. The whistle was blown, my shoulders became tense, and my foot was ready for lightning. However, it seemed like no one was interested in being in my goal zone for the first half. The ball stayed in the middle of the field for the majority of the time, and I’d only felt one small bolt. All of a sudden…

Dumph!

My gear jiggled with excitement.

We scored!

That blinded us from the beast that was being released from the cage. Suddenly, the sticks’ movements were just blurs that my eyes couldn’t keep up with. The white ball suddenly moved like a wild monkey that had seen a pile of bananas in my goal. Cold sweat was gathering all over my body.

He’s coming. He’s coming. He’s…

Wack!

Dumph!

My eyes needed to see what had happened. My brain didn’t want to. My heart sank as deep as the ball did in my goal.

I don’t know what exactly happened to our group’s morale, but by the end of the game, we lost 2 to 1. As I walked back to campus, the well behind my eyelids was starting to fill once more. My ears barely recognized the blurry whispers from everyone, telling me it wasn’t my fault. It didn’t matter, though. My legs were no longer being dragged across the ground. My arms tightened. All of my invisible muscles tensed.

Next time, I want to win.

IV

Two days before I returned to Korea, the bathroom mirror reminded me that gravity was pulling my stomach down towards my waistline.

I’m sure I’m not gaining weight. I mean, I played field hockey up until yesterday.

The layers of fat accumulating on my belly concealed inaudible laughing oinks. The pig couldn’t believe I really thought thirty minutes of standing in front of a hockey goal for only three days a week was enough to suppress it. If that weren’t enough, I already fed the pig everything it wanted in England. One of its favorite places to be was Nando’s, a chicken restaurant in Oxford’s city center. It served the best grilled chicken in the world, with its biggest appeal being the special “peri-peri sauce” that was just perfect. That night, I ordered a whole chicken with a side of fries all for myself. My mouth watered as the waiter placed my plate in front of me. My hands couldn’t keep up with my mouth as I gobbled down the food, and the pig made sure that I wouldn’t have any regrets.

I can’t get enough of this. The sauce. The meat. The fries. They all go so well with a fusion of Coke and Sprite.

Did I mention that I also got a soft drink cup with unlimited refills?

“Is it good?” my mom asked with a smile she practiced whenever she saw me eat.

“Mom. I can’t get sick of this!” I mumbled with a mouth full of chicken.

“Really?” she said with genuine amazement, “Never?”

I had to take a drink to let the food pass down my throat before saying, “I wished we came here more than just once a week, Mom!”

“Well, you should eat up as much as you can then,” she said. With a look of parental love dominating concern, my mom exchanged her plate with mine.

“Why don’t you have some more?” she said with a smile.

“Thanks!”

*

“How was England? Did you get a lot of delicious food with mom?”

That was the second thing that my dad, who stayed in Korea, said to me when I arrived. I was so excited to tell my dad about Nando’s that I completely failed to notice his eyes trembling, hiding his tears from me. He would tell me later that he was afraid of another David appearing in my life.

V

My eyelids fought against the forces of jet lag in the back of the family car.

Oh God. I just want to go home and sleep. Why am I even in the car?

I repeated the last question out loud and directed to my mother. She responded with a story.

About a week before she and I returned to Korea, my mom got a phone call from my grandfather.

“I did it,” he said.

It took her a minute for her brain to process the words she just heard before she could reply, “Are you serious?”

“Absolutely. The principal decided to let Chris have a quick entrance exam and an interview. Those three days paid off!” said Grandpa.

My mom told me that she jumped up and down like a flea that had drunk four cups of coffee after hearing that last sentence. As my dad drove through the opened metal gates that guarded a school parking lot, my mom said, “So Chris. I know it has only been two days since you’ve come back to Korea. But that’s why we’re here today. Your grandpa came here by himself for three consecutive days just so you could have this interview. So take this seriously, okay?”

I forgot to reply because my eyes couldn’t stop staring at the school building covered with red bricks and rows of windows. A metal roof protected the classrooms and hallways, just like a frog being underneath a leaf to hide from the rain. On the wall that faced me, a gigantic blue star was placed on top of an upside-down white star of the same size. On that blue star was the letter “계”, the first Korean letter of Gyeseong Elementary School, one of the top private elementary schools in Korea.

