Tonight, I close the book on the events in Seoul in 1988 and 2014.
My manuscript is now called “The Forgotten Girl” in homage to the Forgotten War, as the Korean War is called. At the direction of my beloved agent, I added a prologue to the story to set the stage. I share that with you now, and then I’m calling it a day.
Actually, it has been 9,490 days since my friend was murdered in Seoul. At some point, you have to say its over, right? Well, the Koreas can’t say that. They’ve been at odds since 1953, which is 22,265 days.
Anyway, here’s the brand new beginning of my book, which is about hoping for an end.
The Past is My Prologue
I look back on the events of 1988 and wonder what I was thinking. But who really thinks things through when they are 21? Some of my friends were getting married, which seemed rash to me. Instead, I took my carefully crafted identity as a speed demon and made the split decision to move to a place once known as the Hermit Kingdom just as it was opening up to the West.
I fancied myself a pioneer, just like my adventurous father—a brilliant man who leapt countries in a single bound when he was on vacation from performing brain surgery. When I told him that I was moving to the Korean Peninsula, he clapped.
Indeed, the idea seemed worth applauding at the time. I had been a swimmer in college, a national champion who qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 50-meter freestyle. But an injury forced me to retire from the sport. Meanwhile my former rival turned into the fastest sprinter in America. More than anything, I wanted to see her swim at the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, so I found a job teaching English as a Second Language in South Korea. Once I arrived, I got another job covering the Olympic swimming and diving events for the Korea Herald, an English-language newspaper.
I was on a winning streak, again.
But the tides abruptly turned and I started losing myself in Seoul. Instead of being on top of world, I was at war with it. Nothing in South Korea country agreed with me, not even its food.
And then, the unthinkable—the unimaginable—happened. The most beloved teacher at my language school was murdered. In the wake of her death, people started turning against each other.
Americans vs. Koreans.
Teachers vs. Students.
East vs. West.
We lined up and took sides. Divided, just like the Korean Peninsula since the end of the Korean War. And neither battle is over to this day. The Koreas have been stuck in a ceasefire since 1953. My friend’s murder has been caught in no man’s land since 1988.
For us AND them.
So here’s what I think about now as a 48-year-old woman: Can you atone for the sins of another? Another self. Another person. Another place. Another lifetime. “The Forgotten Girl” is my attempt to make sense of what went wrong, and make peace with the past.
This book is not a memoir; it’s an apology. But even if my part in this whole mess is forgiven, I’ll never forget the girl in question.
NSB, forever at the DMZ