Sometimes, Life Is Just Bad Fiction — What I Remember

Anti-climatic, cacophonous, inconclusive. Life is just bad fiction.

I once had a dance trainer who was kind to me on some days and cruel to me on other days. I’d known him since I was fourteen years old, and we grew apart half a decade later. My memories of those turbulent years are hazy, muddled with gaps in the chronology, perhaps due to my wish to forget.

For the most part, L– was a kind and talented choreographer from South Korea, and while his Thai and English skills left most of his students struggling to communicate with him, I was one of the kids with whom he had no difficulty communicating. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I had never been very great at understanding spoken words anyway. Perhaps I had grown up used to reading the body language of others because I understood early that people don’t usually mean what they say.

Our teacher-student relationship continued for five years. After he left L— D— Studio, I continued to take private lessons from him, sometimes at a rundown studio in T— T—, other times at a more expensive venue. But I’d always remember that cramped, rundown studio and, eventually, the new dance trainer, J–, who came to replace L–.

L– had left me in J–’s care. He had also left J– in my care because J– was even worse in Thai and English than L– had been when we first met. L– had asked me to help J– with his language skills just as I had helped L–. I had felt somewhat abandoned by this change of trainer, but looking back I mustn’t have been that easy of a kid to take care of in the first place. As we were training to send me off to South Korea, we were dealt a harsh blow when my father told L– that at under no circumstance would he allow me to perform on stage and become “one of those K-Pop idols”.

Whenever I look back to those years, the snapshots that jump out at me are usually the most vivid and confusing ones. I remember L– visiting the studio after I’ve not seen him in months, and there was just the three of us in that rundown room. I had acted out against L– in front of J–, and I remember being grabbed by the arm and thrown into a wall. The back of my head knocked against the wall. I remember the dizzying impact but not the pain. More vividly still, I remember L–’s fingers closing around my throat.

I don’t remember crying. I don’t think I’d ever let myself cry when he was hurting me. That was simply how I dealt with his cruelty. Perhaps I’d felt that crying meant I was showing him that I was weak and that I was afraid of him. I don’t ever recall actually being afraid of L– — not as he held me in a chokehold, not even when he threatened to cut me to pieces and throw me down the drain as if we were in some bad drama.

“You don’t think I can?” he said. “Nobody will find your body.”

I don’t remember L– letting me go, but I remember no longer being held by the throat against the wall. I don’t remember L– telling me to apologise for disrespecting him, but I remember L– looming over me as he waited for my apology.

I pretended not to notice J– out of the corner of my eye, sitting with his back against the mirror, watching.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Mean it,” L– said. He’d stepped into my space again. I remember locking my jaw and balling my fists to stop myself flinch. “Mean it.

I remember remembering what L– had taught me about sincerity. You had to look people in the eyes when you say heartfelt things; that was how people felt it, your sincerity. So I did, even though I don’t remember feeling very sincere about it. I looked up at L– as he loomed over me, this man who had been part of my life for half a decade. I looked him straight in the eyes and said with as much feeling as I could muster, “I’m sorry.”

“Okay,” L– said. And just like that, he took me into his arms.

I remember being hugged by him. I remember letting him hug me. I just don’t remember hugging him back.

And all of this had happened while J– watched. J– who had simply watched because it was L– who had brought him here. It was L– who was his sunbae and his boss. I don’t know if I’m trying to blame him or make excuses for him. My heart tells me that it is neither. Who was I to moralise the actions, or inactions, of others when I had been the one to upset L–? 

If there’s any righteous bone in my body, this isn’t one of those times where I can wield it in good conscience.

The week following the incident, perhaps as a sign of apology, or remorse, L– invited me to the cinema with him and his girlfriend who too was a dancer. I remember accidentally upsetting him again that day; I had scuffed his shoe as I tried to get past him to my cinema seat.

I don’t remember when it was that L– made it known to me that he was upset with my action — I had disrespected him in front of his girlfriend. L– said that he didn’t mind if we acted a little rough when it was just the two of us, but I shouldn’t, at under no circumstance, disrespect him in front of others.

Even as I look back, I can’t bring myself to feel any hostility towards him. The story of being held by the throat and threatened, like many other stories of my life, is one that I’ve kept to myself for many years. Other memories are returning to me now as I write. Most of them are extraneous snapshots, the humdrum of the everyday, spiked almost too frequently with violence.

Life is just bad fiction; there is no sense of closure, no Moral of the Story, no Look, This is the Truth, only subplots and loose ends, horrible acting under bad lighting. I’ve written out this incident specifically to get it out of my system, to untangle this knot in my memory in the hopes that my mind won’t trip on it again.

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