My eight-hour jet lag contorted everything else that happened that day into a blur of memories.

My heartbeat accelerated.

I have to stay awake.

Every question the principal asked was answered with a loud yet precise tone.

After she had exhausted her list of questions, the principal said, “I like your confidence. Promise me to use it when you are a fifth grader in our school.”

I must have done something right.

*

I never used that confidence during my fifth grade in Gyeseong. I just tried my best to adapt to my new school. I played soccer during lunch breaks and did what I could during P.E. classes. However, I always felt at least a dozen set of eyes staring, all sending the same message: Wow, you’re fat. That being said, no particular person ever mistreated me about it, and I simply waded through the year. As a sixth grader, I was hoping for the same. I didn’t need to be noticed, I just needed to get elementary school over with. That wish was ruined with a pre-graduation performance for all sixth graders that was supposed to create “unforgettable memories”.

I was assigned to be in the school play. My role? A dog. No name. No connection to any characters. Just a filthy dog on the street that waltzed with a Korean king for comedy. I didn’t need this, but I did what I was told. During one of the practices, a schoolmate I didn’t recognize shouted, “Nice dancing, Doggy!”

I completely forgot that I was rehearsing. My teeth ground against each other while I squeezed my fists until they turned red. I turned around, only to see David’s face on the student’s body.

I ran. I grabbed the boy by his shoulders. His face looked like he had just met a wild boar.

“Don’t you ever call me that again! Understand?!” I screamed.

“Why not, Doggy?” another student asked. Then another did. Then another…

The nickname spread faster than fireflies released from a glass jar. By the end of the same week, the name “Chris Park” was nonexistent between the sixth graders who now all had David’s face.

Why can’t he just leave me alone?

I gave up on lunchtime soccer and ran away from my own classmates, hiding in the bathroom. My brain never viewed “Doggy” negatively, but David’s face pulled the pig out of my stomach. Now, the mirror reflected a beast, a balloon animal that only needed a single pin to explode and splatter its fat everywhere. As soon as the last bell rang, I dragged my feet on the quickest path to my house’s fridge.

The pig laughed.

VI

I grabbed a bag of chips from the kitchen cabinet and walked into my room. My body melted into my black swivel chair while my hands allowed nitrogen gas to escape from the blue bag that bragged of low calories but with original taste.

I can’t wait to get out of that school.

Dmmm. Dmmm. Dmmm.

I picked up my phone and answered, “Hello?”

“Son,” my dad said with a voice that just couldn’t wait anymore, “You got into Chadwick.”

I placed my bag of chips on my desk.

I’m going to a Korean international school?

“Really?” I asked for confirmation.

“Yeah!” my dad exclaimed.

No more Korean School. No more Doggy. No more David.

“So, how do you want to celebrate?” my dad asked.

*

“Ladies and gentlemen. We have just arrived at JFK Airport, New York. We thank you for choosing Korean Air and we hope you will fly with us again soon. Thank you.”

When those creamy words entered my mind, my limbs went on full vibrate. My legs became tense, giddy to step into the land of opportunity and delectables. My brain played a private keynote presentation on American food I’d seen in movies for my appetite. I was more excited than when I’d heard of the PlayStation 3’s release.

After going through immigration and baggage claim, my family took a cab to the Hilton Homewood Suites in New Jersey. No amount of jet lag was able to keep my eyes from peering out of the window. I ignored all the trash on the sides of the streets because I was focused on the skyscrapers. I was amazed that I could see people of two races or more on every sidewalk. I couldn’t really tell what kinds of attire people were wearing because there were too many to see, but I was sure that all of them were fashionable.

When we got to the hotel, the jet lag came back, saw me, and conjured me into a deep sleep.

The next morning, my parents and I went down to the lobby, which was right across from the hotel buffet. I’d been to other buffets before, but none of them were able to drag me simply with an aroma. I unknowingly gave up all control of my brain, hands, and mouth to the pig as I entered the food cornucopia.

