The last day of the month was the last day of waiting. I received an envelope from Tae. It contained a piece of stationery with Mount Fuji on it, and the words “happy summer kyolche 2015.” She’d sent letters to three other foreign monks, so it wasn’t personal. I was elated, at first.
One of the few surviving nuns, an American with a feminine preference, told us that she’d received a similar note during an ango, a similar situation, that it was the worst thing that had ever happened to her: the lack of information, the banal language, the abandonment; to be completely trapped until the end, three months with no way to resolve the emotional poison — deadly. But I’d read the situation early on. I knew what the gesture meant from the old story, so it was just an added insult. I was done. They could’ve feasted on my corpse. There was one bomb, a few detonations, and only because of the vacuum of information unique to the world, the ango.
The first detonation was that she’d used the American nun’s worst experience on me. It hit me right away. The second occurred later, when I realized that she’d been able to write all along. I thought there might have been some restriction. The delay was an act of cruelty. It was hard for me to grasp, that all the time we were together, all the things we shared, the joy I would see in her when she was near me — it meant nothing to her. That was the third detonation. Hidden, it took much longer to play out. She wasn’t what I thought, not the woman I knew. She was hiding from me. The decay of the Angel; her bright mind was not impenetrable. Darkness loomed, there. Well hidden, but it was there. What was she protecting so fiercely, that she would want to destroy me?
Kye Seon, when I met her she’d just gone through a divorce. It was a complete meltdown. I was often the target — immeasurable rage, the catalyst for two revolutions in practice: the furnace of Kye Seon, and Tae’s killing silence. Kye Seon wasn’t on the path, so there were no boundaries. She worked day and night to destroy me. I rose out of the slag pile on my own and died on the floor of the Kwanumjong.
I came back from the dead, and left the door open.
With Tae, everything was hidden. Still, it was there, directly influencing everything in our world like dark matter. It explained a lot. What attracts me to women is the quality of the weave, some quality of darkness. Like love and desire, these two have proven inseparable. But her violence was something new. I’d seen a glimpse of it before — I had no idea. To me she was still the girl who dreamed of rainbows and unicorns. Everyone had to wear a hat. There was glitter everywhere. I loved it on her face. I didn’t mind to be what she wanted, it was fun… I hadn’t noticed that the party was over. I was the only one still wearing a hat.
The bomb went off in stages, a midair collision designed to take me out before I got too close, a professional. I never made it to the reservoir. There was a sudden quiet, like the sad moment where all things die. It enveloped me in some kind of atmospheric haze. The old scenes, again, the future, how it would be. I wouldn’t be safe around the others. I’d have to hide, pretend everything was fine, find some excuse to get out of sight. I should’ve stayed in the woods like Molloy, but there were things I needed, and a man has to do things he doesn’t want to do, for the thing to move. And I had to look in her eyes, to understand her. It would only take a moment.
Miles above the surface, on the descent, I sank into a familiar despair. It was difficult to separate from what remained of her. I’d waited two months for a drawing of Mount Fuji.
“Hope is for the living.”
There was still a month left to the retreat. There was no more reason to count down the days, nowhere to go. Maybe I’d get lost in the city, write those scenes, just be no one; no stalker, no friends… But the forest, I’d made the transition to writing in some abandoned piece of wilderness no one would care to go to. It was more natural, the city was the surrogate. What I really needed wasn’t a whirling bus ride, but stool under a twisted oak.
The Koreans were scared of us, the foreigners. They thought we were doing occult practices, blocking their mantras. If anyone was consulting with the Devils, it was I, and I’ll admit to no such sweet, sweet deviltry. I did a fair bit of trembling on the seat. I definitely brought down some crazy shit, but it was just Tae. After the third detonation the ionosphere split in two. It created a substantial rift, a funnel cloud that pulled the frigid air down in a broken spiral, gusts coming from all directions, an ion storm. Those who worried that I was doing occult practices grew quite alarmed. Several monks ran into the forest. It was some kind of oral/spatial confusion. They were lucky. As fragmented as it was, the heavens should have come to pieces.
The practice rounds were a wild heat, far beyond my ability to describe. After all I’d been through I felt some kind of reverence for the girl, to be close to her world for a little while, to fall in love again, to be abandoned to the forest, the monsoon, to find a way to live without her. The love had become something tangible, a glowing presence that surrounded me. It lit the dark forest, slowly drifting through the rain and fog like an apparition.
In the morning I talked to one of my close friends who sat beside me. He was spooked. I told him about my intense struggle to disentangle from Tae. He nodded slowly. I wanted to say what they always say — I was happy to have found love. It was worth it to know her so well, but I didn’t know if he would understand. One of the unique problems we faced as foreigners, men and women were always together. I was with Tae for a year before we were separated. We never had any kind of contact, not one breach of etiquette, but my body attached to hers. It didn’t understand why she’d gone. It urged me to go and find her. What was I doing wasting time in the woods, so far away?
The Koreans always separated the men and women. They never had a chance to bond, so when everyone was broken apart and sent to various monasteries, there was no separation anxiety, no reason to communicate with each other. It wasn’t usually a big problem, but in my case it was a daily struggle to survive. In that extreme of pressure and loss, anyone would die of longing. There were so many connections to break, it was awful. I should’ve never spent so much time with her. I thought I was impervious. I thought I was done with women. I was lucky to have a deep practice, and the wilderness; a familiar way to cope with intense suffering, to stay in the woods for hours letting my body absorb, sense, react to all of the ancient cues. It was a good cure, as much relief as could be had.
With Tae, as devoted as we were to the practice, I devolved to pure animal behavior. Being forced to give my life, again, to alleviate the suffering was a great moment in my life. I matured a great deal. I understood why men and women were often separated in practice communities. It is some kind of death to sever a connection. Most move from one to the next like vampires, never going without blood. But to die completely and remain among the living, to run the gamut… only love or the lack of it could convince you to give your life. What’s a life anyway?
I could see it dwindling. I could feel the change, but it was hard. Not only did I have to digest that the person I loved had refused me, I also had a stalker bringing the fear and anger. There was no way to avoid him. Maybe he’d helped get my mind off Tae, but it was a toxic environment. Sometimes my heart would seize, or my body lurch like I was going down.
I saw Tae in a white dress with a cone headpiece. At first I thought it some kind of pagan bonding ritual, later I realized it was a funeral dress, but this was only on reflection, long after I’d decided to put down my life.