You just can’t get anything nearly as good these turkey sausages in Korea.

The eggs complement them perfectly.

Wow, the waffles are so soft and sweet.

I love how the hash browns are so crispy.

This is just too good.

By the time I regained control over my brain, three empty plates had materialized in front of me.

This became my breakfast for every day.

*

The first thing my family did when we came back to Korea was go to an onsen (a hot spring). This practice originated in Japan, where people took advantage of their numerous volcanos by taking a bath next to them in the 700s. During the Japanese Occupation, Koreans were forced to create a nation-scale Japantown in their own country. However, due to Korea’s shortage of volcanos, its onsens are indoors. Now, these hot springs are practically ubiquitous in South Korea. When using these public body hydrators, users must take off all of their clothes as a symbolic gesture of one’s stress and concerns being stripped away.

Holy shit.

The onsen failed me that day.

My left eye twitched, as if it couldn’t believe the numbers it was seeing and hoped that they would change if I waited long enough. I stretched my arm out into the air, hoping that Earth had suddenly increased in size. No such luck. My feet left the scale as I looked down at…I wasn’t completely sure what I was looking at. It might as well have been ten meerkats peeking over a gigantic hill.

What happened?

To summarize in one sentence, I got overexcited when visiting America for the first time and ate enough to reach my maximum: 188 pounds as a rising seventh grader.

When I saw myself in front of a full-body mirror for the first time, I wanted to throw up every sausage, hash brown, and burger I’d eaten in the States. Anything to flatten my stomach by any amount. I finally understood why Santa said that his belly shakes like a big bowl of jelly. It swooshes all over the place and makes you just as sick. So, I did the natural thing. I returned home from the onsen, sat on the couch, and began shoving salt and “potatoes” in my mouth. I wished the sodium chloride would drive away the demon inside my stomach, just like in Korean fairy tales.

For the next few days, the couch and chips started to merge together into my new identity. I practically moved to a new place, right across from the television. Through the side of my eye, I noticed a beam of light entering the room and the wooden corner of the door becoming more visible. With a small creaking sound, the light dominated my entire nest of solitude. I couldn’t hear my father’s footsteps carefully approaching the domesticated pig. Granted, the human-beast hybrid wouldn’t have been able to do much damage even if it wanted to.

“Are you feeling alright, son?”

The pig gave a slight nod.

“Well…” my dad said with blue air surrounding his heart, “Since you’re watching a lot of TV, why don’t you watch this film called Rocky?”

One more nod.

For the first hour and twenty minutes, I was bored out of my mind.

Why does this movie only have one boxing scene in the beginning and then all these depressing images? Philadelphia is full of trash and drunks, Adrian’s weird, and Paulie’s a legitimate psychopath. Apollo Creed looks pretty cool, I wish I could see him fight, though. Okay, why is Rocky going inside a meat locker? I might as well turn this…

Wham!

The dead cow shook.

Wham!

Rocky’s eyes had the intent to destroy the chunk of meat.

Wha-wham!

The boxer’s hands were covered in blood and sweat.

I looked down at my pig belly.

One training montage later, the Italian Stallion ran up the famous stairs of Philadelphia. At that point, my eyes could not look away from the screen. My stomach jiggled with excitement.

I’m going to go pig-hunting.

VII

The cracks all over the building’s interior looked like they could become holes with the lightest touch of my pinkie finger. The staircase was so narrow that it seemed like a “you must be this thin” bar. I could smell the sweat from the sandbags and canvas.

This has to be the real deal.

My mother and I entered the gym to find a small wooden desk to our left. On it was a bunch of boxing-related figurines and a 17-inch monitor. Sitting on a swivel chair was a man with long and messy black hair. His clothes weren’t dirty, but they weren’t particularly clean either. He had pretty dark skin for a Korean; perhaps it was the result of all the outdoors running that boxers seemed to do? His head rose so slowly I thought he had just woken up.

“Yes, ma’am. Can I help you?” he said in a voice as low as a growling bear.

My mother began talking about things, which was my cue to step away and observe the scenery: the little leather ball hanging from a metal platform, the multi-colored ropes of the ring, and the multiple full-body mirrors. I turned my head towards my mother before the pig could look back at me.

“So Coach, how much training would my son have to do?” asked my mother with her casual smile and hyper-attentive ears.

“Well, ma’am, I usually have my boxers train for an hour per day, six days a week,” he said while scanning my body to determine if I was a heavyweight or a super-heavyweight, “But for your son, I would first start with 40-minute sessions. I’ll extend practice times as he adjusts.”

I should have been upset by that comment. Nevertheless, the idea of exercising for a full hour scared me so much that I was actually relieved by the 20-minute cut. Coach’s lips created a barely noticeable upwards curve when he made eye contact with me.

“Do you think you can start tomorrow?” he asked.

“Yes, Coach,” I said with a progressively accelerating heartbeat.

*

The next day, I arrived in my dad’s sweatpants and a shirt that should have been too big for me. Coach didn’t really give me a greeting but instead handed me two green plastic cylinders with a line connecting them.

“Alright, Chris. You wanna lose weight? Use this for five rounds. Each round is three minutes long. At the start and end of each round, you’ll hear a bell. You got that?” Coach said without breaking eye contact.

I nodded, saving the little breath I had in my body.

Coach started walking back to his chair when his head made a slight turn towards me.

“Oh yeah, I forgot to mention. You cannot let both feet touch the ground at the same time.”

Wait, what?

Ding!

“You better get started!”

Okay. I just need to do this for three minutes. If I skip once every second, I just need to jump 180 times. One, two, three, four… fifty-eight, fifty-nine, sixty…

The friction between my feet and the floor ignited the gas inside my calves and thighs, creating a warm flame.

One hundred and two, one hundred and three, one hundred and four…

The flames started to grow.

One seventy-eight, one seventy-nine…

Ding!

The flames were now swarming through my legs and my chest. I went to the water fountain to cool myself. I was about to have my second sip when…

Ding!

I had trouble walking back home that day.

*

Ding!

Tack!

I threw my jump rope down on the ground out of habit and influence from Rocky montages. While standing still and brushing the sweat off my forehead with my right hand, I saw new members desperately trying to get a drink before the next round.

I wonder if the rounds are getting shorter.

The sweat heart on my back was even bigger than in third grade, but I didn’t receive any help from the sun. The fire in my body transformed into lava over the three months of training. There were days when my mother had to command me to return to the gym. However, my inner molten rock eventually cooled around my muscles. My greatest excitement, like a stereotypical Korean, was from a single number. It was a combination of digits on a scale: 155. My head faced the mirror. The reflection that looked back at me wasn’t amazing, but it wasn’t disgusting either. My arms and legs became bigger, but my dad’s clothes were now too big for me. Nevertheless, I could still notice the pig’s fat in too many places of my body.

My caterpillar feet had finally grown up from only crawling on the ground. My toes gripped the thin leather, clawing through the final parts of the cocoon. I never imagined before entering this gym that my shoes would be floating with butterflies.

Blood-red wrapped around my hands, pinning each muscle and bone to the ideal positions to destroy anything in front of them. The bandages’ color might have originated from dye used in a factory, but each string was stained from my frequent trips to the meat house. Last time, I was shocked to find the pig in perfect condition, despite being beaten to a bloody pulp the day before. It refused to die, and it wasn’t in any immediate danger, yet.

My back and shoulders consumed so much oxygen they inflated and breathed out carbon dioxide and pain. I had denied their pleas for a vacation for the last three months. Regardless of their soft whispers to ear-piercing screams, I forced them to cooperate. In my heart, I made a silent promise that I would surprise them with a reasonable work schedule at the pig’s eulogy, which would happen one day.

My left foot stepped forward. My right arm drove into the red bag. It was time to go back to the meat house.

VIII

Rocky once said, “[I fight] ’cause I can’t sing or dance.” I guess that’s why I don’t fight anymore.

“Chris, what sport are you in?” asked the school doctor.

“Water polo,” I responded in a relatively quiet voice.

“Well…I’m sorry to tell you that you will have to be off sports for a little bit,” the doctor said.

Oh no.

“It looks like you have a concussion,” he said, pulling my nightmares into reality.

No. No. No.

“What’s your winter sport, Chris?” the doctor asked another question.

“Um…Wrestling,” I said hesitantly.

“I see. Have you considered doing something else?” he asked the fatal question.

I already gave up boxing because Hotchkiss doesn’t have it. Now I have to quit wrestling too? What am I even supposed to do in the winter?

*

It had been about a week since I’d been diagnosed with a concussion. My head wasn’t in a state to clearly remember everything that happened that day.

My head kind of hurts, but I just want to forget about it today. Lucky me. There’s a school dance tonight.

Music always enjoyed communicating with me through the language of rhythm. Just like a bird that’s ready to mate, I responded to the call with an immediate reaction. My feet slid across the floor. My arms shot in the air. My random combination of turns and jumps electromagnetically attracted the focus of other Hotchkiss students.

When the dance ended, a freshman boy came up to me and said, “Dude. You got some sweet moves. Where’d you learn that?”

“I never did,” I replied.

“For real? Then why aren’t you in dance class?”

Huh. Good question.

*

My legs floated as they walked through the Hotchkiss hallways. MØ gave me a private concert in two little plastic rooms with “BOSE” written on their exterior while my legs were in a straight horizontal line on the floor. Two of my classmates came into my peripheral vision as they walked past the dance studio. The computer chip in my noise-guard earphones might have blocked out their voices, but I didn’t need to hear anything to know what they were saying.

“There’s that sophomore Chris Park in the dance studio again. I heard that he only joined dance class and the dance company so he could get an A. Lucky cheat. He was already a good dancer. Plus, the dance teacher always gives boys good grades. It’s bullshit.”

If only you knew what it took for me to get here. Have you ever had to run until your body was ready to spontaneously combust? Have you ever jumped up and down so many times your legs were ready to snap faster than wooden chopsticks? Have you ever thought that all of your extra training after a two-hour dance practice seemed worthless because you sucked in comparison to everyone else?

Then again, I was just like those kids seven years ago. Back in Korea, I just tried to mind my own business, but David always found a way to make his business my business. This usually involved a one-sided stress relief session. He would shove or punch me down to the wooden floor.

“Yeah, that’s right,” he would say, “Pigs like you deserve to stay on the ground. You’re too fat to be walking with the rest of us normal people.”

In David’s perspective, he was Jack from Lord of the Flies while I was a lone pig, ready to be hunted. To his credit, David didn’t stick my plump head on a pole. However, that was only because the fun multiplied when the meat sack came back to school for more. So, it was no surprise that all I wanted to do was to be as strong as David. That’s why I always admired Spiderman, a weak kid who is granted extraordinary powers, with a cool costume as a bonus. I never imagined that my version came with boxing gloves, dance pants, and an excessive supply of sweat.

Focus. You’re practicing for your solo.

My left leg slowly bent into an attitude, waiting for the speakers. Then, the musical vibrations swept me away. The sequence of movements was so fast that I couldn’t list out the movements in my head quickly enough. My instincts took over and guided my body with what it knew best: left hook with the elbow, jab with the head and midriff, and uppercut with my back.

When the music ended, my chest expanded and deflated quickly. After three seconds, I allowed all the tension in my body to slide down through my feet and into the floor. This process repeated itself until a small clock told me that I’d been in the studio for at least a couple of hours. I didn’t need a bell to regulate how I worked out anymore.

My hands reached for the grey cotton edge at my waist and pulled up. I threw the sweat-smudged shirt on the floor and walked to the mirror at the left-back corner of the studio. My body looked like a dictionary in progress, gaining more definition. If I knew in third grade that I could become what I am today, maybe I wouldn’t have been as miserable. Actually, I take that back.

I could still see the pig.

Born in South Korea, Sanghyun Park learned English through audiobooks and a ten-month long stay in England when he was in elementary school. In 2014, he enrolled at The Hotchkiss School to further pursue his English education. As a tenth-grader, Sanghyun was first inspired by his English teacher to start writing creative non-fiction.

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